Friday, August 11, 2017
Life in the Coaching Cycle
There's always intrigue for coaches facing new challenges in new locations. Each year, a select number of guys gain a new address (or, at least, a new appointment) that carries the title of "Head Coach." It brings along hope, anxiety, and the unknown for all in and around those programs. For this college football season, the questions have already emerged.
* What will Matt Rhule do to restore a sense of order at Baylor?
* How tough of a situation does Matt Luke face at Ole Miss?
* Can any of the Big Ten's new hires (Tom Allen at Indiana, P.J. Fleck at Minnesota, Jeff Brohm at Purdue) make their programs a higher-tier threat?
* How will Jeff Tedford fit in at alma mater Fresno State?
Those are just a few of items surrounding the 22 names that have shifted locations or upgraded positions. Through all of those headlines, these are the ones I'm focused on at we head toward the first kickoffs of the season.
Can You Return Home Again?
Throughout the history of the sport, head coaches have left their post on the sidelines, only to return to that same place at a later time. It's happened for wartime service (like Notre Dame's Frank Leahy during WWII). It's happened as a school tries to reconnect with past glory (like Kansas State with Bill Snyder). And it can happen when a coach might need a comfortable landing spot to stay in the profession (like Bobby Petrino at Louisville).
The latest entrant into this 'brotherhood' fits into that last category. Randy Edsall was tasked with the duty of leading Connecticut's football program to D I-A (now FBS) status back in 1999. After getting past the transition from D I-AA at the turn of the century, Edsall found a successful groove at a place that's much more known for it hoops than its pigskin. A 33-19 record over his last four seasons leading the Huskies gave Maryland the impetus to lure him down the I-95 corridor and to suburban D.C.
Edsall's couldn't replicate his Husky success as a Terp. There were two bowl appearances (both with 7-5 records), but little sustained success over the four-plus year stint. The fact that the school switched conference affiliation didn't excuse his 22-34 overall record in College Park, and he was fired midway through the 2015 season. After spending a year behind the scenes in the NFL, Edsall has returned to the foundation of his initial success.
The college landscape has changed, even since Edsall left UConn in 2010. The program went from BCS-worthy (he led the 2010 team to the Fiesta Bowl) back to "middling" status. Having enough clout to get selected for a Playoff spot is going to be exponentially more difficult than becoming respectable after a classification transition. But maybe UConn is just looking for the stepping stone of returning to steady success. Either way, we'll find out how Edsall will settle back into a familiar spot.
South Florida Showdown?
When you think of college football in southeastern Florida, Miami is mentioned first, last, and many times in between. However, there are two other universities trying to grab some of the attention from the Hurricane program. Florida Atlantic and Florida International have a lot of similarities.
The two schools introduced football into their athletic programs one year apart (FAU started in 2001; FIU in 2002). They both moved up to FBS in 2005. And, most importantly, they both reside in the Greater Miami area (separated by a mere 46 miles). The Owls and Panthers kept that rivalry going as they jumped from the Sun Belt Conference to Conference USA in 2013.
At this point, the biggest coaching name involved in either program's history was Howard Schellenberger (FAU's first head coach). That may change, though, as two new names have been introduced into the fold. You probably heard how Lane Kiffin found himself at FAU. When he accepted the job back in December, it was while he was preparing the Alabama offense for their national semifinal matchup with Washington. He ended up leaving before the national championship game against Clemson. However, I'd be surprised if anyone remembered that Butch Davis was hired to lead the Panthers program.
Along with the programs they now lead, Kiffin and Davis have some similarities. They've both been in the spotlight as NFL head coaches. They've been had opportunities to lead a couple of high-profile college programs (Tennessee & USC for Kiffin; North Carolina and those cross-town Hurricanes for Davis). Now, they both have landed at "resurrection" projects, both for their programs and their own reputations. All I can say is that, even if this is only a one-year experiment for one (or both) of them, I hope that I can find a way to see the November 18th contest between the two.
A Lone Star-Sized Shoe to Fill
The saying goes "everything is big in Texas," and that would include the expectations. Any coach that comes into the Longhorn program has them once they step onto campus. That's only amplified when it comes to football. Charlie Strong had them when he came over from Louisville. And there was anticipation, as well. After a short lull (the Steve Kragthorpe era), he returned the Louisville program to a prominent position. However, three seven-loss seasons later, the anticipation faded and the expectations wilted.
Now Tom Herman has those expectations thrusted upon him. Like Strong, Herman played at a college that was outside of the limelight. Unlike Strong, Herman has more of a presence in the world of Texas football. Strong spent one year as a Graduate Assistant as Texas A&M (1985), but most of the previous coaching resume experience prior to the Longhorn job was outside of the state. Herman spent a decade on the sidelines of various Texas universities before returning as Houston's head coach in 2015, so he should know those expectations. The issue now is to turn expectation into positive results.
We'll never know if Strong was given enough time to get everything together for a prolonged and successful run. This means it's blatant that Herman will need to have some positive momentum to afford himself time to put his stamp on the program. As you know, this isn't the wheel being reinvented. Every year, the hottest head coaching candidates are expected to be the next big thing. Every year, at least a few of those previous candidates are looking for work after the results dulled that prospective shine. We'll see if Herman can avoid that outcome.
By the way, Strong appears to have ended up in a decent situation. As the new coach of South Florida, he might have an opportunity to take Willie Taggert's old squad to a New Years' Six bowl. Not bad for a guy that was fired just a few months back.
Boomer Really, Really, Really Sooner
While expectation was expected for Texas' incoming coach, it wasn't really the case for that rival school up I-35. The college football landscape shifted pretty massively when Bob Stoops announced his retirement from Oklahoma. The veteran coach had just come off of back-to-back 11-2 seasons, which included Big XII titles over each campaign. He had a Heisman-contending quarterback returning behind center. And he had a rising star on his staff in Offensive Coordinator Lincoln Riley. Now it's the same OC that must prove his worth as the HC.
Riley may have fallen into a great situation with the roster that the Sooners sport. It's enough to make them a top ten selection in the preseason Coaches Poll. But is that going to create an amount of pressure that the new coach isn't ready to handle? There could be some built-in reprieves if this team ends up going 9-3 or 8-4. But the success train isn't supposed to grind to a halt, even due to an unexpected change in leadership. Can he take advantage of this situation? How well will Riley recruit going forward? A season like this can ignite a legendary career. It could also drown out its potential.