The Waiting Game

Every year, struggling Power Five programs spend millions to hire a new coach, expecting immediate results.

If the cupboard is full, some coaches can produce immediate success. Lincoln Riley had no trouble picking up where Bob Stoops left off at Oklahoma. Same for Urban Meyer when he took over Ohio State.

But, in most cases, the cupboards aren't fully stocked and the culture needs a complete makeover. Nebraska is off to a 0-4 start, having lost now a school record eight consecutive games. Arkansas is 1-4, having two awful non-conference losses and drawing the mockery of a New York Times writer and Clay Travis. The latter's favorite team, Tennessee, is 2-3 and has lost their last 11 conference games, having last won a SEC game in November 2016. And, though he was the hottest commodity on the market last season, Chip Kelly has yet to win his first game at UCLA, as his Bruins sit 0-4.

Granted, both Arkansas and Tennessee have shown some signs of life ... and a changing of on-field attitude ... this past weekend. And both teams, though not making much noise this season, seem to be laying a foundation down. Nebraska's not there quite yet. As Scott Frost put it, the Huskers need to become a much more disciplined team first. Neither are the Bruins, who have lost their last three games (Oklahoma, Fresno State, and Colorado) all by 22 points or more.

It's a game of patience. Many coaches don't have the depth they desire, nor do they have the type of players that usually are suited to their preferred style of play. But, for those sitting through those ugly first seasons, the waiting game is one they have to play in the hopes that a great program springs forward from it.

Unless you have those rare moments where a coach walks into an instant winner, it's not easy to rebuild a program, even for the best of coaches.

Nick Saban went 6-5-1 in his first year at Michigan State. Saban was just 25-22-1 in his first four years in East Lansing before finally breaking through with a 9-2 mark in year five, leading to his hire at LSU. He was 8-4 in his first year with the Tigers and 7-6 in his first year at Alabama, which included a 21-14 loss at home to Louisiana-Monroe. Not many people remember that Saban's first season with Alabama ended in Shreveport. Not many care that much, either.

Dabo Swinney was 19-15 in his first three years at Clemson, who was already impatient with how long a conference title drought they'd had. His 10-win season the next year likely saved his job ... and the rest was history.

Jim Harbaugh's first season at Stanford was 4-8. His second year? 5-7. It took a few recruiting classes before he turned the Cardinal around en route to his eventual hire by the 49ers.

Even Pete Carroll, whose USC teams dominated the previous decade, started off his Trojan tenure with a 6-6 mark, losing to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl. His second team started a long streak of double-digit wins and West Coast dominance.

There's a lot more examples than these. Generally, if you're changing the entire style of play, especially on both sides, a coach generally has to recruit his type of guys to that program. Rome wasn't built in a day. Obviously, neither was Tuscaloosa.

So, there is still winds of hope in Los Angeles, Lincoln, Fayetteville, Knoxville and other college towns. First years are tough. Signs of progress can carry excitement into the next season. But make no mistake, millions of dollars aren't presented to a coach for moral victories. Eventually, the moral victories need to become actual victories ... much sooner than later.

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