The burden of having the previous coach’s talent
Once upon a time, I covered a college football game that was widely mocked on game day as a “rent-a-win.” The front page of the newspaper’s sports section said so.
The visiting team was a “cupcake.” The home team was hoping to reverse a trend of losing seasons that marked a frustrating period in an otherwise respectable history, but clearly, the home team had the superior program.
Of the players who stepped onto the field during the game that night, at least 15 (I counted rather quickly) representing the home team would go on to be drafted or signed to free-agent contracts by NFL teams.
The visiting team had five such players.
Also, the home team had at least 15 more players who were later drafted or signed to NFL contracts. These players were either redshirting or not yet able to crack the two-deep depth chart.
The visiting team won, the underdog team, by three points.
That game can be a compelling case study in conflicting emotions for fans with preconceived notions about coaches who “inherited no talent from the previous coach,” about coaches who win “with the previous coach’s players,” about whether it’s talent or coaching that wins ballgames, about whether the team with the most talent always wins, plus a whole lot more.
You can twist circular logic so far to prove your point, there is a danger you might run into yourself coming and going as you wrestle with outcomes like that one.
I thought of this as I listened to the ongoing discussions about Les Miles winning a national championship with Nick Saban’s players, and the joined-at-the-hip companion debate that Saban didn’t inherit any talent from Gerry DiNardo.
In the next paragraph, see if you can spot at least 15 names of players who eventually dotted NFL rosters (it’s possible there are more than that, but my quick count revealed at least 15).
Fred Booker, Ryan Clark, Jerel Myers, Reggie Robinson, Damien James, Trev Faulk, LaVar Johnson, Bradie James, Josh Booty, LaBrandon Toefield, Adrian Mayes, Josh Reed, Lionel Thomas, Domanick Davis, Demetrius Hookfin, Norman LeJeune, Travis Moses, John Corbello, Tommy Banks, Kenderick Allen, Jeremy Lawrence, Jarvis Green, Donnie Jones, Jack Hunt, Kyle Kipps, Robert Royal, Howard Green, Byron Dawson and Kareem Mitchell.
That’s the participation list for LSU’s 13-10 loss to UAB in 2000, Saban’s first season as coach of the Tigers. The UAB Blazers had five players who would go on to at least have a cup of coffee in the NFL.
Go to the 2000 LSU roster and find more than a dozen other LSU players, redshirt freshmen or otherwise, with NFL futures of varying durations. That game between LSU and UAB in Tiger Stadium can be an interesting exercise in challenging conventional wisdom (which isn’t always all that wise).
There is a taxing double standard at times for coaches who take over a program. Some are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Others get credit for rebuilding, never levied with the “he won with so-and-so’s players” disclaimer, while others can never outrun it as hard as they try.
Really sinking one’s teeth into the UAB-LSU game of 2000 can be quite a lesson in coming to terms with what “talent” really means — and what happens when it isn’t developed, isn’t properly coached or fails to take a “cupcake” seriously.
At least on one night, Saban lost with DiNardo’s talent, a considerable collection of talent playing in a game LSU had no business losing. It’s a case study that could keep the Internet and talk-show sewing circles busy for years.
Carl Dubois has covered LSU athletics regularly since 1999, DiNardo’s last season coaching the Tigers. You can contact Carl at firstname.lastname@example.org.