50 Thoughts On 50 Coaches
Time and a clear head. When you have them, they permit the mind to wander in all different directions. Where will I be five years from now? Do I have enough life insurance? Has Hollywood completely given up trying to make good flicks?
With a little time and sanity still left before the crush of another season, I recently kicked back, propped my feet up, and let my mind drift, with the current collection of college coaches as the backdrop.
50. ... Troy Calhoun has a short shelf life at Air Force. One of the best young coaches that you probably couldn't identify in a lineup, he's been outstanding as the successor to Fisher DeBerry, winning 17 games in two years and qualifying for back-to-back bowl games.
49. ... it's only a matter of time before June Jones has SMU playing at a Hawaii-like level. The coach has the blueprint for this type of turnaround, and is in an ideal spot to flourish once he gets more of his guys to Dallas. The boosters are supportive, the conference doesn't play any defense, and the recruiting region is fertile. This is going to be fun to watch.
48. ... Mississippi State will either break boy wonder Dan Mullen or serve as a launching pad for a higher-profile job in a couple of years. There won't be an in-between. Starkville can be a humbling place for a coach, especially one who's grown accustomed to Florida Gator talent.
47. ... Washington has a chance again with Steve Sarkisian. Although the growing pains will be inevitable for such a young rookie head coach, he has a high ceiling if the locals can continue to be patient. This program has no business being a Pac-10 bottom-feeder, and he might have the right mix of charisma and energy to change the culture of losing in Seattle.
46. ... someone at TCU deserves a pay hike for keeping Gary Patterson in Fort Worth for the last eight years. The guy is a coach's coach and has gone 73-27 since arriving early in the decade. He has the defensive acumen to slow down some of those high-powered Big 12 offenses, yet he still remains employed by the Horned Frogs.
45. ... Chris Petersen shows his wisdom every time he spurns an offer and remains at Boise State. The coach has a great gig and he knows it. Plus, the last two Bronco coaches to leave the program, Arizona State's Dirk Koetter and Colorado's Dan Hawkins, have gotten exposed outside the confines of the WAC.
44. ... Mike Stoops needs to capitalize on last year's long-overdue return to the postseason. Arizona is up and Arizona State is down, all of which affords the guys from Tucson a chance to get a leg up on the guys from Tempe. The coach, more than anyone, realizes that this is not the time to be resting on last year's brief bout with prosperity.
43. ... Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern go together like beer and brats. Born for this assignment, it shouldn't surprise anyone if he's still on the sidelines in Evanston in 2038. The guy is only 34 and sure seems to enjoy being back at his alma mater.
42. … Al Groh is wearing out his welcome at Virginia. Considering how many NFL players do their apprenticeship in Charlottesville, shouldn't the Cavaliers be better than 19-18 over the last three years? Plus, his perpetual crankiness is especially hard to endure when his teams are mediocre.
41. ... Greg Schiano could be ready to add another brick in the construction project he's initiated at Rutgers. After taking the Scarlet Knights to a once-unimaginable four straight bowl games, the coach now has his sights on bigger treasures, like a Big East crown and the automatic BCS bowl berth that comes with it.
40. ... Randy Edsall is a magician with a headset. How else can you describe a coach who has routinely signed one and two-star talents and turned them into productive Big East performers? Heck, he had four first-day draft choices this past April, none of whom were considered can't-miss types coming out of high school. That is coaching artistry at its highest level.
39. ... no rookie head coach needs a faster start more than Auburn's Gene Chizik. His hiring was vilified, somewhat unfairly, because of a miserable record in two years at Iowa State. Can you imagine how shrill the cries will become if the Tigers stumble for a second straight year?
38. ... Mark Dantonio is proof that a no-nonsense, old school approach can still work in the 21st century. Despite coaching in a more touchy-feely world than when he was a player, the coach's no-frills demeanor is already producing positive results at Michigan State.
37. ... we may have seen the best of Jim Leavitt. Hey, as an architect, he's been nothing short of brilliant, taking South Florida from infancy to the Big East. Since flooring the nation by reaching No. 2 nationally two years ago, however, his Bulls haven't fulfilled raised expectations. In a what-have-you-done-lately world, it's time for him to start getting USF over the hump.
36. ... it's impossible to judge Jim Harbaugh on his two-year record alone. Throw out the 9-15 mark. It's meaningless. This guy has started to breathe life back into the Stanford program by bringing a positive outlook, a youthful energy, and a whole lot of blue-chips recruits to the Farm.
35. ... it's not a sure-thing that Chip Kelly will make a seamless transition as Mike Bellotti's successor. Yeah, Kelly has proven to be one of the game's premier offensive coordinators, but being the guy comes with all kinds of new distractions. Plus, people underestimate just how good Bellotti was in Eugene over the last 14 years.
34. ... this will be a very interesting year for Bill Stewart in West Virginia. Some coaches are accused of winning with someone else's players. Stewart sort of did the opposite a year ago. Now, he loses Rich Rodriguez's best recruit, QB Pat White. It's impossible to dislike the coach, but if the program starts to slip, he'll get an ‘eer-ful from the locals.
33. ... Jeff Tedford's "guru" label could have an expiration date if he doesn't birth another big-time quarterback real soon. He's been an unbridled revelation at Cal, but the recent run of Joseph Ayoob, Nate Longshore, and Kevin Riley has some fans pining for the next Kyle Boller or Aaron Rodgers.
32. ... it's time to start giving more credit to Mike Gundy. Although for some, "the rant" has become his signature moment in Stillwater, he's quietly done a real nice job in four years at his alma mater. If nothing else, you get the feeling that his offenses are always going to be among the most explosive and balanced in the country.
31. ... Ron Zook can use a rebound year at Illinois. That Rose Bowl trip two years ago will keep detractors quiet for only so long. The coach is only 18-30 in four seasons with the Illini, so it's not as if he's knocking the cover off the ball. If this year's team underachieves, bank on a spike in dot coms calling for the coach's head.
30. ... Ralph Friedgen ought to put Mark Mangino in touch with his dietician. This is not a cheap shot, rather genuine concern for Mangino, who'll have a successful coaching career cut short if he can't get his weight down considerably. Through a strict diet regimen, Friedgen lost 100 pounds in the offseason. Considering how often coaches preach discipline, it's amazing how many lack it when it comes to their own health.
29. ... the coaching of Houston Nutt plus the recruiting of Ed Orgeron equals tidings of cheer for Ole Miss fans. Nut was never fully appreciated at Arkansas, which is something the Rebels will be thankful about for years to come.
28. ... Bill Snyder could wind up regretting coming out of retirement. His legacy is intact no matter what happens on this second Kansas State tour, but you have to wonder if he still has the secret sauce that helped milk four straight 11-win seasons at the school. It's not as if the program was flourishing at the end of his first stint.
27. … Butch Davis is right on track for turning North Carolina into a perennial ACC powerhouse. Strong staff. Check. Excellent facilities. Check. Ability to recruit. Check. Davis is close, needing that one big breakthrough year to really get people excited about football around Chapel Hill.
26. ... Bobby Petrino will win big again at this level. His departure from the Atlanta Falcons was a well-publicized PR Hindenburg, but it did nothing to water down his skills as an Xs and Os guy or an offensive innovator. While he won't start 41-9 at Arkansas, like he did at Louisville, he's already planted the seeds for a turnaround in Fayetteville.
25. … Dabo Swinney has a lot to prove in his first full season as the Clemson head coach. Did the Tigers jump the gun with this hire? We'll see. At a school that believes it can be a national contender, it sure seems like it could have landed a more proven commodity with a deeper resume.
24. …Ralph Friedgen has been downgraded since debuting with three straight 10-win seasons in College Park. Since 2004, his Terps have gone just 33-28, and the offense—his supposed forte—has been a consistent problem. He still attracts good athletes to Maryland, but the results haven't even approached his early success.
23. ... there is a small handful of coaches, who do more with less year after year. Oregon State's Mike Riley owns a timeshare in that hand. Adored by his players, he consistently takes average recruits and molds them into pros, while winning five bowl games and 63% of his games since returning to Corvallis in 2003.
22. ... Nebraska is starting to take on the personality of Bo Pelini, and that's a good thing. After a decade of lower-key coaches Frank Solich and Bill Callahan, the Huskers are benefiting from the passion, intensity, and sense of camaraderie that Pelini is bringing to the sidelines and the locker room.
21. ... it would be a mistake to judge Rick Neuheisel too harshly on his first year back at UCLA. He inherited a mess from Karl Dorrell that'll take a couple of years to clean up. Once he gets more of his recruits on the field, especially at quarterback, he knows how to manufacture winning seasons from those players.
20. ... the game needs more coaches, like Mike Leach. In a profession, where conformity and pat responses have become the norm, he's a much-needed, no-holds-barred renegade. Oh yeah, he's also the architect of an offense that produces video game-like numbers year after year.
19. ... Kirk Ferentz's loudest critics don't understand how difficult it is to win consistently at Iowa. Sure, there was an undeniable lean stretch from 2005-2007, but last year's nine-win season was evidence that the coach knows how to adjust and rebound from adversity.
18. … Randy Shannon has one more year of cultivation before the expectations and the heat to win titles rise. Even after going 12-13 in the first two seasons, the honeymoon isn't over, but you can see it on the horizon. After recruiting so well and using a slew of kids, the coach needs to better last year's 7-6 mark and then challenge for an ACC crown in 2010.
17. … Paul Johnson of Georgia Tech and Brian Kelly of Cincinnati are kindred spirits in one key area: No matter where—or who—they coach, they'll find a way to win. Johnson has already exceeded expectations in one season on the Flats and Kelly took just two short seasons to get the Bearcats to the Orange Bowl.
16. … very few coaches do a better job of coaching kids up than Jim Grobe. A master motivator and teacher, he's taken a Wake Forest program that has no business even being a nuisance and turned it into a perennial postseason participant. If he ever lands at a school that gets better raw talent, look out.
15. ... Lane Kiffin has started to grow on us. Yeah, he needs to fine-tune his edit button, but don't you just love a coach, who shoots from the hip for a change? Kiffin, regardless of how he does early on at Tennessee, has been a refreshing departure from his peers, who've become increasingly orchestrated and downright narcotic in their press conferences.
14. ... last year's unmitigated disaster in Ann Arbor was not a reflection on the ability of Rich Rodriguez to coach. Give the guy some time and Michigan will be fine. The kinds of philosophical changes he's trying to make with the Wolverines take time before producing tangible results.
13. ... Mark Richt is the kind of guy you'd want to coach your son. Terrific at his profession. Terrific guy. What's not to like about him? If he can join the elite fraternity of coaches with a national championship, he'll plug the one hole that currently exists on his resume.
12. ... Joe Paterno has no formal exit strategy, even at the age of 82. Honest. With his new hip making him feel like he's 70 again, he plans to coach as long as he's physically capable. Of course, he delegates liberally, but it continues to defy the laws of physics that he's still on the sidelines almost half a century after this journey began in Central Pennsylvania.
11. … it's time for Bobby Bowden to strongly consider making this his last season at Florida State. By their old standards, the Seminoles are a weak facsimile of the 1980s and 1990s teams, going just 28-21 versus FBS opponents in the last four years. Sure, everyone wants that storybook ending, but with it looking improbable, it might be time to hand the reins to Jimbo Fisher. Bowden hasn't maximized his talent in more than a decade.
10. ... Steve Spurrier has won his last SEC championship. If it hasn't happened in four years, where is the evidence that it might happen in the next four years? Can we be honest for a change? Outside of Gainesville, where he was brilliant, Spurrier has been an average coach, with a career record hovering around the .500 mark.
9. ... Les Miles can ill-afford another eight-win season. No, job security is not an issue, but underachieving at LSU in back-to-back seasons is like asking for the he-won-with-Saban's-kids accusations to start resurfacing again.
8. ... Charlie Weis will be back in South Bend in 2010. He has certainly been humbled in five years, but the schedule says there are enough wins to lower the temperature just enough to survive. Plus, assuming Jimmy Clausen comes back for one final year, the administration would prefer he not spend that season with an entirely new staff and system.
7. … Frank Beamer could be one of the 10 most underappreciated head coaches of all-time. He never rants and raves or draws much attention to himself, yet always puts a well-coached product on the field. Go ahead and take bow if you thought Virginia Tech—not Miami or Florida State—would become the ACC bully when it relocated from the Big East.
6. ... the earlier criticism of Mack Brown gets increasingly ridiculous with each passing year. Since 1992, he's produced 15 nine-win seasons at North Carolina and Texas, while solidifying his spot as one of the nation's top recruiters. He's a Hall of Fame coach with a Hall of Fame personality, a rare combination in this profession.
5. ... Jim Tressel is underrated. Sometimes, the price for being so doggone steady is that people start taking you for granted. The coach's buttoned-up approach has worked in Columbus to the tune of 83 wins, four Big Ten titles, and a national championship in eight years.
4. ... it's getting harder and harder to dismiss Bob Stoops' problems in January. Yes, he's one of the top five coaches in America and has built Oklahoma into a perennial juggernaut. How, though, are we supposed to process five consecutive BCS bowl losses, a few of which were embarrassing? Just asking.
3. ... Nick Saban has been worth every penny of that fat contract he signed to coach Alabama more than two years. In a very short period of time, he's made Alabama relevant again on a national scale, something predecessor Mike Shula wasn't going to do anytime soon.
2. … Pete Carroll should be forced to undergo a mandatory CAT scan if he even considers another coaching opportunity before retiring. In eight years, he's made USC the best job in America, so why leave and hand that kind of gem to another coach? He gets the best recruits and annually competes for titles, while owning the football market in Los Angeles. If you want a better gig, you have to go to the NFL. Don't do it, Pete.
11. ... no one is better in a one-game situation than Urban Meyer. Admit it. You thought you'd complete your life before seeing a more successful coach than Steve Spurrier in Gainesville. Meyer is on his way to doing just that in under five years.