ASK CFN (6/15) ... The Most Underrated Coach
(AP/Bill Haber)
Posted Jun 14, 2007

Who's the most underrated head coach? What are the best lines? A mini-sleeper for the title and more in the latest ASK CFN.

Pete Fiutak

Fire over your questions to me at I might not be able to answer them all, but I promise they're all read. Any e-mails sent to this address may be published or edited unless requested otherwise. (Please put ASK CFN in the subject line, and PLEASE keep the questions short ... it makes my life easier.)

So, I have quite the situation.  I’ve grown up a Florida fan.  My grandfather went there.  My mother and father met there.  My cousins and sister went there.  When I was ready for undergrad, I decided on Furman, because I wanted to go to a smaller college, but it didn’t cause a conflict because they are in different divisions in football, and Furman really isn’t competitive in any other sports.  My problem comes down to law school.  It looks like I will be going to school at FSU.  How does one go about to radically changing their allegiances?  And could I have picked a worse time to change from a Gator to a Seminole? – Adam B.

A: I don’t care if your dad is Danny Wuerffel, your mom is Kerwin Bell, and you were born on the Florida Field 50-yard-line; once you go to Florida State, you’re a Seminole (unless you transfer to Florida). If you had gone to Florida for your undergrad and then FSU for law school, then you could’ve kept all your allegiances to Florida.

Remember, the optimal word here is COLLEGE football. When you choose to go to a school, you become part of that club. That school will be the place that, if all goes well, shapes your future and makes you the person you want to become. Once you choose Florida State, that’s your school. Now, you can still root for the Gators, but you’re a tomahawk chopper once you start going to law school. And no, it’s not a horrible time to change. With the Gators winning two straight hoops titles and the football championship, you’re selling the stock at its high point. Remember this, Florida State football might be down, but the chicks are at a BCS level every year.

Past ASK CFNs ...    
- The Top Ten NFL receiver prospects 

- Why did Brady Quinn slide?
- The Virginia Tech situation

- Creating a MWest-WAC super-league
Mid-majors who should be in the bigs
The potential new superpower
The 5 best coaching jobs
March Madness for football?
Potential Bowl Shockers
Tim Brewster?
Fox's BCS broadcasts
- Is Brady really better than Russell?
Hot & Cold Bowl Programs
- How ineffective was Reggie Ball?
- A 2007 Top 10 Mock Draft
Can Michigan win a national title?
- BCS possibilities for several teams
- West Virginia schedule, BCS rules
- Toughest coaching jobs
- Hidden Heisman 5

- Is Temple worst ever?
- Oklahoma-Oregon fiasco
- Has Bob Stoops lost it?
- Is Colorado done?

One of the oldest rival games in the nation has historically been Texas A&M vs. Texas at the end of the regular season.  Recently I have noticed that several fans of UT have been in denial about the old rivalry claiming that the two schools were never rivals at all, and that UT & OU were always the true rivalry.  Is this because of the recent lack of great success that A&M was used to in the 90's, & with UT & OU being very successful as of recently?  - Old-AGGIE

A: It’s certainly been easy for UT fans to be in A&M denial about the rivalry over the last several months. I’ve asked my Texas, A&M and OU friends about this from time to time, and basically, the Texas – Texas A&M rivalry is more of an in-house scuffle while the OU – Texas showdown is a national go-to game. The Texas – Texas A&M game is a fun, nasty, mean battle that the fans of each team get tremendously bitter about, but the Red River Rivalry is appointment television for those outside of the rivalry. You’re right; the main issue is A&M, who hasn’t been remotely in the national title discussion by the time the big games has rolled around since the early 1990s, while OU is a perennial title contender. Try this for a fun-stat as to the importance of the OU – Texas games. Texas is 28-3 in games leading up to the showdown since 2000, while the Sooners are 27-3.

It seems like everyone will have USC, Texas, LSU or Florida as the real national title contenders. Who are some of the mid-ranked top teams, like Ohio State in 2002 and LSU when it won the title, that could easily be in New Orleans? I’m not talking about a pie-in-the-sky sleeper team here, I’m talking about a good team who has a real shot at the national title because of schedule, talent, whatever. – KO

A: If a steady quarterback emerges, Oklahoma is my sleeper-not-a-sleeper to watch out for in the national title hunt. After the way the Sooners stunk in their last two national championship appearances, and suffered the indignity of losing to a Boise State team with roughly 20 starters that wouldn’t have made the OU two-deep, everyone has quickly dismissed them as a contender. That’s a huge mistake. As long as DeMarco Murray is the real-deal runner he was this spring, and if Malcolm Kelly (arguably the nation’s top NFL receiver prospect), doesn't have problems with a knee injury, the backs and receivers will be among the best in the Big 12, if not the country. The offensive line is the nation’s best, and other than USC, there isn’t a close second. The secondary is among the nation’s three best, and the front seven, while untested, is ridiculously talented.

And then there’s the schedule. North Texas, Utah State, at Tulsa, at Iowa State, and Baylor should all be wins without breathing too hard. Barring some unforeseen change of plans, the Sooners will be favored against Miami, at Colorado, Missouri, Texas A&M. at Texas Tech and against Oklahoma State. The Texas battle will probably go off at OU +2.5, but is certainly not a sure-loss for OU by any stretch. The schedule isn’t a walk in the park, but it’s manageable for anyone wanting to win a national title.

When a student athlete transfers from one school to another they are required to sit out one year.  Do you think the coaching carousel would slow down some if this rule was the same for coaches?  It certainly would give teams a little more stability. – Mike, MV

A: I’m a card carrying hater of the NCAA and its self-serving, bizarre rules, but this is one I actually sort of agree with the players not being able to move since it could cause a major nightmare. If players were allowed to transfer without penalty, it would be open season when it came to under-the-table recruiting of players. Didn’t you find it a wee bit curious that Sam Keller was ready to go to Nebraska 14 seconds after being demoted to second string at Arizona State? Imagine the problem coaches would have with their depth chart if players were leaving just because they didn’t get enough playing time for a few games.

If it were up to me, players could transfer to any place they wanted after the season was over, but they would have to make a tough choice. Either they would forfeit a scholarship and would have to pay their own way, but wouldn’t lose a year, or could keep the scholarship and lose the year. To answer your question, you’re dead on right as far as the coaches. A coach should have to sit out a year, just like the players, or else coach a year with no pay. If a coach leaves, the players should always be allowed to transfer without penalty.

It seems to me that the offensive and defensive lines are clearly the most important parts of any team. Without being solid upfront there is simply no way a team is going to move the ball or stop anybody. As much as we hear this, it still seems to go overlooked by many. From my perspective, a team could be utterly average everywhere else (at least on offense) but with a truly dominant front five they could still put together a 10+ win season in most conferences (assuming they could play a little defense.) With that said, who has the top 5 offensive and defensive lines in the country going into the fall?  - TheHiddenImam, Oakland, CA

A: We’ll get into this far more in-depth in a few weeks when we release all our preview stuff, but my choice for the five best offensive lines going into the year are: 1) Oklahoma, 2) USC, 3) Georgia Tech, 4) Michigan, 5) Texas A&M. My five defensive lines are: 1) LSU, 2) Miami, 3) USC, 4) Georgia Tech, 5) Iowa

What are some of the differences between the Texas Tech offense and the Hawaii offense? Or would it be more simple/productive to ask what is the same? – BC

A: To generalize, since both offenses do a lot of the same things, Texas Tech usually throws deeper than Hawaii, who is a bit better at making quick, high-percentage passes to try to jack up the yards after the catch. The Hawaii run ‘n’ shoot tends to use two receivers on each side, while Texas Tech will often line up three receivers on one side. Of course, both offenses will change things up all throughout the game with their formations. Both rely on a quarterback who can make quick decisions, and whose job is to quickly exploit the mismatches. Hawaii did a great job with the ground game last year, but Texas Tech is usually the better of the two running the ball with its small, quick backs. Hawaii will use bigger runners.

So much talk about the top teams next year … Who will be the bottom teams? Any big turn arounds from 8 Wins to 1 or 2 wins?  - Chris

A: You’re asking who will be this year’s Colorado. I don’t see anyone coming up with that sort of collapse, but Notre Dame could quickly crash, going from the BCS to a losing season after losing the offensive stars and not being appreciably better on defense. I heard someone suggest the Irish could start 6-1, which is a ridiculous pipe-dream for a team that’s still being overrated because of the brand name.

This will get thrown back in my face, but I’ll make the call that the Irish will start out 2-6, and possibly 1-7. My personal June prediction: Georgia Tech (loss), at Penn State (loss), at Michigan (loss), Michigan State (win), at Purdue (loss), at UCLA (loss), Boston College (loss), USC (loss), Navy, Air Force, Duke, at Stanford (all wins).

Another first to worst team could be Wake Forest. The ACC is appreciably better this year, the Demon Deacons are a bit worse, and the luck and good bounces (2006 Clemson game not included) won’t go their way again. No way, no how does Jim Grobe’s club go 5-0 in games decided by seven points or fewer.

My personal prediction for Wake is 5-7, at best, with 4-8 or 3-9 not being out of the realm of possibility. The schedule: at Boston College (loss), Nebraska (loss), Army (win), Maryland (loss), at Duke (win … but don’t just assume this. Duke is much better and should’ve won last year), Florida State (loss … and yes, I did watch last year’s dismantling of the Noles), at Navy (win), North Carolina (win), at Virginia (loss), at Clemson (loss), NC State (win), at Vanderbilt (loss). I wouldn’t be shocked if Duke and NC State beat the Demon Deacons.

Is it just me, or is Mark Richt the most underappreciated coach in America?  I cannot think of anyone else that has won as much as him and received less notoriety. – BH

A: Les Miles is the only one who’s a close second. To me, The Sporting News preseason annual is the only one worthy of note, but it lost me when it ranked Richt the nation’s 25th best BCS coach behind coaches like Dennis Erickson, Mike Bellotti, Butch Davis, Houston Nutt and Bill Callahan. On an all-time scale, Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno are on the Mount Rushmore of coaches, but you’d have to be dumber than a box of hammers to take either of those two legends over Richt right now. I’m a huge fan of Frank Beamer (ranked 6th by TSN) and Kirk Ferentz (11th), but if you really think about it, has either of those two accomplished what Richt has?

If we’re all in agreement that the SEC has far and away been the best conference in America over the last six years, than how can Richt be anything other than one of the top ten coaches in college football? O.K., he hasn’t really come close to a national title game, but during his tenure, the Dawgs have gone 61-17 (78%) with two SEC championships and three East titles.

All Les Miles has done is go 11-2 in two seasons at LSU, including the Katrina year of 2005, and TSN ranked him 41st behind coaches like Rich Brooks, Brian Kelly, Mark Mangio and Al Groh. “But Miles is doing it with Nick Saban’s players,” you say. Maybe, but outside of one magical year, Saban didn’t do it with Saban’s players with only one season with fewer than three losses. Miles beat that in just two years.

Forgive me for not understanding all the terminology, which I’m sure is second-nature to everyone else, but what’s the difference between the strongside and the weakside, and which linebacker is the more important of the two? – RP

A: No apologies needed. You’d be surprised how many people who cover football don’t know some of this stuff. Basically, the strongside linebacker covers the side of the field with the tight end, while the weakside linebacker covers the side without the tight end, in normal formations. Of course, this changes up depending on what the offense is doing.

For the most part, the strongside linebacker is, as the name would suggest, usually the stronger, bigger of the two since he needs to be more physical. The weakside linebacker (again, in a general-term sense) needs to be faster and quicker since he’s playing “in space,” or without being blocked. The weakside linebacker is normally responsible for handling the running backs on passing plays and is used to assist on tackles since he has room to fly around, while the strongside linebacker usually covers the tight end for the first five to ten yards. The more important of the two depends on the scheme, but in general, it’s better to have a star on the strongside since you can usually beef up a safety, or go small, on the weakside. Top strongside defenders are normally harder to find since, ideally, you’d have someone the size of a middle linebacker with almost the same quickness as a weakside defender.



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