SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
11/30/2006 01:27:00 PM
How Will Wolfpack Counter Tar Heels?
USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin could be an outside candidate for the N.C. State job.
If you happened to watch the Ohio State-North Carolina basketball game last night, you saw sideline reporter Doris Burke interview the newly hired Butch Davis in what could best be described as a free infomercial for the UNC football program.
I said it at the time and I’ll say it again: While firing John Bunting with five games left in his season may have been a bit awkward, it could not have worked out better for the school. Not only was UNC able to get a head start on the competition in locking up Davis (had they waited until the end of the season, Davis would probably have wound up the next coach at Alabama), but while other schools are only now starting up their searches, Davis is already on the job -- and wasting no time getting himself out there.
North Carolina formally introduced the former Miami and Cleveland Browns coach at a news conference Monday, two days after the Heels’ 45-44 win over Duke in Bunting’s last game. When I spoke to Davis that evening, he was already preparing to hit the recruiting trail. “I take the [NCAA] certification test tomorrow,” he said at the time. “I got up real early and started cramming. Hopefully I’ll be able to pass it with flying colors.” He did, making his first official visits Thursday despite having yet to hire his first assistant coach.
Recruiting was obviously Davis’ forte at Miami, where he assembled some of the most impressive collections of talent the sport had seen despite the specter of NCAA sanctions. Asked what the key will be to achieving recruiting success at his new school, Davis said, “It’s going to begin with the fact we have to do a tremendous job with players in the state of North Carolina. Obviously, I think this is a school with a great national reputation, but first and foremost we have to do a really good job of finding players at home.”
Which brings us to another school currently in the midst of a coaching transition: N.C. State. The Tar Heels’ Triangle rival fired seven-year coach Chuck Amato last weekend, and while the Chest certainly left a lot to be desired performance-wise (going 25-31 in ACC competition), one thing he did awfully well was recruit. The Wolf Pack may have landed more Parade All-Americas and “four-star” recruits under Amato then their entire previous history.
Which is why, if you’re N.C. State AD Lee Fowler, you’re facing tremendous pressure with this upcoming hire. Obviously Wolf Pack fans hope their next coach will be a better Xs and Os guy than Amato (particularly in regards to offense), but he also needs to be an awfully good recruiter if he’s going to compete head-to-head with Davis for in-state talent.
The early “favorites,” according to media speculation, were Steelers coach Bill Cowher (who declined interest Wednesday), Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow and Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe. Chow, Amato’s first offensive coordinator in 2000, still seems like the no-brainer to me -- just as Davis can flash his Super Bowl ring and Miami clout with recruits, Chow can advertise all the Heisman winners/NFL draft picks he’s mentored. But on Wednesday, Chow and Cutcliffe both said North Carolina State had yet to contact them.
One wild card that’s mentioned who makes more sense than you might think is Chow’s former Trojan understudy -- current USC offensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator Lane Kiffin. USC's ace recruiter since Ed Orgeron left, the young, energetic Kiffin is exactly the kind of coach young kids are drawn to. As a bonus, his own father, Monte Kiffin, was once an N.C. State head coach himself.
That said, hiring a 31-year-old head coach would be viewed as a huge risk, particularly for an AD (Fowler) who couldn’t have botched his basketball search last spring any worse. But this is much certain: Whatever other criteria Fowler is following, the ability to counter Butch in recruiting needs to be right at the top of the list.
The new trend will be to fire the coach as early as possible so you can get the biggest name out there. Worked for UNC this year, Florida a few years ago.
I haven't heard anyone mention Mike Price as a candidate for any of the open jobs. Granted, his UTEP team took a step back this season, but he still has a strong track record. He might be the splash that the Wolfpack needs to make.
FYI...the official nickname is the Wolfpack (one word).
That being said, to the point.
I would prefer Norm Chow any other candidate, including ones not in your article (including Bill Cowher). I definitely think we need an offensive-minded coach to fix the Wolfpack's woes. Considering David Cutcliffe's past medical history, I would prefer to pass. Kiffen is something I haven't heard or considered, but seems an interesting choice.
Yeah, this is North Carolina State, not Nevada. And as an alum I look back on the Monte Kiffin coaching era without much fondness, so that isn't exactly a point in Lane's favor (of course, Papa K has been a terrific coordinator in the pros). I don't know who they're going to get, but even though I know the 'Pack is better off without John Calipari as men's hoops coach, AD Lee Fowler bungled that search by going after the wrong candidates, and if he screws up a second coaching search for a flagship sport in less than a year, he should absolutely join Chuck Amato in the unemployment line.