The Big New Coaching Moves
Coaches aren't professors. They aren't presidents and they aren't a major part of the academic aspect of the universities. They're just guys coaching a sport, and they're very well paid guys coaching a sport.
Anyone who gets into this knows exactly what the deal is. Even with all the money and all the fame and all the career dreams coming true, all coaches know their time is coming. The Joe Paternos of the world are almost non-existent, and few coaches ever get to go out on their own terms.
There are always more coaches out there to try to do the job better if the one you have isn't getting it done. The biggest mistake administrators make is to take one good year from a coach and assume it's time to lock him up. Big time schools like Colorado and Illinois might have liked to make a change last year, but they didn't want to pay a coach and an ex-coach. So now, with the stakes higher than ever, I have no problem whatsoever if a program wants to shoot for bigger and better things.
Yes, Ralph Friedgen did a tremendous job this season, but he did a bad job last year and should've been canned. If the buyout is $2 million and it means Mike Leach can step in and start to wreak havoc on the rest of the ACC, then so be it. Is Maryland supposed to wait for the next dip under Friedgen and then fire him? By then Leach is gone, and if Terp head honchos think that they have to act now in the hopes of getting in, arguably, the hottest name out there right now, then this is a great move. Consistency is the key, and Leach might start to bring the production on a yearly basis without the fluctuations like there were under Friedgen. Remember, Maryland has come up with losing seasons in four of the last seven years.
This will be really, really interesting. Kill has been a success everywhere he has been, and he might turn out to be a perfect fit for Minnesota at the perfect time. Minnesota football is a different animal than other Big Ten programs. It could be good, and it should be good, but it hasn't been good. Kill has proven to be able to do a lot with a little, and considering he won't get to many five-star guys to Minneapolis, that's a good thing. Minnesota tried to bring in a recruiter, hiring Tim Brewster because he was known as a high-energy, high-powered salesman, and it didn't work. Kill is a regular guy. He's not the type who's going to sleep in his office after a 25-hour work day, and while he's fiery, he maintains an even keel that should mesh well with the interesting combination of a major market fan base that lives for spending its weekends fishing on a lake. And he'll run the ball. He should be able to take the pieces that are in place to make the Gophers more competitive right away.
Um, okay. Is this a case of Pitt thinking that Mike Haywood was going to become a superstar, or is it thinking that what he did with Miami University was so miraculous that he's a special coach who can work wonders? The problem is that his RedHawks, even with the MAC Championship win over Northern Illinois, weren't that great. It's not like his offense worked, ranking 103rd in the nation, and while the defense was good, sound, and aggressive, it also benefitted by fattening up on a lot of bad teams. Remember, the bar has been set higher now. It's Big East title or bust after firing Dave Wannstedt, and Haywood needs to win now with the talent that's in place.
Yes, West Virginia, you can play for a national title. Remember, the 2007 team would've played for it all if it had beaten Pitt in the regular season finale. Bill Stewart might be the most likeable coach in college football, and it's a shame that he came within a whisper of playing in the BCS and winning the Big East title and now he's canned. And now he can become another Frank Solich.
Stewart will be pitch-perfect for a decent non-BCS team and he'll be a superstar for some MAC or Conference USA program. While some West Virginia fans might not like the move considering the good success Stewart had, I'd be ecstatic if my administration made the declaration that the goal was to play in national championships, and if Stewart wasn't the guy to get the program there, then so be it. I'd rather shoot for the whole ball of wax than be happy getting nine wins. But the bar will now be set at an unattainable level for Dana Holgorsen, The Oklahoma State offensive coordinator will be asked to do the same things right away, and make sure the defense stays at the same high level, and win with class, and win very, very big.
Welcome to Morgantown, Dana. Now win the Big East title yesterday.
While it's hard to argue with the dismissal of Ralph Friedgen after so many seasons of mediocrity, the timing feels awfully strange.
I suppose it's never too late to can a middling coach, but how does the Fridge survive a 2-10 season, yet get forced out after going a surprising 8-4? One word. Leach. Unlike a year ago, when Mike Leach was undergoing his own dismissal in Lubbock, the coach is now attainable and his indiscretions are less fresh than they were 12 months ago. If the Terrapins can bring him East, he's a perfect fit for a program looking to make a national splash. The guy is a winner, who'll put fans in Byrd Stadium and brings instant notoriety to Maryland. By the way, you knew AD Kevin Nelson was serious about this overhaul when he didn't even present a counter-offer to James Franklin, the supposed coach-in-waiting now at Vanderbilt.
Glen Mason did it. So can Jerry Kill.
You can win at Minnesota. In Mason's decade at the program, he went to seven bowl games, including five straight before five-loss seasons caught up to him. Now, a first Rose Bowl trip in a half-century may never happen with Kill in the driver's seat, but the results from the Tim Brewster era, twice as many losses as wins, should not be viewed as the norm. Stints at Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois proved that Kill is quietly one of the more underrated coaches around. His teams are fundamentally sound, and he has a track record of taking average recruits and transforming them into playmakers ... just like Mason used to do with the likes of C Greg Eslinger, RB Laurence Maroney, and CB Tyrone Carter.
Talk about cashing in on one big season as a head coach.
Maybe Mike Haywood is the answer at Pitt. Or maybe he simply caught lightning in a bottle in his second year at Miami University. We probably won't know the answer for at least another couple of years. Two things are certain—the Panthers stuck with a conservative, buttoned-up guy, while exiting the dark ages of the Dave Wannstedt era. Haywood is young, aggressive, and likely to bring a fresh new energy to a program that desperately needed it ... especially on offense. For the coach, it's a huge promotion and an opportunity to win at a school that's been largely untapped for years. For the man who hired him, Steve Pederson, this has to wind up as a homerun. The AD has a sketchy track record in this area, and has burned his margin for error as far as football hires go.
It's about time.
In retrospect, Mountaineer fans probably would have traded the 2008 Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma for Bill Stewart never being hired. He's an outstanding guy, but regressed in his three years at the helm and failed to get West Virginia back into a major bowl game. A change was needed. Dana Holgorsen? They'll love his offense in Morgantown, as will many recruits, but it remains to be seen if he's head coaching timber or not. AD Oliver Luck was wise to set up this transition the way he did. Holgorsen will spend one year as the offensive coordinator, learning the players and the culture of the program after spending the last decade in the Southwest. Stewart is just the kind of selfless team player, who'll make the transition as smooth as possible without any concerns over a clash of egos. Not many head coaches could pull off mentoring his successor after essentially being demoted. Stewart is one of them.
By Matt Zemek
MINNESOTA: Plenty of Mid-American Conference coaches have done quite well after getting the call to the upper reaches of the FBS. That's one reason to like the Jerry Kill hire. However, the better reason to approve of this move by U of M Athletic Director Joel Maturi is that Kill presided over a modernized, fast-paced hybrid offense, the kind of offense that is attractive to recruits and which a downtrodden program like Minnesota needs. Michigan doesn't (and didn't) require a newfangled approach, but a "downmarket" program in the Big Ten does need to be more creative and agile. Look at what Randy Walker did for Northwestern when he came from Miami University. Kill gives Minnesota a chance to be competitive, and his energy can only be seen as a positive. Is this a slam-dunk hire? No. Is it a solid one? Yes.
WEST VIRGINIA: This is weird, and it could create some very difficult moments over the next 12 months, but in the long run, the hire-and-elevate move by West Virginia AD Oliver Luck makes a fair amount of sense.
The sense here is that West Virginia owes a debt of gratitude to Bill Stewart for delivering the 2008 Fiesta Bowl win and being a positive presence for his players in the aftermath of the messy divorce from Rich Rodriguez. Therefore, Stewart is being given one more year as the coach so that he can be laid down gently. That's how you treat a human being – with decency. Maryland (with its power play against Ralph Friedgen following an 8-4 season) and Steve Pederson-led Nebraska (with its 2003 dismissal of Frank Solich following a 9-3 season that came after a 7-7 year in 2002) did not master the art of dealing fairly with head coaches who possessed their fair share of limitations. West Virginia has struck a balance between doing the right thing and doing the necessary thing.
Yes, the year 2011 could be awkward on the recruiting trail and especially on gamedays, when Stewart will need his defensive coaches to strategize in accordance with Dana Holgorsen's offensive game plans (they do affect each other to a certain extent). However, once 2012 arrives, Holgorsen seems like a great choice for a program that needs another Rodriguez minus the baggage. West Virginia has consistently gotten fast skill-position players into its program ever since Rodriguez arrived. The Mountaineers needed an offensive whiz who could unlock the full measure of the team's talents, and Holgorsen clearly fits the bill on that score.
PITTSBURGH: Mike Haywood, another hire from the MAC, could be a great fit in Pittsburgh. His enthusiasm for the Pitt job is a definite plus, and the turnaround he engineered in Oxford, Ohio, also rates as an indication of his ability to build a program from scratch. Naturally, Haywood will have a lot more material to work with in the Steel City.
However, with that having been said, Haywood's game-management skills are lacking. He opted to go for a touchdown instead of a chip-shot field goal when his Miami RedHawks led Northern Illinois by six points – 20-14 – in the third quarter of the MAC Championship Game. That was and is a colossal coaching blunder. Haywood also mismanaged his team's stash of timeouts and frankly deserved to lose to NIU. Haywood was saved only by a lucky deflection on a 4th-and-20 pass; that – not brilliant coaching – won the MAC for Miami.
Before a game has been played in 2011, let's call Haywood a decent hire. However, there was a better choice for Pitt AD Steve Pederson: Paul Rhoads at Iowa State.