Sunday, January 31, 2010

Weird stuff that makes no sense

I don't know where this video came from or why I'm posting a video of teenage Asian girls on a college football blog, but here you go:



I have so many unanswered questions, specifically:

1. What the hell is going on in this video?
2. Why are these girls having some sort of romantic fantasy about an Iowa football helmet?
3. What the hell is going on this video?

Perhaps Mr. Sparkle can answer my questions:



Ehhh, I'm still pretty confused. Moving on ...

There's a lot of crazy shit at Every Day Should Be Saturday, but sometimes that craziness turns into flat-out awesomeness. I present black Jim Tressel:
It's Tressel's deep, unsoiled whiteness that makes him so goshdarned Tressel-ish. For proof of this, we performed a racial inversion experiment on Jim Tressel, and the stunning results follow:
Your move, Negative Doppelganger Tressel. Until further notice, Black Dandy Tressel is assuming command and dazzling you with the matching socks and style sharper than the laser-powered mind of Craig Krenzel himself.
I have nothing to add.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Tebow ... er, Senior Bowl

I decided to watch the Senior Bowl this afternoon (I'm not sure why), and at some point I came to the conclusion that there's no way any player in the history of the event has drawn more interest than Tim Tebow. That's 60 years of a game that's featured Terry Bradshaw, LaDainian Tomlinson, Thurman Thomas, Philip Rivers and about 100 other future NFL stars.

He didn't even play a whole lot in the game itself, but he was still the focal point. Just look at ESPN's headline: "Tebow struggles, South gets ass kicked like in Civil War falls in Senior Bowl." And in five days of practice -- which are always more interesting than the game because you get to see everybody doing a lot of different one-on-one drills that project well to the NFL -- Tebow was THE story every day.

Tuesday didn't go well. Three fumbled snaps? Yikes. Here's Todd McShay with some analysis:
He was out of rhythm, missing receivers low and high and fumbling snaps while also struggling to read defenses and use proper footwork when dropping from under center.
Here's Bucky Brooks at NFL.com (although I have a hard time taking a guy named Bucky seriously):
Tebow repeatedly dropped snaps, and had a tough time hitting open receivers. While it is apparent that he has been attempting to work on his unorthodox delivery, his elongated wind up and tendency to pat the ball before releasing, clearly impact his accuracy.
In other words, Tebow had all the problems we knew he had coming in. Things got a little better as the week went on despite a bout of strep throat; I didn't hear about any more fumbled snaps, which is obviously a good thing. And for the record, he was fine in the game itself. The AP story says he "struggled" because he was stripped of the ball twice (I'm not sure why that's really his fault), but I thought his passing was pretty good. He finished 8-for-12 for 50 yards and had four rushes for four yards. He looked about like his usual self, in my opinion.

And that's the ironic thing about all the Tebow intrigue the past several days: Nothing was gonna change for him. If you liked him at the beginning and you saw him improve taking snaps and continue to be upbeat while battling an illness, you weren't gonna change your mind based on a bad day. If you didn't like him and you watched him struggle with snaps and questionable mechanics, it probably just verified your concerns.

This week has been a microchosm of the entire scouting process. But as Mel Kiper explained perfectly, all it takes is one team to fall in love with him ... and with an unquestioned winner and unbelievable leader like Tebow, that team is out there.

As for the other guys nobody really cared about, the two unquestioned winners were Ole Miss RB/WR Dexter McCluster (a 5-foot-8 version of Reggie Bush who will probably end up doing a little bit of everything in the NFL) and Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham (yay for something good coming out of Michigan this year).

McCluster's Senior Bowl week was a lot like Chris Johnson's in 2008, when his stock skyrocketed because people realized he was the fastest guy on the field even against NFL-caliber players. That worked out pretty well for Johnson, although McCluster won't go quite as high in the draft because he's not a true running back. Still, the consensus now seems to be a second-round grade. Is he worth that? Probably, even though I'm not sure he'll ever make it to a Pro Bowl without a set position. But that's sort of his selling point: If you can get an explosive runner, receiver AND returner with a second-round pick, that's a pretty good deal.

Graham was flat-out awesome in practice all week, reportedly dominating every O-lineman he went up against and being called the best player in attendance by Todd McShay. And that was before the game itself, when Graham had five tackles, two sacks, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble and was named MVP. I can't say this any more clearly: If Graham had played for a team that didn't finish 3-9 and 5-7 the past two years (or on a defense that didn't suck), he'd have been a first-team All-American. He's that good.

The glaring question is whether he can be an elite pass rusher at 6-foot-1 and with 30-inch arms; by NFL standards, he has the body of a short tyrannosaurus rex. I don't think he'll be an elite pass rusher, but he can be a good one, and that's just a complement to his true strength (stopping the run). The other big question: Is he a 3-4 outside linebacker or a 4-3 defensive end? My answer: It probably doesn't matter. If you put a gun to my head and told me to choose his best position, I'd say defensive end because of his strength. That said, the comparisons to LaMarr Woodley are valid ... so I don't know. Either way, it sounds like he's moved from borderline first-round pick to solidly in the first round, maybe in the top 20 if he performs well at the combine.

Any way he can get another year of eligibility? Please???

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Look out, Boise State

Without question, the coolest field in college football belongs to Boise State. That will continue to be the case in Division I, but ...
Taking a cue from Boise State's famous blue turf, Eastern Washington is planning to install an artificial red playing surface inside its football stadium. The Big Sky program's official school colors are red and white.
Whoa. You're probably wondering what that would look like. Fortunately, Eastern Washington has been kind enough to provide us with an incredibly high-tech computer-generated glimpse:
I think I said this already, but I repeat: whoa. That's pretty intense. According to Dr. Saturday over at the Yahoo/Rivals conglomerate, there aren't currently any NCAA rules or bylaws regarding playing fields (well, I'm pretty sure they have to be the right size, but there's no restriction on color). They might wanna consider one, because as cool as a red field would look, I can't imagine it'd be easy for fans or officials to make out what's going on when the players' uniforms (and the ball) blend in with the surface. And yes, I know I'm no fun.

But will I tune in to watch a game (assuming EWU is ever on TV) and find out? Hell yeah.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The tragic but inspirational story of Elliott Mealer

You probably have no idea who Elliott Mealer is; there's no reason you would. He's a backup lineman at Michigan, a redshirt freshman this past year who appeared in nine games and did nothing of note.

But the fact that he played at all is basically a miracle, and here's why:
A 2007 Christmas Eve car accident near Mealer's hometown of Wauseon, Ohio, took the life of his father, 50-year-old David, and his longtime girlfriend, 17-year-old Hollis Richer. Elliott Mealer, his mother, Shelly, and his 23-year-old brother, Brock, survived. The accident left Brock Mealer with a severely damaged spinal cord and a broken right wrist. Elliott Mealer suffered a torn right rotator cuff, believed to have been incurred when he tried to lift a section of the SUV to free his loved ones.
Holy Lord. Rich Rodriguez honored Mealer's scholarship offer despite the injury, and Mealer spent all of 2008 rehabbing. He worked his way into the offensive line rotation last year and will be in contention for a starting spot at guard this fall. His emotional recovery ... well, that's been a little tougher. Here's the story from ESPN360 (trust me, it's worth your time):



Hang on a second while I get a Kleenex ... just a second ... OK. I can't even imagine.

And then there's Mealer's brother, who got a nice, optimistic prognosis after the crash: He was told that there was a 99.9 percent chance he'd never walk again. I'm sure he was happy to be alive, but that had to be utterly devastating for a 23-year-old college student. Fortunately, the story gets better:
By springtime, Brock started standing with the help of braces. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez introduced him to the team during a practice. The Wolverines were kneeling with their helmets as Rodriguez told Brock's story. At the end of it, they rose to their feet and gave him an ovation.

Rodriguez was just two weeks into his new job when he got the call about the Mealers. He hadn't met Elliott or the 100 or so others on Michigan's roster. But he called Mealer to tell him that no matter what happened, even if he couldn't play, he'd always have a scholarship at Michigan.

The family -- Ohio State diehards before Elliott committed to Michigan -- immediately fell in love with Rodriguez. For Brock, it wasn't hard to do. A few months after the wreck, the coach visited him in the hospital during the Super Bowl. They promised to someday run out of the tunnel into the Big House together.
Great story -- and that's where it ends, right? Nope. Michigan has a strength and conditioning coach by the name of Mike Barwis. He's a former cagefighter (yes, seriously) who used to wrestle with wolves (yes, seriously); he's basically the Chuck Norris of trainers. He's also widely renowned for his advanced training techniques and has been cited by many NFL players as THE guy to visit for offseason workouts. How does this relate to the Mealers? Barwis is the guy with the gravelly voice walking next to Brock Mealer (who supposedly had a 0.1 percent chance of ever walking again) in this video:



Simply amazing.

A lot of people hate Rich Rodriguez because he isn't an eloquent, grandfatherly figure like Lloyd Carr and he didn't come from Bo Schembechler's Old School University, and therefore he's the anti-Christ. But all the criticism he's absorbed through two rough seasons, an NCAA investigation and a whole bunch of roster turnover has created this inaccurate image of a terrible coach who hates his players and is doing everything possible to destroy Michigan on and off the field. The Mealers would be happy to set you straight on that.

A tip of the cap to Brian at Michigan blog Genuinely Sarcastic, who compiled a bunch of this Mealer-related material. He's always worth reading if you're a Michigan fan.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Catching up: The offseason is upon us

* Get ready to throw a lot: Louisiana Tech, meet the Mike Leach spread ... sort of. Nobody actually wants to hire Leach, so Tech did the next best thing and hired Sonny Dykes, Leach's former protege and son of original spread passing game maestro Spike Dykes. The younger one had been at Arizona the past few years under Mike Stoops, turning what had been an abysmal offense into something not so abysmal (and actually fairly good at times). He served as co-offensive coordinator at Texas Tech for two years -- during which time Arizona was 74th and 115th (!!!) in total offense -- then went to Tucson and did this in three years:

2007: 67th in total offense, 56th in scoring offense
2008: 33rd in total offense, 24th in scoring offense
2009: 58th in total offense, 61st in scoring offense

Dykes isn't quite as pass-happy as Leach, though. In those three years, Arizona actually got increasingly balanced; they went from 10th in passing to 36th to 48th, and they went from 114th in rushing to 48th to 52nd. This year's overall dip had a lot to do with Willie Tuitama's departure after setting every school passing record in '08, but at least Dykes has shown the ability to adjust based on his personnel. He says he'll do the same at Louisiana Tech, which is probably good since Ross Jenkins hasn't exactly set the world on fire in two years as starting QB. Fortunately for Dykes, the expectations aren't high at Louisiana Tech. Proof: Derek Dooley just went 17-20 in three years and got hired by Tennessee. Be a WAC version of Texas Tech (top half of the conference and fairly regular bowl berths) and everyone will be happy.

* Everybody wins: East Carolina went for one of its own after Skip Holtz bailed for USF, hiring recently fired Texas Tech D-coordinator and ECU alum Ruffin McNeill. I wasn't gonna bother with numbers since Texas Tech's defense is seemingly always crap-tacular, but lo and behold:

2007: 45th in total defense, 50th in scoring defense
2008: 79th in total defense, 74th in scoring defense
2009: 49th in total defense, 41st in scoring defense

Tech's defense has been about average under McNeill; that's pretty impressive when you consider the competition (the OMG OFFENSE OFFENSE OFFENSE Big 12) and the insanely fast pace of Mike Leach's no-huddle offense, which results in a lot of possessions -- and therefore scoring opportunities -- for both teams. Just as importantly as all those numbers, though, is what McNeill did in the Alamo Bowl. He took over as interim coach amid all the Leach firing/lawsuit/Adam James controversy and had all of three days to pull Tech together and get the team focused. I'd say he did nicely: the Raiders won 41-31 in a game that featured two ballsy fourth-down conversions on the clinching drive. Tommy Tuberville was hired as head coach a few days later and cleaned house, but that worked out OK for McNeill -- he was even able to bring along an offensive coordinator in Lincoln Riley, Texas Tech's receivers coach and interim O-coordinator for that 580-yard, 41-point Alamo Bowl performance. Considering all the bizarro coach shuffling this offseason, this is one of the few instances in which I'm pretty sure everybody's happy with the end result.

* Newton finds a home: Former Florida quarterback Cameron Newton has enrolled at Auburn. Newton was essentially given the boot by Urban Meyer a couple years ago because of some ... um, unpleasantries. He transferred to Blinn Junior College, won a juco national title and has now transferred back into the SEC. Chris Todd was roughly a gazillion times better as a senior (under new O-coordinator Gus Malzahn) than he was as a crap-tastic junior, but with Todd out of eligibility, the starting job will now be in the hands of senior Neil Caudle, athletic redshirt freshman Tyrik Rollison or the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Newton, a five-star QB back in 2007 who was rated the No. 28 prospect in the country by Rivals. Newton appeared headed to Mississippi State a few weeks ago, but these comments from his father make it pretty clear that not even a prior relationship with Dan Mullen (Florida's offensive coordinator when Newton committed to the Gators) was enough to outweigh the stigma of Mississippi State:
He was leaning toward Starkville. He had that relationship with Dan Mullen and there was a comfort level there. I didn't think that was the right place for Cam. They just don't have all the moving parts. Cam was going to have to be the star. He'd have to do everything himself. I didn't want him to be a rented mule.
Ouch.

* On his way back: Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich, the 2008 ACC defensive player of the year, is back at practice after missing the entire 2009 season due to a rare form of cancer called Ewing's Sarcoma (I don't think it's related to the Ewing Theory). His career was thought to be in jeopardy, but according to The Associated Press, he was found to be cancer-free in October and began working with the team last week in an effort to get back for the 2010 season. His return would be huge for BC: We're talking about a guy who had 81 tackles, two sacks, two fumble recoveries and six interceptions in 2008. Good luck to him.

* QB drama: Buffalo quarterback Zach Maynard is no longer a Buffalo quarterback. Maynard quit the team this week without citing a reason, but his high school coach had some harsh words for new coach Jeff Quinn (who was Cincinnati's offensive coordinator under Brian Kelly):

"It had everything to do with Turner leaving," Otis Yelverton, Maynard's high school coach in Greensboro, N.C., and a close family friend, said by telephone Thursday night. "Here's the deal. I'm not trying to throw anybody under the bus but I guess I am going to throw him under the bus. You got a starting quarterback who doesn't talk to the new coaching staff until (this past) Friday. We got a problem with that. ... You got a coaching staff that comes and acts like they really didn't want him there."

Quinn stayed at Cincinnati through the Sugar Bowl, arrived at Buffalo on January 5, met with the team on January 10 and met with Maynard individually on January 15. Is that an unreasonable timetable? I don't think so; a new coach has too many things to worry about to spend all his time bowing down to the team's young QB. Regardless, Maynard's a big loss. As a true sophomore this season, he started every game and completed 57.5% of his passes with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions along with 300 rushing yards. It seems like a safe bet that Quinn will be running the same offense we saw at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati, so he'd better find a quarterback. The only guy left on the roster is Jerry Davis, a redshirt freshman who was 8-for-15 passing this year after coming to Buffalo as a no-name recruit.

Monday, January 18, 2010

I've got the early-entry blues

Almost exactly a year ago, I titled a post "Mass exodus" when it became clear that just about every relevant draft-eligible underclassman was headed to the NFL. This obviously was written before Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow all decided to return, which led to the easiest decision ever for the guys who decide which players to put on the covers of college football preview magazines.

In all, 46 underclassmen declared, including four of the top 10 rushers and six of the top 14 receivers (statistically) as well as guys like Matt Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Knowshon Moreno and Percy Harvin.

This year isn't really any worse numerically -- 53 underclassmen declared by Friday's deadline -- but I guess it seems a lot worse because of what's left (or, more specifically, what isn't left). Unless I'm missing somebody, Mark Ingram is pretty much the only truly elite player returning next year -- and that's probably because he's a sophomore, so he doesn't have a choice. The only other first-team AFCA All-American coming back is Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones, who's very good but not exactly Ray Lewis. After that is ... ummm ... Kellen Moore? Jake Locker? Terrelle Pryor? Case Keenum? Jacquizz Rodgers? All are good players, obviously, but none are dominant. The 2010 season won't be anything like the 2009 one, where there were several top teams loaded with upperclassman talent.

So which teams lost the most? Off the top of my head: Oklahoma, Florida, Notre Dame, USC and Georgia Tech (in no particular order).

Oklahoma is the team we never knew (at least on offense), and now Sam Bradford, Jermaine Gresham and Gerald McCoy -- all probable first-round picks -- are off to the NFL, as is cornerback Dominique Franks. The one positive: Since Bradford and Gresham both missed basically the entire season, the offense has been preparing for life without them for a while. For all intents and purposes, they were gone a year ago. Oklahoma should be fine going forward with Landry Jones, DeMarco Murray and Ryan Broyles. The defense also got some good news with the return of defensive tackle Adrian Taylor and linebacker Travis Lewis.

In terms of volume, Florida was hit harder than anybody: Tight end Aaron Hernandez, center Maurkice Pouncey, cornerback Joe Haden, safety Major Wright and defensive end Carlos Dunlap are all headed for greener pastures (literally). None of those losses individually is as devastating as Tim Tebow's graduation, but that's FIVE potential All-Americans who would have been the core of next year's team minus Tebow, Brandon Spikes and a bunch of other senior starters. I guess a lot of turnover is inevitable the year after you return 21 of 22 starters, but yikes.

Notre Dame ... obviously. Passing was the only thing ND did well last year (and they did it very well), but that'll be a little harder without Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate. Seeing as how Brian Kelly can turn fourth-stringers like Tony Pike into Heisman candidates, he probably could have done OK with Clausen. Tate's a big loss too, but Michael Floyd's a hell of a fill-in. Keep in mind that he had 13 catches for 358 yards and five touchdowns in the first two and a half games this year before breaking his collarbone; he might be better next year than Tate was last year.

USC is kind of in a similar situation to Florida: Each of the guys leaving early -- Joe McKnight, Damian Williams and Everson Griffen -- could be replaced individually, but the overall effect is pretty devastating when combined with the departing seniors such as Taylor Mays, Jeff Byers, Anthony McCoy and Josh Pinkard. And remember all those prep All-American running backs USC accumulated? McKnight, Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable ... the only guy left now is Gable, who's been surpassed on the depth chart by Allen Bradford. Next year's USC team is gonna be just as inexperienced as last year's was, so maybe Pete Carroll was smart to get out when he did.

Georgia Tech's losses have gone a little under the radar, but they really got hit hard. Jonathan Dwyer is a beast of a running back and had almost 1,500 yards rushing this season, and for a team that really only plays one receiver, Demaryius Thomas and his 46 catches (38 more than anyone else on the roster) will be missed. Oh, and then there's Derrick Morgan, who led the ACC with 12.5 sacks and will likely go in the top 10 overall, and safety Morgan Burnett, a second-team All-ACC pick. If Georgia Tech goes back to the Orange Bowl next year, Paul Johnson should be given a lifetime contract extension.

Other thoughts on guys entering the draft:

* Jevan Snead probably should have stuck around at Ole Miss another year. I can't blame him for leaving since he had already earned his degree, but he had a terrible year (54.4% passing, 20 TDs and 20 interceptions) and is no better than the fourth- or fifth-best QB coming out. A good senior season would have put him in competition with Jake Locker and Ryan Mallett to be the first quarterback drafted in 2011.

* Jake Locker, on the other hand, made the right call. He probably would have gone in the top half of the first round (Todd McShay was in love with him) because of his arm strength and athleticism, but he's got a lot to learn in the passing game. Another year under Steve Sarkisian with a not-that-terrible team should help a lot and give him a good shot at being the No. 1 overall pick next year.

* Toby Gerhart -- and any other power running back, for that matter -- absolutely had to leave school. You can't run with that sort of violent style and not expect to get hurt occasionally. And after racking up 341 carries this year, every similar season in college would just be taking away a season in the NFL. I guess we'll find out how good Andrew Luck really is next year; I know he's talented, but there's a big difference between being a complementary piece to a star running back and being THE guy.

* You'll hear a lot about how Arrelious Benn was a disappointment as a junior, but anyone who watched Illinois will tell you that if Juice Williams had any connections between his arm and his brain, Benn would have put up about 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns. That's why I was a little surprised when Benn declared; he easily could have had a huge senior year with pocket passer Jacob Charest taking over at QB, pushing him into the top 10 or 15 overall. Still, he's an absolute physical freak who should be an immediate starter in the NFL.

* Dez Bryant, Jahvid Best, Eric Berry and Rolando McClain had easy decisions. When you're a sure-fire first-round pick (especially this year, with a lockout and rookie salary cap looming on the horizon), you've gotta consider everything that could go wrong and strike while the iron's hot. I can't blame any of those guys for jumping at the money ... it just sucks for us fans to know that we're missing out on a year of awesomeness.

Here's the full list of underclassmen leaving early:

Kevin Basped, DE Nevada
Arrelious Benn, WR Illinois
Eric Berry, S Tennessee
Jahvid Best, RB California
Navarro Bowman, LB Penn State
Sam Bradford, QB Oklahoma
Dezmon Briscoe, WR Kansas
Antonio Brown, WR Central Michigan
Dez Bryant, WR Oklahoma State
Bryan Bulaga, OT Iowa
Morgan Burnett, S Georgia Tech
Bruce Campbell, OT Maryland
Jimmy Clausen, QB Notre Dame
Rennie Curran, LB Georgia
Anthony Davis, OT Rutgers
Carlos Dunlap, DE Florida
Jonathan Dwyer, RB Georgia Tech
Dominique Franks, CB Oklahoma
Clifton Geathers, DE South Carolina
Thaddeus Gibson, OLB Ohio State
Jermaine Gresham, TE Oklahoma
Everson Griffen, DE USC
Rob Gronkowski, TE Arizona
Joe Haden, CB Florida
Aaron Hernandez, TE Florida
Kareem Jackson, CB Alabama
Chad Jones, S LSU
Reshad Jones, S Georgia
Linval Joseph, DT East Carolina
Darius Marshall, RB Marshall
Ryan Mathews, RB Fresno State
Rolando McClain, LB Alabama
Gerald McCoy, DT Oklahoma
Joe McKnight, RB USC
Shawnbrey McNeal, RB SMU
Carlton Mitchell, WR South Florida
Joshua Moore, DB Kansas State
Derrick Morgan, DE Georgia Tech
Jerell Norton, DB Arkansas
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE South Florida
Maurkice Pouncey, C Florida
Brian Price, DT UCLA
Dennis Rogan, DB Tennessee
Jevan Snead, QB Ole Miss
Amari Spievey, CB Iowa
Golden Tate, WR Notre Dame
Demaryius Thomas, WR Georgia Tech
Earl Thomas, S Texas
Donovan Warren, CB Michigan
Damian Williams, WR USC
Mike Williams, WR Syracuse
Jason Worilds, DE Virginia Tech
Major Wright, S Florida

Not included on that list are the following players who had a redshirt year available but chose not to pursue it (these guys aren't considered early entries by the NFL):

Toney Baker, RB NC State
Toby Gerhart, RB Stanford
Abe Koroma, DT Western Illinois
Blaze Soares, LB Hawaii

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Let's settle down, people

Probably the best thing about Tennessee choosing a new coach Friday is that I hopefully won't be subjected to any more "LANE KIFFIN IS THE BIGGEST JERK EVER!!!" columns. I'm looking at you, Gene Wojciechowski:
Whatever happens, it will take years for Kiffin to patch and caulk the gaping holes in his credibility. If you were a recruit, why would you believe a word he said?
OK, let me start by saying that Kiffin is an asshole. From the moment he accepted the Tennessee job, he went out of his way to insult everyone from Steve Spurrier to Urban Meyer to recruits. He just doesn't care.

But for everyone crying about him leaving Tennessee after one year, get real. College football coaches have as little job security as anyone on Earth; everybody out there is one or two bad seasons from getting canned. Loyalty doesn't exist from either side. If you want to coach at a big-time school, the only way to do it is to leave your former employer between a rock and a hard place by jumping ship when said job is offered to you. Kiffin can't just wait around a couple years on the off chance that he might get a second chance at his dream job. It was unfortunate timing for Tennessee, nothing else.

Look it at from a real-world perspective: You take an excellent job with a great salary, plenty of money to live on. You're excited and plan on being there for as long as possible, and you bring in a number of good employees to help achieve your long-term goals. A little over a year later, you're offered an even better job, an opportunity of a lifetime that you'd only dreamed about. It's where you grew up and where you honed your skills, and they're offering to significantly increase your salary and let you bring along all your best employees. If you can honestly say that you'd turn that job down, you're a more loyal person than I am.

And after all the hatred from Tennessee fans and all the criticism in the media, the second person the Vols went after -- Duke coach David Cutcliffe -- had been at his job for all of two years. The guy they hired -- Louisiana Tech coach Derek Dooley -- had been at his job for three years. Urban Meyer left Bowling Green after two years and then Utah after two more to take over at Florida. Brian Kelly left Central Michigan after three years and then Cincinnati after two to go to Notre Dame. That's what happens when elite programs have job openings.

I suppose two years is slightly better than one, but it doesn't matter; every recruit those guys brought in still had at least three years left under another coach. There's no right time to leave a program, so criticizing Kelly or Kiffin but not criticizing Dooley or Meyer is ridiculous. If you want to blame anybody, blame the NCAA for not allowing players a free transfer if their coach is fired or leaves voluntarily.

Then there's the FURY about Kiffin immediately trying to persuade Tennessee's recruits to join him at USC. Por ejemplo:
the thing that I do not understand is Kiffin & Co. trying to singlehandedly tear down the Tennessee football program by trying to steal recruits already committed.
For an appropriate response to these claims, I'll cede the floor to Dan Hawkins:



IT'S DIVISION I FOOTBALL!!! If you think this doesn't happen everywhere up until the minute a guy faxes in his letter of intent on National Signing Day, you're smoking crack. Just last year, for example, Michigan had two committed players bail on Signing Day but pried receiver Roy Roundtree away from Purdue, at which point Joe Tiller spewed some holier-than-thou complaints about Rodriguez being "a guy in a wizard hat selling snake oil." It was then discovered that Purdue's first move after losing Roundtree was to try to get a guy who had just signed a letter of intent with Ball State. Pot, meet kettle.

As someone who closely follows recruiting, I can tell you definitively that no commitment goes unchallenged until the paper is signed. Hell, it's a common thing now for guys to commit while still openly considering other schools and taking official visits. They're not really committed; they're just reserving a spot.

Anyone remember Bryce Brown, the top-ranked player in the country last year who ended up signing with Tennessee? For almost a year before National Signing Day, he was "committed" to Miami. That obviously meant a lot.

Again, the timing of all this craziness obviously sucks for Tennessee (February 3 is approaching in a hurry), but if it's not against the rules, it happens. Get over it and move on.

I hate to be the guy to defend Kiffin, because I really think he's a douche. But that's the thing: Just because he's done a ton of stupid shit and nobody likes him, that doesn't mean we should all flip out about him jumping at the USC job and trying to bring some recruits along with him, both of which are perfectly understandable and have plenty of precedent from coaches who didn't receive nearly the amount of criticism.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Tennessee hires that one guy's kid

Most Tennessee fans couldn't have picked Derek Dooley out of a police lineup 24 hours ago, but they'll probably become familiar quickly:
Derek Dooley, the son of Georgia legend Vince Dooley, was introduced Friday as Tennessee's second new head coach in 14 months, replacing Lane Kiffin days after he bolted for Southern California.
I wasn't surprised at all that the Vols made Texas defensive coordinator (and coach-in-waiting) Will Muschamp their top priority after Kiffin left, and when Muschamp turned them down, I wasn't surprised that Duke coach (and former longtime Tennessee O-coordinator) David Cutcliffe was next on the list. But hiring Dooley was a surprise. Also surprising: Dooley being able to find a bright-orange tie that quickly. Impressive ...

If you'd never heard of Dooley before today, here's a brief summary: He's been an offensive position coach (wide receivers and/or tight ends) with SMU, LSU and the Miami Dolphins, and he was also Nick Saban's recruiting coordinator from 2000-02, when LSU finished with Rivals' top-ranked class twice in three years. He's young (41), he's smart (a law degree?!?), he's an excellent recruiter and he's worked under one of the best coaches in the sport. And if this reminds you of somebody, you're right: Dooley is basically a smarter, less douchey version of Lane Kiffin.

And that's not where the similarities end. Dooley went to Louisiana Tech in 2007 and took over for Jack Bicknell, who was fired after going a little under .500 (43-52) in eight years and reaching only one bowl game (a Humanitarian Bowl loss to Clemson in 2001). In three years, Dooley did the following:

2007: 5-7
2008: 8-5 (beat Northern Illinois in Independence Bowl)
2009: 3-9

If you're counting at home, that's a 17-20 record; he was 12-12 in WAC play. Tennessee fans probably gagged on their Jack Daniels when they heard about that on the teevee.

There's not much to point at and say, "Wow, that's impressive," but to argue that Louisiana Tech didn't improve during his tenure would be stupid. This year's 3-9 record was mostly the result of four losses by eight points or less, including a 24-16 loss to LSU in November. Louisiana Tech was also the only team in the WAC to come within 10 points (45-35) of Boise State. Compare that with the 2007 team, which was coming off a 3-10 season and lost to LSU by 48 (yikes), Nevada by 39, Cal by 30, Mississippi by 24 ... you get the idea. Competing is the first step toward winning.

I watched the Louisiana Tech-LSU game and saw two teams that didn't belong on the same field talent-wise, and there were only two reasons that game was close:

1. Jarrett Lee is a pretty terrible quarterback, which hurt LSU's offense all year.
2. Dooley's creative (and aggressive) play-calling got Louisiana Tech a fucking brilliant touchdown just before the half to take the lead, and his unwavering optimism/confidence clearly rubbed off on his players.

This postgame quote pretty well summarizes my thoughts:
"We ran ball as well as you can run it against them," Tech coach Derek Dooley said. "We went toe-to-toe and we weren't affected by the environment. We weren't playing in awe of LSU, and I think those are great steps. At the end of the day, they have a better football team than we have."
So Tennessee fans should feel pretty good, right? Ummm ... maybe. Bringing in high-end recruits and inspiring confidence in your players are definitely things you want from your head coach, but what you need from your head coach are wins, and the fact of the matter is that his career record is 17-20. It remains to be seen whether that says more about Dooley or the difficulty of doing any better than .500 at Louisiana Tech.

There are two quarterbacks in the NFL right now with the last name of Manning. Both have every skill necessary to be elite and bloodlines that provided a head start money can't buy. Peyton turned those advantages into awesomeness, becoming one of the greatest QBs in NFL history. Eli is an average starter, which is fine but probably not what the Giants were hoping for at $16.5 million a year. Dooley reminds me of one of the Mannings ... I'm just not sure yet which one.

Dooley is the top-five draft pick with "upside" (Jay Bilas' favorite word), a guy who hasn't shown much in terms of results but might be unbelievable in the right situation. Tennessee is obviously banking on being the right situation.

Would I have hired him over Muschamp? No (not that Tennessee ever had a choice, but it's a point of comparison). Would I have hired him over Cutcliffe? Probably. Cutcliffe would have been the safe pick, the guy who's been around and knows the program and probably would have been able to stabilize things and do a fine job. Dooley is the upside pick, a riskier hire but one that might look brilliant five years from now. And since neither of the aforementioned guys were interested, Tennessee's choices were limited anyway.

But comments like this ...
We thought the Chisik hire at Auburn was bad, this is ten times worse!! A losing record in the WAC conference, are you kidding me?
... are moronic (which I guess is appropriate for any conversation in SEC country). It's funny that the comparison is Gene Chizik, who was hired last offseason from Iowa State with a 5-19 record and promptly led Auburn to an 8-5 season with the help of crazy-but-brilliant offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. I could easily see Dooley getting off to a similar start, especially when you look at Tech's impressive rushing numbers and realize that he'll have guys like Bryce Brown and David Oku at his disposal next year.

If I had to bet one way or the other on Dooley -- either boom or bust -- I'd go with boom (a firecracker boom, not a nuclear one). He can recruit, he's smart and he's been trained by the best, and those things will be a lot more relevant at Tennessee than at a talent-deprived mediocrity like Louisiana Tech. It's not easy to win in the SEC against Florida, Georgia, Alabama and LSU, but everything's relative; in the world of college football, Knoxville is the freakin' Taj Mahal compared with Ruston, Louisiana (wherever that is).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Little Lou headed to USF

The carousel keeps spinning:
Skip Holtz is the new football coach at South Florida, taking over a program recovering from a scandal that led to the firing of Jim Leavitt. USF will introduce him as the second coach in the Bulls' 13-year history on Friday.
A couple years ago, I was of the opinion that Holtz was a fairly mediocre coach whose name was worth more than his results. Winning one playoff game at UConn (a I-AA school at the time) and going slightly above .500 at East Carolina does not equal an overwhelming resume.

After two straight Conference USA titles and with a 38-27 record at a place that had gone 3-22 in the two seasons before his arrival, I'm willing to reconsider. That's pretty good. I don't know exactly how he's doing it (I'll get to that momentarily), but he's winning games.

I've heard a few people say that South Florida is basically a lateral move from ECU, but that's just wrong. USF hasn't won fewer than eight games in the past four years, is located in a great recruiting area, has a 65,000-seat NFL stadium and plays in a BCS conference with no clear-cut dominant team. All things considered, the Bulls are in great position to step up and become a player at the national level.

The question is whether Holtz is the guy to do that, especially when there are some pretty good coaches out there (cough Mike Leach cough) who would have been more than interested. Here's what he's done at East Carolina:

2005: 5-6
2006: 7-6 (lost Papajohns.com Bowl to South Florida)
2007: 8-5 (won Hawaii Bowl over Boise State)
2008: 9-5 (lost Liberty Bowl to Kentucky)
2009: 9-5 (lost Liberty Bowl to Arkansas)

Again, this followed up a disastrous two-year stretch under former Florida defensive coordinator John Thompson, so 38-27 is pretty good, right? But when you try to figure out how East Carolina has taken control of the conference, that's where things get difficult.

Holtz was an offensive coordinator at Notre Dame and South Carolina (quick, guess who hired him) before taking over at ECU, yet his offenses were flat-out bad, finishing worse than 60th in total yards every year. And it wasn't for a complete lack of talent: Holtz coached Chris Johnson (the guy who just ran for 2,000 yards with the Tennessee Titans), Jets receiver Aundrae Allison and graduating quarterback Patrick Pinkney, who might not be drafted but was a pretty good starting QB for three years.

So while Holtz's offenses have underachieved, his defenses have carried the team by being ... well, pretty average (although by Conference USA standards, "average" is equivalent to "awesome"). Last year's defense was pretty good (30th in scoring and 41st in total yards), but this year's dropped off some (36th in scoring and 71st in total yards) and ECU still went 9-5 despite the offense staying very blah. An overtime win over Marshall here, a four-point win over UAB there -- ECU did just enough to get by. Granted, that's a significant improvement from 3-22, but we're not talking about Brian Kelly's Midas touch.

The number of close wins leads me to believe that Holtz is probably a good game-management coach (I haven't seen ECU regularly enough to make a definitive statement on that), but he'll have to produce more on offense to lift USF from its current plateau up to Big East power. I'm curious to see who he hires as coordinators, especially since East Carolina D-coordinator Greg Hudson just left to be Jimbo Fisher's linebackers coach at Florida State. For a guy who doesn't appear to have true strategic brilliance on either side of the ball, that will probably determine his long-term success (or, as his daddy calls it, thuctheth).

Change of plans

Lane Kiffin apparently won't have Norm Chow at his side after all:
Norm Chow will remain offensive coordinator at UCLA, according to UCLA officials.

Chow’s status has been in doubt the last week after USC made contact with him in an attempt to lure him back as offensive coordinator under new head coach Lane Kiffin.

Kiffin said the other day that he intends to call plays for USC "like I always have," which was probably a deal-breaker for Chow (as it should be). I don't know why he would join Kiffin to be essentially a consultant when he can continue as a true offensive coordinator at UCLA.

What does it mean for the Trojans? Well, it means Kiffin's coaching ability will be a little more relevant than expected, which may or may not be a good thing.
Let's look at what his teams have done offensively (again, the Raiders don't count, so we're talking about 2005-06 USC and 2009 Tennessee):
  • In 2005, USC finished first nationally in total offense (577 yards per game) and second in scoring (49 points per game) while becoming the first team in NCAA history with a 3,000-yard passer (Matt Leinart), two 1,000 yard rushers (Reggie Bush and LenDale White), and a 1,000-yard receiver (Dwayne Jarrett). How much of that was Kiffin and how much of it was the other guys? Hard to say. But the 2004 national championship team -- with Norm Chow as O-coordinator -- averaged 130 fewer yards and 11 fewer points per game, so there was obvious improvement.
  • In 2006, the running game plummeted to 68th nationally while the John David Booty-led passing game finished 14th in yards and 30th in efficiency. USC finished 21st in total offense (392 yards per game) and 18th in scoring (30.46 points), which isn't spectacular for USC, but keep in mind that Booty had never taken a meaningful college snap before the '06 opener and Chauncey Washington wasn't exactly Reggie Bush or LenDale White. Jarrett and Smith were about the only guys left at the skill positions, so you could argue that the '06 offense had the least talent of any in the Pete Carroll era.
  • In 2009, Tennessee finished 60th (smack dab in the middle of the FBS) in total offense and 43rd in scoring offense at 29 points per game. The running game was average (54rd), the passing game was average (43rd in yardage and 38th in efficiency) ... everything was very meh.
When you look at USC's 2006 numbers and consider that this year's Vols had Jonathan Crompton throwing to a bunch of inexperienced receivers (other than Gerald Jones) yet STILL produced more through the air than Montario Hardesty and Bryce Brown did on the ground, there's a conclusion that can be drawn: Kiffin's background as a quarterback shows up in his team's offensive results. In other words, his teams are better at throwing the ball than running the ball. This isn't necessarily good or bad, just an interesting observation going forward.

Based on the typical talent level at USC, the 2006 numbers are probably a realistic expectation (except for a slightly better running game, if for no other reason than the pure quantity of five-star running backs USC pulls in). His quarterbacks and receivers will probably be very good.

Is he Norm Chow? No. His overall lack of play-calling experience is a valid concern, as three years isn't exactly an eternity. But his offenses have ranged from elite when he has talent to average when he doesn't have much, and the talent should never be much of a problem at USC.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lane Kiffin is an enigma

There are two ways to look at Lane Kiffin:

1. He's an obnoxious loudmouth who has no track record of success as a head coach.
2. He's a very good offensive strategist and a phenomenal recruiter who knows how to sell his program to both players and elite assistants.

Both of these things are true, which is why he's probably one of the most controversial figures in college football. If you asked 100 fans, "Is he a good coach or is he just an annoying coach," you'd probably get about a 50-50 split. It all depends how you look at it.

ESPN's Pat Forde takes the anti-Kiffin angle:

At this rate, Lane Kiffin is an 8-5 season at USC away from a $50 million contract to coach Peyton Manning and the Colts.

Seriously, why not? Why wouldn't he just keep rising up the coaching ranks on the basis of nothing much at all? If a 31-year-old with no head-coaching experience can get the Oakland Raiders job, and a guy who got fired from that job after losing 15 of 20 games can get the Tennessee job, and a guy who went 7-6 in a reckless first season in Knoxville can get the USC job … is there any rung of the sport to which Kiffin cannot climb?

These are entirely valid points, because there's really nothing in Kiffin's past that demonstrates that he'll be a good head coach or a good school representative (I'll get to that momentarily). But here's the question I've been asking myself: Does it matter if Kiffin is a good head coach?

That probably seems ridiculous; of course it matters ... right? Consider the following:
  • Every player at USC was part of a top-10 recruiting class.
  • Lane Kiffin can recruit like nobody's business, and getting elite players to come to Los Angeles isn't exactly rocket science.
  • USC will have arguably the best offensive AND defensive coordinator in the country as well as a slew of other well-respected assistants.
What can Kiffin possibly do to screw that up? If you're regularly bringing in five-star talent and you have two of the best strategists in the sport at your side, will your game-management decisions really be that important? Maybe against Ohio State and Oregon, but not against most of the Pac-10. What I'm saying is that even if Kiffin is an average or poor in-game coach, it'll be hard NOT to win nine or 10 games a year at USC. If he's a bad coach, maybe it'll be eight. If he's a good coach, it'll probably be 10.

USC is obviously counting on the latter and hoping that the elephant in the room -- Kiffin's unending string of off-the-field controversies -- stays tucked away in the corner. His penchant for petty recruiting violations at Tennessee was somewhat of a running joke, but when USC gets stripped of a bunch of wins and scholarships (probably) for lack of institutional control, that stuff won't seem very funny to the administration.

If he's smart enough to keep his mouth shut and go about his business -- or, more importantly, let his assistants go about their business -- the transition/recovery should be relatively painless for USC. If he continues to act like an idiot because his ego is out of control and we find out that there's a reason he has a career record of 12-21, his tenure (and that of athletic director Mike Garrett) will end quickly in an inferno of criticism.

A gun-to-my-head prediction: USC of the near future will be about halfway in between the 2002-08 juggernaut versions and the 2009 blah version that finished fifth in the Pac-10, meaning nine or 10 wins per year and fairly regular Rose Bowl appearances. Kiffin will probably make an ass out of himself at some point, but as long as he wins a few BCS games, nobody will care. College football isn't a seven-days-a-week religion in Los Angeles like it is in SEC country. In summary, it won't be a disaster.

I haven't even mentioned Tennessee in all this, but it's OK; they seem to be taking things well.

Kiffin (both of 'em) to USC

Chicken soup for a slow news day:

Tennessee's Lane Kiffin has agreed in principle to become the next head coach at Southern California, sources close to the situation told ESPN.com's Chris Low on Tuesday.

According to the sources, Kiffin will bring his father and defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, and assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron to Southern Cal with him, and wide receivers coach Kippy Brown will be named interim head coach at Tennessee.

A deal is being worked on in hopes of bringing longtime offensive coordinator Norm Chow back to USC in the same capacity, sources close to the school told ESPN's Shelley Smith.

Wow. I predicted that Kiffin would be one of the first guys contacted based on his USC background, but the searched seemed to be moving in a different (and not good) direction. After being rejected by Mike Riley, Jack del Rio and Jeff Fisher, USC could have done a lot worse than Lane Kiffin -- especially when you consider that he's bringing along Norm Chow and Monte Kiffin, two of the best coordinators in all of football.

Is Kiffin a good coach? I don't think anybody really knows yet. Is he an asshole? Yes. But he'll probably be a successful asshole with a coaching staff like that. The only thing that could get in his way is his own ego.

The hardest part will be making enemies in the Pac-10 as fast as he did in the SEC. It won't be easy, but I'm sure he'll find a way (stealing Chow from UCLA is a good start).

Other than that, he'll just have keep the recruiting class intact (one thing he shouldn't have too much trouble with given his recruiting prowess), guide USC through likely severe NCAA sanctions and follow a legend who made winning 11 games and a BCS bowl every year look like a walk in the park. It's not exactly an ideal situation to step into, but if USC was looking for a guy with abundant confidence (also known as cockiness) who knows a thing or two about dealing with negative publicity, they sure found him.

Up next at Central Michigan: Dan Enos

Central Michigan announced Tuesday that Michigan State running backs coach Dan Enos has been named head coach. Insert joke here about being the next coach at Cincinnati.

I'll be honest: I don't know a whole lot about Enos, which isn't surprising since his resume consists of jobs as a quarterbacks coach or running backs coach at schools such as Southern Illinois and North Dakota State. The one thing I do know is that Enos is widely recognized around the state as MSU's top recruiter, the "coffee is for closers" guy on the staff. How much that will matter at a MAC school remains to be seen. I suppose the important thing is that he brings in better players than Western Michigan and Toledo and the rest of the MAC, but it's not like he'll ever get the state's high-end recruits to come to CMU instead of Michigan or Michigan State.

On top of that, Enos has never been more than a coordinator (and that was at the Division II level), so while he has a fairly extensive offensive background, it's still a HUGE jump up to D-I head coach. It's kinda surprising that CMU reached out to a guy with such little experience ... then again, they've done pretty well with their past two hires (Brian Kelly and Butch Jones), so I should probably give them the benefit of the doubt.

The advantage Enos will have right from the start is that he's taking over the best program in the MAC ... sort of. CMU has won three of the past four conference titles under Kelly and Jones, which is great. The Chips have accumulated a lot of momentum in that time. The bad news is that the star offensive players who were the key pieces on those teams -- Dan LeFevour, Bryan Anderson and Antonio Brown -- are all gone. Anyone who expects Enos to come in this year and win another MAC championship is probably being unrealistic.

As for the Chips' long-term success, it will depend on whether Enos can use his recruiting magic and offensive acumen to produce a good team; based on what little is known about him, I can't offer an educated guess either way. The only reaction from Michigan State blogs is basically "this sucks for our recruiting."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Catching up: Coaches are goin' places (or not)

* USC gets shot down: Mike Riley is no longer a candidate at USC after withdrawing his name from consideration and signing a three-year extension with Oregon State. I'm a little surprised -- I thought he'd at least listen to an offer, because it's not like Oregon State is a better job in any way, shape or form than USC. But I guess he's happy where he is, and there's nothing at all wrong with that.

Where does USC turn now? I figured Steve Sarkisian would be high on the list, but he said Sunday that USC hadn't called and that he wouldn't be interested anyway. Jeff Fisher also said he has no interest, specifically citing the pending NCAA investigation. I also don't think Jim Harbaugh's leaving Stanford for a rival he's made no secret of hating. There's been no word yet on Jaguars coach Jack del Rio (another USC alum), but if he decides to stay in the NFL, the choices would be limited.

I think Paul Hackett's looking for another head coaching job ... seriously though, it'll be really interesting to see if USC goes after somebody like Mike Leach, Gary Patterson or Chris Petersen.

* What's going on at USF? Jim Leavitt has hired a team of lawyers in an effort to force USF to reinstate him as head coach. He maintains that he did not hit Joel Miller in the face and that he should not have been fired, and his lawyers threw in this little nugget:
The attorneys released a statement Friday of behalf of the coach, saying the dismissal "is contrary to the terms of his contract" and violates Leavitt's constitutional rights.
I'm not sure which amendment says you can't be fired; if there is one, I'm sure a lot of people would like to know about it.

This is probably a financial move, as Leavitt is owed only a week's pay ($66,667) if fired with cause, but there was a rumor earlier today from ESPN's Bruce Feldman that USF was actually considering giving Leavitt his job back (!!!). It's also been reported that Michigan offensive coordinator Calvin Magee will interview (or already has) for the job, while East Carolina's Skip Holtz, former Iowa State coach Dan McCarney and both Terry and Tommy Bowden have been mentioned as candidates.

There's nobody on that list better than Leavitt, but it would be bizarre and shocking to see him get his job back after the school's investigative report pretty much called him a lying bastard.

* They are ND: Notre Dame's coaching staff is just about complete. Brian Kelly has been assembling his staff over the past week and now has all the key pieces in place, including offensive coordinator Charley Molnar and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, both of whom came over from Cincinnati.

Molnar served as QBs coach but apparently will add the role of OC -- which is mostly just a title since Kelly calls the plays -- while Diaco will remain D-coordinator. For all the criticism Cincinnati's defense took this year, Diaco did a pretty good job taking a unit that lost 10 of 11 starters from 2008 and getting it to respectability (66th in total defense and 44th in scoring defense). Before coming to Cincinnati, he served as a linebackers coach under Al Groh, meaning he loves him some 3-4.

The interesting name on the staff: Chuck Martin, the former Grand Valley State head coach who I mentioned as a possible D-coordinator candidate when Kelly was named Notre Dame's coach. Martin has a ridiculous resume, going 74-7 with two national titles in six years at Grand Valley, and Kelly offered him the DC job at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati. At Notre Dame, though, he'll actually be coaching defensive backs, which was his role as an assistant before becoming D-coordinator at Grand Valley. He'll also likely be an assistant head coach.

The rest of the staff is mostly Cincinnati guys. The lone Notre Dame holdover is running backs coach Tony Alford, a veteran who's been at ND for two years after spending time at Louisville, Iowa State, Washington, etc. He's been around and has coached some pretty good players, including Victor Anderson at Louisville and Troy Davis at Iowa State. Notre Dame was pretty terrible at running the ball this year (84th in the country), but that had more to do with the crappy offensive line than the running backs.

Outside of losing offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn to Buffalo, Kelly has to be pretty happy. Keeping most of his staff intact and adding Chuck Martin isn't a bad way to start his Notre Dame career.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Tuberville to Texas Tech

It didn't take Texas Tech very long to find a replacement for Mike Leach:

Former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville has been named the next football coach at Texas Tech, the school announced Saturday. His deal is for five years and in the range of $2 million a year.

Tuberville isn't a bad hire. He left Auburn (or was fired, depending on who you believe) with an 85-40 record and eight consecutive bowl appearances, and his defenses were consistently among the best in the SEC. He's 55 now, which isn't young, but Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden have shown that a guy with the right demeanor can coach well into his 200s.

The downside is that his offenses were never particularly exciting or innovating outside of 2004, when Al Borges fashioned a devastating running game out of Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown that led Auburn to a 13-0 season. Once those guys left, it was back to business as usual (mediocre offenses rescued by excellent defenses).

Does that mean there will be a complete style overhaul at Texas Tech? Apparently not:

Last week, Tech athletic director Gerald Myers told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that Tuberville told him he would keep the Red Raiders' aerial offense in place and wanted to maintain continuity in the program, which hasn't had a losing season since 1992. Tuberville told the newspaper he would change some things defensively, drawing on success he had at Auburn.

This had to be a relief for Myers and was probably one of the primary reasons Tuberville was given the job over defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill, who did a commendable job as interim coach in the Alamo Bowl shootout against Michigan State. Getting continuity AND head coaching experience is a win-win for Texas Tech.

If Tuberville can figure out how to let the offense keep its identity while bringing the defense up to respectability, Tech might not suffer much of a drop-off. He probably won't have the recruiting success Leach did -- he doesn't really excite people or have that oddball personality that made Leach so intriguing, and Lubbock is a desert wasteland -- but if he can win eight games and get to a respectable bowl game every year like he did at Auburn, that's good enough.

USC, meet crossroads

It's all but official: Pete Carroll is the coach of the Seattle Seahawks (I never thought I'd be typing those words).
Pete Carroll did not officially inform USC he was leaving as of Friday afternoon, but sources within the university said he accepted a job with the Seattle Seahawks and only needed to agree to final contract details.
Once the financial terms are agreed upon and a minority candidate is given a token interview, an announcement will be made and USC will be without one of the most successful head coaches in the history of the sport.

His timing seems a little suspicious -- the NCAA is in the midst of the Joe McKnight investigation and is supposedly wrapping up the Reggie Bush probe -- but we'll probably never know his true reasons for leaving. Maybe he feared the allegations ... or maybe he simply grew tired of them. Maybe he was bored with dominating the Pac-10 and wanted to prove to all his critics that he can be successful in the NFL, that he doesn't need five-star talent to win, that his rah-rah style isn't prohibitive to winning in professional football. Maybe he just couldn't pass up a chance to stay on the West Coast and make $7 million a year. It doesn't really matter; the important thing is that he's now in the NFL, which means there's now a gaping hole at USC.

It feels like hyperbole to spell out all of Carroll's accomplishments, but I'll do it anyway. He took over a USC program that had been steadily in decline for about a decade and had gone 19-18 in three years under Paul Hackett. After going 6-6 in his first year (2001) and losing in the Las Vegas Bowl ... well, you know the rest:

2002: 11-2 (won Pac-10, won Orange Bowl)
2003: 12-1 (won Pac-10, won Rose Bowl)
2004: 13-0 (won Pac-10, won Orange Bowl)
2005: 12-1 (won Pac-10, lost Rose Bowl)
2006: 11-2 (won Pac-10, won Rose Bowl)
2007: 11-2 (won Pac-10, won Rose Bowl)
2008: 12-1 (won Pac-10, won Rose Bowl)
2009: 9-4 (won Emerald Bowl)

Carroll was 9-8 after 17 games; in his final 100 games, he was 89-11. He led USC to seven straight 11-win seasons, seven straight top-four finishes in the AP poll, seven Pac-10 titles, six BCS games and two national titles in nine years, and he was one spectacular Vince Young play away from another one. He coached three Heisman winners, had 14 players drafted in the first round and had seven straight top-10 recruiting classes (included three ranked No. 1 by Rivals). Am I forgetting anything? I think that pretty well covers it.

The only negative from his time at USC is that there will continue to be a cloud over the program until the NCAA finally does whatever it's going to do. I brought up the issue just a few weeks ago and said this:
... when we're talking about a pattern of several similar incidents with players living well above their means, it makes it a lot harder to believe that those incidents are just a string of random events that evaded detection. Did Pete Carroll know? Your guess is as good as mine. But it seems increasingly likely that he just ignored everything going on around him because he didn't WANT to know.
The insane talent USC managed to accumulate always raised eyebrows, and the various allegations of improper benefits didn't exactly help. To a lot of people, Carroll's USC had become the modern-day version of Jimmy Johnson's Miami. But I will say this: With Bush, McKnight and Carroll (and probably most/all of his staff) out of the picture, it'd be pointless to punish USC for their actions. That's called closing the barn door after the horse has left. If Bush is found to have been ineligible and some wins are vacated, that's fine; just don't impose scholarship or recruiting restrictions on the new coach, who will have had no involvement in any improprieties.

Speaking of the new coach, the guy who seems to be at the top of the list (at least according to the Los Angeles Daily News) is Oregon State coach Mike Riley, a former USC assistant who the school actually pursued before hiring Carroll in 2001. Riley doesn't jump off the page as an elite candidate, but keep in mind that he's coaching in a black hole called Corvallis with no recruiting pull. Before his arrival in 1998, Oregon State hadn't won more than five games in a season since 1971 (!!!). In the past seven years, they've won an average of eight games a season, they've gone 5-1 in bowls and they've beaten USC twice. Riley's a very good coach.

Other names mentioned include Jack del Rio (current coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars), Jeff Fisher (current coach of the Tennessee Titans) and Jim Harbaugh, and I still believe that if Riley isn't interested, a call will go out to Steve Sarkisian and possibly Lane Kiffin. Harbaugh's candidacy will probably be short-lived -- he hasn't exactly been diplomatic with USC since taking over at Stanford -- but everyone else on that list either played or coached at Southern Cal.

The depressing thing for USC is that no matter who's hired, there will be an inevitable drop-off. The recruiting classes have still been good the past few years, but they haven't been dominant like they were in the mid-2000s, and the new coach will be in a tough spot trying to reel in this year's high-end recruits with just a few weeks left before signing day. He'll also have to assemble a staff, and I'll eat my hat (I'm not actually wearing a hat) if the new group of coaches compares to the assistants Carroll lost during his tenure: Norm Chow, DeWayne Walker, Steve Sarkisian, Lane Kiffin and Nick Holt, among others. When you factor in Oregon's rise in the Pac-10 and Notre Dame's probable return to prominence under Brian Kelly, it seems unlikely that we'll be seeing any seven-year stretches like the one Carroll just completed in the foreseeable future.

That doesn't mean USC can't still be an elite program that consistently competes for national titles -- it really should be -- but that'll all depend on Carroll's replacement. Mike Garrett just needs to make sure he finds someone a lot closer to Pete Carroll than Paul Hackett.

About 24 hours ago, I ended my national championship game wrap-up with this comment:
In two years at Alabama, Saban has brought in a ridiculous 40 four- or five-star recruits, which is 10 more than either USC or Florida has signed in that time. The wave of talent has no end in sight. With the uncertainty of the Urban Meyer situation at Florida and the allegations swirling at USC, 'Bama might have just taken the torch as college football's next dynasty.
Consider the torch passed.

Must ... not ... laugh

This says it all about the state of Alabama:

The University of Alabama is going to display its new national championship football trophy at a place where most anyone can see it: Walmart.

The school says the Coaches' Trophy will be on display at a Walmart Supercenter in Tuscaloosa on Saturday and another Walmart store in Gardendale on Sunday.

If you decide to go, it'll be placed directly next to the Tide-themed hunting gear and Dale Earnhardt Jr. collectible tins.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Whaaaa???

The insanity is reaching new levels:

Seattle Seahawks coach Jim Mora has been fired, the first coach in team history to be let go after one season, and league sources say longtime USC coach Pete Carroll is being targeted as Mora's replacement.

A prominent USC source close to the athletic department said Friday that Carroll joining the Seahawks was "going down."

Said another source close to Carroll: "You're about to see a big headline that shakes up the major college football world," in reference to the Seahawks development.
Yeah, I'd say that would shake up the college football world. And didn't we just go through this?
If I'd have asked you yesterday to come up with the most shocking story possible in the world of college football, where would "Urban Meyer resigns" have ranked? First? Second? I can't think of anything else more shocking or with more potential ramifications, with the possible exception of Pete Carroll stepping down at USC.
How silly of me to think that Urban Meyer's retirement would be the most shocking news of the offseason. Everyone will say that Carroll's trying to escape L.A. before USC gets hit with the NCAA hammer, but I'm not sure that's the only factor. Are penalties likely? Yes, at some point. But he's also done just about everything he can do at USC and has hit a little bit of a lull; I think it's entirely possible that he's just looking for a new challenge. He probably wouldn't mind making $7 million a year, either.

For the record, Carroll's time in the NFL wasn't nearly the disaster people often make it out to be. He was 6-10 in his one season with the Jets (1994) and then 10-6, 9-7 and 8-8 with New England from 1997-99. He led the Patriots to an AFC East title in '97 and was 1-2 in the playoffs. He was fired with a career record of 33-31. That's not spectacular by any means, but it's certainly not bad.

I'm not here to talk about his NFL prospects, though. What I care about is the effect his departure would have on USC and college football as a whole. If he takes the job, it could represent an extreme shift in power and have a domino effect on coaches throughout the country. I have to imagine that Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian would be on the short list of candidates; Mike Riley and Jim Harbaugh would probably get a look too. There might not be a better job in college football right now than USC, so it'd be a step up for just about anybody. There are also a ton of high-end recruits who could be left up in the air, which would be devastating for USC (and awesome for everybody else) with less than a month before national signing day.

I'm not gonna spend all night speculating -- it's still possible that the deal could fall through, making all of this moot -- but wow. Alabama's national title is already old news.

Leavitt done at South Florida

After 13 years as the only head coach in South Florida's brief college football history, Jim Leavitt has been fired:
South Florida fired football coach Jim Leavitt after a school investigation concluded he grabbed one of his players by the throat, slapped him in the face and then lied about it.
The incident was reported several weeks ago by AOL Fanhouse after sophomore Joel Miller said Leavitt hit him at halftime of a game against Louisville as punishment for a mistake on a special-teams play. The allegation was later rescinded, but the investigation found that several players* directly or indirectly confirmed the original account, and the school determined that the follow-up story from Miller and Leavitt wasn't accurate.
In his letter to Leavitt, Woolard said the athlete's statements after the probe began "are unpersuasive because they were contradicted by the same student athlete in his conversations with credible witnesses made close in time to when that conduct occurred."
With that, the coach who built USF from nothing into a Big East power is gone. After going 5-6 in his first year (1997), the Bulls had only one losing season while going from I-AA to a I-A independent to Conference USA to the Big East. In five years in the Big East, USF has gone to a bowl game every year and has an overall record of 41-24. I'm not sure there's ever been a program that's moved up in the college football world so quickly and so successfully, and Leavitt is the primary reason for that. He leaves with a record of 94-57, a phenomenal achievement considering that he started from scratch. Considering his defensive background, I'll be surprised if he doesn't find a good job as a D-coordinator relatively quickly

A lot of people will compare Leavitt's firing to the Mike Leach situation, but this is a much different scenario. Texas Tech was clearly looking for an excuse to fire Leach as far back as last offseason; Adam James just offered the school an escape. But Leavitt has never had (to my knowledge) any previous problems with players or the USF administration, and while has hasn't quite gotten USF over the hump to an elite bowl game or conference title, it's not like he's been struggling recently: In the past four seasons, the Bulls have gone 9-4, 9-4, 8-5 and 8-5 with a 3-1 bowl record.

Leavitt is an extremely fiery guy, though, and if you want a valid comparison for a good-but-sometimes-too-intense coach doing something stupid in the heat of the moment, here you go:



It's just unfortunate that the same intensity that made him such a great coach has now cost him his job.

* A note to USF: I'm not the most technically savvy person in the world, but I know that putting a black box over names in a PDF doesn't make the text go away. I won't print all the names here for obvious reasons; I'll just say that within 30 seconds of opening the investigative report, I had identified every anonymous player.