Finding the right coach a crapshoot in the SEC
By MARTY MULE’
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
Think Tommy Tuberville is kicking himself? The old Auburn coach, a proven commodity in the SEC football wars, would probably have been pounced upon by Tennessee when Dennis the Menace decided he had showed the sporting world more than enough after one year. It was time to move up.
But Tuberville, desperate as coaches without teams can get, had already leaped at the first job open to him - and still open a month after the season ended, on the western plains at Texas Tech. In a conference Tuberville has only read about, bringing in a defense-first and generally a between the tackles offense philosophy at a place that made its name with an intricate passing attack and defense-be-damned system is stuck in the most remote outpost of the Big 12. He’ll fit in like a polar bear in the Amazon.
Think about how much college football has changed, not only since the end of the regular season, but this late, with continuing reverberations, in the middle of January.
Before the late purge and surge of and by major programs, Charlie Weis was removed at Notre Dame. This is a guy, with four Super Bowl rings, who many believed would ultimately have the Fighting Irish back where they historically have perched - on top.
The hiring of Weiss, who seemed to know everything on the field, five years ago was so ballyhooed that Sports Illustrated’s Austin Murphy once said he thought Weiss would know if the opposition’s tuba play wasn’t with the band that day.
Turned out Weiss wasn’t quite so prescient, finishing at Notre Dame with a 35-27 record, and three straight disappointing seasons. It was kind of hard seeing a guy who played such a major role on professional title teams swinging in the breeze and hoping against hope to keep his job.
But not nearly as bad was watching Florida State bury a hatchet in the back of Bobby Bowden, the coach who made the Seminoles relevant in the first place. In a feat not likely to ever be matched Bowden (375-143-4) coached FSU to an astounding 14 straight Top 5 finishes. Such gratitude for a guy who wanted to coach one more year.
Then the real swill came cascading down the hill. Mike Leach (84-43), whose cleats Tuberville will try to fill at Texas Tech, Eric Mangino at Kansas (50-48, and guiding the Jayhawks to just their second major bowl berth in the process) and Jim Leavitt (94-57) at South Florida were all terminated for, depending on who, more or less, who you want to believe, cruelty to their players. It is a charge hard to believe, at least at Texas Tech, where AD Gerald Myers hired Bobby Knight, well-known for his hands-on style, as its basketball coach.
The sad situation at Tennessee actually started a year ago when Athletic Director Mike Hamilton tried to think outside the box and hired young, inexperienced California surfer Lane Kiffin to replace Phil Fulmer, who coached the Vols to the SEC Championship Game 12 months before. After a 7-6 record, Kiffin bolted back to Disneyland, presumably to escape SEC commissioner Mike Slive’s latest letters of reprimand.
The best line of the entire episode, after Kiffin’s one minute announcement in the middle of the night, was the fellow who said, “My God! This guy makes Nick Saban seem honorable.”
The point is, now all these ADs with their new hires, have to keep their fingers crossed. Their futures rest with the successes or failures of their new coaches. Derek Dooley, I’m guessing, will do fine at Tennessee. He’s young, but level-headed. Particularly remember how he outcoached LSU in a losing effort last season. But he was about Hamilaton’s 10th choice.
Doesn’t matter. Pete Carroll was turned down by a half-dozen potential candidates before he took the USC job a decade ago. A little later, Butch Davis was the flavor of the month at LSU before Saban came to Baton Rouge. And, remember, Alabama was turned down left and right before snagging Saban, after he said he would not be “the next coach at ‘Bama.”
Let’s face it, picking coaches is a crapshoot.
There was once an AD looking for a coach when one inquired if the school just might be interested in him. His resume’ showed he had a championship pedigree: he played on a conference-title college team, coached on national championship staffs at two schools, and, in his first head coaching job, had won more games in a shorter period of time than any of his predecessors.
Of course, the AD jumped on this promising young lion.
And Joe Dean hired Curley Hallman. We all know how that worked out. In four years Hallman’s Tigers went 16-28.
Marty Mule' can be reached at MJM981two@charter.net.