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Posted: Wednesday July 11, 2007 12:14PM; Updated: Wednesday July 11, 2007 2:48PM
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Al Groh has developed NFL talent at Virginia, but has yet to produce a consistent winning product on the field.
Al Groh has developed NFL talent at Virginia, but has yet to produce a consistent winning product on the field.
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Now comes the hard part. The worst coaches list was extremely difficult this year because: a) A couple of my old standbys (Chuck Amato, John L. Smith) finally got fired; and b) There seems to a growing rash of guys who have proven to be absolutely lights-out recruiters but haven't done squat on the field. On the one hand, this would seem to be a pretty clear indicator of bad coaching, but on the other hand, recruiting is a fairly major part of a coach's job.

So how do you balance those? By simply gauging who's doing the least with the most.

The Five Worst

1) Al Groh, Virginia: Matt Schaub. D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Heath Miller. Ahmad Brooks. Groh has produced his share of talent in Charlottesville. So what does he have to show for it? A 25-23 ACC record and a whole bunch of Christmas dinners in Charlotte and Boise.

2) Dennis Franchione, Texas A&M: Having now had four years to gauge Coach Fran's tenure in College Station, I think we can safely describe it in one word: disappointing (15-17 Big 12 record). A program like A&M's should never be this mediocre for this long.

3) Tommy Bowden, Clemson: How does a team with James Davis, C.J. Spiller and Gaines Adams manage to lose four of its last five? How does a program with Clemson's resources fail to crack 8-4? And how has Bowden managed to survive half a decade on the hot seat?

4) Bill Doba, Washington State: With each passing year, it becomes painfully apparent that Doba -- a super-nice guy and former legendary high school coach -- is in way over his head. After a successful 10-3 debut in 2003, he's gone 8-17 in the Pac-10 since.

5) Karl Dorrell, UCLA: Last year's USC upset was the first sign Dorrell's Bruins were finally turning the corner -- and they promptly followed it up with that Emerald Bowl debacle. On paper, UCLA looks like a BCS contender this year, but Dorrell's track record doesn't exactly inspire much confidence.

Just missed: Georgia Tech's Chan Gailey (who gets a one-year reprieve for winning a division title, even if he did still manage to lose his requisite five games), Nebraska's Bill Callahan, Arizona's Mike Stoops, Illinois' Ron Zook and Arkansas' Houston Nutt.

Now, on to your questions:

I think safeties are getting more important every year. Look at what Reggie Nelson did last year for Florida. So who is this year's great safety? I think Kenny Phillips, because Miami has produced some great safeties and played very well last year.
--Wilco Mulder, Nieuwehorne, The Netherlands

First of all, that's the coolest name of anyone ever to write in to the Mailbag. Secondly, it's always good to hear from my readers in Holland. And yes -- you're definitely on to something with your safety theory.

It's not like safeties haven't been important all along. There's a reason guys like Ronnie Lott, Jack Tatum and, more recently, Roy Williams and Ed Reed are held in such high regard. But I do think we're seeing a change in the type of athletes who play the position and the way coaches use them. Traditionally, safeties were known primarily for roaming around and delivering the big hit. Seeing as they're usually the last line of defense, the emphasis was on tackling ability. But more recently, we've seen the emergence of faster, more versatile guys like Nelson (who was arguably the most important member of Florida's national championship D) and LSU's LaRon Landry, Utah's Eric Weddle and Texas' Michael Huff, who could best be described as playmakers. These are guys who are as skilled in pass coverage as any cornerback (oftentimes they've played corner as well) but can also get up and blitz or generally wreak havoc.

At first glance, this year's crop isn't quite as exciting as last year's, though Phillips is definitely at the top of the class. A starter since practically day one his freshman season, he very much fits the mold of the new-age, athletic safety. Also keep an eye on Tennessee's Jonathan Hefney, Boise State's Marty Tadman, Kansas State's Marcus Watts and Rutgers' Courtney Greene (all of whom, as free safeties, have more freedom to make big plays).

With the verbal commitment of Rivals.com's No. 2-rated QB E.J. Manuel to Florida State, do you feel one commitment really boosts the decisions of other highly rated prospects from other offensive positions?
--John, Scranton, Pa.

I'm not usually the type to follow recruiting that closely until closer to Signing Day, but that particular announcement definitely caught my eye. For one thing, it's the most significant signing to date of the Jimbo Fisher effect at FSU. Manuel is a quarterback from Virginia who could have gone just about anywhere but chose the Seminoles, despite their recent struggles. Obviously, the chance to go play for the guy who mentored JaMarcus Russell was a pretty strong selling point (especially considering Manuel's other reported favorite was LSU). Furthermore, you can tell things are changing in Tallahassee because in the past Bobby Bowden's program always seemed to wait until the last minute to get most of its major commitments. The 'Noles already have 12 reported pledges for 2008, a signal that Bowden's new staff is being more aggressive early in identifying and pursuing the guys they like.

And yes, there's definitely legitimacy to the domino effect in recruiting, particularly with high-profile quarterbacks. It happened at Florida both when Chris Leak and Tim Tebow committed -- other big-name guys quickly followed. It could happen here. Recruits take notice when a high-profile guy commits somewhere. They take it as a sign that it could be the place to be. However, much will depend on FSU's performance on the field this season, as well as what kind of networking, if any, Manuel does with other blue-chippers around the country, either at camps or in the postseason all-star games.

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