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Checking it twice

It's time to revisit last summer's 'worst coaches' list

Posted: Wednesday October 11, 2006 12:11PM; Updated: Wednesday October 11, 2006 4:16PM
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After a rough start, Chuck Amato and N.C. State have bounced back to beat Boston College and Florida State.
After a rough start, Chuck Amato and N.C. State have bounced back to beat Boston College and Florida State.
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When I first penned a list of the "10 best and five worst coaches" two summers ago, it was intended as nothing more than a casual conversation topic to break up the monotony of the offseason. What I failed to anticipate was that the "worst coaches" part would take on a life of its own.

I'm not sure anyone even remembers whom I did or didn't include among the 10 best, but the names of the five worst have apparently been burned into the brains of everyone who read that column. Rarely a day goes by that someone doesn't bring it up to me -- especially now that four members of last season's edition are in the midst of an apparent uprising.

Contrary to what you might think, I don't derive any personal satisfaction from criticizing coaches. It actually causes me deep-seated guilt -- as I recently found out while fast asleep.

Did you happen to watch last Thursday's Florida State-N.C. State game? Right after the game, Dr. Jerry Punch asked Chuck Amato -- the guy I dubbed No. 1 worst coach over the summer -- whether the win would "quiet some of the critics who have been writing all this stuff about you." Amato, in one of the great responses of all time, said with a straight face, "What critics? ... I have no idea what you're talking about," and ran off the field. Also, at halftime of that game, Lou Holtz reached a new low in studio analysis when he referred to former Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley as "J.D. Stokley." Both events help explain a dream I had when I went to bed that night.

In it, I was in a classroom with the N.C. State football team. I was sitting on the far-left side in one of those awful "chair desks" that you have to squeeze yourself into. An unidentified woman at the front of the room (I don't think she was a teacher) asked if anyone had "anything to say to Coach Amato," who was sitting on the opposite side of the room. I turned to him and started politely explaining how the list was compiled, and why he shouldn't take it personally -- only I couldn't make myself heard over Holtz, who was sitting in one of the rows between us gabbing with the person in front of him. That's the last thing I remember.

So to clear my conscience, I think I had better revisit -- and, in some cases, revise -- the list.

1. Chuck Amato, N.C. State: Amato made this list because his teams had woefully underachieved the past two seasons in light of all the NFL talent they had on defense. The problem was an atrocious offense. This season appeared to be headed in a similar direction, with embarrassing losses to Akron and Southern Miss, until Amato made the bold decision to bench veteran QB Marcus Stone for untested Daniel Evans, who's led the 'Pack to victories over Boston College and Florida State.

It's too early to say just how far Evans will take them, but for that decision alone, Chuck, you're off the list. You've been replaced by your crosstown foe John Bunting, he of the 25-40 career record.

2. Gary Pinkel, Missouri: My main criticism of Pinkel (much like everyone else's) was that gifted dual-threat QB Brad Smith seemed to regress under his watch. We'll never know for sure what happened, but he seems to be having no such problems with Chase Daniel, who fits the spread-option offense Pinkel installed last season like a glove. Pinkel himself has changed, too. His prickly public demeanor, which didn't exactly inspire confidence, has been replaced by a smiling, laughing version. Also, I'm pretty sure someone gave him an image makeover. The old Pinkel look: game-show host. The new Pinkel look: bad-ass football coach.

Missouri, in case you haven't heard, is 6-0 for the first time since 1973. So Coach Pinkel, you're off the list. You've been replaced by a guy who was once Mizzou's offensive coordinator -- and who will probably be an offensive coordinator again somewhere next season -- Mr. Dirk Koetter.

3. Chan Gailey, Georgia Tech: Gailey's defenders like to send me e-mails every time the Jackets win a big game, which is actually pretty often (Auburn and Miami last year, Virginia Tech a couple of weeks ago). The problem was never that Gailey couldn't win the big one -- it's that he lost the easy ones. That's how the Jackets wind up 7-5 every year. But there are indications that Gailey's team may finally be turning the corner. Last weekend Tech thwarted a last-minute Maryland drive to avert what would have been an embarrassing home loss and, in doing so, ended a streak of three straight losses in games where the Jackets were ranked and their opponent wasn't.

I like this Tech team a lot, but I'm still not 100 percent convinced that Coach Chan won't find a way to screw it up. So here's the deal: If the Jackets win their division like they should, he's off the list, and a round of hot dogs at the Varsity are on me.

4. John L. Smith, Michigan State: Umm ... still on the list.

5. Bill Doba, Washington State: Doba's inclusion wasn't entirely fair to begin with, seeing as Wazzu has never been a program that's been able to maintain a string of success for too long. The Cougs have had a couple of rough seasons (5-6 in 2004 and 4-7 in '05) but appear to be on the way back up. They're 4-2, with losses to Auburn and USC, the latter a much-closer-than-expected battle for the Trojans.

So, Bill, you're off the list. You've been replaced by your Northwest neighbor, Mike Riley, who, in his first stint at Oregon State, was credited with planting the seeds for the Beavers' success under Dennis Erickson -- and can now be credited with completely undoing it.

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