Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Doing things right

There were a couple of noteworthy hirings this week that were somewhat lost in the bowl shuffle:
  • LSU hired John Chavis (formerly of Tennessee) as defensive coordinator
  • Auburn hired Gus Malzahn (formerly of Tulsa via Arkansas) as offensive coordinator
While Les Miles has plenty of enemies, few can argue that he's been extremely successful, and the primary reason for that has been his ability to delegate. Look at the coordinators he has hired in his time at LSU: Gary Crowton (former Oregon offensive coordinator and BYU head coach), Jimbo Fisher (now offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting at Florida State), Bo Pelini (now head coach at Nebraska), etc.

Miles has consistently identified the best and brightest assistants at the national level, brought them to Baton Rouge and allowed them to do what they do best. His failure to bring in a quality successor for Pelini is what led to the Tigers' struggles on defense this season, as it quickly became clear that the combo of Bradley Dale Pevoto and Doug Mallory wasn't getting the job done. As usual, though, Miles identified an elite candidate (Chavis) to shore up a struggling area and got him locked up before anyone else could. This is why he has been consistently successful despite his, um, difficulties with clock management.

While Tennessee has struggled the last few years on offense, Chavis hasn't had the same issues. In nine of his 14 seasons as the Vols' defensive coordinator, Tennessee ranked among the top three in the SEC in total defense (that's how you keep your job for 14 years).

As for the hiring of Gus Malzahn at Auburn, Gene Chizik hit the jackpot. Malzahn -- mostly known for bringing Mitch Mustain, Damian Williams and an assortment of other high school stars to Arkansas and then aiding in the development of the Wildcat formation with Darren McFadden -- is the type of coordinator Auburn was looking for when Tony Franklin was hired last year.

The reason that the Franklin hire failed is that he was never given a chance to run his patented "Air Raid" offense. For whatever reason, it appeared evident that Tommy Tuberville was set on a more run-focused philosophy, as the Tigers' offense last year resembled in no way the offense Franklin developed, taught and ran everywhere else he had coached.

Malzahn clearly favors the passing game, but his is quite a bit different than Franklin's, as discussed in this article at Smart Football. His offense is unique in that it is based more on a no-huddle tempo than on a particular scheme, but in general, Malzahn prefers extensive use of vertical routes and downfield passing, and not always out of a typical spread formation with four or five wide receivers. In other words, Malzahn's offense is closer to what you see at Oklahoma than what you see at Texas Tech.

But most importantly, just take a look at what Malzahn has done as offensive coordinator at Tulsa. You can argue about Conference USA's general lack of defense if you like, but the numbers speak for themselves:
  • 2008: 2nd in total offense, 2nd in scoring offense, 8th in rushing offense, 7th in passing offense, 3rd in pass efficiency
  • 2007: 1st in total offense, 6th in scoring offense, 41st in rushing offense, 3rd in passing offense, 4th in pass efficiency
The guy knows how to run an effective offense, and if given a chance -- which I have to imagine he will be, as Chizik knows how important it is for Auburn to quickly establish an offensive identity -- this could be one of the best hires of the offseason.

Something to think about

In my "What if?" post from a few days ago, I talked about the plays or moments that can determine a game and how attempting to use just the final result to judge the participants (as well as coaches, conferences, etc.) is impractical.

I read a similar post by Brian at mgoblog after Florida's obliteration of Ohio State in the BCS championship game two years ago that explained things really well -- and included charts! -- so I'd like to grab a couple of excerpts from it to emphasize my point (I've enhanced the image for visibility purposes).

This was in the aftermath of some Purdue-Michigan game or another that ended 31-3 in favor of Michigan. Attempting to cope, some engineer or another doodled out this ASCII image of Gaussian football genius:

He then explained: the two uncapped pyramids are normal distributions of overall performance labelled "P" and "M"; On a good day for Purdue and a bad day for Michigan, Purdue could win. On an average day, they would lose, but not by four touchdowns. The assumption that the winner of any particular game is obviously the better team is just that, an assumption. When the score is 31-3 or 41-14 you can be fairly certain that assumption is a good one. But never sure.

This post was in reference to the BCS, and basically criticized the idea of choosing two teams -- based on very sparse data -- and assuming that those teams and only those teams are deserving of playing for the national title.

My post was more in reference to making judgments based on an individual game, but the premise is the same. You can't automatically assume that you know which team is better just because of one result, and attempting to determine things such as a team's ranking or a coach's future based on a handful of mostly arbitrary outcomes is a foolish endeavor.

The original basis for Brian's post, an article from SMQB, explained this better than I will ever be able to:
But what SMQ would most like to point out in light of Monday's merciless pantsing of the team officially earmarked as the "best" in America through the three-month regular season is not that Ohio State was "exposed" or that Florida "proved" to humbled skeptics the indomitable essence that dwells eternally in its collective soul of souls.

Rather, he'd like to defend the conviction that Ohio State really was, in fact, the "best" team in the nation from September through November, in the sense the Buckeyes' cumulative performance over that span deserved by all available evidence to be considered superior to that of any other team, and offer the untimely demise of that perception Monday as evidence there is nothing dwelling in the blood pumping through a team's metaphorical veins that can tell us anything about any single performance outside of itself; that is, what occurred in the championship game, like any other, was representative only of the championship game, and should inform our opinions about its participants only as an addition to the months-long whole.

A prominent addition, of course, but by no means the all-defining one or, very importantly, one that can be extrapolated to prove great inner truths about certain conferences or larger trends within -- unless, of course, you're willing to argue the relative merits of Ohio State's "speed," however that is supposed to be measured, and by extension that of Michigan, Iowa, Penn State and Texas, in relation to the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence of Vanderbilt and South Carolina, which each fared exponentially better against the Gators than the Buckeyes. Sometimes, this game makes no sense.
Well said.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Notes and stuff

A few observations from this week's games and news:

* Congrats to Pat White, who became the first QB in NCAA history to finish his career 4-0 in bowl games with West Virginia's 31-30 win over North Carolina. The Mountaineers had a moderately disappointing season, but that's a heck of a way to go out. White also finished his career as the all-time leading rusher among quarterbacks, and there are some pretty good players behind him on that list.

* Speaking of West Virginia and North Carolina, the Meineke Car Care Bowl's first quarter was phenomenal. Five touchdowns were scored in a span of six minutes, and there were no punts or incomplete passes until the middle of the second quarter. White finished the game with 322 passing yards and three touchdowns, and Tar Heels receiver Hakeem Nicks had 217 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

* Army could not possibly have selected a better coach than Cal Poly's Rich Ellerson. He's a triple-option mastermind who helped Cal Poly finished first in the country in scoring offense and total offense, he has a direction connection to West Point (his father and brothers were cadets) and he has already helped develop a successful program at a level with fewer resources. In other words, Ellerson is everything the administration could have been looking for in its next head coach.

* Wisconsin wrapped up a poor season with a pathetic effort in the Champs Sports Bowl, giving up 42 points to Florida State's mediocre offense and managing only two field goals until well into garbage time. I don't know what happened to the Badgers this year, but when your quarterbacks struggle all season and your defense -- supposedly Bret Bielema's specialty and one of the team's strengths -- completely falls apart, that's not a good combination. Wisconsin finished 43rd in rush defense, 75th in pass efficiency defense, 38th in total defense and 67th in scoring defense. The Badgers held only two opponents under 20 points after the start of conference play and gave up 30 points or more five times, including the final three games of the season.

* Notre Dame finally put things together offensively in a dominating win over Hawaii. The talent gap was huge, so I'm not sure there's much use in analyzing the numbers, but considering the way the Irish played down the stretch, their first bowl win since 1993 will make the offseason a whole lot easier on Charlie Weis. In the big picture, Jimmy Clausen finally got some time to throw and looked like the QB everyone thought he would be. If -- and this is a big if -- the offensive line consistently protects him and receivers Michael Floyd and Golden Tate continue to develop, this could be a pretty good offense. There's still no running game, but at least there's something build on. And don't look now, but with next year's schedule unusually light on quality opponents, this could be a nine-win team with even minimal improvement.

* Cal running back Jahvid Best has to be the least-talked-about superstar in college football. Best finished fourth in the country in rushing -- yes, fourth -- with 1,580 yards, and averaged 203.5 rushing yards in the final four games of the season, including 186 in the Golden Bears' 24-17 win over Miami in the Emerald Bowl. He also averaged 8.14 (!!!) yards per carry for the season. Oh, and he'll only be a junior next year.

* Dan Wetzel at Yahoo has an excellent article on Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who happens to be Mormon and a BYU alum. This column is a bit older, but it's worth reading because it's one of the few sane pieces I've read on the struggles endured by successful programs during coaching transitions.

* Looking ahead, don't miss the Alamo Bowl (Missouri and Northwestern) on Monday or the Holiday Bowl (Oklahoma State and Oregon) on Tuesday, which are two of the best offensive matchups of the bowl season.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

What if?

Everybody does it. You think back to that play -- a dropped pass, a fumble, a questionable call -- and you wonder: What if?

It's funny to think how thin the line is between great and ordinary, between praised and hated, between coach of the year and out of a job. With so many thousands of plays in a given season, it's easy to look past the few that truly determined the outcome of a game (or more). Or, as a coach would say in an effort to deflect criticism from a single player: One play doesn't decide the game.

Except sometimes, it does. And sometimes history changes with it. A recent Yahoo article looks back at some of the fortune-changing moments from this season, as well as a few of the "what if" scenarios that could have significantly altered the college football landscape.
Tennessee, for example, lost to UCLA (the Volunteers lost a fumble at UCLA's 6-yard line in a 27-24 overtime loss), Auburn (the Tigers recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown in a 14-12 victory) and Wyoming (the Cowboys returned an interception for a touchdown for the winning margin in a 13-7 victory).

Tennessee finished 5-7 and dismissed coach Phil Fulmer. Without those three costly turnovers, the Vols would have finished 8-5 and Fulmer would have been contractually guaranteed a raise and a contract extension.

Did Fulmer suddenly lose his status as a good coach because of three fluke plays? Tennessee seemed to think so.

Another perfect example: Texas freshman safety Blake Gideon dropped an easy interception off a deflected Texas Tech pass in the closing seconds of the Longhorns' only loss. If Gideon holds on, Texas finishes undefeated, wins the Big 12 and is preparing to play Florida for the national title right now. Oh, and Colt McCoy wins the Heisman. There's no way a QB with McCoy's numbers -- playing for the only major undefeated team and a unanimous No. 1 -- doesn't win the award.

West Virginia lost three games in overtime or in the final minute of regulation. Buffalo won three games in overtime and one on a hail mary on the final play of regulation. These are the differences between a disappointing season and a conference title.

This makes sense, right? Yet I constantly read about how Ohio State shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the national title game for the foreseeable future or how Oklahoma can't win a big game. Those conclusions are made based on microscopic sample sizes -- one game -- from different years.

If LSU doesn't put together a 21-point second quarter in last year's BCS title game, Ohio State is your defending national champion. If Boise State's tight end drops that fourth-down touchdown pass in the '07 Fiesta Bowl, all the talk of Bob Stoops' failures in BCS games (which is ridiculous to begin with) goes away.

Basing the strength of a conference, a coach or a team on one particular result (or a small set of results) just isn't going to provide you with an accurate analysis -- there are simply too many games that are arbitrarily decided by a single play, providing you no real information about which team is better.

Judgments like those are for bad columnists and talking heads who don't understand how thin that line is. All you have to do is look at the examples above and say to yourself, "What if ... ?"

NCAA's dilemma

Pretty much everything coming out these days related to NCAA academics will tell you that based on record graduation rates, the establishment of APR requirements and the never-before-seen expenditures on academic centers and tutoring, today's student-athletes are better off than ever.

But are they?

I've long wondered how people come to the conclusion that because more athletes are graduating, more athletes must be getting a quality education. Isn't it possible that athletes are simply getting an unreasonable amount of "aid' or flexibility on the school's part, allowing them to gain degrees while actually getting less of an education?

I'm not saying this is the case everywhere, of course. It might not be the case anywhere. But it certainly seems worth considering.

The Associated Press put together an outstanding piece last week on this very subject, with many school representatives decrying the current state of academics because of the ridiculous lengths to which schools will go to get athletes "help" -- and by help, we're talking about pretty much whatever it takes to keep an athlete eligible.

The following quote comes from Kenneth Holum, a veteran University of Maryland history professor and chair of the faculty senate, in regard to the standard manner of assisting student-athletes:
“They’re steered to the courses that they know they can pass,” Holum said. “If the effort is to keep them eligible, they’re being shortchanged.”
That's really the crux of the issue here: Are students actually getting a better education, or are schools just doing a better job of figuring out how to keep athletes eligible?

It's common knowledge that at a large majority of schools, being a football player and attempting to major in certain subjects is a nearly impossible combination. But when the school obviously pushes these student-athletes into certain groups of classes -- commonly called "clustering" -- there's an obvious conflict of interest.

In some cases -- such as the recent academic scandal at Florida State -- it goes beyond a conflict of interest and into the realm of full-blown fraud. Jason Lanter, a former academic adviser at Maryland who worked with student-athletes, remembers similar problems:
He recalls student-athletes coming to him with course cards written in someone else’s handwriting.

“It’s pretty easy to read between the lines that the athletic counselors are just putting standard courses down,” said Lanter, now a professor at Kutztown University and the president-elect of The Drake Group. “I’m not saying everybody did this, but it was enough for it to be an issue for concern for me. It’s just frustrating when I don’t think the athletes are receiving the education they were promised as part of their scholarship.”
I disagree a bit with the last portion of that quote -- you can get as much or as little out of your college education as you want, in my opinion -- but if the school is simply standing aside as those who don't care about their education "earn" a tainted degree, that's where things are breaking down.

What I'm trying to say here is that there should be suspicion, not blind praise, when a school graduates an unusually high percentage of its players. And yes, that's a sad statement about society, but it is what it is. College isn't easy. Going to college and playing sports at a Division I level is even harder. Attrition should be a natural part of the process.

I fully support getting students the help they deserve, but why are millions and millions of dollars being spent annually on athlete-only academic centers? We all know the answer, but no one's willing to speak up.

These schools have too much riding on the academic success of their athletes, and they'll do whatever it takes to get to those magic APR numbers and ensure that the steady stream of NCAA money continues to flow in their direction.

The entire issue was summarized perfectly by David Ridpath, a former compliance director at Marshall who now heads The Drake Group, a watchdog that has proposed doing away with stand-alone support centers and moving athletes into the normal academic advising system.
“The big problem with these academic centers for me is very clear -- and only because I lived it and I can say this from experience,” he said. “The goal is to keep the kids eligible, and there’s a big difference between keeping kids eligible and helping them get a viable college education.”

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mystery man

While it's been widely assumed that Michigan will fill its vacant defensive coordinator position by promoting linebackers coach Jay Hopson (formerly the defensive coordinator at Southern Miss), Rich Rodriguez's comment today in an interview during the Motor City Bowl would seem to imply otherwise:
"I'm putting that on hold until after the bowl games ... A lot of the guys who might be interested are preparing for them right now."
It's possible that Hopson will still end up as the pick, but it's obvious that Rodriguez at least has some other names in mind as far as guys he's interested in talking to.

One person who's been mentioned prominently since Scott Shafer resigned is West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, who turned down the chance to join Rodriguez at Michigan last year. Other potential candidates include John Chavis (D-coordinator at Tennessee under Phil Fulmer), Ron Vanderlinden (linebackers coach at Penn State and a former Maryland head coach and Northwestern D-coordinator who spent time as a grad assistant at Michigan) and Rocky Long (former New Mexico head coach).

One other name -- which I hadn't seen anywhere before this week -- also seems to have jumped into the discussion.

Rick Smith, the secondary coach at East Carolina, apparently is the running. Smith would seem to be an out-of-the-blue candidate, but a brief investigation reveals the following connection to Rodriguez:
1997-1998 Defensive Coordinator & Secondary Coach Tulane
Rodriguez, of course, was the offensive coordinator for Tulane in 1997 and 1998, when the Green Wave finished 7-4 and 12-0, respectively, under Tommy Bowden. Those seasons were the program’s first above .500 in a decade, and propelled Rodriguez and Bowden to greater heights.

Smith, on the other hand, is a bit of mystery. After the 1998 season, he took the D-coordinator position at Cincinnati, which he held for two years, then served as assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator at Kentucky for two years. Since then, he's seemingly gone backward (or sideways, depending on your opinion). He was co-defensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech and then secondary coach for the Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe before getting back into the college ranks with his current position at East Carolina. He is now 60 years old.

This obviously brings about some questions as to why he was never able to move up the way his colleagues did, and makes it a bit odd that he's suddenly in the running for a coordinator job at a place like Michigan.

I haven't heard anything specific connecting him to the D-coordinator opening (other than the previous relationship with Rodriguez), so at this point, I'm having a hard time believing that this is anything more than an unsubstantiated rumor.

Based on Rodriguez's comments from his Motor City Bowl interview, it seems very likely that he's interested in a few guys who are a bit more well-established at the D-coordinator level -- if he wasn't, Hopson probably would have already been promoted. The only real question now is whether he can get one of them.

Something's missing

A few days ago, I linked to an ESPN video review of the "12 Bowls of Christmas," a fantastic compilation of some of the greatest bowl games ever (condensed to about 15 minutes each).

Some of the choices were fairly predictable. The 2006 Rose Bowl between Texas and USC is No. 1, followed by the 2003 Fiesta Bowl between Ohio State and Miami at No. 2. No problems there.

Also included were a couple of great back-and-forth games such as the 1997 Rose Bowl between Ohio State and Arizona State (No. 8) and the bizarre 2001 GMAC Bowl between Marshall and East Carolina (No. 10). Both deserve to be on the list.

But there's one glaring omission that I simply can't get over. You probably remember this particular game ...

Yup, that's right. The 2007 Fiesta Bowl failed to make the list. I can understand missing out on No. 1 or No. 2, since the games that were placed in those spots both determined a national championship -- but not in the top 12???

Taking a look further down that list, I just don't understand how the Oklahoma-Boise State game could miss out on the top three, let alone the entire thing.

I guess all I can say is that if you don't consider that to be one of the most memorable bowl games of all-time ... well, you must not have been watching.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

English to EMU

The Detroit News reported Saturday that Louisville defensive coordinator Ron English was negotiating a deal to become head coach of Eastern Michigan.

English, of course, was Michigan's defensive coordinator in 2006 and 2007. As you may recall, UM finished with one of the stiffest run defenses in NCAA history in 2006 but collapsed while allowing 42 points to Ohio State and 32 points to USC in the final two games. Those efforts were followed up by the Appalachian State and Oregon debacles at the beginning of the 2007 season, which effectively sealed English's fate as an ex-Michigan coach when Lloyd Carr retired (although the defense played much closer to expectations over the final 11 games).

But I'm going to give Eastern Michigan a little bit of credit here -- for a program that's been one of the worst in the country throughout the last decade, this seems like a rare step in the right direction.

Why? Recruiting. English was an outstanding recruiter in his time at Michigan, regularly pulling kids out of California and the South. It doesn't hurt that he's both young (40) and black.

English is also a high-energy guy, the kind who will run along the sidelines to give a guy a high-five after an interception or chew a guy out for missing an assignment. Kids react to that -- see Pete Carroll -- and because of his ability to motivate and connect with his players, I always thought English seemed like a guy who would make a better head coach than a coordinator.

And I'll be honest: Even at Eastern Michigan, which is regularly scraping the bottom of the barrel for recruits, having a guy who might be able to lure just one or two big-name recruits from the Detroit area each year -- guys Michigan will be going after -- scares me just a little bit as a Wolverines fan.

I'm not sure English can elevate the program into the MAC elite, but he's a start. The Eagles haven't had a winning record since finishing 6-5 in 1995, and they've compiled an atrocious 38-98 record in the 13 years since. There's nowhere to go but up.

The Tebow Quandary

I usually try to hold off on draft-related discussions until after the bowl games are over and the early-entry deadline has come and gone, but news this week that Tim Tebow has submitted paperwork to the draft advisory committee has brought up an interesting question: Is Tebow an NFL quarterback?

Experts such as Todd McShay and Mel Kiper have publicly stated that they believe Tebow will end up as an H-back (or something similar), but I'm not sure I agree with that. And let me point out that I'm not one of those naive fans who can't figure out why Jason White, Gino Toretta and Colt Brennan weren't No. 1 overall picks. I understand what it is that scouts do and I take pride in being able to project eventual draft status and success in the NFL.

But that's what's so confusing to me about the Tebow debate: Yes, the guy is a Heisman winner who has benefited from playing in a system that fits his abilities, but he also has all the physical tools of any QB in the NFL. His arm strength is outstanding, he shows good touch and accuracy on all types of throws and his mobility -- even if minimized as a pro because of concern for his health -- would be among the best in the league.

I closely watched Tebow's passing in the SEC championship game against Alabama, as I felt the Crimson Tide's pass defense would probably be the toughest he had faced all season (particularly with Percy Harvin sitting out, since that would force Tebow to rely more on receivers such as Louis Murphy and Aaron Hernandez).

What I saw is embedded below. Note the throws at 0:51 and 1:24.

No one can convince me that those aren't NFL throws. Need more examples? Again, note the throws at 0:13, 0:30, 0:59 and 1:18.

Tebow certainly has his weaknesses. His motion is a bit awkward because he doesn't really step into his throws. He often goes through his progressions very slowly when his first read is covered, and while his play fakes and mobility allow this in college, that won't hold true in the NFL. Simply put, he's fairly raw as a passer.

But to ignore the talent he has and categorize him as just another spread-option QB because of the system he's in ... well, that's not doing him justice.

I wouldn't take him in the first round when there are more polished, NFL-ready quarterbacks available, such as Matt Stafford and Sam Bradford. Those guys are well ahead of Tebow in terms of passing ability right now, and at the end of the day, that's what's most important for an NFL quarterback. But if I'm a general manager, I'd have no problem taking Tebow in the second round and letting him sit for a year or two, work with a QB coach and learn a system. If the talent is there to be a great quarterback, at least give it a shot.

And this is all assuming that his running skills will be moot as a professional, which isn't necessarily an accurate assumption. Considering the recent success that the Dolphins have had with the Wildcat formation and the zone-read plays the Titans have installed for Vince Young, I think that even pro offenses are starting to see the benefits of having a skilled athlete taking snaps.

Let's say you're the GM of the Chicago Bears -- who have been looking for respectable quarterback play for several years now -- or the Minnesota Vikings. Wouldn't it be worth drafting a guy like Tebow? Not only is his potential as a passer far beyond what you'll ever get out of Kyle Orton or Tarvaris Jackson, but he could actually add a dimension to your power running game, as well.

When I watch Tebow, I see a left-handed version of Ben Roethlisberger at Miami (Ohio). Tebow isn't nearly as polished as a passer -- comparing the two years each spent as a full-time starter, Roethlisberger threw about 300 more passes than Tebow (923 to 618). But physically, and in terms of the leadership and competitiveness each has shown during his career, the similarities are striking.

And I think that if you asked most NFL general managers, they'd be pretty happy with a younger version of Ben Roethlisberger, even if it takes him a couple of years to find his stride as a passer.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Going too far

I'd like to make one last comment on Auburn's hiring of Gene Chizik. Anyone and everyone who has an opinion on the matter has openly criticized the hiring, and I joined in last week.

However, what I was trying to say was not that Chizik was a terrible choice -- I just think that he's a step down from Tommy Tuberville, when there were coaches (Brian Kelly and Mike Leach, specifically) who would have been a step up. Why those coaches weren't considered (or weren't interested) isn't clear, but Auburn seemed content to pick from a mediocre lot of candidates.

A column this week by Pat Forde, who I tend to think is relatively sane in terms of college football analysts, jumps way past that level of criticism and into the realm of ludicrous speed.

Not only does he give Auburn an "F" for the hiring, but he goes on to say that "this has the makings of the worst hire in SEC history."

Really??? The worst hire in the history of the conference? I agree that Auburn could have done better -- keeping Tuberville would have qualified -- but that's just a ridiculous comment.

It's funny how quickly people forget that just two years ago, Chizik was one of the hottest assistants in the country. From 2003-2007, in two seasons as D-coordinator at Auburn followed by two at Texas, his teams' statistical rankings were as follows:

  • 2003: No. 5 in total defense, No. 9 in scoring defense
  • 2004: No. 5 in total defense, No. 1 in scoring defense (Auburn finished 13-0)
  • 2005: No. 10 in total defense, No. 8 in scoring defense (Texas finished 14-0)
  • 2006: No. 22 in total defense, No. 26 in scoring defense

Those are pretty damn impressive numbers. I realize, of course, that not every great coordinator makes a great head coach, but for a guy widely regarded as an up-and-coming star just 20 months ago who is only 46 years old, has been hired for two major coaching jobs and has the track record spelled out above ... I just don't understand how you can go so quickly from that to this:

"The fact that he somehow parlayed a 5-19 record at Iowa State into a job at one of the better programs in the country is astounding ... "

What's astounding is that everything accomplished prior to his time at Iowa State has been completely forgotten. He didn't "parlay" a 5-19 record into anything -- the people in power were just willing to overlook it because they realized that Iowa State is a bad program, one that averaged 4.4 wins per season in the 12 years before Chizik's arrival.

Again, I'm not trying to defend this as a great hire -- Auburn reached past (or was turned down by) several better candidates. But I'm willing to bet that if I looked back at some of the worst hires in the SEC over the last 20 years, this wouldn't even crack the top five. Ask Alabama fans how the Mike Dubose era went -- or you could ask if they even remember the Mike Price era.

The bottom line is this: Just because Chizik didn't improve a bad program doesn't mean he can't maintain a good one.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The song doesn't lie

You know the ESPN version of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," where they've replaced the Christmas-related words with college football stuff? Well, whenever I hear the real version now, I can't help but mentally replace it with the ESPN one.

And the thing is, that chorus is probably true. All in all, this really is the best time of the year for college football. Regardless of your feelings on the BCS or your desires for a playoff or any of that, it's hard not to get excited about the bowl matchups every year.

Consider this: How many truly intriguing nonconference matchups do we get to see in college football each year? Three? Five? There just aren't very many, even if you want to to stretch the definition of "intriguing."

But in bowl season, there are no Florida-Coastal Carolina games. There are no Idaho-Wyoming games. Are there too many bowl games? Sure. But at least you can say that every team still playing is a quality team, and that means there are a hell of a lot more good matchups in bowl season than there are during nonconference play in the regular season.

And frankly, that's all we ask for as college football fans. We just want to see good teams play each other.

With that in mind, here are the three bowl matchups I'm looking forward to the most:
  1. BCS championship game: No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 2 Florida. This one's easy. The more I saw of these teams late in the season, the more I became convinced that they're the two best teams in the country this year. Oklahoma's offense was unreal over the final month, and while they'll miss DeMarco Murray (out with a hamstring injury) and defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger (back injury), this is still an awesome matchup.
  2. Poinsettia Bowl: No. 9 Boise State vs. No. 11 TCU. This game just doesn't seem to be getting enough attention, and I'm not sure why. You've got two teams ranked in the top 11 -- which is a lot more than the Orange Bowl can say -- and two of the top non-BCS conference powers of the last decade. And think about this: Boise State averages 39.4 points and 456.8 yards per game on offense. TCU allows 10.9 points and 215.1 yards per game on defense.
  3. Rose Bowl: No. 4 USC vs. No. 8 Penn State. This one's just dripping with tradition. Classic uniforms, song girls, JoePa on the sideline (or in the booth) ... and it's being played on the grandest stage in college football. And don't forget that you've got the Nittany Lions offense (40.2 points per game) going up against one of the best defenses the sport has ever seen (7.2 points per game allowed by the Trojans).

Fittingly, bowl games start on Saturday.

If you haven't done so already, check out ESPN's video review of the top 12 bowl games of all-time. There are some epic games on there that are worth reliving.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shafer gone

Michigan defensive coordinator Scott Shafer resigned Tuesday. While there's been some speculation that he was forced out, Shafer disputed that in an interview with the Detroit Free Press:

"I take full responsibility for the demise of where Michigan's program is at this time," Shafer said.

Coach Rich Rodriguez announced the move, calling it a resignation, and Shafer did not dispute that.

"Yes, it is accurate," Shafer said. "We just had a mutual decision. We had different thoughts on the way we did things."

The assumption from these comments is that Michigan will switch from the 4-3 to the 3-3-5 that West Virginia used so successfully under Rodriguez, and those assumptions are probably correct. Rumors indicate that the new D-coordinator will come from the current staff, and everyone else on the defensive staff was a former Mountaineers assistant except for linebackers coach Jay Hopson, who dabbled in the 3-3-5 as defensive coordinator at Southern Miss.

The real question here, though, is whether this will be a good thing for Michigan's defense going forward -- and I'm referring more to the coordinator than the scheme.

Shafer obviously was somewhat of a disappointment this year, but the numbers that are widely cited to demonstrate that -- 68th in total defense, 80th in scoring defense -- are clearly distorted.

Consider these numbers for Michigan's offense: 106th in turnovers, 118th in third-down conversion percentage, 109th in time of possession. The defense was put in horrendous spots and left on the field far too long to expect impressive statistics.

What disappointed me more than the numbers were the strategies employed at certain times. It seemed far too easy for opponents to take the defensive line -- this team's biggest strength -- out of the game and exploit soft coverage in the defensive backfield with short passes or rollouts. The horrific play at linebacker and safety only compounded this problem, as missed tackles and blown assignments seemed to be the norm rather than the exception.

But I'm not entirely certain whether this was a coaching weakness or a personnel weakness, and to be honest, I think Shafer deserved another year. I would have liked to have seen him back if only to find out what he could have done with a functional offense and a year of experience with the available personnel.

Alas, it wasn't to be. I think there may have been some tension all along between the outsider (Shafer) and the West Virginia position coaches. Keep in mind that Shafer had been primarily a 4-3 guy and hadn't worked with anyone else on the staff, with his D-coordinator experience coming at Northern Illinois, Western Michigan and Stanford. And when you have a defensive coordinator who employs a different scheme than what the other coaches are used to teaching, you're going to have a hard time getting everybody on the same page.

In that regard, this switch might be best for everybody. At least I hope so.

Monday, December 15, 2008


ESPN.com is reporting that Ball State offensive coordinator Stan Parrish will take over for Brady Hoke, who resigned to accept the head coaching job at San Diego State.

Michigan fans may remember Parrish as the quarterbacks coach in the late '90s and offensive coordinator in 2000 and 2001, when he oversaw the likes of Drew Henson, Anthony Thomas, David Terrell, Steve Hutchinson ... and, of course, the mentally scarring freshman and sophomore years of John Navarre.

Parrish also served as head coach at Marshall in 1984-85 and then Kansas State (where he went a disastrous 2-30-1) from 1986-88, so he does have some experience as the top guy -- but it was an awfully long time ago. Also, Parrish will turn 63 early next season, so he's not exactly a long-term solution.

But all things considered, when you're Ball State, I suppose you take what you can get. They could do a lot worse than a former Michigan offensive coordinator with D-I head coaching experience.

Identity crisis

A thought occurred to me yesterday when I heard about the hiring of Brady Hoke at San Diego State: Why were Auburn and San Diego State essentially drawing from the same pool of candidates?

I realize that Auburn didn't expect to hire Gene Chizik in the beginning, of course. Athletic director Jay Jacobs went after a lot of bigger names, including Texas coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp, Florida State coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher and Mississippi coach Houston Nutt.

But once all those coaches quickly rebuffed Auburn's overtures, the serious pool of candidates essentially consisted of the following names:
  • Chizik
  • Hoke
  • Turner Gill (Buffalo)
  • Derek Dooley (Louisiana Tech)
  • Todd Graham (Tulsa)
  • Patrick Nix (Miami offensive coordinator)
  • Jim Grobe (Wake Forest)
  • Gary Patterson (TCU)

There are some solid names on that list. Jim Grobe and Gary Patterson, in particular, have been remarkably successful with the limited talent available to them at their current stops. Both are well-respected among their peers and would have provided a smooth transition from Tommy Tuberville. Todd Graham and Turner Gill, in contrast, would have provided the young, offense-focused mind many at Auburn were calling for. And why wasn't Mike Leach a serious candidate? If it's true that Auburn boosters were worried about a redux of the failed Tony Franklin experiment, that seems incredibly short-sighted. For a team deprived of offense for years, Leach would have been a breath of fresh air.

And I should point out that I don't think hiring Chizik will be the disaster many are claiming. His 5-19 record at Iowa State is relatively meaningless -- a friend of mine who used to lived near Ames told me recently, "Bear Bryant couldn't win at Iowa State." Chizik's reputation, obviously, is largely based (as it should be) on his time as a defensive coordinator at Auburn and then Texas, where his teams went 27-0 over the two seasons immediately preceding his time at Iowa State.

I guess what I'm having a hard time digesting is that these names were truly the best Auburn had to choose from. I don't live in SEC country, but on a national level, it seems that the Auburn opening was viewed at a level just a notch below the "elite" positions -- Notre Dame, Florida, Michigan, etc.

San Diego State, meanwhile, was choosing from the following finalists:

  • Hoke
  • DeWayne Walker (UCLA defensive coordinator)
  • Dennis Franchione (former Texas A&M head coach)

This list does not include San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz or former Minnesota coach Glen Mason, who were under consideration early in the search process.

Maybe it's just me, but to see essentially the same quality of candidates for openings at Auburn and San Diego State is fairly jolting. I realize that San Diego is about as good as it gets in terms of quality of living. It also doesn't hurt that Southern California is probably behind only Texas and Florida in terms of available athletic talent, an obvious recruiting perk.

But let's be honest. We're talking about a consistently average or below-average Mountain West Conference school that's never been relevant on the national stage (unless you want to count Marshall Faulk's Heisman candidacy). I've also heard from someone with connections in the Aztecs athletic department that the administration there isn't exactly regarded as easy to work with.

I guess what I'm getting at here is that this should be a relatively frightening development for Auburn fans. Not only did they seemingly reach for the candidate they eventually chose, but the pool from which they were choosing was shockingly thin in terms of qualified candidates -- nearly everyone who would have been considered a "catch" shot them down before the AD could even catch his breath from the Tuberville departure (which is an entirely different issue).

Am I overstating the attractiveness of the Auburn job? Maybe I am. But that's probably the same thing the Auburn administration and fans are asking themselves.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Coaching changes

Let's take a look at the coaching changes so far this offseason, as well as those positions that are still open.

A majority of the openings have already been filled, which isn't surprising -- because the end of the season (particularly if you're in a bowl game) stretches so close to to National Signing Day at the beginning of February, administrators understand the importance of not having an extended period in coaching limbo in which commits might be tempted to go elsewhere.


Old: Stan Brock was fired after compiling a 6-18 record over two seasons (3-9 each year).

New: TBD. The administration has pledged a national search, but expect Brock's replacement to have some experience at either Army or one of the other military academies. One name that has been brought up is former Black Knights coach Bob Sutton, who is now defensive coordinator for the New York Jets. New York Giants receivers coach Mike Sullivan and University of Kansas offensive coordinator Ed Warinner, both of whom are former Army assistants, have also been mentioned as candidates.


Old: Tommy Tuberville parted ways with the school after 10 seasons and a record of 85-40 (5-7 this year). There has been some debate as to whether he actually resigned or was fired, which was only compounded by the school's announcement that it will pay Tuberville the $5.1 million buyout it would have owed him if he had been fired.

New: Iowa State head coach and former Auburn and Texas defensive coordinator Gene Chizik accepted the position Saturday. Chizik had little success at Iowa State, going 5-19 in two seasons, but it's hard expect much of a turnaround in Ames in that short of a period. Chizik certainly established himself as an excellent defensive strategist in his time as an assistant, serving as D-coordinator with the Tigers for their undefeated season in '04, then going to Texas and helping the Longhorns finish undefeated in their national championship season in '05. There won't be much patience at Auburn though, and as was the case with Tuberville, finding an effective offensive coordinator will be key for Chizik. Iowa State has yet to name a replacement, but Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell will likely be on the short list, as he was considered for the position before it was given to Chizik in 2007.


Old: Gregg Brandon was fired after six years with a 44-30 record (6-6 this season). Brandon had only one losing season (2006) after taking over from Urban Meyer when he left for Utah.

New: Dave Clawson, offensive coordinator at Tennessee, was hired shortly after Brandon's firing. While the Volunteers' offense struggled this season, Clawson came to Tennessee before the season with an impressive lower-level track record -- he turned both Fordham and Richmond into national powers in I-AA and was twice named national coach of the year (once at each school). Based on his past success as a head coach, it seems likely that he'll be able to continue the Falcons' run as one of the top teams in the MAC.


Old: Tommy Bowden resigned six games into the season with a 3-3 record. The Tigers had been ranked No. 9 in the AP preseason poll, but only a 4-2 finish and a win in the finale against South Carolina under interim coach Dabo Swinney allowed them to salvage a bowl bid . Bowden finished 72-45 in 10 years at Clemson, but never won an ACC title.

New: Swinney took over on an interim basis after Bowden stepped down, and the Tigers' rally was enough to get him the full-time gig. Swinney had served as the team's assistant head coach for the previous two years and was wide receivers coach for the previous five years. He had also worked as a wide receivers/tight ends coach at Alabama prior to his time at Clemson. He has no previous head coaching experience.


Old: Jeff Genyk was fired after posting a 15-42 record over five years (3-9 in 2008).

New: TBD. EMU's athletic director is consulting with former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr on the search, and it's believed that several of Carr's ex-assistants are in the running. Iowa wide receivers coach Erik Campbell (a former UM recievers coach), New Orleans Saints tight ends coach Terry Malone (a former UM offensive coordinator), Louisville defensive coordinator Ron English (a former UM defensive coordinator) and Detroit Lions QB coach Scot Loefler (a former UM QB coach) are just of the names that have come up so far. A former Michigan player, Corwin Brown (now the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame), is also considered a leading candidate.


Old: Ron Prince was dismissed after three years with a 17-20 record (5-7 this year).

New (sort of): Bill Snyder, who retired and was replaced by Prince prior to the 2006 season, was hired to return as head coach at the school he brought to national prominence. Snyder coached the Wildcats for 17 years, turning what had been an abysmal program into a national title contender. He finished with a career record of 136-68-1, but there are legitimate questions as to whether someone who will turn 70 midway through the season will be able to provide the energy needed to make the Wildcats relevant again.


Old: Shane Montgomery resigned after four seasons with a record of 17-31 (2-10 this year).

New: TBD. Few notable names have come out publicly, but Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell (a Miami alum), Missouri defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and former Notre Dame defensive coordinate and Cincinnati head coach Rick Minter have been mentioned as possible candidates. Also likely to be considered is Illinois co-defensive coordinator Curt Mallory, whose father, Bill, was Miami's head coach from 1969-73.


Old: Sylvester Croom stepped down after three seasons -- including several national coach of the year awards in 2007 -- with a record of 21-38 (4-8 in 2008).

New: Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen, who has been at Urban Meyer's side since their time as assistants at Notre Dame, was hired recently and has started to build a stuff, although it is unclear whether he will call plays for the Gators in the BCS championship game. Like Meyer, Mullen is considered one of the foremost experts on the spread offense. His familiarity with the SEC and connections with high school coaches in the Southeast should allow him to make a smooth transition in recruiting, but Starkville is a tough place to win.


Old: Rocky Long stepped down after 11 seasons, compiling a 65-69 record and taking the Lobos to five bowl games.

New: New Mexico settled quickly on Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, who had served under Ron Zook as running backs coach at Florida before joining Zook in Champaign for the last four seasons. Locksley certainly revitalized the Illini offense -- with the help of Juice Williams, Rashard Mendenhall and Arreliouis Benn -- but is probably best-known for his recruiting prowess. He has been recognized by Rivals, Sports Illustrated and others on numerous occasions as one of the more persuasive recruiters in the country.


Old: Hal Mumme was fired after four years with an 11-38 record (3-9 this season) and one ugly ACLU investigation.

New: TBD. Pittsburgh Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson appears to be the leading candidate, while San Jose State assistant coach Kent Baer and Nebraska defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders have also been mentioned. Defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn, who was the only assistant not fired at the time of Mumme's exit, is also likely to receive consideration.


Old: Chuck Long was fired after three years with a 9-27 record, including a 2-10 mark in 2008, the school's first 10-loss season.

New: Ball State head coach Brady Hoke, who led the Cardinals to unprecedented success this season, agreed Sunday to take over the Aztecs. Hoke had worked as a defensive assistant at Michigan prior to becoming coach at Ball State, where he compiled a 34-38 mark in six seasons. Hoke had never served as a college coordinator or head coach before going to Muncie, but this year's 12-1 season propelled him onto the national scene. Cardinals offensive coordinator Stan Parrish has been named Hoke's replacement.


Old: Greg Robinson was fired after four years with a 10-37 record (3-9 in 2008).

New: After missing out on Oregon offensive coordinator Chip Kelly and East Carolina head coach Skip Holtz, the Orange settled on New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator and Syracuse alum Doug Marrone. Marrone has been at the helm of a Saints offense that has been one of the NFL's best for the past three years, but he has never been a head coach. Prior to his time with the Saints, he served as an offensive line or tight ends coach with several colleges and the New York Jets. As noted in my previous post, Syracuse won't be easy to turn around, especially for someone with no experience as a college head coach.


Old: Phil Fulmer was asked to step down after 17 seasons with a 152-52 record and one national title. The Vols finished with a losing record in two of Fulmer's final four seasons, including 2008.

New: Former Oakland Raiders head coach and USC assistant Lane Kiffin, 33, was hired shortly after Fulmer's dismissal. Kiffin served as recruiting coordinator and offensive coordinator with the Trojans, sharing play-calling duties with quarterbacks coach Steve Sarkisian. Similar to Gene Chizik's stint at Iowa State, it's hard to count Kiffin's 5-15 record over a 1 1/2 seasons with Oakland against him. That said, his college experience is limited exclusively to the six years he spent at USC (two as O-coordinator). His recruiting prowess will quickly be put to the test --Tennessee is desperately in need of an influx of offensive talent, and Kiffin will be competing head-to-head against coaches such as Nick Saban and Urban Meyer for the players he needs.


Old: Tom Amstutz resigned after eight years with a 58-41 record (3-9 in 2008). He led the Rockets to two MAC titles, but finished with a losing record in each of the last three seasons.

New: Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Tim Beckman accepted the Toledo job, which will be his first as a head coach. Beckman was the Cowboys' coordinator for only one year, but has an extensive defensive background. Prior to his time Oklahoma State, he was cornerbacks coach for Ohio State and defensive coordinator for Bowling Green, so he certainly knows his way around northwest Ohio.


Old: Brent Guy was fired after four seasons with a 9-38 record (3-9 in 2008).

New: Gary Andersen, defensive coordinator at Utah, will take over the Utes' instate rivals following the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. Guy, a finalist this year for the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach, spent 10 years as a Utah assistant wrapped around a year as the head coach at Southern Utah. He also was a high school coach in Utah before joining the Utes' staff and is considered an outstanding recruiter. He won't have an easy task, though, going up against his former school and BYU for the few quality recruits available in the region.


Old: Tyrone Willingham was fired after four seasons with an 11-37 record, including an 0-12 mark in 2008 (Washington finished as the only winless team in the FBS).

New: After Seattle Seahawks coach-in-waiting Jim Mora Jr., Fresno State's Pat Hill and Cincinnati's Brian Kelly took themselves out of the running, Washington picked USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Sarkisian has an extremely limited track record, serving as quarterbacks coach of El Camino (Calif.) Junior College for a year before holding the same position with USC for four years sandwiched around one year as QB coach of the Oakland Raiders. He took over as the Trojans' O-coordinator when Lane Kiffin left for Oakland, but has no head coaching experience. He faces a tough rebuilding job with the Huskies, who have suffered four straight losing seasons and have little talent other than QB Jake Locker.


Old: Joe Glenn was fired after six seasons with a 30-41 record (4-8 this season).

New: It was announced last week that Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Christensen had accepted the position and will take over following the Alamo Bowl. Christensen was the architect of Gary Pinkel's explosive offenses at Toledo and then Missouri, serving as offensive coordinator since 1997. He was a finalist for the Frank Broyles Award in 2007, and while he has no head coaching experience, he is highly thought of as an offensive mind and should be able to find some success in the Mountain West.

Think before you hire

With the coaching carousel spinning as fast as it ever has, something that's been bothering me is the continuous desire of upper-echelon college programs to bring in former NFL coaches.

Much has been made of the lack of success college coaches such as Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban had in the NFL, but I think it's equally relevant to note the struggles of those going the opposite direction, such as Charlie Weis and Bill Callahan.

Look at a list of the top college coaches in the country and you'll notice a theme. Bob Stoops. Jim Tressel. Pete Carroll. Nick Saban. Urban Meyer. Mack Brown. Les Miles. And so on ...

What do they have in common? Every coach on that list honed his skills on a college staff. Carroll spent a chunk of his career in the NFL before coming back to college and finding success, but I think it's safe to say that he represents the exception rather than the norm.

There have been various opinions thrown out as to why Weis and Callahan weren't able to make the transition from pro to college head coach, but the answer (to me, anyway) seems simple: They simply didn't have the experience with the most basic tasks required of a college football coach.

Weis had never worked a day on a college staff when he was hired by Notre Dame, and Callahan's only experience was very early on in his career, when he worked as an offensive line coach for a few years before moving on to the NFL.

What made the two of them successful in the NFL was their ability to develop offensive schemes -- X's and O's, basically. But in college, game-planning simply can't be your primary focus. I think that the problem Weis and Callahan ran into was that once they were put in a situation that required them to find and develop talent for their systems -- not just refine it -- they weren't sure how to get those kids from Point A to Point B, because their careers had been spent taking men from Point M to Point Z.

That's not to say that a coach groomed in the NFL can't be successful, of course. But if the person you're bringing in doesn't have the experience or understanding to build a program from scratch and build players from scratch, it's just not going to be a successful tenure.

While I hate to single out a school still basking in the glory of a recent hiring, I think that you're going to see this situation rear its head at Syracuse in the near future. The Orange went the NFL route, of course, and recently announced the hiring of former Syracuse player and current Saints offensive coordinator Doug Marrone to replace the recently fired Greg Robinson.

Marrone does have some college background, primarily as an offensive line coach at various schools, but I'm concerned about any hire that meets the following two conditions:

1) The guy has never been a head coach
2) The guy spent the last several years in the NFL

I have a hard time looking at Marrone and seeing how he's going to turn a horrid Syracuse program back into a winner when he has no recent experience recruiting and no experience whatsoever running an entire team.

If I'm the Syracuse AD and I'm looking for someone to essentially rebuild my program, I'm targeting someone who's demonstrated the ability to do just that -- someone like Brian Kelly at Cincinnati (although Syracuse would be a lateral move at this point), Turner Gill at Buffalo or another program "architect."

Syracuse supposedly had interest in Oregon offensive coordinator Chip Kelly early on in the search process, but that was quickly taken care of when Kelly signed a coach-in-waiting deal with the Ducks. They also apparently took a shot at East Carolina's Lou Holtz, but that was ultimately unsuccessful. The odd thing is that the coaching search seemed to be on the right track, but once the AD struck out on Kelly and Holtz, he moved on to someone who fit none of the criteria he appeared to be using at the start.

I hope for Syracuse's sake that Marrone bucks the trend and brings the Orange back to relevancy, but based on the results of guys like Weis and Callahan -- who had more impressive track records and stepped into much better coaching situations than Marrone -- it's hard to expect that from him.

Please, no Rooney Rule

A recent ESPN.com article -- along with about 1,000 others with roughly the same premise -- discussed the obvious the dearth of black coaches in college football and presented a potential solution (which, again, has been presented dozens of times before).

Richard E. Lapchick, an administrator at Central Florida and head of a diversity and ethics committee at the school, argues for a so-called "Rooney Rule" in college football. This, of course, refers to the NFL's mandate to interview a minority coach for any opening or be faced with fines and/or loss of draft picks.

But what Lapchick -- along with all the others -- is neglecting to mention (or is simply not realizing) is that the real problem isn't the lack of black head coaches. The problem is the complete lack of quality black candidates.

There are currently four black head coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision: Turner Gill of Buffalo, Kevin Sumlin of Houston, Randy Shannon of Miami and Mike Locksley of New Mexico State (recently hired away from Illinois, where he served as offensive coordinator).

Look around the country and try to name a top black assistant at any major school, or even a position coach who has demonstrated the ability to take over a program.

Yeah, it's a pretty short list. The only two names (besides Locksley) that have come up this offseason are Ron English, defensive coordinator at Louisville (he formerly held the same position at Michigan), and Mike Haywood, offensive coordinator at Notre Dame. Haywood interviewed for the Washington job before it was given to Steve Sarkisian, while English has been rumored to be in the running at Eastern Michigan after the firing of Jeff Genyk.

Both of those coaches have solid track records, and I in no way mean to criticize the job they've done to get where they are. But when those are your top black candidates ... well, there's obviously a problem. Especially when you consider that English generated minimal improvement this year at Louisville, while Haywood had the play-calling duties, um, "taken over" at midseason by Charlie Weis.

Why would either of them be a serious candidate for a head coaching position when there are guys out there such as Tommy Tuberville, Phil Fulmer, etc. -- guys who have demonstrated that they can win at the highest levels?

Clearly, the problem lies in the lack of development at the lower-level positions. Why are there so few (13%, according to one report) black coordinators? There's a reason that nearly all head coaches were coordinators immediately before being put in charge, and the lack of blacks in these positions is directly correlated to the lack of blacks being hired for head jobs.

Randy Shannon recently made a statement expressing a similar sentiment and brought up the best idea I've heard yet in regard to fixing this problem.

"If they want to give minority coaches more of a chance, they should let there be three graduate assistants, and one of them has to be a minority," Shannon said. "At least then, you'd be giving a minority coach a chance to develop. If you want to address the issue, allow a third spot to be a minority position and if you can't fill it, then you can't fill it. But give them a chance."

Shannon is dead-on. Simply allow one additional graduate assistant on each coaching staff (for a total of three) and require that at least one of those three be a minority. If that person you hire doesn't pan out, you've lost nothing. If it does, you've got one more qualified candidate working his way up the food chain.

If the focus is placed on bringing blacks onto the coaching staffs and allowing them to prove their worth, there will be more blacks hired into head coaching positions.

Everyone agrees that the people with the power care about one thing: winning (now, not later). If they think a black candidate will provide them with the best opportunity to win, that's who they will hire. But until there are candidates who can meet that requirement, the status quo will prevail.

And a Rooney Rule that requires token interviews for unqualified candidates isn't going to change that.

The Beginning

I'd like to start off by explaining a little bit about why I'm starting this blog. It's pretty simple, really: I love college football.

As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing better than waking up on a cool, crisp autumn morning, knowing that there's a day ahead of tailgating, watching the big games, soaking in the atmosphere that makes college football what it is ...

In this blog, I'll attempt to replicate that the best I know how. I'll talk about games, polls, coach hirings/firings ... basically, whatever it is I think college football fans are most interested in at any given time. And hopefully, that will provide whoever might stop by with something to think about and/or talk about.

As a professional journalist, I like to consider myself unbiased, but I'm sure my background will get the best of me at times. That said, I might as well get this out of the way: I grew up primarily in southeastern Michigan and attended Grand Valley State University for two years, Arizona State for two more and University of Michigan for the last one. You can draw your own conclusions from that, but suffice it to say that at times, there will likely be a disproportionate amount of coverage on this blog focused on the Wolverines.

That's not intentional, of course -- just a product of familiarity. But one of the main reasons I'm here is to branch out, to try to connect with college football fans of all teams and in all areas. Hopefully, I can provide something of quality to that end.

So, with all that out of the way, here we go ...