Monday, November 21, 2005
BLOG POLL ROUNDTABLIN’
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This week’s esteemed discussion, via Mssr. King, Georgia fan who takes positions regarding athletics:
1. Since the end of the 2004 season, there have been 23 head coaching changes in Division I-A college football. Thus far, which new coaching hire is working out the best? Which is working out the worst? Who has been the most pleasant surprise? Who has been the biggest disappointment?
2. Which school's fans need to be more patient with their new head coach? Which school's fans need to beat the Christmas rush and get rid of their new head coach sooner rather than later? Which school's fans are happy with their new head coaching hire now but will be disappointed in him after another couple of years have passed (a la Tyrone Willingham at Notre Dame)?
Bonus. If you knew now that your school's head coach would not be back next year and you could hire anyone now living to replace him, which successor would you pick and why? (No fair reaching back in time and getting Knute Rockne or Bear Bryant when they were alive or taking Bobby Bowden in his prime. Anyone you pick, you're picking right now, at his current age and with his current resume, baggage and all.)
1. It's almost impossible to answer this question after a single season, especially since most of these teams sucked to begin with (hence the booting of previous coach) and still suck. It usually takes a couple years to pick the real winners.
Seeing as no other new coach has received a ludicrous, lucrative long-term deal in response to serious a-courtin' from the professionals, it would be hard to deny that Charlie Weis has been the most successful first-year man. The only other new coach with a top ten team is Les Miles, and LSU’s success seems to be coming almost in spite of Miles; he has more to work with in the form of Nick Saban’s consistently top-ranked recruiting hauls. Steve Spurrier has done a similarly wonderful job in forging a bowl team from the scrap of a team that lost a conference game 48-7 earlier in the year...but South Carolina did lose a conference game 48-7 earlier in the year.
Weis, meanwhile, has taken an also-ran group with no firepower and an iffy, within-the-system style quarterback and turned it into the sixth-most prolific offense in the country, headed by a future first round draft pick. This is different that Tyrone Willingham's short-lived "turnaround" in his first year, when ND's success was an eggshell routine predicated on turnovers and pure luck; Weis has the Irish scoring big and dominating reasonably good teams. No other team has been as immediately infused with its coach's attitude from Day One, or had a better turnaround (George O'Leary deserves note for UCF’s amazing rebound, but he’s in his second year). The Irish are probably headed for the BCS, which is where they wound up with Willingham after Year One, too, the difference being that Weis' team isn't going to embarrass him when it gets there, and might get back.
Working out the worst? Ron Zook and Ed Orgeron are contenders, but Illinois and Ole Miss are performing only slightly below rock-bottom expectations. Syracuse was actually a bowl team, actually tied for the Big East title before it decided to fire perennial six-to-eight-game-winner Paul Pasqualoni. Greg Robinson’s Orange
menhave beaten Buffalo. That's it. Plus, those old-school uniforms suck.
2. SMQ would like to say Florida fans should be more patient with Urban Meyer – they probably should – but requiring overtime to beat Vanderbilt (at home!) and losing to South Carolina in consecutive weeks is not the sign of an improving team beginning to get the system. The jury remains out in Gainesville, at least until it can evaluate the performance against similarly hyperventilating Florida State.
Instead, SMQ asks Stanford fans to hold tongues with Walt Harris, who actually has his team, winners of three last season, predicted tenth of ten in the preseason, losers to I-AA UC-Davis in September, an upset of Notre Dame away from a winning season. The Cardinal upset Arizona State and Oregon State and should have been able to put UCLA away instead of going pass happy when it could have been trying to run the clock with a big late lead. Criticism is due there, probably, and certainly is coming following a three-point performance against hated Cal, but after three years of Buddy Teevens, a rise to mediocrity under a coach with a decent track record should be good enough for now. There should be some reason for future optimism if the Irish don’t blow Stan U away Saturday.
On the other side, SMQ is not one to call for anyone to lose his job after a single season. That is rash and unfair - most of these teams are very bad to begin with, and these things take time. That said, SMQ would be shocked to see any of the following build a winner in three or four seasons in places where such things are reasonably expected:Dave WannstedtZook and Robinson, especially, are off to bad, bad starts.
Happy but shouldn't be: Les Miles isn't going to drive LSU into late-DiNardo territory. But he's looked lost, literally, more than once this year; here’s guessing the Tigers are consistently falling short of the double-digit win plateau Nick Saban set as the standard by 2007, when Saban’s recruiting magic starts graduating. And LSU fans, SMQ senses despite the Tigers’'current success, sense this.
Bonus. One coach to guide SMQ's Golden Eagles? One coach, any coach?
Bowden and Paterno are the deans with the best careers, but they’re well past their prime, coasting on tradition. At the moment, Pete Carroll and Mack Brown are at the pinnacle, not only because they're having good seasons, but because they've taken programs that were seriously slumping back up the mountain. The key there is "back," though; Carroll, Brown, Bob Stoops, Nick Saban, Charlie Weis, Mark Richt, Tommy Tuberville, Mike Shula and Jim Tressel have all recently guided struggling schools into the elite, but all had the existing tradition, money, exposure and location (not to mention athletes) to wow top recruits with just a little early success – sometimes, in the case of Shula especially, the 'success' part wasn’t even necessary to get the goods. Phil Fulmer, Larry Coker and Les Miles have merely kept a good thing from going bad (yet...and SMQ will give Fulmer a pass for the moment - only for the moment - for this season). If you’re looking for a coach for Southern Miss, you need someone who can win without any of that.
SMQ would't say this if he were talking about, say, Mississippi State, or another program in a league stocked with future NFL defenders such as the SEC, but Urban Meyer would be high on the list because of his past success with mid-major teams on both sides of the ball (it’s easy to forget that his first MWC championship Utah team, like this Florida team, won primarily with suffocating defense; and he truly would be a god if he could get USM's offense going). He might also be happy with Kirk Ferentz, who has turned usually mediocre Iowa into something resembling a consistent Big Ten power with the kind of good defense and fundamentally solid, run-oriented offense USM has always tried to employ, although the Hawkeyes have tended to take too long to kick their game into gear. Before this year, SMQ would have also mentioned Houston Nutt, whose previous Arkansas teams were almost always better than anyone though they could be, to the extent that he coaxed a couple New Year’s Day bowls from that bunch. Bill Snyder’s impressive magic carpet ride has frayed and crashed to the ground. Pat Hill and Dan Hawkins bring no recruiting pizzazz; Bobby Petrino has served at U of Hell. Mike Price, Rick Neuheisel and Gary Barnett are out, since vulgar, womanizing (really, still), tobacco-spitting screamer Larry Eustachy already owns the scandal beat on the USM basketball team. Glen Mason's teeth are too white. Barry Alvarez has lost the fire.
That leaves two extremely different but equally capable contenders: Frank Beamer and Steve Spurrier. Both have excelled beyond any predecessor at previously unheralded programs; neither has ever been in serious NCAA trouble. Beamer can win the way USM has always needed to win, with tough defense and big play special teams; Spurrier brings the potential to light up the board for a change once his system is in place, and without the need of a future first round stud pulling the trigger. While SMQ’s father, a high school coach, would never have him (he’s disparaged Spurrier since he sent a quarterback to a Florida camp where the coach lazily ran drills barefoot in tattered workout gear), SMQ would take the Ball Coach for just such a reason: he's more entertaining, and because a visor beats a skin graft when you’re in an 18-year-old All-American’s living room.
But in actuality, SMQ is not sure anyone mentioned above could do a demonstrably better job at a place like USM than fellow visor fan Jeff Bower has done over the past decade, recent developments notwithstanding.
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