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Posted: Wednesday January 13, 2010 12:34PM; Updated: Wednesday January 13, 2010 2:41PM
Stewart Mandel

Kiffin, Carroll and a coaching carousel fix, plus more mail

Story Highlights

A second Signing Day would reduce the impact of the coaching carousel

Kelly left Cincy better than he found it; Kiffin did not do so with Tennessee

Plus: Why Carroll left, BCS Championship follow-up, SEC hot seat alert

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With Signing Day rapidly approaching, Lane Kiffin's departure puts Tennessee in an unenviable recruiting situation.
With Signing Day rapidly approaching, Lane Kiffin's departure puts Tennessee in a difficult recruiting situation.
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

People always ask me: What do you write about in the offseason? My answer, half-jokingly, has always been "there is no offseason." But it no longer feels like a joke. This particular season literally won't end. It's gotten to the point where I'm scared to log online in the morning for fear of what crazy coaching story will have popped up next.

Jim Tressel resigning to begin new career as late-night talk show host ... South Florida to hire Holtz -- Lou Holtz.

Is there anything we wouldn't believe at this point?

Stewart, this college coaching carousel is crazy. This makes you appreciate guys like Paterno even more. Do you think college football should implement a policy where a school that hires a coach who is currently under contract at another school loses scholarships?
-- Mike Patschke, Newton, Pa.

We heard this often after the Brian Kelly/Sugar Bowl episode -- people want the NCAA to step in and do something about the timing of coaching changes. But it's not the NCAA's jurisdiction. These aren't pro franchises, these are universities, and the football coach just happens to be one extremely well paid university employee. The NCAA has no more authority to tell a school when it can or can't hire its next coach than to dictate its next chemistry professor.

The one pertinent thing the NCAA does have control over is its recruiting calendar, which is the single driving factor behind the timing of said coaching changes. The reason Kelly felt he couldn't stick around for Cincinnati's Sugar Bowl appearance was the need to get started on recruiting for Notre Dame (which was only a couple of weeks away from entering a dead period) as quickly as possible. The reason USC, and now Tennessee, were put in such a bind was that they lost their coaches just a few weeks before Signing Day (which itself was unavoidable because the NFL -- which created the Carroll ripple -- ends its regular season a month after college).

If the NCAA created an early Signing Day (as some coaches have been pushing for several years now) or moved it later, there wouldn't be so much pressure for schools and coaches to act so quickly. Recruits are still going to get caught in the middle one way or another -- I don't know how to avoid that other than to continue cautioning prospects that their coach could leave at any time -- but you could cut down on the awkward situations where coaches leave on the eve of bowl games or the devastating effect when they leave right before Signing Day.

So let me get this straight. Kelly ditches his kids (who worked so hard all year) prior to the biggest game of their lives versus Florida, without finishing the season or giving advanced notice like REAL professionals do, in order to get started at ND, and that was a great thing. Now, this guy (Kiffin) leaves during the OFFSEASON, and he is chastised for it? You better get your bias straight prior to writing articles 'cause it's blatant.
-- Anthony, Baltimore

I'm not sure how you got the idea that anyone (myself included) thought Kelly leaving before the Sugar Bowl was a "great thing," but it is true that I understand why he did it. I also thought that while Cincinnati players' initial bitterness toward Kelly was understandable, ultimately they and Bearcats' fans should feel far more gratitude toward the guy for transforming their program from an irrelevant International Bowl team into a two-time Big East champ and BCS participant. Kelly did far more good for that school in three years than the harm he may have caused for a few weeks prior to the bowl game.

Kiffin, on the other hand, ditched Tennessee having accomplished almost nothing. He delivered a seven-win season and one great recruiting class. Thanks for that. And as strange as it sounds, his timing was far worse than Kelly's due to the ramifications it could have on the Vols' future. I do understand why he took the job. USC was his "home" (if there is such a thing), and it's a more attractive job than Tennessee for several reasons -- the existing talent on hand; the natural recruiting backyard; and the better chance to compete for conference titles on a regular basis.

But leaving any school after just one year is poor form, especially considering the considerable leash extended to Kiffin by AD Mike Hamilton. While Hamilton put on a good face publicly, I have to think the guy was cringing just a little bit every time Kiffin ran his mouth, and especially when he broke NCAA rules. The understanding throughout was that Kiffin was just trying to generate publicity for the program, that there was a greater goal in sight -- but apparently that goal was to get back to USC. Cincinnati fans may feel jilted by Kelly, but at least their program is in infinitely better shape than when he arrived. Kiffin won seven games and left behind a whole bunch of wreckage. At this point, the school would have been better off keeping Phillip Fulmer for another year.

Is it possible that Pete Carroll saw the writing on the wall regarding potential upcoming sanctions over the Reggie Bush fiasco?
-- Steve, Mayors Income, Tenn.

Maybe I'm the most gullible person on the planet, but I don't believe the NCAA/Bush situation was a driving factor. As Carroll said, the issue has been hanging over the program for three-and-a-half years now. If it truly scared him, he could have bolted a long time ago. It's admittedly suspicious timing that the NCAA's letter of allegations finally arrived recently (USC will appear before the Committee on Infractions in February), but from all indications, the Seattle thing came out of nowhere. It's not like Carroll was hatching his escape.

Most importantly -- and I know this is going to disappoint many of you -- barring some surprise revelation, USC's football program is probably going to avoid anything serious. (Basketball: Not so much.) If in fact the NCAA proved Bush received extra benefits (and it would have to be the worst investigating unit in history if it didn't), the most likely ramification is that the school will have to vacate wins from that period. Unless the NCAA finds the coaches had direct knowledge of said benefits (and my guess is they didn't), there should be no docked scholarships or postseason bans. The athletic department itself is in danger of a "lack of institutional control" charge, but AD Mike Garrett figures to be the fall guy for that one.

I think Carroll's decision came down to two factors: 1) His obviously strained relationship with Garrett (which may in part be a result of the AD's handling of the Bush and Joe McKnight investigations). I'm not sure I've ever heard an AD throw an otherwise revered coach under the bus the way Garrett did during a radio interview last month discussing the Trojans' disappointing season; and 2) I just think he got bored. If you've ever spent any time around Carroll, you know he has the attention span of a 5-year-old. He needs constant stimulation. We all know his favorite word -- compete -- and deep down, I think he's always been itching to do it again at the highest level.

Those first five years or so at USC, he seemed truly grateful to be in college and to have the opportunity to build his own program. In recent years, however, USC started more and more to resemble a mini-NFL franchise, from its coaching staff to its offensive schemes to its seeming lack of interest in anything but the biggest games, and you have to wonder in hindsight whether Carroll was using the Trojans as his own personal NFL laboratory. If nothing else, he's made it abundantly clear he prefers a sport with a playoff. He did seem rather detached (though insightful) working for ESPN at last week's title game. I guess now we know why.

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