This week in the Big East Conference, Navy arrived and Greg Schiano departed. With all due respect to our future servicemen and women from Annapolis, that's a net loss for the league.
Schiano was an 11-year Big East guy. He was the first coach to win eight games in a season at Rutgers since the 1970s, elevating the program far beyond its traditional ceiling. He was a New Jersey native who somehow turned down Miami and Michigan. He was on the cusp of signing a huge recruiting class that would cement his future at the school.
Instead, he's suddenly fleeing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the NFL.
Add Schiano to the chronic brain drain that has afflicted the Big East.
In the league's ongoing scramble for football survival, brain drain is as big a culprit as expansion raids from other conferences. The member schools keep losing their best coaches, robbing the Big East of sustained success. The best and brightest tend to view the Big East as a steppingstone conference, not a destination – and now long-timer Schiano, despite repeated vows of loyalty to Rutgers through the years, has joined them.
After "ACC Raid I," which swiped Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech in 2004 and 2005, the league outperformed virtually all expectations by hiring well. But the coaches who made that brief Big East renaissance happen have moved on.
[ScarletNation.com: Greg Schiano's exit could derail prized recruiting class]
From 2005-11, 11 Big East teams won at least 10 games in a season. The coaches of nine of those teams are gone: Rich Rodriguez (who had three 10-win seasons at West Virginia in that time), Brian Kelly (three at Cincinnati), Bobby Petrino (one at Louisville), Schiano (one at Rutgers) and Dave Wannstedt (one at Pittsburgh). Only the guys who had double-digit victories this past season – Butch Jones at Cincinnati and Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia – are still at those schools.
In addition, the coach of every conference champion from 2005-10 is gone: Rodriguez, Petrino, Kelly and Connecticut's Randy Edsall.
The immediate returns were not kind for either side: RichRod was fired at Michigan while successor Bill Stewart could not sustain his work in Morgantown; Petrino cravenly walked out on the Atlanta Falcons after 13 games while successor Steve Kragthorpe bombed at Louisville; Kelly has endured a bumpy first two years at Notre Dame while successor Jones stumbled for a season and then regrouped at Cincinnati; Edsall had a miserable first season at Maryland while successor Paul Pasqualoni also turned in a losing record at UConn.
Petrino has done well since then at Arkansas. Rodriguez might find success at Arizona. Kelly still has every opportunity to win big at Notre Dame. And the Big East programs they left now appear to be in good hands, with Charlie Strong rebuilding quickly at Louisville, Holgorsen winning the Orange Bowl in his first year at WVU and Jones getting a Liberty Bowl victory in his second season at Cincy.
But how long, in turn, are those rising coaches going to stay in the league? In the case of Holgorsen, we know both he and the Mountaineers are short-timers, headed to the Big 12 as soon as their legal team can make it happen. Louisville still might wind up in the Big 12, too; that league's expansion committee held a previously scheduled meeting Wednesday and took no action, but you'd better believe the Cardinals came up in conversation. Cincinnati isn't going anywhere and just signed Jones to a contract extension, but we all know how little that means in terms of tying a coach to a school.
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Now, it's true the Big East will welcome one of the great coaches in the game in 2013 in Chris Petersen of Boise State. For my money, only Nick Saban (and maybe Urban Meyer) is better. Petersen immediately elevates the league's cumulative coaching IQ.
But every gain the conference makes seems to be offset by losses: Gary Patterson and TCU left before they ever arrived, and Kevin Sumlin ditched Houston the day after its announced move to the Big East in favor of coaching SEC-bound Texas A&M.
With stronger leadership, greater unity and better luck, the Big East could have survived the brain drain and still had quite a coaching colony going forward: Boise State and Petersen; TCU and Patterson; West Virginia and Holgorsen; Rutgers and Schiano; Louisville and Strong; Cincinnati and Jones; Houston and Sumlin; SMU and June Jones; USF and Skip Holtz. If transitioning UConn pulled it together, San Diego State kept winning under Rocky Long, and Syracuse and Pittsburgh quit underachieving, that would have been a stout league.
But that's not the way it will play out. Patterson, Schiano and Sumlin are gone. Holgorsen is on the way out, date TBD. Strong might be next, if the Big 12 decides to add Louisville. And if Syracuse and Pitt do turn it around, it will benefit the ACC and not the Big East.
It's cruel fate for a survivor league that outperformed bleak expectations for many years. No matter how hard the Big East tries to shore up its membership, the coaching brain drain will be difficult to overcome.
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