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Mack Brown’s Possible Replacements November 25, 2013

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texas_coach_mack_brown1Allow me to preface this article in that writing this brings me no joy at all.  For the majority of Mack Brown’s tenure at the University of Texas, he proved to be the perfect organizational fit for the program and the university.  Moreover, he is demonstrably among the most adept coaches in college football at the ‘people’ side of the business.  One can clearly see this in how we carries himself during the impromptu halftime interviews before he heads into the locker room to make halftime adjustments with his team.  Anybody who has observed him during these interviews can vouch that he comes across as a happy gentleman to the sideline reporter for that given game, and he treats said reporter as if he or she is certainly worth his time, despite the more pressing matters that surely weigh on his mind at those given moments.  Reportedly, he treats people with the same class and dignity behind the scenes/off-camera as well.

The problem, however, is that since the 2010 season, the program has clearly headed in the wrong direction.  The mediocre season of 2006 was excusable, given the drop-off a defending national champion normally experiences (Alabama being an exception to the rule).  The fact that they were able to return to the national title game just four years after winning their most recent one showed that the program was still among the strongest nationally.  Yet starting in 2010, a precipitous drop-off in performance occurred, one that made the 2006 season look phenomenal by comparison.

Granted, not all of this is Mack Brown’s fault.  The downside to being one of the sexiest programs in all of college football is that you are constantly a prime target for other programs to lure away your best assistant coaches, either for lateral moves with even higher pay, or for head coaching gigs of their own, such as Bryan Harsin (erstwhile offensive coordinator, now head coach at Arkansas State) or Will Muschamp (formerly defensive coordinator, currently embattled Florida head coach).  This creates a major problem of coaching continuity.  How this translates into the program suffering is simple:  instead of concentrating all of his off-the-field attention on recruiting, Brown and Co. have to divert part of that time and energy into hunting for suitable replacement personnel.  This reduced time for recruiting analysis in turn leads to whiffing on key recruits, which partially explains the Horns’ mediocre-to-weak performances in most of its big games since 2010.

Another issue is institutional arrogance, something Mack Brown could help curtail, but hasn’t.  He once bragged that if he were head coach at Texas in 1997, he would not have overlooked Drew Brees as possible QB for the Horns.  Yet despite this boast, he clearly overlooked Johnny Manziel, and when Texas tried to recruit Robert Griffin III, they tried to recruit him as a defensive back.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Such institutional arrogance can most effectively be curtailed by the head coach himself, and yet the problem has yet to be addressed.

After a couple of embarrassing losses earlier in the year (one to BYU, the other to Ole Miss), we all left the program for dead.  Then the unexpected happened in that instead of getting blown out by Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout (like in 2012), we had our way with the Sooners instead.  Needless to say, this took us all by surprise, albeit pleasantly.  We quickly got the impression that perhaps things had quickly turned out, that all it took was the firing of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and replacing him with the more capable Greg Robinson.  More wins over TCU and Kansas soon followed.  We initially chalked up having to go into OT to beat West Virginia to simple things such as, A) it was on the road, and B) it was West Virginia, and team very unpredictable in terms of whether they will come out flat or with their hair on fire.

But after the undressing the Longhorns had at the hands of Oklahoma State last week, we were all shocked back into reality.  There are still systemic problems in the program that have remained unaddressed.  The positively embarrassing loss to Oklahoma last year left many fans grumbling that it was time for a changing of the guard, including the thoughtful writers at Barking Carnival.  Even after a face-saving win over the Sooners this year, the loss to the Cowboys reminded us that glaring issues remain unaddressed, issues that will only be resolved by a change in direction of the program, which is best accomplished with a new CEO of the company.

So who are the viable replacements?  In truth, more than a few names are bandied about, but for the sake of cutting through the clutter, let us reduce that relatively lengthy list to a couple of already-mentioned names, plus one or two more than people have not mentioned or are reticent to for whatever reason.

I agree with Big(g) Ern at Barking Carnival.  New Texas athletics director Steve Patterson should at least ask Nick Saban and Urban Meyer if they are interested.  Neither are likely to be, given their current situations, but there is no harm in asking, and confirmed “no’s” from both men will put meaningless speculation from fans to rest once and for all, save for the most delusional of meatballs.

Besides, it is unlikely that Saban would leave Alabama for Texas, no matter how much money you offer him.  He is 62 years old, already has a palace of a house, and is not someone who uses all that money to buy expensive toys.  The reason being, he has no interest in expensive toys;  he’s a workaholic, and workaholics are driven by the job, not by toys.  Besides, he has built an almost-bulletproof dynasty at one of the most storied programs in all of college football; how does one top that?

So who could it be?  Let us start with the most obvious of names:

Mike Gundy:  This could work.  He’s one of those coaches who is highly effective if he has tons of resources at his disposal.  That might not be the most flattering of commentaries, but given that he has been back up with T. Boone Pickens’ money, he has managed to do great things at Oklahoma State.  Imagine what he could accomplish with the unlimited monetary back of Texas’ boosters?  If such possibilities stand to reason, it would be enough for us to divert our attention from his teenage-like hairline, despite being a man of 46.

Chris Petersen:  This also could work.  It is at this juncture that I part company with the thoughtful fellows at Barking Carnival.  They seem to think that because the luster of the Boise State program is fading, that Petersen himself is by consequence a less viable candidate for the position.  But the diminished national prestige of the program is not Petersen’s fault.  It is just that the Broncos’ stock has peaked in value.  Boise State has become a victim of its own success.  Given that Idaho is hardly hotbed for top-tier college talent, they have to look elsewhere (mostly California) for good players.  The highest-profile recruits in that region will usually choose USC, UCLA, Oregon or Arizona State over Boise State, so they have to devise a system to root out guys with enough talent to compete, but at the same time, find guys who are “tweeners” that are usually overlooked by the big boys.  Then, Boise State needs to  devise and offensive and defensive system that plays to the strengths of these “tweener” recruits.

At this, they have been remarkably successful until recently.  What has happened is that they have become a victim of their own success.  No team that is viable on a national scale wants to play Boise State anymore because they – the Broncos — could upset them, thus ruining a potential run at a national title.  Worse yet, there is little incentive to play Boise State in their home stadium, since the university has done nothing to expand the stadium’s capacity from its paltry 37,000 despite a solid 8 or 9-year run of success.  A good deal of the team’s recent success was at the hands of Chris Petersen, who would be wise to take a more prestigious job while he can before staying at BSU too long with cause his stock to irreparably dip.  Petersen has proven to be a very adept caretaker CEO, and the Texas program is not in shambles – yet.  Texas has good talent pieces in place, they just lack the coaching – and the A+ QB that would be becoming of such a program – to allow for the team to truly play up to its potential.

Who is a coach that has not been mentioned but has potential?  One name this is always possible – though few seem to want to admit it – Bobby Petrino.

Try not to laugh.  Yes, his, ahem, swordplay at Arkansas was a major black mark (or, er, scarlet letter) on his career and indeed, life, resume, but let that not obfuscate a simple fact.  The guy can coach.  He can also recruit, too.  Yes, much like Urban Meyer at Florida, his Louisville team bordered on an inmate colony, but part of his untouchable skill set was his ability to be a captain running a tightly-run ship, not allowing any sort of wiggle room for would-be thugs to run amok.  An advantage of recruiting in Texas, for Texas, is that he could bring in the highest-caliber of athletes in-state without have to run the degree of risk of bringing in potential off-the-field liabilities like he did at Louisville and at Arkansas.

But again, he can coach.  Few coaches in the business seem to have the keen sense of knowing when it is the right time to pass and when it is the right time to run the ball like Petrino.  Between his ability to acquire talent, manage personnel, and call plays makes him one of the most dangerous coaches in the business.  Placing him with the unlimited resources of the Texas Longhorns program could potentially create a juggernaut that would rival the current dynasty of the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Yes, he is currently in his first year at Western Kentucky, but he is also incredibly mercenary.  His loyalty does seem to go to the highest bidder, but by that same token, can anybody think of a better job than the Texas job?  College coaches around the country recognize it without hesitation as one of the three best jobs in the nation.  Translation:  assuming he A) were offered the Texas job, and B) took the Texas job, what could lure him away from it?  As smart as he is, he would surely have the sense to avoid the, er, swordplay that ended the good thing he had going at Arkansas.

So, in summation, Chris Petersen would be my second choice to replace Mack Brown at Texas, but Petrino would be my first.  The program is not exactly down the drain yet, so a turnaround CEO might not be needed, at least not yet.  If brought in soon enough, a good caretaker CEO could still bring the Horns to the level of performance fans rightfully expect.

Addendum, 12-06-13:  Chris Petersen, mentioned as a potential replacement for Mack Brown earlier in this article, has since taken the Washington Huskies job vacated by Steve Sarkisian.  The news was announced this morning.  In truth, he is a good fit for that program.  He loves the Pacific Northwest, has recruited in the Seattle area before, and is a good caretaker CEO.  Sarkisian already turned the Huskies around into a well-function, 9-win-a-year organization; Petersen can now come in and keep the good thing going, just as he did after Dan Hawkins left Boise State for Colorado.  In summation, this is a good hire for the Huskies.

College Football Week 13 Awards November 24, 2013

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 13] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Glad I’m not him: Art Briles, Baylor

Lucky guy: James Franklin, Vanderbilt

Poor guy: Butch Jones, Tennessee

Desperately seeking a clue: Charlie Strong, Louisville
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Mark Helfrich, Oregon

Desperately seeking … anything:  Will Muschamp, Florida

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: South Carolina (defeated Coastal Carolina 70-7)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Louisville (defeated Memphis only 24-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Idaho (lost to Florida State 80-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  UAB (lost to Rice 37-34)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Florida Atlantic (defeated New Mexico State 55-10)

Dang, they’re good: LSU

Dang, they’re bad:  UTEP

Dang, they’re cursed:  Northwestern

Did the season start?  Oregon
Can the season end?  Florida

Can the season never endOklahoma State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 17 Arizona State 38, No. 14 UCLA 33

Play this again, too:  Navy 58, San Jose State 52, 3 OT

Take a look at this again, while you’re at it:  Vanderbilt 14, Tennessee 10

Never play this again: Georgia Tech 66, Alabama A&M 7

What? No. 22 LSU 38, No. 12 Texas A&M 10

HuhGeorgia Southern 26, Florida 20

Are you kidding me?  Arizona 42, No. 5 Oregon 16
Oh – my – GodNo. 10 Oklahoma State 49, No. 4 Baylor 17

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 13, pre-week 14)
Ticket to die for:  No. 1 Alabama @ No. 4 Auburn

Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: (none)

Best non-Big Six matchup: East Carolina @ Marshall

Upset alert:  Mississippi State @ Ole Miss

Upset alert 2: Georgia @ Georgia Tech

Must win: No. 19 Texas A&M @ No. 5 Missouri

Offensive explosion: Texas Tech @ Texas (Thurs.)

Defensive struggle: Eastern Michigan @ Central Michigan

Great game no one is talking about: Minnesota @ No. 11 Michigan State

Another great game nobody has noticed:  Duke @ North Carolina

Intriguing coaching matchup: David Shaw of Stanford vs. Brian Kelly of Notre Dame

Who’s bringing the body bags?  Western Michigan @ No. 19 Northern Illinois

Why are they playing? BYU @ Nevada

Plenty of good seats remaining: Idaho @ New Mexico State

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Tennessee @ Kentucky

College Football Week 5 Awards September 29, 2013

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 5] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Mark Richt, Georgia

Glad I’m not him: Les Miles, LSU

Lucky guy: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

Poor guy: Rich Rodriguez, Arizona

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Butch Jones, Tennessee
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Tony Levine, Houston

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Desperately seeking … anything:  Lane Kiffin, USC

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 15 Miami [FL] (defeated South Florida 49-21)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Tennessee (defeated South Alabama 31-24)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Wake Forest (lost to No. 3 Clemson 56-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Troy (lost to Duke 38-31)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Northern Illinois (defeated Purdue 55-24)

Dang, they’re good: Georgia
Dang, they’re bad:  Louisiana Tech
Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Oklahoma State

Did the season start?  Purdue
Can the season end?  Wake Forest
Can the season never endOhio State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 9 Georgia 44, No. 6 LSU 41

Never play this again: No. 3 Clemson 56, Wake Forest 7

What? Tennessee 31, South Alabama 24

HuhArizona State 62, USC 41

Are you kidding me?  Northern Illinois 55, Purdue 24
Oh – my – GodWest Virginia 30, No. 11 Oklahoma State 21

Told you so:  No. 12 South Carolina 28, Central Florida 25

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 5, pre-week 6)
Ticket to die for:  No. 15 Washington @ No. 5 Stanford

Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Army @ Boston College

Best non-Big Six matchup: BYU @ Utah State

Upset alert: Kansas State @ No. 21 Oklahoma State

Must win: No. 10 LSU @ Mississippi State

Offensive explosion: No. 4 Ohio State @ No. 15 Northwestern

Defensive struggle: Air Force @ Navy
Great game no one is talking about: No. 24 Ole Miss @ Auburn

Intriguing coaching matchup: Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern vs. Urban Meyer of Ohio State

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 2 Oregon @ Colorado

Why are they playing? Georgia State @ No. 1 Alabama

Plenty of good seats remaining: Florida International @ Southern Miss

They shoot horses, don’t they?  No. 7 Louisville @ Temple

Week 5 in Review:

Last week had so many horrible, “body bag” matchups that we were all better off just firing that week’s worth of games into the Sun, never to hear from it again, and good riddance! This week was different.  First off, there was one of the games of the year in LSU @ Georgia, which did live up to its billing.  Even the noon games, normally throw-aways, were intriguing. South Carolina v@ UCF was surprisingly competitive.  Ditto with Oklahoma State @ West Virginia, and the results of that game were positively shocking. The evening games were also very entertaining, what with Arkansas giving Texas A&M a solid game, and Wisconsin doing the same at Ohio State.

Meanwhile, out on the west coast, a real offensive explosion took place between USC and Arizona State, and ironically, the 62-41 result in favor of the Sun Devils resulted in some much bigger fireworks after the game.  As soon as the Trojans got back to Los Angeles, USC athletics director Pat Haden literally pulled head coach Lane Kiffin aside on the tarmac to inform him that his services will not be needed for the remainder of the season. Yes, Kiffin’s overall record in four seasons was 28-15, which is not terrible, but it’s not up to USC standards, either.  Moreover, he lost 7 of the past 11 games, was 3-2 this year, and lost both of his conference games thus far.  Things clearly were headed in a negative direction.  Yes, the NCAA had unduly hamstrung the Trojans’ program with restricted scholarships all because somebody not affiliated with the program had given Reggie Bush’s parents a sweetheart deal on a house in San Diego.  Still, after four years, one would expect some meaningful progress to be made from the undue setback, and unimaginative offensive play-calling, combined with inept execution is most certainly not a reflection of progress! Ed Orgeron, the defensive coordinator, (and formed Ole Miss head coach) has been named the interim head coach.  Who says the SEC is geographically insular?

ETC.:

West Virginia’s upset win at home over ranked Oklahoma State could probably save Dana Holgersen’s job after his ignominious loss to Maryland the previous week.  Louisville, meanwhile, remains a formidable team, but the only problem is, their temporary conference home (American) is so weak that every other game is a “body-bag” game.  Take the upcoming week’s game at Temple, for example.  South Florida and Memphis do not do the Cardinals’ strength of schedule any favors, either.  On a positive note, the Oct. 18 game against Central Florida could turn out to be a dandy of a game, folks!

College Football Opening Weekend 2013: What to watch August 29, 2013

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Georgia-Clemson2013Note:  Rankings are based the ESPN-Coaches Poll, not the AP Poll as is usually the case on this blog.

Though many good games kick off the season on Thursday (hello, North Carolina @ South Carolina!) and Friday, the real action begins, as it always does, on Saturday (Aug. 31, in this case).  Let us cut through the clutter and focus on the good games to watch.

Noon (12:00 PM, EDT):  Let’s face it; in recent years, most noon games have been throw-away games (generally, lots of lower-tier Big Ten, ACC and Big East matchups).  This seems to be mostly the case this time around, too (case in point:  Florida International @ Maryland, which makes Louisiana Tech @ N.C. State look like a marquee game).  Yet one game in this time slot is rather intriguing, that being Purdue @ Cincinnati.  Both programs have new coaches.  Purdue’s Darrell Hazell is working diligently to breathe new life into a program that has underachieved since the 2003-2004 season.  Meanwhile, U-Cincy brought in Tommy Tuberville to provide some stability to a program that lost Brian Kelly to Notre Dame after the 2009 season, and just lost Butch Jones to Tennessee prior to this upcoming one.  From a business managerial standpoint, the two new coaches make for an interesting study in contrast in that Hazell’s role is clearly turnaround CEO, while Tuberville’s role is that of caretaker to a program that Kelly built up quite well and Jones did reasonably well in maintaining.  Talent-wise, it ought not to be close, as odds are the Bearcats could dust the Boilermakers.  Nevertheless, this game is far more interesting than the rest of the game fare offered at noontime, and it goes without saying that this game merits a nod for “Intriguing Coaching Matchup” award.

3:30 PM EDT:  Normally, one can always look forward to at least one strong SEC matchup during this time slot, but there are none to be had on this date.  Syracuse @ Penn State makes for a poor substitute indeed.  BYU @ Virginia is for more intriguing than that.  Still…next!

With that said, a potentially good game that few people are talking about occurs at this same time, that being Mississippi State at Oklahoma State.  The Bulldogs have grown in strength under head coach Dan Mullen, while the Cowboys have also grown in stature under Mike Gundy’s leadership (not to mention T. Boone Pickens’ money).  Seeing these two teams butt heads could be very engaging.

5:30 PM EDT:  Granted, this is not your traditional time slot for a Saturday game, but it’s the opening weekend, so who cares?  If anybody doubts that Atlanta is one of THE epicenters of college football, then they would be well-served to take not that No. 1 Alabama opens the season in the Georgia Dome against Virginia Tech.  On paper, it’s a decent matchup in that a top-tier SEC team is about to take on an upper-tier ACC team.  But as decent as the Hokies are, the game could very well be a bloodbath, as odds are the Crimson Tide is going to roll.  Still, it’s better than the 3:30 PM options.

7:00 PM EDT:  Washington State @ Auburn — now we’re getting somewhere.  We the fans are not treated to SEC vs Pac-12 matchups enough, in my estimation, so when it happens, it is always something to be relished.  What makes this game especially interesting is that the dread pirate Mike Leach is trying to turn around the Cougars program while Guz Malzahn has just been brought in to revive the Tigers’ very quick fall from grace.  Could be interesting, especially when one considers how a Pac-12 team not named USC can handle a hyper-hostile SEC stadium crowd.

The other interesting game that evening is the Western Kentucky vs. Kentucky game in Nashville, Tenn.  This too merits an “Intriguing Coaching Matchup” nod in that it also pits first-year coaches at both schools, both of whom came there under radically different circumstances.  Mark Stoops took the UK job as a top-rated assistant coach at Florida State, with the mission to turn around a perennially struggling Wildcats squad.  Thus far he has made lots of recruiting hype, but the actual product he can deliver on the field remains to be seen.  On the Hilltoppers’ end is Bobby Petrino, one of the best coaches in the business, but left his CEO job at Arkansas in disgrace and scandal.  The WKU job is a rung or two down the ladder from the jobs he has previously had, thus is objective is twofold:  maintain what predecessor Willie Taggart had already built (something at which he is more than adept), and also rehab his reputation.  Look out for a possible Hilltopper upset over the Wildcats, as it is always dangerous to give Petrino more than a week to prepare for a game.

8:00 PM EDT:  No. 5 Georgia @ No. 8 Clemson — easily the biggest game of the day, if not the whole weekend.  Head Coach Mark Richt takes a loaded Bulldogs team led by talented QB Aaron Murray (no relation, sadly) in to Clemson to take on a Tigers program that Dabo Swinney has slowly yet quietly strengthened over the past several years (they did beat a strong LSU team in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, after all).  This will be a great opening test for the Bulldogs, who are no doubt looking to eventually unseat Alabama at the number one spot in both the conference and the nation.  Odds also are that you will be “looking LIVE, at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C.,” as in all likelihood this will be the game that Brent Musburger calls along with Kirk “Herbie” Herbstreit, folks!

9:00 PM EDT:  No. 12 LSU vs. No. 20 TCU in Dallas (Arlington, Texas, specifically).  Just as Atlanta has its season kickoff Peach Bowl with a SEC-ACC game, over the past few years, Dallas has endeavored to do the same thing with a season kickoff Cotton Bowl of sorts, usually bringing in an SEC and a Big XII team (though there has been the occasional SEC vs Pac-12 game thrown in sometimes, read:  LSU vs. Oregon in 2011) as is the case this time.  Les Miles almost always has the Tigers up for big games, while it will be a quasi-home game for the Horned Frogs as they have but a half-hour drive (at the most) from their home base in Fort Worth.  Moreover, Gary Patterson has built up a strong program over the course of more than a decade, even recently taking TCU to a Rose Bowl just a couple of seasons ago.  Moreover, though the Horned Frogs are ranked lower than the Bayou Bengals, they have the good fortune of playing LSU at the beginning of the season, which is historically when the team is most vulnerable to a loss.

10:30 PM EDT:  No. 22 Northwestern at California.  Normally, the only game one might find on the cable tv guide this late at night is a home game at Hawai’i.  Not this time, though.  This time, head coach Pat Fitzgerald takes his nimble Wildcats westward from Evanston, Ill., to the west coast.  The rankings could be deceiving.  Yes, on paper, Northwestern could possibly crush Cal.  But that could easily be nullified because of geography.  Take a team in the eastern or even central timezone out to the Pacific timezone, and strange things happen to them.  Pro teams do not have this issue (say, the New York Giants journeying out to Seattle to play the Seahawks), because they’re older, more mature, and, well, professionals.  But in the college game, folks*, you’re dealing with 19-20 year-old kids, who are far more apt to be out of their element when traveling such a distance.  Let us also not forget that Northwestern’s internal clock will still be on Chicago time (9:30 PM), not San Francisco time (7:30 PM), which could also make a difference.  One could therefore expect a close, hard-fought game, if not even an upset by the Golden Bears.  That said, Pat Fitzgerald is one of the most underrated coaches in the business, and has proven to be very adept, time and again, at not only recruiting decent players into a school with the most academically-rigid standards in the Big Ten Conference, but also coaching them up to be competitive in that conference and in bowl games, too.  No doubt he’ll have a trick or two up his proverbial sleeve to try to nullify the problems of geography and time discrepancy.  We shall see soon enough, as that is why they line up and play.

* Another Musburger-ism, in case you missed the reference!