Breaking down the coaching carousel; more mail
More Mailbag (cont.)
I've always appreciated Tommy Tuberville's candor, particularly his comments this week on the Tim Brando Show in regard to coaches changing jobs. "We're hired guns; that's basically what we are as football coaches," he said. "Everybody says, 'This is Mr. Georgia or Mr. Alabama.' It's just a football coach."
Fans like to think their favorite team's coach shares the same undying devotion to State U as they do, but coaching is a career. People constantly change jobs to better their careers. Why would coaches be any different?
There is one noticeable difference: You rarely see a football coach give two weeks' notice. Tuberville certainly didn't to his Texas Tech recruits.
Why do coaches always leave their teams before bowl games? I get that they have new positions, but you would think that they'd finish out the season with the team. It is awful to watch a team play great all season and then choke in a bowl because they are using a temporary coach, to the point that I'm less inclined to watch a game under those circumstances.
-- Ben, Fort Collins, Colo.
This year two BCS bowl teams, Northern Illinois and Wisconsin, will play without the coaches who led them there. In 15 seasons of the BCS, Brian Kelly, then of Cincinnati, and Rich Rodriguez, then of West Virginia, were the only two previous pre-bowl defectors. Granted, Dave Doeren left the Huskies before knowing they'd qualified for a BCS bowl, and Bret Bielema said he would have stayed to coach in the Rose Bowl if desired, but AD Barry Alvarez thought it best he move on. That's not uncommon in these situations; if a school feels jilted, it might not want the coach to stay.
Still, the overriding message is clear: Coaches place very little importance on non-championship bowls. It's a given that you don't leave your team if it's playing for the national title. Then-Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen in 2008 and Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain last season were two recent examples of coaches who stayed for the BCS championship. But that same courtesy used to extend to the other big bowls. Utah's Urban Meyer and Pitt's Walt Harris both coached in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl despite the fact they weren't coming back. Somehow those extra few weeks with the Utes did not prevent Meyer from building a national championship program at Florida. But I wonder if he'd do the same thing today.
For the most part, coaches feel even a single day not devoted to their new jobs will put them behind. Signing Day is only two months away. They have a class full of commitments to secure and a slew of official visitors to impress. They want to fill out their staff as soon as possible, in large part so those recruits can meet those coaches. Perhaps that pressure would be alleviated with an early signing date. In basketball, nobody changes jobs pre-NCAA tournament, and it probably helps that most recruiting classes are sewn up the previous November. Then again, basketball recruits often ask for and are granted releases from their letters of intent when there's a coaching change. I'd imagine it would be the same in football, only with much greater numbers.
With all that in mind, take a second to salute the one recently hired head coach who is sticking with his old team: Kent State's Darrell Hazell. The newly announced Purdue coach could have easily blown off the GoDaddy.com Bowl, especially since it's not played until Jan. 6. But Hazell asked for and received permission to stay for the Golden Flashes' first bowl trip in 40 years. "In today's world, it's a little unusual," Kent State AD Joel Nielsen told reporters last week. "If you go back about 20 years, that's the way it used to be done." Apparently, 20 years ago, coaches held bowl games in higher regard and didn't think their new program would implode if they held off starting the gig full-time for just a few weeks.
Does this year's Heisman race really change anything long term, as so many people are suggesting? Or will it be the exception that proves the rule? With all due respect to those three great players (Johnny Manziel, Manti Te'o and Collin Klein), no player this season really stole the national spotlight for more than a week or two at a time, and no legit top-five team had a signature offensive star. Any other year, these three finalists might not have made it to New York.
-- Adam, Kalamazoo, Mich.
I agree that this was one of the less exciting Heisman seasons in recent memory. As Joe Tessitore noted on my podcast last week, the season was defined more by frontrunners stumbling (first Matt Barkley, then Geno Smith, then Klein) than by others rising up and claiming the trophy. That's true even of Manziel, who didn't ascend to the top spot on most lists until the week after his Alabama performance -- a week in which A&M played an FCS school -- when Klein lost to Baylor. Te'o similarly generated most of his buzz in games prior to November (Michigan, Stanford, Oklahoma), yet he finished higher in the voting than most would have projected in late October. I take solace in the fact that five of the top seven vote-getters (Manziel, Marqise Lee, Braxton Miller, Jadeveon Clowney and Jordan Lynch) should return next season, which could make for a fantastic year.
But this year's outcome did produce a milestone that could have an impact on future races -- and it's not Manziel winning as a freshman. The Heisman electorate had been gradually shedding the age bias for years and was destined to crown a freshman at some point. More remarkable to me is that a linebacker finished second. Granted, Te'o was just about the ideal prototype for a defensive candidate: a four-year starter for Notre Dame; the star player for the nation's No. 1 team; a riveting human-interest story. Some might say if he couldn't win it, which defensive player can? But remember, two other defenders, Clowney and Georgia's Jarvis Jones, also cracked the top 10. Whereas Te'o entered the year with no Heisman buzz, Clowney will start next season on practically every watch list and could well win the award. He'll need to have an absolutely dominant season (let's say, 20 sacks) and hope none of the national title contenders have a Manziel-like quarterback. But this year certainly gave hope that a true defensive player (no kick returns or offensive snaps) can win the Heisman.
In discussing the relative merits of Wisconsin and Arkansas with a friend, I found it hard to pick Arkansas (one BCS game, no conference titles since joining the SEC) over Wisconsin (six Rose Bowls, six conference titles during the same time span). But prior to Barry Alvarez taking over, Wisconsin was effectively irrelevant in the football world. With the loss of Bielema -- who was groomed to succeed Alvarez -- what do you see as the chances that Wisconsin returns to mediocrity (or worse)?
-- Marcus Aurelius, North Royalton, Ohio
Alvarez and Bielema turned Wisconsin into one of the Big Ten's top programs; however, that doesn't mean the Badgers are entrenched in the conference hierarchy. In fact, based solely on location, recruiting reach and facilities and resources, Wisconsin might not even rank among the upper half of the league. Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska, Michigan State and even Illinois have more built-in advantages. Wisconsin became Wisconsin by doing things in a unique way. Alvarez built the blueprint -- recruit blue-collar players, develop and build around offensive linemen, run the ball down peoples' throats -- which Bielema emulated and improved upon. There are few logical descendants from their coaching tree (Pittsburgh's Paul Chryst would be one, but Alvarez has said he won't pursue Chryst only a year after helping him get that job), and any outsider may prefer an entirely different system. But there's no guarantee the Badgers could still flourish under any other system.
It reminds me of the crossroads Nebraska faced post-Tom Osborne. The Huskers had been so dominant for so long that most people assumed they would just keep running over opponents with the triple-option until the end of time. Instead, Nebraska slipped a little under Frank Solich. Then AD Steve Pedersen made the disastrous decision to replace Solich with Bill Callahan, who blew up 40 years of history and tried running an NFL program in Lincoln. Bo Pelini has returned Nebraska to its roots a little bit, but he certainly has not returned the program to its former perch. Wisconsin may face many of the same challenges, and whoever becomes the next coach, he'd be wise to retain much of Alvarez and Bielema's philosophy.
Stewart, get off your high horse. Petrino's morals and ethical conduct are no worse than those of the average sports reporter. Or would you have us believe there are no sports reporters getting a little on the side?
-- Jack, Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Some of the reader reaction to my Petrino column on Monday was a bit ... odd. The column was about Western Kentucky's decision. I barely touched on Petrino's sleazy past because I just assumed his sleazy past is a given. Apparently not. Jack's e-mail was not an uncommon response. (Read the comments section if you dare.)
I have no earthly idea about the infidelity rate among sports reporters, but Petrino was not fired for having an affair. He was fired for lying to his boss and for getting his mistress a job in the football program. I'm sure there's a sports reporter somewhere who's done something similar, but Jack has either an extremely cynical or a misinformed view of what constitutes "average" behavior.
Washington State hired Mike Leach, Arizona hired Rich Rodriguez, UCLA hired Jim Mora, and Cal hires ... Sonny Dykes? With all the money from the Pac-12's recent TV contract, and with the brand-new facilities at Cal, shouldn't the program have set its sights a little higher? Am I wrong in thinking that it could have also landed a Bielema or Tuberville type of hire?
-- Jeff, Lake Stevens, Wash.
Your statement assumes that the only coaches equipped to lead a Pac-12 championship aspirant are those who have already won at the highest level. Obviously that's not true. Successful mid-major coaches rise up and become great BCS-level coaches all the time, and Dykes was among the most highly regarded mid-major coaches on the market. His Louisiana Tech team produced the nation's No. 1 scoring offense, and it put up 57 points on Texas A&M, 52 on Illinois and 44 on Virginia. Dykes is bringing offensive coordinator Tony Franklin with him to try to replicate that wizardry. If it works, Cal may well have the next Leach or Rodriguez on its hands.
The better question is this: Did Cal hire the right mid-major coach? Did fellow Pac-12 member Colorado one up the Bears -- by way of the Bay Area, no less -- in hiring San Jose State's Mike MacIntyre? Don't get me wrong, Dykes did great things in Ruston. He took over a program that suffered six losing seasons from 2000-09 and led it to a WAC championship in 2011 and a 17-8 record over the past two years. But MacIntyre engineered a turnaround at San Jose State that dwarfs both the one Dykes just achieved and the one he's embarking on. In three years under MacIntyre, the Spartans improved from 1-12 to 5-7 to 10-2. He's undertaking an enormous rebuilding job at Colorado, but he's certainly proven capable. I believe Dykes will do well at Cal, but if by chance he doesn't, and if MacIntyre leads the Buffs back to relevance, Cal will surely be kicking itself that the better hire was sitting there all along on the other end of the bay.
Hey, Stewart. So it appears Nebraska fans will enter another winter of discontent -- with both their program and their coach. Should we be OK with consistent nine-win seasons, good grades and good kids and live with the increasingly embarrassing big-stage, primetime blowouts? It doesn't look like we'll get the best of both with Bo.
-- Shane Johnston, Raleigh, N.C.
There are plenty of programs out there that should be thrilled to win nine or 10 games every year. Nebraska is not one of them. To his credit, Pelini has taken teams to conference title games in three of his five seasons. That's pretty good. The Huskers have not won any of those games, however, and this year's loss to Wisconsin was flat out embarrassing. That's not so good. The Capital One Bowl against Georgia will be big for Bo. If he beats a top-10 SEC team to finish the season 11-3, that's a pretty big momentum boost heading into the offseason. I don't think there'd be much discontent. But if the Huskers lose -- in particular, if they get blown out -- it will be yet another reminder that the program is still miles away from rejoining the national elite.
Not even Nebraska fans expect a national title at this point, but they should expect to field a top-20 team that gets through a season with fewer than four losses. Remarkably, if Georgia beats the Huskers on Jan. 1, Pelini's five seasons will have ended with records of 9-4, 10-4, 10-4, 9-4 and 10-4, respectively. That's a model of consistency, and it's certainly not disastrous. But a program like Nebraska can do better.
Stewart, your story on Bobby Petrino is a poor excuse to write an article by using the word sleazeball and attacking him for leaving Atlanta for Arkansas midseason. Aren't you free to leave your current position to go work for another employer? Would you criticize yourself so harshly? I don't think so.
-- David Jarratt, Searcy, Ark.
So even after ruining your favorite school's potential dream season, embarrassing the university and exposing it to potential legal liability, you're still defending the guy? John L. really did a number on you guys.
Stewart, with the Big East seeming to be losing more teams, do you think Boise State and San Diego State will continue with their plans to enter the Big East next year? I would think they might want to jump back to the Mountain West. If they do, would the MWC take them back and then create a championship game?
-- David Whitlock, Los Gatos, Calif.
This week's news that the Big East basketball schools (Marquette, St. John's, Providence, Georgetown, Villanova, DePaul and Seton Hall) are discussing whether to break away from the league should certainly give Boise and San Diego State serious pause. That may sound strange, seeing as the two Western schools are joining for football only, but there's potential for a significant impact. At this point, the sole reason for those schools to join the Big East is a potential boost in television revenue. Their BCS/playoff access will be no different in the Big East than it would be in the Mountain West, nor will their share of the playoff revenue. And the Mountain West is arguably more stable at this point than the Big East. It's all about the TV revenue, especially given the fact that the Mountain West's current deal provides very little of it (about $1 million per year school).
But the Big East is the one major conference that currently gets more TV money for basketball than football. That won't likely be the case going forward, but the Big East basketball brand -- in particular, the Big East tournament -- is a significant part of its appeal. Take that away, and Boise and San Diego State are joining a football conference that's no better than the one they're leaving. In fact, the average Sagarin rating of the 2014 Big East football lineup, minus the Broncos and Aztecs, is 63.26. The Mountain West's this year was a slightly better 64.09. However, for TV purposes, the Big East has major markets and the Mountain West does not. So Boise and San Diego State have to figure out whether a stripped-for-parts Big East will still garner a significant revenue spike, and they'll have to do so knowing the MWC will get its own crack at a new deal in three years. If not, either they should stay put or perhaps try to start a new conference with the best teams of both leagues.
Petrino is a sleazeball, but it's hypocrisy of the highest order to single him out because he is an NCAA coach and let POLITCIANS (by the hundreds!) like Bill Clinton, Anthony Weiner, etc. get a free pass. Double standard or what?
-- Ken Goffstein, Teaneck, N.J.
Well, let's see. Bill Clinton was one of two presidents in history to be impeached. Anthony Weiner was effectively kicked out of Congress. Meanwhile, poor Bobby Petrino will get paid $850,000 to coach a college football team this season. Which guy are we saying got the free pass?
I beg to differ with your description of Petrino as a winner. He's a loser. And so is Western Kentucky and the culture of college football.
-- Bob, Powell, Ohio
Oh good. I feel a little bit better knowing the entire world has not lost its mind -- and that Petrino apologists and bashers alike can find fault with that column.