Never-ending coaching carousel radically altering sport's landscape
Pete Carroll's resignation is part of the greatest landscape shift in a decade
'Bama, Texas poised to dominated the coming decade like USC did the last
Plus: Mike Riley's future, Colt McCoy's class, an early 2010 BCS forecast
College football history tends to conveniently divide itself by decade.
When we think of the '80s, we think of Jimmy Johnson's Miami Hurricanes and Barry Switzer's Oklahoma Sooners. When we think of the '90s, we think of Florida State's dominance, Nebraska's national titles and Steve Spurrier's visor. While the 'Aughts are barely behind us, various all-decade retrospectives indicate the decade's defining images will be those of Vince Young, Tim Tebow -- and the decade's top team, USC.
It was inevitable that a changing of the guard would occur over the course of this next decade -- but who would have thought it would take place within the first two weeks.
While Alabama and Texas clashed last Thursday to decide 2009's national champion, Pete Carroll had apparently begun discussions with the Seattle Seahawks regarding what would be a landscape-changing shakeup. The possibility of Carroll bolting back to the pros has been hanging over the Trojans for years, but so long as he stayed it seemed like USC, as was the coach's motto, might just "win forever."
It took this season's 9-4 tumble and Emerald Bowl appearance to remind us that no program is immune from a downturn -- and to truly appreciate the magnitude of what Carroll has accomplished. In the 12 seasons prior to his arrival, the Trojans won two Pac-10 titles and never eclipsed nine wins. From 2002-08, USC captured seven straight conference crowns and never won fewer than 11 games. This was a Carroll-engineered run, not some USC birthright, and his successor will be hard-pressed to duplicate it.
Carroll's impending departure coupled with the threat of NCAA sanctions (is Carroll making a John Calipari-esque escape?) could well doom the Trojans to an extended period of mediocrity. (Ask Alabama fans what that feels like.) At the very least, it opens the door to a new entrant amongst the sport's ruling oligarchy, which could come from any number of locales.
This season's hectic and seemingly never-ending coaching carousel has been more eventful than the games themselves, and by the time it's done, college football will have undergone its most radical makeover in nearly a decade.
There will be new coaches at USC (???), Notre Dame (Brian Kelly) and, for the first time in 34 years, Florida State (Jimbo Fisher). Florida's two-time national champion coach, Urban Meyer, may or may not be back next fall. Mike Leach, Texas Tech's ubiquitous coach of the past decade, is gone, replaced by another familiar face, Tommy Tuberville. The only coach USF has ever known, Jim Leavitt, departed in disgrace, as did another man, Mark Mangino, who took Kansas to a BCS game.
Two rising stars who became head coaches just a year earlier, Oregon's Chip Kelly and Washington's Steve Sarkisian, stand poised to fill the void in the Pac-10 that may be created by Carroll's departure. Another Carroll protégé, Tennessee's Lane Kiffin, is setting his sights on suddenly vulnerable Florida (though so far, the Gators' recruiting juggernaut shows no signs of slowing down).
To find the last time the landscape changed so considerably, you have to go back nine years, to the 2000-01 offseason. That was the year USC hired Carroll and Ohio State hired Jim Tressel, producing two of the most successful programs of the past decade. Georgia hired Florida State offensive coordinator Mark Richt, a move that both resuscitated the Bulldogs and marked the beginning of the end to Bobby Bowden's Seminoles' dynasty. It was also the year Miami hired Larry Coker, both a boon to the Hurricanes in the short term and a debacle in later years. And a pair of largely unnoticed hires at the time, Boise State's Dan Hawkins and Bowling Green's Urban Meyer, paved the way for Boise to jumpstart its program and Meyer his career.
It seems we're staring at the beginning of a similarly seismic sea change. It's impossible to predict what the sport might look like 10 years down the road -- the next Boise State is waiting in the wings somewhere; and someone we've not yet heard of will inevitably become this decade's Meyer -- but we can take a more educated stab at which schools will rule the next several years.
To do so, one need only look back at last Thursday's championship game.
The sight of an unhappily drenched Nick Saban hoisting the crystal trophy could become a familiar one. Alabama's soon-to-be immortalized head coach sits in much the same spot as Carroll did three years into his tenure. They've followed an eerily similar progression (USC went from 6-6 to 11-2 to 12-1; Alabama from 7-6 to 12-2 to 14-0), both winning national titles in their third seasons. And much like Carroll at the time, Saban has yet to finish flushing out his predecessor's holdovers with his own hand-picked blue-chippers.
Off the field, Alabama landed Rivals.com's No. 1 recruiting classes each of the past two years and sits No. 3 now. On the field, the Tide -- who return quarterback Greg McElroy, running backs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson and receiver Julio Jones -- figure to start in next year's preseason polls right where they ended this year's (much to Saban's chagrin).
"We do have a lot of good players returning on offense," he said the morning after the title game. "But [with] all the players we're losing on defense ... we're going to have a new kicker, we're going to have a new punter, we're going to have a new specialist, we're going to have a lot of new things."
Meanwhile, Mack Brown's Longhorns sit in a more enviable position than they did following their 2005 title season. Colt McCoy's shoulder injury Thursday night marked a cruel ending to one era, but provided a sneak peak into the next one, as McCoy's successor, freshman Garrett Gilbert, overcame his deer-in-headlights first half to show off a cannon arm and remarkable resiliency in the second.
"We think [Gilbert] has a chance to be a really special player," said Brown.
Brown's program has never been more stable. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is locked in for the long term, and his impact could be seen Thursday night, when Texas' defense looked every bit as impressive as Alabama's. And of course Brown's recruiting assembly line continues unabated (he's sitting on Rivals' No. 2 class right now).
That's not to say Alabama and Texas will be staging annual BCS Championship rematches. The SEC makes it almost impossible for the Tide or any other team to consistently dominate, and the 'Horns will always have Oklahoma to keep them in line (not to mention reemerging Nebraska).
But Saban and Brown don't appear to be going anywhere, which means their programs should remain among the nation's perennial powers. A whole bunch of others are suddenly in a state of flux.
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