Weekend Blog - August 8th - 9th
Over the past 4 years I have published an article titled Coaching Changes in my College Football Preview magazine. Each year I try to make the magazine a little bit bigger and a little bit better but we’re capped out at 328 pages so Coaching Changes does not appear in my 2009 magazine. We have had a lot of requests for this article and since the website has an unlimited amount of room, philsteele.com is a great vehicle to continue publishing this article and I will do so each year. This year’s article is 3 pages long (click here for a PDF of Phil Steele’s 2009 Coaching Changes).
COACHING CHANGES BY PHIL STEELE
There is something to be said for coaching stability as it usually takes a couple of years for a new head coach to get a program going. They usually have their best success when they have a team full of their own recruits and their offensive and defensive systems have been in place for a couple of years. The first few years can be rough on a new head coach as they inherit players who now have to learn new schemes on both offense and defense and he has to learn the players strengths and weaknesses. Pete Carroll won two straight National Titles but in his first year the Trojans opened up at 2-5 and finished at just 6-6 after the bowl. Tommy Tuberville's first team at Auburn was just 5-6 but in his 6th season they were a perfect 13-0. Nick Saban's first LSU team started off 3-3 and finished 8-4 but in his 4th year they won a share of the National Title. In Bob Stoops' first year at Oklahoma, the Sooners were just 7-5, including a bowl loss to Mississippi. Since then they have won a National Title and played in six Big 12 Championship games. Les Miles went 4-7 in his first year at Oklahoma St followed by 3 winning years. Al Groh's first year at Virginia produced a 5-7 record but he has had 5 out of 7 winning years since. Jim Tressel was just 7-5 his first year but won a National Title in his second. Kirk Ferentz was a combined 4-19 his first two seasons but the Hawkeyes have now been to five Jan bowls. Pat Hill's first two Fresno St teams went a combined 11-12 but since then have had 9 winning years and Woody Hayes who won just 4 games in his first season at Ohio St.
The reason I bring up these examples is twofold: first it shows that Athletic Directors should have a little more patience before firing a head coach for a losing season. Secondly, I wanted to point out that there are individual unit rankings in the lower right hand corner on each of the conference pages. You will notice that I have FIRST year coaching staffs graded lower than you would normally expect.
What sparked this article a few years back was Ole Miss' dumping of David Cutcliffe just one year after the Rebels shared the SEC West Title with LSU. They were the only team that had been bowl eligible 7 straight years prior to that rare losing season. Prior from 2005-2007, the Rebels went just 3-21 in SEC play.
Let me go over some programs that stuck with coaches for much longer than expected, through many losing seasons but have ultimately been rewarded. The best example is Virginia Tech. Frank Beamer had successive years of 2-9, 3-8, 6-4-1, 6-5, 6-5, 5-6 and 2-8-1 to start his tenure. Amazingly, Virginia Tech stuck with him. Can you imagine another program that would stick with a head coach through a streak like that?? Beamer has done an amazing job building his program including having one of the best strength training programs in the country. They are now a National Title contender on a yearly basis and simply won the ACC Title in their inaugural year in the conference despite being picked 7th in the preseason ACC poll. Joe Novak started out 1-10, 0-11, 2-9 and 5-6 his first 4 years at Northern Illinois and once again, they opted to stick with him and were rewarded with 7 consecutive winning seasons from 2000-'06. Darrell Dickey was DONE at North Texas. His first 3 teams went 3-8, 2-9 and 3-8 and in 2001 they opened the season 0-5. Their AD was under HEAVY pressure to get rid of Dickey not just at the end of the season but RIGHT THEN so they could have some hope. They rebounded to win an amazing 26 consecutive SBC games (including the final 5 in 2001)! They went to four bowls with 4 league titles. Will NT stick with 3rd year HC Dodge (3-21 in '07-’08) if he starts out like Dickey? Navy's Paul Johnson went 2-10 in his first year but the Mids went to five straight bowls winning 8, 10, 8, 9 and 8 games in those seasons. Rocky Long inherited a New Mexico team that went 9-4 in Dennis Franchione's last season and his first squad went just 3-9. Two more losing seasons followed but they stuck with him and the team had 7 consecutive years of bowl eligibility. When Barry Alvarez took over at Wisconsin he went 1-10 in his first year and followed that up with two more losing seasons. The Badgers simply went to 11 bowl games in his tenure and he retired with an amazing three Rose Bowl wins under his belt. Dan McCarney of Iowa St had his team go 3-8, 2-9, 1-10, 3-8 and 4-7 his first FIVE years. Can you imagine an AD in today's climate sticking with this guy? The Cyclones then went to 5 bowl games in McCarney's last 7 years from 2000-'06 (new AD let McCarney go!) and went 5-19 since. Bill Snyder went 1-10 at Kansas St in his first year and had 3 losing seasons his first 4 years but they stuck with him and he rewarded them with 11 straight bowl appearances, making them a National Title contender. As you can see, sometimes patience is a virtue.
OK let's take a look at the Baylor situation. Constant head coaching changes are a bad thing. The coach inherits another coach's recruits and many times they not only don't fit his system but they signed with the school because of the other coaching staff. Many times personality or disciplinary conflicts arise and many players leave a program after the coaching change, leaving a team short on scholarships. I call this section "Baylored" because that school provides the most prominent example of how constant head coaching changes can hurt a program. Let's go back to 1996. Baylor had 5 out of 6 winning years despite facing their tough SWC foes on a weekly basis. They were 7-5 in 1994 and 7-4 in 1995 and the amazing part was that HC Chuck Reedy was bringing in recruiting classes on par with teams like Texas and Texas A&M, even finishing ahead of the big boys some years! In this day and age a winning record for a Big 12 team would make them a perennial bowl team. In 1996 they had a nightmare season as the team was besieged by injuries and also dropped some close games like a 28-24 loss to Oklahoma, a 28-23 loss to Texas and a triple OT loss 49-42 to Missouri (those type of losses would look pretty good currently). They still finished 4-7 and clearly, if not for the injuries, could have had a winning season. Amazingly Baylor FIRED Coach Reedy! They have played TWELVE years of football since and have topped three wins in a season just 3 TIMES in that span (5 in '05, 4 in '06 and 4 last season)! First they brought in Dave Roberts in 1997 then after two losing seasons fired him! They brought in Kevin Steele and gave him 4 years before the axe fell. As mentioned with constant coaching changes, keeping the full complement of scholarship players has been a problem. Baylor has a record of 13-91 in the Big 12 and some years have been outgained by an avg of over 200 ypg in league play. Guy Morriss is the latest firing at Baylor as he had a 5-6 season in '05 (4-1 start) and was given 5 years but continues the "Baylored" tradition.
They do not run the option in the NFL so this category strictly applies to the college game. I have said many times over the last few years that it takes 3-4 years for an option team to successfully move to a pass offense. Why does such a switch take so long? A college team is basically built from 5 different recruiting classes with the classes from 3, 4 and 5 years ago being the most important. A college coach who runs an option offense can be very successful in the college game. To be a success he must be able to bring in big, powerful run blocking offensive linemen who are known more for power than pass blocking. His choice of WR's is generally not made on the guy that will make the most catches but the one who may be the best downfield blocker. The QB's in an option offense are valued more for their mobility than for their passing accuracy. When a coach comes in and tries to move to a pro style passing offense or a pure passing offense, he finds himself ill-equipped to do so. He needs fleet pass catching WR's, QB's who are known for their accurate passing and a solid pass blocking line. By the time a coach recruits those types of players and the starters spots are taken by those type of recruits, it is usually at least two years down the road and possibly 3 or 4. Two big name schools recently went through the switch and their struggles bear out what a difficult transition it can be.
Notre Dame was a run based attack under Lou Holtz with option style QB's and continued in the same vein after his departure. When Ty Willingham took over he inherited a team that avg'd 102 ypg passing the previous year hitting 50% with a 4-11 ratio. The top 2 QB's combined to throw for just 1,071 yards but had 893 gross yards rushing. While ND did win their first 8 games under Willingham, it was hardly due to offensive prowess. They had just 11 FD's and 203 TOTAL yards on offense in a win over Purdue. Later they had 10 FD's and 185 TOTAL yards on offense in a win vs Pitt. That offense averaged just 313 ypg with the QB's hitting 50.4%. The next season they brought in a pure passing QB, Brady Quinn. Quinn however was a freshmen and the offense was just in its second year so he was not yet surrounded by the O-line and receivers which you need in a West Coast offense. He threw for 1,831 yards but only completed 47.3% with a 9-15 ratio. The third year of the offense showed solid improvement as you would expect. Quinn upped the totals to 2,586 yards passing, improved to 54.1% completions and had a 17-10 ratio. In 2005, with all 11 offensive starters back and in the 4th year of the switch, Charlie Weis stepped into a great situation and Quinn exploded with 3,919 yards passing (64.9%) with a 32-7 ratio. There were no Jeff Samardzija-types on the roster in Willingham's first year but thanks to his recruiting, the team was much better equipped to run the pro offense under Weis. In 2006 with 3 solid receiving options, Quinn had 3,426 yards passing (61.9%) with a 37-7 ratio.
When Nebraska hired Bill Callahan he stunned the Husker faithful by announcing that he was ditching the option offense and converting to a pro style pass attack. Some said it was about time and thought he would have immediate success. The 2003 NU team was a solid 10-3. I did not make a lot of friends in Lincoln when the next year in my magazine I picked Iowa St, who had finished 2-10 the previous year to finish AHEAD of Nebraska in the Big 12 North! Joe Dailey threw for 2,025 yards which was the most at that school since Dave Humm way back in 1972. Unfortunately, he completed 49.4% with a 17-19 ratio and the Huskers had their first losing season since 1961! Now, let's not pin the whole thing on Dailey. He was recruited as an option QB and had OL's in front of him that were recruited for run blocking who were just learning the pass blocking schemes. He also did not have a fleet of pass catching WR's like most passing schools have. Callahan looked to speed up the system so he went the JUCO route (something ND did not do). He brought in PS#18JC QB Zac Taylor (no freshman QB growing pains), JC WR's and OL's. Despite bringing in JUCO's, the offense did not take off right away. In the first two games vs IA foes in the 2nd year of the offense, they avg'd 104 ypg passing with just 45% completions. The unit got better as the season went on and Taylor threw for 392 yards generating 30 points vs Colorado in the season finale. For the season NU still completed just 53.8% and only increased their passing yards by 37 ypg. In 2006 they improved to 244 ypg passing and 59.4% completions and topped that in 2007 with 324 ypg pass (61.5%). Last year the team averaged 281 ypg (68.1%) but that translate to 2 ppg move them ‘07.
SOME TOUGH SHOES TO FILL
Following a legend is never easy. Vince Lombardi had an incredible run with the Green Bay Packers but after 4 straight NFL titles, stepped down. Phil Bengston was the unlucky guy who took over a team where anything less than an NFL title would be considered a weak season. Unfortunately he not only failed to bring home a championship but suffered 2 losing seasons in 3 years before being fired after going 6-8 in 1970. Ron Zook had the misfortune of being the guy who took over for Steve Spurrier at Florida. A few days after taking the job www.fireronzook.com got started and anything less than an undefeated season and National Title was construed as a failure. Here are a few other coaches that stepped into tough spots. Dennis Franchione left TCU after a great 10-2 season to take the job at Alabama. Gary Patterson unfortunately went 6-6 his first year but did flirt with an unbeaten season in 2003. At Ohio Jim Grobe had one of the best seasons at the school in recent memory in 2000 going 7-4 and contending for the MAC Title. He left for the ACC and Brian Knorr inherited raised expectations and was let go after 4 losing seasons. Tommy Bowden led Tulane to a 12-0 season in 1998 with 16 returning starters. He left for Clemson and Chris Scelfo inherited a rebuilding squad and had nowhere to go but down in his first year. They went just 3-8 but he did guide them to two winning seasons.
Some coaches have stepped into this type of tough situation and thrived. Urban Meyer led Bowling Green to a super 9-3 season and left for Utah. His assistant Gregg Brandon guided the Falcons to 4 winning seasons including a pair of bowl wins. Mike Price led Wash St to their first ever back-to-back 10-win seasons in the school's history before bolting for Alabama. Longtime assistant Bill Doba took over and led them to ANOTHER 10-win season and a Holiday Bowl win over #5 Texas. Dirk Koetter left Boise St after a 10-2 season, their best ever, and while Dan Hawkins' first squad "only" went 8-4, he did a remarkable job there going 45-7 in the next 4 years before moving on to Colorado. In 2006 Chris Petersen, who had been the longtime OC at Boise St, stepped in and as I forecasted in my 2006 magazine, took the team to a BCS bowl berth and an undefeated season after their win vs Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME
There are just some coaching openings that have early success written all over them. In 2004 for example I pointed out many times in the magazine that UTEP's Mike Price was stepping into a great spot. Gary Nord took over at UTEP and guided the team to an 8-4 record and a rare bowl in his first year. He opted to build the program the right way by getting away from bringing in JUCO's and he not only signed almost all freshmen but redshirted most of them, building the team's depth. He suffered through 3 losing seasons but had put all of his eggs in the basket of the 2004 season, as he knew he would have success with a deep and veteran squad. Unfortunately they fired him so Mike Price took over a team that was -15 in turnovers the previous year and was just 2-11. When a new head coach comes into some early season success it gives a losing team new found confidence. They then buy into the new coach's program more quickly. UTEP went on to their 1st back-to-back winning seasons since '87-'88 and benefitted thanks to Nord biting the bullet and taking those redshirts. Keith Burns was doing the same thing at Tulsa and also did not catch many breaks his last few years as his team was hit hard by injuries. His final team had just 9 seniors and naturally new head coach Steve Kragthorpe inherited a team with the most returning starters in the WAC (17). Some early season success had them more confident and the team rewarded the new guy going from 1-11 to 8-4 and a bowl berth. Urban Meyer took over a Utah team that was one of the most snakebitten teams in the NCAA in 2002. Between 2000-2002, Utah was among the MWC leaders in ypg vs conference foes and in 2000 and 2002 finished with losing seasons overall despite outgaining and outscoring their opponents on the year. In 2002 they had FIVE losses by 8 pts or less! The talent was there and when Meyer achieved some early season success, the team started gaining confidence and won those close games that had escaped his predecessor Ron McBride. Just two years later they were undefeated. There were 12 new coaches in 2005 and few success stories besides the heavily publicized hires of Charlie Weis, Florida's Urban Meyer and LSU's Les Miles. Bronco Mendenhall took over a snakebitten BYU team that had 3 close losses and outgained league foes by 54.6 ypg, 2nd best in the MWC in '04, taking them to a bowl in '05. Meanwhile, Bill Cubit of W Michigan, took a 1-10 team to a 7-4 record becoming bowl eligible.
Now let's take a look at some of this year's head coaching changes and I will put them into some of the categories listed above. Keep in mind many of this year's new guys will go through the typical 1st years that I described previously.
2009 NEW COACHES
RIGHT PLACE RIGHT TIME:
The last 4 years I have had 25 coaches mentioned in this section. Eighteen of the 25 have improved their teams records (2 had same record). In 2006 Chris Petersen of Boise St took over a 9-4 team and guided them to a perfect 13-0 and a BCS bowl win. In 2007 Dennis Erickson took a 7-6 ASU squad to an 8-0 start and #6 in the country. Last year Houston Nutt took a 3-8 Ole Miss squad to a Cotton Bowl victory. Bo Pelini of Nebraska took over a 5-7 Husker squad and guided them to a tie for the Big 12 North Title. Coach Jerry Kill of Northern Illinois inherited a 2-10 squad and guided them to a bowl.
GENE CHIZIK, AUBURN
Chizik is replacing Tommy Tuberville and I do not know that if in the long run he will be able to match Tuberville’s streak of having won or shared the SEC Title 5 of 8 years from 2000-2007. He does step into a great situation as Auburn was the preseason favorite to win the SEC West last year and ended up with a losing season. Auburn still has plenty of talent and makes my list of Most Improved Teams which means they should go from 5-7 to a bowl.
LANE KIFFIN, TENNESSEE
Phil Fulmer was the head coach at Tennessee for 17 years and took home a National Title in 1998 but in his final 10 years he had just two Top 10 finishes and just 2 losing seasons. Kiffin inherits a Tennessee team that underachieved last year going 5-7 but one that had a Top 10 defense. Tennessee makes my list of Most Improved Teams which means I expect them to be in a bowl so Kiffin steps into the right place at the right time.
STEVE SARKISIAN, WASHINGTON
I do think Sarkisian will have long-term success and this is a Washington program that was a perennial bowl team prior to 2004. The bar is set very low for the Huskies this year as they went winless in 2008. The Huskies have 18 returning starters and should greatly improve upon their record.
GARY ANDERSON, UTAH ST
Brent Guy built the Utah St program the right way recruiting freshman and redshirting most of them. While Utah St was just 3-9 last year, they could have easily had a better record with 2 net close losses including the Fresno St game where they lost on a 58 yd FG on the last play of the game. Anderson inherits a team that loses just 14 lettermen and has 16 returning starters and will be the beneficiary of the outstanding job Guy did building this program from one that lacked scholarship players to one that is near the full 85 man limit and possesses loads of talent.
RICH ELLERSON, ARMY
Army made a mistake for a service academy team which was getting out of the option offense and going to a pro-style set. They paid for it with a 20-85 record this decade. Stan Brock turned the team back to the option last year and they were far more competitive. They were 3-9 but suffered a tough loss vs Buffalo in OT, a 4 point loss to Texas A&M and a 7 point loss to another bowl team (Rice). Now in the 2nd year of the option, Army should have improved results.
DABO SWINNEY, CLEMSON
Clemson was the preseason pick to win the ACC last year. Swinney was 1-2 in his first 3 games but then won 3 straight to get them to a bowl. This year he inherits a teams that has my #9 rated O-line and #9 D-line and while picked 3rd or 4th in the ACC by most, I believe they will win the Atlantic Division.
BILL SNYDER, KANSAS ST
Bill Snyder did a arguably the best head coaching job turning a woebegone K-State program into a National Title contender. He did have losing seasons his final 2 years but inherits 14 returning starters and as usual brings in a large amount of JUCO’s. Even at 70, he still has a lot of fire and should guide Kansas St to a bowl and I have picked the Wildcats to finish higher than anyone else.
BRADY HOKE, SAN DIEGO ST
Chuck Long did not catch many breaks with injuries and/or turnovers the last two years but Hoke steps into a great situation. After two injury plagued years, the Aztecs are even more experienced than their 15 returning starters show and I give Hoke a great shot at ending the Aztecs’ 5 year losing streak.
TIM BECKMAN, TOLEDO
I was surprised that after Tom Amstutz announced his resignation the Rocket players did not rally around him in the final few games. While they did wipe out Miami, Oh 42-14, the effort at the end of the year was poor and Toledo finished just 3-9. Beckman inherits 16 returning starters and Toledo only loses 7 lettermen. Toledo makes my list of Most Improved Teams.
TOUGH SHOES TO FILL
The last 4 years I have had 12 coaches listed in this category. Three coaches in 2005 had their teams go from a combined 25-11 (69%) in 2004 to 15-19 (44%) in 2005. In 2007 four coaches were in the box and 3 had weaker records including Tim Brewster at Minnesota who took over a bowl squad and went 1-11. The one coach that improved his team's record went from 10-3 to 11-3. Last year I had 4 coaches listed in the box and of the 4 coaches, only one (Steve Fairchild, Colorado St) managed to improve his team’s record but keep in mind the Rams were coming off a 3-9 season.
STAN PARRISH, BALL ST
Stan steps into a situation much like Chris Scelfo did in 1999 at Tulane. He was taking over for a coach that had guided the team to an unbeaten season and the record could only go down. Ball St was 12-0 and the best team in the MAC last year and loses QB Davis and 4 starters from the O-line.
DAN MULLEN, MISSISSIPPI ST
I thought Sylvester Croom did a great job at Mississippi St with a strong defense and running game. He guided the Bulldogs to a bowl win in 2007. Last year he expected to contend for the SEC Title but when they were clobbered by Mississippi 20-0 in the finale, he unexpectedly stepped down after a 4-8 season. Dan Mullen came in and is changing the schemes on both the offense and defense and has an inexperienced squad which loses 28 lettermen and has just 10 starters back and probably will not match last year’s 4 win total.
MIKE LOCKSLEY, NEW MEXICO
Rocky Long was one of the best coaches in the MWC as his team’s traditionally overachieved my expectations on a yearly basis. While New Mexico won just 4 games last year meaning the bar is set low, this looks like a rebuilding year for the Lobos with just 9 returning staters and 23 lettermen lost plus the team is going through a coaching change. The non-conference play is not favorable with Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Tulsa on the list as well as a tough MWC schedule. CHIP KELLY, OREGON
Mike Bellotti was one of the top head coaches in the game and stepped aside just before the spring. Kelly opted to change some of the coaching staff and has lost numerous players over the summer. They had just 9 returning starters to begin with and finished #10 in the country last year. I do not see Kelly matching last year’s 10 win total.
DAVE CLAWSON, BOWLING GREEN
Bowling Green has been a perennial bowl squad and has had just 1 losing season the last 8 years. Last year they were arguably the best team in the MAC East but blew a big lead vs Buffalo and lost in 2 OT’s costing them a shot at the MAC Title game. While the offense still figures to be strong under the new head coach, they do lose their entire defensive front and probably will not match last year’s 6 win total.
In 2005 the whole reason for me to write this article was the ridiculous firing of coach Cutcliffe at Mississippi where he had done a GREAT job. I think it may be decades before you see Ole Miss bowl eligible for 5 straight years and go to 5 bowls in a 6 year stretch like they did under Cutcliffe. In 2007 I had Rice and Idaho listed here due to constant coaching changes. Idaho went from 4-8 to 1-11 and Rice went from a bowl game to 3-9. Last year I put Southern Miss here as Larry Fedora had one of 5 teams in the NCAA that had 14 straight winning years. The Golden Eagles opened 2-6 and it appeared that a losing season was a given. SM rebounded to win their final 5 games of the year and match their 2007 record of 7-6.
FRANK SPAZIANI, BOSTON COLLEGE
BC has now suffered two peculiar coaching changes in the last three years. Tom O’Brien in 2006 made a lateral coaching move to a fellow ACC team (NC State). Jeff Jagodizinski was on hand for two years but surprisingly, knowing that if he interviewed for an NFL coaching job he would be fired, still interviewed and is now just a coordinator in the NFL. Boston College is coming off of consecutive ACC Atlantic Championships and do not figure to get there this year
In 2007 I created this category. Some new coaches have conflicting things working for them and it is tough to toss them into any one category above. Of the six I tossed in this category last year, three had miserable seasons for their schools (Texas A&M, UCLA, Washington St) and W Virginia was disappointing. Baylor and Georgia Tech, however, had more success than most thought they would.
RON ENGLISH, EASTERN MICHIGAN
At the end of last season, EM put up 52 and 56 points in its final 2 games but English is coming in and changing the offense to a pro-style attack and QB Schmitt struggled in the spring taking snaps from center. EM does have talent as they showed in the final 2 games and could easily outdo last year’s 3 win total but in the new offense, may struggle to do so.
PAUL RHODES, IOWA ST
Iowa St is set up to be in the “Baylored” column as they are on their 3rd head coach in 4 years but they also only had 2 wins last year and have 15 returning starters this year and could easily outdo last year’s win total.
MIKE HAYWOOD, MIAMI, OH
Miami has just 12 returning starters and a new HC. The bar is set very low as last year’s win total was just 2 but they may have trouble topping even that.
DeWAYNE WALKER, NEW MEXICO STATE
The Aggies were committed to the run and shoot offense last year and were much better than their 3-9 record as they could have easily beaten Louisiana Tech and Idaho. This year they have a drastic scheme change and just 10 returning starters but did only win 3 games last year so reaching last year’s win total is not out of the question.
DOUG MARRONE, SYRACUSE
The Orange did have 3 wins last year and beat Notre Dame on the road. I think Doug Marrone will have this program turned around quickly but he has just 13 returning starters to work with. On last weekend’s blog I used his team as an example of a team that had a lot of “circles” (players lost for the season).
DANNY HOPE, PURDUE
Last year’s Purdue squad underachieved going 4-8 despite outgaining Big Ten foes by 42 ypg and having the 4th best defense in Big Ten action. This year they have just 12 returning starters and a tough schedule but after underachieving last year, it is possible that Hope would have Purdue improving their record.
DAVE CHRISTENSEN, WYOMING
Wyoming has 16 returning starters but also plays teams like BYU, TCU and Texas at home meaning most of their winnable games are on the road. Wyoming did have just four wins last season but may have trouble topping that.