Monday Morning QB: The Year In Coaching
And so, with the exception of Army-Navy, the 2012 regular season is over. This week, the Monday Morning Quarterback hands out its year-end awards… and demerits.
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NOTE: All of the awards below are handed out so that no one will receive two honors at the same time. No reduplication here...
Monday Morning Quarterback 2012 Coach of the Year: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M. Was it foolish to expect Sumlin to fail in the SEC? One could kick around that question for awhile. However, even if you felt that Sumlin would successfully make the jump from Conference USA to that other Southeastern-flavored league (the one not called the Sun Belt…), you almost surely didn't think that A&M was going to leave a major imprint on America's Most Cutthroat Conference in year one. Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury provided the framework within which Johnny Manziel could thrive as a freshman. Manziel's natural and untaught instincts certainly helped the Aggies evolve into their fine finished product, but keep in mind that Manziel was stopped cold in second halves by Florida and LSU. Sumlin needed to equip Manziel with the mental and tactical resources needed to beat Alabama on the road. He did that. In year one. With a freshman. In Tuscaloosa. Bill Snyder, Bill O'Brien, Brian Kelly, and David Shaw were also spectacular this year, but Sumlin still managed to stand out in the crowd.
MMQ (Best) Coaching Story of the Year: Bill O'Brien, Penn State. The Big Ten was awful. And?..........
Ask yourself what you thought of Penn State's prospects after the two quick losses in early September to Ohio and (especially) Virginia. Then realize how much emotional weight O'Brien carried… not just within a locker room of uncertain young men, but in a community that had been wounded in a way no outsider can fully grasp or imagine. This is not a story of X-and-O genius (even though O'Brien's work with Matt McGloin speaks for itself). This is a story of a man who took a brand-name coaching job under the worst circumstances imaginable and led a bunch of 19- and 20-year-olds through an early-life storm. It gives one pause.
MMQ Most Improved Coach of the Year: Todd Berry, Louisiana-Monroe. Please remember that Berry completely flopped at Army. A then-beleaguered coach went 5-35 in three and a half disastrous seasons at West Point from 2000 through 2003. He then went 9-15 in his first two seasons at Louisiana-Monroe. Let those numbers sink in – Berry went 14-50 in five and a half seasons. It's true that he was working at disadvantaged programs with comparatively few resources, but 14-50 in almost six full seasons offers an average of under three wins per year. Even in the most challenging circumstances, it's hard to find the signs of a promising career within those numbers. Berry's ability to produce a solid winning season and a bowl bid in 2012 is a tremendous feat, one that deserves rich and abundant praise.
Coaches Who Deserved To Be Fired (Past Tense) Or Still Deserve To Be Fired (Present Tense)
Jeff Tedford, California; Frank Spaziani, Boston College; Kirk Ferentz, Iowa; Dave Christensen, Wyoming (Troy Calhoun says hi, Dave); Joker Phillips, Kentucky; Derek Dooley, Tennessee; Gene Chizik, Auburn (though with a strong offensive coordinator and a hands-off policy, he could have been retained); Mike Price, UTEP; Bill Cubit, Western Michigan.
Coaches Who Were Unjustly Axed
Jon Embree, Colorado; Ellis Johnson, Southern Mississippi. You don't fire a coach after two years in a massive rebuilding job; you give him three… unless said coach is guilty of a Bobby Petrino-level ethical breach. You don't fire any permanent/non-interim coach after one season unless a similar ethical embarrassment emerges. These firings do not set healthy precedents. They do not represent the fair and decent treatment of human persons.
Unloved Or Underappreciated Coaches of the Year
Al Golden, Miami. Insiders in the industry appreciate Golden, but how many fans across the nation will realize what he did with limited resources under the cloud of looming NCAA penalties? The rest of the ACC Coastal was quite poor, to say the least, but Golden made a better chicken salad out of you-know-what than the other coaches in the division, save for David Cutcliffe at Duke.
Mark Richt, Georgia. The college football community will focus on the final 15 seconds of the SEC Championship Game… and continue to think little of the man who has kept Georgia quite relevant over more than a decade. It's a cruel world out there.
Paul Rhoads, Iowa State. A 6-6 record frankly shouldn't be enough to get a team to a bowl game, but that's a separate conversation tethered to college football's larger machinations and value systems. Toss that debate to the side and realize that Iowa State's ability to continue to produce non-losing regular seasons says so much about the job Rhoads is doing in Ames, Iowa.
Pete Lembo, Ball State, and Dave Clawson, Bowling Green. Northern Illinois and Kent State stole all the thunder in the Mid-American Conference, which means that the nine-win season turned in by Ball State and the eight-win campaign delivered by Bowling Green will fly under the national radar. Don't allow the NIU-Kent State MAC Championship Game and the work of both Dave Doeren and Darrell Hazell to obscure the performances of the Cardinals and Falcons this season.
Rocky Long, San Diego State, and Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State. In case you haven't noticed, San Diego State is still a relevant program – a Mountain West co-champion – in two years after Brady Hoke left for Michigan. Long, who – remember – took New Mexico to a bowl game earlier this century, knows what he's doing. So does DeRuyter, who merely won his own share of that Mountain West title (along with Boise State) in his first season as an FBS head coach. Take a bow, gentlemen.
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss. What was "Ole Mess" is now a program that looks organized, competent… and has a real future, or at least the genuine hope of one.
Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders were part of the Sun Belt's old guard, but after a terrible 2011 season that alarmed everyone in and around the MTSU program, Stockstill rebounded in a big way this year. If you felt Stockstill had lost the mustard on his fastball, you were pleasantly surprised in 2012.
Larry Coker, Texas-San Antonio. The man who presided over the downfall of Miami football – but who was good enough to not mess up the best teams he had in Coral Gables – has not received due credit for his coaching acumen. Winning eight games in UTSA's first FBS season should offer added reason to view Coker's credentials in a favorable light.
10 Quietly Outstanding 2012 Performances, In No Particular Order And With No Fanfare
1) Mike Riley, Oregon State. 2) David Cutcliffe, Duke. 3) Chris Petersen, Boise State. 4) Gary Patterson, TCU. 5) David Bailiff, Rice. 6) Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State. 7) Dave Doeren, Northern Illinois. 8) Doug Marrone, Syracuse. 9) Bill Blankenship, Tulsa. 10) Ken Niumatalolo, Navy.
10 Loudly and Emphatically Excellent 2012 Performances, In No Particular Order But With Wide-Eyed Wonder
1) Bill Snyder, Kansas State. 2) Charlie Strong, Louisville. 3) Urban Meyer, Ohio State. 4) Brian Kelly, Notre Dame. 5) Will Muschamp, Florida. 6) Darrell Hazell, Kent State. 7) Mike McIntyre, San Jose State. 8) David Shaw, Stanford. 9) Jim Mora, Jr., UCLA. 10) Gary Andersen, Utah State.
5 People the MMQ Wants to See at Big(ger) Head Coaching Jobs
1) Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky. 2) Kliff Kingsbury, offensive coordinator, Texas A&M. 3) Mario Cristobal, head coach, Florida International. 4) Don Brown, defensive coordinator, Connecticut. 5) Todd Monken, offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State.
Coaches who haven't yet been named to this award (or citation) list, but should be recognized for producing seasons of admirable quality, are as follows: Chip Kelly, Oregon; Nick Saban, Alabama; Art Briles, Baylor; Kyle Flood, Rutgers; Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern; James Franklin, Vanderbilt; Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech.