2012 Pre-Spring Preview
Coaches Needing A Big Spring
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Coaches In Need of a Big Spring
Building a head of steam in March and April is not the sole domain of the players at this time of year. In fact, a swath of head coaches on thin ice are just as eager to put poor finishes behind them, and gather up a much-needed tailwind for the 2012 season. Now, that’s not to suggest that all are facing must-win situations. Jimbo Fisher and Will Muschamp, for instance, are safe at Florida State and Florida, respectively, even if they don’t compete for a league title. However, that doesn’t quell the urgency to exceed last season’s uninspired and disappointing efforts on the field.
For coaches and athletes alike, flushing out the old and ushering in a new mindset all begins in the spring, where the seeds of next fall are about to be put in the dirt. Eleven coaches were highlighted in this space last February; seven are no longer employed by the same school.
12. Gene Chizik, Auburn
Yeah, Chizik piloted the Tigers to a national title a little over a year ago, but watch how quickly that fades into the rear view mirror if he loses five games for a second straight season and third time in four tries. Auburn is coming off just one middling campaign, but in SEC years, that’s like three seasons of futility. Plus, don’t think for a second that disgruntled fans won’t start tossing around Chizik’s overall record on the Plains -- sans Cam Newton -- which currently stands at 16-10.
If that wasn't enough, the upcoming edition of the Tigers will be without instrumental offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and star RB Michael Dyer, both on the campus of Arkansas State. While no one is suggesting that Chizik is in any kind of imminent trouble, don’t kid yourself into thinking that the afterglow from the 2010 national title will last forever. The coach needs a 10-win season in order to keep frustrations from approaching a slow boil.
11. Mark Richt, Georgia
While Richt got off the hot seat by going 10-4 and winning the SEC East last season, it’s inaccurate to assume that 2011 earned him a lifetime get out of jail free card. A reprieve? No doubt, but it’s imperative that he and his ‘Dawgs keep the momentum going this spring and fall. As well as Georgia played during its 10-game winning streak, only two of the victories came over ranked teams, and the Outback Bowl collapse to Michigan State was a rough way to enter an offseason.
It’s still been six years — and counting — since the Bulldogs won an SEC championship, which gnaws at the locals. Richt will clearly begin 2012 with a strong tailwind thanks to the 10-win season, a talented collection of returning players and another terrific recruiting class. However, if Richt fails to seize it, he’ll right back under the microscope, where he resided uncomfortably a year ago.
10. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
There’s just no way around it. This is a huge season for Fisher and the entire Seminoles program. Last year was supposed to be the statement season in Tallahassee, a return to glory following an unusually long bout with mediocrity. It never happened, as hopes for an ACC crown and a possible national championship contention were capsized by an unthinkable 2-3 start, and a home loss to Virginia in November.
Florida State closed the year with a lackluster 18-14 defeat of Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl, hardly where this team expected to be after the holidays. The school has one more season with former five-star quarterback recruit EJ Manuel, and more than enough returning talent to fulfill expectations this time around. If the ‘Noles are once again unable to break through with their first BCS bowl game appearance since 2005, the bloom might be tomahawk chopped off Fisher’s rose.
9. Randy Edsall, Maryland
One year. That’s all it took for Edsall to get in the doghouse among Terrapins fans. Hasty? Maybe, but the College Park community didn’t exactly embrace this hire from the outset, opting to take a cautious, wait-and-see approach. What it saw was a team that plummeted from 9-4 in 2010 to 2-10 in 2011, endured an exodus of players and faced a damaging regression from former QB Danny O’Brien, the then-reigning ACC Rookie of the Year.
The program resembled a rudderless ship, forcing Edsall to replace both of his coordinators, hoping that a new year brings a fresh atmosphere and mindset at Maryland. The newly-configured staff did well on the recruiting trail, but the overall situation is so tenuous that another debacle this fall could provide the impetus for the administration to pull the plug on the boss after only two seasons on the job.
8. Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech
On Oct. 22, Tuberville was the toast of Lubbock, having just engineered an upset of top-ranked Oklahoma in Norman. A little more than a month later, he was a pariah, his Red Raiders ending the season on a five-game losing streak that prevented them from even qualifying for a bowl game. Such is life in the topsy-turvy world of college coaching. Tuberville has failed in two tries to extend what Mike Leach built at Texas Tech, making Year 3 crucial for the head coach.
Tuberville’s a good one, as the decade-long stint at Auburn showed, but he also has just two 10-win seasons on a head coaching resume that began in 1995. And at Tech, he succeeded an extremely popular figure who’d taken the Red Raiders to 10 consecutive postseason games. Tubby needs to reverse the direction of the team. And fast.
7. Jeff Tedford, California
You again? If it seems as if Tedford is in this space often, it’s not an illusion. He’s been on shaky ground for the past few seasons and his situation is a very tough one to assess. On the one hand, Tedford’s been the undeniable architect of an impressive turnaround with the Bears, piloting them to eight bowl games in 10 seasons despite being saddled with awful facilities.
On the other, however, his program has been stuck in neutral of late, and unable to get over the hump in the Pac-12. Since peaking in 2006, Cal has gone just 21-24 in conference play, earning a reputation as a perennial underachiever. To his credit, Tedford has been successful in boosting the overall talent level in Berkeley, but good recruiting classes are double-edged swords if they fail to produce enough results … especially when rival Stanford has been to consecutive BCS bowl games.
6. Mike Riley, Oregon State
For a coach, such as Riley, to be in any kind of trouble, you know that the team has been struggling badly. The man has been a key figure in the rebirth of the Beavers football, and is one of the most well-liked individuals around Corvallis. However, the perennial overachievers have been unable to reprise that role the last two seasons, going 8-16 over that stretch.
Last season’s squad slumped to 3-9, the first one to lose as many as nine games in Corvallis since 1996. Has Riley lost his mojo, or has the recent futility been just a natural cycle for a school that doesn’t attract the same level of talent as the Pac-12’s heavyweights? The upcoming season could hold the answer. While folks around campus want to be patient, it’s getting harder to remain even-keeled, particularly as Oregon has gone on to become a national powerhouse.
5. Frank Spaziani, Boston College
When Spaziani was hired to replace Jeff Jagodzinski three years ago, it seemed like a perfectly logical choice. Coach Spaz was a well-liked and successful veteran of more than a decade with the program. Unfortunately, he’s been proof that success as a coordinator doesn’t guarantee similar results as the head man in charge. Spaziani is just a game over .500 overall, and last year’s Eagles missed the postseason for the first time since 1998.
Spaziani survived last fall — barely — but it’s hard to imagine another reprieve if Boston College can’t at least qualify for a bowl game. Of even greater concern for the BC faithful is that the overall depth of talent has noticeably slipped since Tom O’Brien up and left for NC State at the end of 2006.
4. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Okay, so it was unrealistic to expect an overnight turnaround from Kelly, who inherited a challenging situation from Charlie Weis. However, by Year 2, the thought was that the Irish would be ready to take off and even compete for a BCS bowl game. Those goals went unfulfilled in 2011, with Notre Dame capping a disappointing 8-5 season by losing to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl. Quality wins were counted with one digit, and the offense, Kelly’s forte, experienced way too many bouts of inconsistency.
While the coach still feels like the right man for this job, he has to get more from the quarterback position, while finding ways to eliminate turnovers and silly mistakes. Kelly knew the drill before taking this heavily-scrutinized job. And 2012 will offer very little margin for error thanks to a wicked schedule that includes BYU, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Stanford, and USC.
3. Will Muschamp, Florida
Although few are hitting the panic button regarding Muschamp, he certainly squandered most of his goodwill as a rookie in 2011. The Gators were abysmal last fall, going 7-6 in the program’s worst campaign in almost a quarter-century. Sure, the challenges were extensive, but that’s still a brutal first impression at a new job. Muschamp needs to make strides at a place that doesn’t afford its coaches a ton of leeway.
In the Swamp, if you’re not up to the standards of Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, you’re essentially playing from behind. The defense should be fine, but the offense will again face serious questions as a bunch of unproven kids vie for the starting quarterback job, and Brent Pease supplants Charlie Weis at coordinator. Muschamp doesn’t have to win the SEC East in 2012 but, for his own sake, though, he better not be anywhere near .500 at the end of November.
2. Derek Dooley, Tennessee
Dooley is a solid football coach. However, sometimes circumstances have a way of trumping even a quality leader’s ability to turn fortunes around. The Volunteers head man might be in that type of a predicament, suffering back-to-back losing seasons at a program that’s grown frustrated with mediocrity in the fall. Folks are mighty angry in Knoxville, and they will unleash that discontent in the direction of Dooley if Tennessee isn’t dramatically improved in 2012.
The Vols were young and prone to injury last season, no doubt key factors in a lackluster 5-7 finish. This year, they’ll be a year older, brimming with receiver talent and healthier than they were at any point in 2011. No excuses will be acceptable if Tennessee can’t do an about-face. Falling short of nine wins could make Dooley’s future in Knoxville a jump ball by early December.
1. Mack Brown, Texas
The Jeff Tedford of Austin, Brown has become a conundrum for just about everyone who sizes him up. One camp insists, accurately, that the coach has been the architect of the renascence of football at Texas, winning 141 games, a pair of Big 12 titles and the 2005 national championship in 14 seasons. He has consistently filled the pipeline to the 40 Acres with elite young talent from around the fertile region. The other camp, understandably, is singing a different tune these days.
It says that Brown’s 13-12 mark over the last two seasons is an indication that he’s passed the point of no return. And that if it wasn’t for one very special athlete, QB Vince Young, the ‘Horns would still be searching for their first national title since 1970. A third-straight middling season will be unacceptable for a program of this prominence and heft. It’s time for Texas to get back to winning 10 games, and competing for titles. Anything less will put AD DeLoss Dodds, a strong supporter of the coach, in a bona fide pickle 10 months from now.