Don't compare Willingham to Zook
Face it, Irish fans. Fired Gators head coach had way more to work with
Posted: Tuesday October 26, 2004 12:59PM; Updated: Tuesday October 26, 2004 5:37PM
With Tuesday's news that the once-sacred Michigan-Ohio State game is now the SBC Michigan-Ohio State Classic, I'd like to announce that the Mailbag is also opening itself to potential sponsors. The way it will work is, for the right price, I will take a new head shot with your company's name stripped across my forehead. And the beauty is, we can have a new sponsor every week. The cash registers will be overflowing.
In fairness, while it's easy to criticize the two schools for selling out, the reality is that for all the millions and millions in revenue major football teams generate, most athletic departments still struggle to break even. In many cases, they're dependant on football to bankroll not only its own obscene operating costs but those of every last team the school fields (tennis, swimming, etc.).
Ohio State AD Andy Geiger said the $530,000 his school will receive from SBC will go toward, among other things, athletic scholarships and the library.
Apparently, Ohio State's coloring books are out of date.
Does the firing of Florida head coach Ron Zook now open the door for the Irish to do the same with Tyrone Willingham? Both coaches have the same won-loss record, both have led teams at big time programs which are inconsistent in their game-to-game performances. Willingham has had a losing season, whereas Zook hasn't missed a bowl game. Both have had wins against major programs, but both have lost to lesser teams as well (Florida with Mississippi State, Notre Dame with BYU).
" ... there was no excuse why this, his third team, wouldn't show improvement. With a gifted second-year quarterback [Brady Quinn], an explosive tailback [Darius Walker], a veteran offensive line and a horde of talented young receivers, the offense should be scoring points in bunches." Are you sure you weren't talking about Tyrone Willingham? Isn't Notre Dame in a similar position as Florida? Both Willingham and Zook have lost 13 games since taking over their respective programs three seasons ago. Should Notre Dame be in the market for a new coach as well?
You would not believe how many e-mails I've gotten along these same lines in the past 24 hours. Let me just state, what I'm about to write is by no means an endorsement of Willingham's performance so far, which is admittedly suspect, and I have no idea whether he's the right guy for the job. That said ...
GET YOUR HEADS OUT OF THE CLOUDS, IRISH FANS.
Zook and Willingham may have the same record, but to suggest they're in the same situation is comical. How are they different? Let us count the ways ...
1. Zook took over a program that had won 10 games or more in eight of the previous nine seasons. Willingham took over a program coming off two losing seasons in three years, one that hadn't had a 10-win season in a decade.
2. Zook took over a program so rich in talent it has produced 14 first-round draft picks since 1995. Willingham took over a program whose talent level has fallen so drastically that during the same time period it's produced three.
3. Willingham has a proven track record as a head coach, both at Stanford and in his first season with the Irish. Zook had no qualifying experience whatsoever, and it showed.
4. Sorry, Patrick, Quinn and Walker are nice players, but substituting them for Chris Leak and Ciatrick Fason in a sentence is like replacing Jessica Simpson with Ashlee in a talent contest.
5. Finally, losing to BYU is, admittedly, bad. But the Cougars are at least a semi-decent team that may wind up in a bowl. Losing to a 1-5 Mississippi State team that lost to Maine is the equivalent of a varsity high school team losing to the JV. Actually, make that losing to the freshmen.
All of this is a complicated way of saying that you can't put two won-loss records next to each other without considering the context. Two-and-a-half years was enough time to safely conclude that Zook wasn't the answer. To give Willingham fewer than four, considering the hand he was dealt, would be a disservice. While I understand Irish fans are frustrated, continuing to hold their coaches to unrealistic, outdated expectations isn't helping matters any. So you want to throw Willingham out after three years and start over yet again? Honestly, what good would that do? We'd probably wind up having this same discussion again in another three years.
I was curious to know if you think that the Miami Hurricanes can not only compete but beat any of the top four teams in the country and win the national title now that Brock Berlin seems to be stepping up?
No, and here's the simple reason why: They can't stop the run.
As you may recall, prior to the season SI.com did an analysis of the myths and realities of the past 12 national champs. The one common thread? They were all dominant run-stopping teams. Take a look at the NCAA rankings for that category so far this year and you'll see nearly all the same teams at the top as you do in the BCS standings -- USC (No. 6), Oklahoma (No. 5), Wisconsin (No. 8), Auburn (No. 11), Florida State (No. 2), Cal (No. 7) and Michigan (No. 3). Miami, on the other hand, checks in at No. 49. Apparently losing Jonathan Vilma and D.J. Williams was a bigger deal than they thought. This, combined with a mounting injury toll that now includes starting offensive lineman Tyler McMeans and defensive tackle Santonio Thomas, is bound to catch up with the 'Canes, most likely Nov. 13 at Virginia, which happens to be a strong running team.
Now, for making this one, seemingly rational observation, I will now get 327 "Mandel, you're a 'Canes hater!" e-mails. Why? Because that's what you get branded if you're not of the belief that Miami will win every national title from here until eternity. Apparently, it's a 'Cane thing.
OK, call me crazy. Call me a conspiracy nut. Call me a skeptic. The remaining Mountain West teams on Utah's schedule will lay down for the $1.75 million share of the Utes' BCS cut. Wouldn't you?
You're forgetting one thing: The players don't see a dime of that $1.75 million. Try telling them to lay down in the biggest game of their season. I'd pay good money, though, to see an opposing athletic director come down from his box and try to sack Alex Smith on a key third-down play in a tight game.
Which classes did you take at Northwestern to make you a college football and basketball expert? I don't see why anyone reading your stuff should think you know anything about football or basketball that he or she doesn't already know.
Actually, I took all the right classes you'd expect of an aspiring sportswriter -- Blocking Schemes 101, Intro to the 2-3 Zone, The Art of Press Box Cuisine. Problem is, I'm not a morning person, and many of them started before noon, which means I either didn't make it or was there but unconscious and drooling in the back row. So, I'm afraid I must admit I learned everything I know about the two sports the same way as most other college students: PlayStation.
I'm not here to bash the Buckeyes anymore. I'm not calling for Jim Tressel's resignation. Instead, I was wondering if you think, with the changes made offensively against Indiana, the Buckeyes can win three of four and finish with a respectable 7-4 (4-4) record?
I don't think they did anything against Indiana that any other team with 11 healthy offensive players would be able to against the Hoosiers. Antonio Pittman ran for 144 yards, which is certainly encouraging, but Lydell "Cheetah Bucks" Ross has had his share of big games against Indiana in the past. And Troy Smith had a nice, mistake-free game (12-of-24, 161 yards, two TDs), but that doesn't mean he'd do the same thing against a better defense. We'll get a much better idea whether the changes mean anything this weekend when the Buckeyes face Penn State, which, despite its 2-5 record, has a pretty darn good defense. In fact, it makes me wince to think what might happen when those two ghastly offenses play in the same game. You thought last week's 6-4 score was bad, this week might be 3-2.
Are you an idiot? How can you honestly place Cal in front of FSU in the Power Rankings. You know as well as everyone else that Cal would get destroyed by the Seminoles in every aspect of the game. Plus, they have not beaten a top-10 team this year, unlike FSU who handily whipped the Virginia Cavaliers and whose only loss was to the No. 3 team in the nation by six points. You must be smoking the good stuff.
Well, wait a second, Ken. Where would the game be played? If it were at Doak Campbell, yeah, you might be right. But pretty much anywhere else -- like, say, the Carrier Dome, or Wake Forest's Groves Stadium -- and I'm not sure the 'Noles would whip anyone, nevertheless Cal.
You know, it's funny, we talk all the time here about East Coast bias, but in terms of Cal, this may be one case where the writers are ahead of the curve in terms of their respect for the Bears. I get the sense, perhaps because the USC game wasn't televised in their region, that most fans outside of the West Coast aren't taking Cal seriously. It's understandable. In general we're usually slow to fully accept that a team from outside the traditional power structure may actually be good. But let me just say this. I've seen nine of the current top 15 teams in person -- including Florida State twice -- and Cal was as impressive as any of them.
I'm a student at Mississippi State and I was wondering if we could still go to a bowl game if we win the next four games, and also what are we ranked after stepping up to the Gators? Thanks.
Absolutely! I don't know if you're aware, but of the 56 available bowl berths, the SEC controls 27 of them. All the Bulldogs have to do is beat Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss to become eligible and that invite is a given. As for the ranking, hard as this is to believe, Mississippi State hasn't yet cracked the "Others receiving votes" portion of the AP or Coaches' polls. However, you'll be happy to know that on Jerry Palm's CollegeBCS site, where he applies the BCS formula to all 117 teams, the Bulldogs have risen to 80th, one spot behind Army. This may not seem like much, but look at it this way: The Bulldogs are six spots ahead of Penn State.
Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.