Forde-Yard Dash: Around the coaching carousel we go
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (directions on how to cross the goal line in possession of the football sold separately in Salt Lake City):
THE COACHING EDITION
This week’s Dash examines the leaders who are succeeding, those who are failing and those who may simply need a fresh start somewhere else.
TIME FOR A CHANGE OF SCENERY?
Two of the most respected men in the profession were humiliated Saturday. Bob Stoops (1) and his Oklahoma Sooners were blown out at home by Baylor 48-14, eliminating any prayer of a Big 12 title for the preseason favorite and a team that started the season ranked No. 4 in the nation. Kirk Ferentz (2) and his Iowa Hawkeyes were blown out by Minnesota 51-14, severely damaging their chances of winning the Big Ten West and leaving them still without a victory this season over an FBS opponent with a winning record.
That left fans at both schools actively wishing to be rid of men who rank among the best to ever work at their universities. They started at their schools the same year (1999), and have resisted multiple temptations to leave – for the NFL or other college jobs. They’re young enough to coach for a while yet – Ferentz is 59, Stoops is 54. Yet now both men could be at a point where a new challenge might be the best thing for them.
Stoops won a national title in just his second season at Oklahoma, and played for three others in the 2003, ’04 and ‘08 seasons. Since that last appearance, a loss to Florida, the Sooners have lost at least twice in the regular season for six straight years. After winning six Big 12 titles outright between 2000-08, Oklahoma has won just one outright since then. Baylor, Oklahoma State and Kansas State have taken turns at the top while the Sooners have failed to relive their glory days.
Ferentz has had two three-year periods of great prosperity: he went 31-7 from 2002-04, and then 28-11 from 2008-10. The record from 2005-07 and from 2011-present doesn’t match his exorbitant salary: 44-40. The Hawkeyes have lost eight straight games to ranked opponents, and their last three losses all have been to unranked teams. Iowa has lost three of its last four to rival Iowa State as well.
Although both coaches have failed for years to reach the high bar they set for themselves earlier in their careers, it would be difficult for either school to do better. Stoops has established himself as part of Oklahoma’s coaching holy trinity, with Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer. The only coach who ranks higher in Iowa history than Ferentz in terms of accomplishment is predecessor Hayden Fry.
So what to do? Dash colleague Dan Wetzel already has unilaterally nominated Stoops for the Michigan job – and it actually makes a lot of sense. There are several other schools that would be wise to fire their current coach if they could land Ferentz.
In the fickle world of college football, almost nobody stays in one place forever anymore. Change might do a couple of the biggest names in the business some good.
It’s that time of year in college football – jobs come open, searches commence, speculation runs rampant. Far be it from The Dash to stand in the way of all that. A rundown of jobs that are open or could come open in the next month:
SMU (3). The situation: Sensing the disaster that was unfolding around him, seventh-year coach June Jones abruptly resigned two games into what has been an 0-8 season. The Mustangs are lurching toward their fourth winless season in program history (not counting the years when the NCAA wouldn’t allow the school to win or lose, canceling the 1987 and ’88 seasons). Potential hire: The school has been known to take big swings in the hiring department, throwing a lot of money at Jones to get him to leave Hawaii in 2008 and at basketball coach Larry Brown to lure him out of retirement in 2012. The object this time around? It could be California coach Sonny Dykes (4), who is in the midst of authoring a major turnaround from 1-11 his first year at Cal to the brink of bowl eligibility at 5-4. Dykes is a Texan to the core, and he was just handed a more challenging set of academic recruiting parameters by Cal after the prestigious school was embarrassed by its APR score and graduation rates under Jeff Tedford. Still, it would take a lot to convince a guy to leave a power-five conference job for one on the outside, and Dykes’ buyout is at least $2.5 million after this season. He also should have a good team coming back in 2015. If Dykes did leave and the school wanted to maintain offensive continuity, creative iconoclast coordinator Tony Franklin could be an option.
Kansas (5). The situation: Charlie Weis was fired four games into his third season, and not a moment too soon. He was 6-22 in Lawrence with one Big 12 victory, lousy even by Kansas standards. Potential hire: It’s not a plum job but not a terrible job, for the right guy. There have been plenty of current assistant coaches mentioned, but a current FBS head coach whose name has come up is Georgia Southern’s Willie Fritz (6). In his first season there after successful tenures at FCS Sam Houston State, Division II Central Missouri State and Blinn (Texas) Junior College, Fritz has the Eagles 8-2 and atop the Sun Belt Conference. Their two losses were by a combined five points against ACC schools Georgia Tech and North Carolina State, and in both games Georgia Southern took a lead into the final two minutes. If Kansas is going to take a look at coaches who use the running game to compensate for talent disparities, it should talk to Air Force’s Troy Calhoun (7) – currently authoring his sixth winning season in eight years, and by no means wedded to a lifetime of service academy football. Another coach cut from that cloth who reportedly wants to work again: former Wake Forest boss Jim Grobe.
Michigan (8). The situation: Even with a two-game winning streak, Brady Hoke closely resembles a dead man walking. The Wolverines are 5-5, 3-3 in the Big Ten, and those three victories have come against teams with a combined league record of 4-13. Will there be an opening: If Michigan wins out, beating Maryland on Nov. 22 and Ohio State on Nov. 29, maybe that changes things – but the odds of that happening are longer than Devin Gardner getting through a game without an interception. Expect a change, even with no athletic director in place. Potential hire: Presuming the Harbaughs wish to stay in the NFL and Les Miles wishes to stay at LSU, the school likely will have to let go of its incestuous Michigan Man obsession and look beyond the Bo Family Tree. It could do far worse than Dan Mullen – if it could get him. Greg Schiano also is out there, very much ready to chop sideline wood again somewhere. (Perhaps the NFL again, if someone would have him after the Tampa Bay disaster.)
Florida (9). The situation: Unless Missouri folds, the Gators (5-3, 4-3) will not be the SEC East Division representative in the league championship game for the fifth straight season. They had played in 10 of the league’s first 18 championship games. Will there be an opening: Surprisingly enough, the belief in Gainesville now seems to be that fourth-year coach Will Muschamp will see a fifth season if he can finish 7-4 (the season opener against Idaho was canceled due to storms). To do that, Florida merely has to beat massive disappointment South Carolina on Saturday and Eastern Kentucky on Nov. 22 before playing Florida State in the regular-season finale. If Florida goes 7-4, that would make Muschamp’s record 29-20, a winning percentage of .592. Ron Zook was fired with a winning percentage of .622, but apparently expectations are lower now. Florida has become Arkansas. Potential hire: If Muschamp is safe, that would produce an exhale of relief in Tucson. Rich Rodriguez had been the buzz name at Florida.
Illinois (10). The situation: The Illini are 4-5, 1-4 in the Big Ten in their third season under Tim Beckman. His overall record: 10-23, 2-19. Will there be an opening: That 2-19 part is pretty glaring, and unless Beckman can double his conference victory total in the next three weeks and gain bowl eligibility, he could be gone. The schedule is not impossible – Iowa and Penn State at home, Northwestern on the road – but nothing has been easy for Beckman in Champaign. Athletic director Mike Thomas certainly is not out front issuing votes of confidence to his coach, who is in the third season of a five-year, $9 million contract. Potential hire: Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi would seem like a logical candidate – but you could say the same about the guy who just strafed Narduzzi’s defense, Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman. Another thing to keep in mind: Illinois never has had an African-American head coach in football or men’s basketball, to the dismay of some school trustees.
Virginia Tech (11). The situation: Frank Beamer could easily be in the Stoops/Ferentz category above, but at age 68 he’s much more of a candidate for retirement than relocation. His Hokies are 4-5 overall, 1-4 and last in the utterly mediocre ACC Coastal. The 2013 staff changes designed to modernize the offense have failed, and BeamerBall has lost its way. In Tech’s first eight seasons in the ACC, it was 53-11 in league play. In nearly three full seasons since, the record is 10-11. Will there be an opening: Difficult to say. Beamer is the greatest coach in Virginia Tech football history, which makes forcing him out an unappealing proposition for relatively new athletic director Whit Babcock. It would be an easier situation to navigate if Beamer came to a decision on his own. But watching the program slide further into irrelevance isn’t a great option either. Potential hire: Babcock has made a couple of bold hires, landing basketball coach Buzz Williams last spring and Tommy Tuberville as football coach at Cincinnati. For what it’s worth, he worked at West Virginia during Rich Rodriguez’s heyday.
Virginia (12). The situation: The Cavaliers are 4-6, 2-4 in the ACC, with games left against Miami at home and at Virginia Tech. Fifth-year coach Mike London is 22-37, 10-28 in the ACC. Will there be an opening: If Virginia loses out and finishes 4-8 it would be very difficult to keep London. A split of the final two games might not be enough, either. Win them both to get to 6-6 against a difficult schedule and go bowling, and you never know. Cavaliers have lost four straight, but they’ve also been far more competitive this year than last. Potential hire: This could be wide open. The Ol’ Woodchopper, maybe?
Rutgers (13). The situation: The Scarlet Knights are 5-4, 1-4 in the Big Ten, and have a home date with reeling Indiana on Saturday that should secure a bowl bid. But Rutgers likely will be an underdog in its final two games, at Michigan State and at Maryland. Will there be an opening: You want to predict what America’s most dysfunctional athletic department is going to do? Third-year coach Kyle Flood inherited a healthy program from Schiano, went 9-4 his first year, then 6-7 and now appears headed for something in the .500 range again with a veteran team. Going to a bowl as a first-year Big Ten team could be viewed as good enough, or it could be viewed as a squandered opportunity to do more. There could be considerable reticence to let athletic director Julie Herrmann make a significant hire. Potential hire: Would the Ol’ Woodchopper come home again? His actual home near the Rutgers stadium sold for $1.35 million in August, so perhaps not.
Iowa State (14). The situation: Cyclones bottomed out last week, losing by 20 to Kansas and falling to 2-7 overall, 0-6 in the Big 12. That dropped sixth-year coach Paul Rhoads’ record to 29-43 overall, 14-35 in the league – and just 5-16 in the last two seasons. If they don’t beat Texas Tech in Ames on Saturday, they’ll probably go winless in the league for the first time since Gene Chizik was the coach in 2008. Will there be an opening: There is fan displeasure but seemingly administrative support. The stadium is being expanded to 61,000 and luxury suite sales have been good. Rhoads has won three of his last four against in-state rival Iowa, including this year, which helps significantly. So does his penchant for pulling off at least one big victory per year. Potential hire: No need to go there yet.
Tulsa (15). The situation: After two years of success with Todd Graham’s leftovers (8-5 and 11-3), the bottom has fallen out completely on fourth-year coach Bill Blankenship. The Golden Hurricane skidded to 3-9 last year and are 2-7 this year, with three highly probably losses to come. This year’s debacle includes a 29-point loss at Florida Atlantic, followed by a home loss to Texas State. Will there be an opening: Highly likely. Athletic director Derrick Gragg didn’t hire Blankenship, and he already made one big splash by bringing in Frank Haith from Missouri to coach the basketball team. Potential hire: TCU offensive coordinator Doug Meachem, who has helped inject some vitality into the Horned Frogs’ attack, knows the terrain from his days as a Mike Gundy assistant at Oklahoma State. Bob Stitt, clever offensive mind at Division II Colorado School of Mines, could be an out-of-the-box candidate.
Hawaii (16). The situation: It didn’t look good in August, when athletic director Ben Jay told the university board of regents that there was a “very real possibility” the school would drop football without additional funding. Nothing that’s happened since then has made it look any better, as the Warriors have gone 2-8 in their third season under Norm Chow. He’s now 0-16 on the road. Will there be an opening: If the athletic department is broke, it probably can’t afford the $750,000 buyout of the remaining years of Chow’s contract. Potential hire: If there is an opening, maybe June Jones goes back where he had his greatest success. But he’d have to apply more energy to the job than he did the last couple seasons at SMU.
Troy (17). The situation: Larry Blakeney has announced his retirement effective at the end of this, his 24th season at Troy. The Trojans were 0-5 at the time of his announcement and are 2-8 now. Potential hire: There are plenty of SEC assistants and others with Deep South ties who will kick the tires on the job, weighing whether it would be a good fixer-upper place for a first-time head coach. Given the talent in the state, the answer is probably yes, provided Troy remains committed to staying competitive in the Sun Belt.
HOT SEAT GAME OF THE WEEK
Pittsburgh-North Carolina (18) matches a pair of third-year coaches trying to avoid losing seasons and trying to avoid losing their fan bases. Paul Chryst and Larry Fedora both could use a win – and a couple more wins after that.
Both are 4-5 on the year and 2-3 in the ACC Coastal. Pitt’s record comes despite not facing top Atlantic teams Florida State, Clemson and Louisville this year. North Carolina, considered by many the preseason team to beat in the Coastal, played Clemson but avoids Florida State and Louisville.
Fedora inherited a program on probation and went 8-4 his first season, raising hopes that he could field an ACC title contender in short order. But last year the Tar Heels started 1-5 before rallying to finish 7-6, and this year the start was 2-4. In both seasons, North Carolina was blown out by in-state little brother East Carolina. Fedora’s up-tempo offenses have moved the ball, but his defenses have been bad and gotten much worse this year. The Heels’ current 41.9 points per game allowed is on pace to break the school record.
Chryst was brought to Pitt by Steve Pederson, an athletic director with a leaden touch at hiring time. He made the disastrous Bill Callahan hire at Nebraska, and Chryst was his third hire in two years at Pitt (Mike Haywood was fired for off-field reasons just weeks after taking the job, and Todd Graham left after one season). If Chryst could play Virginia Tech and Notre Dame all the time he’d be fine – he’s 2-0 against the Hokies and narrowly missed going 2-0 against the Fighting Irish, when a 2012 epic upset was derailed by some fishy pass interference calls. But there have been losses to Youngstown State, Akron, Navy and Connecticut, and stupefying meltdowns this year: Pitt fumbled five times in the first quarter against Georgia Tech, and missed a game-winning 26-yard field goal against Duke.
Both programs may stand pat after this season – Pitt needs continuity after the recent coaching spin cycle, and North Carolina has a mushroom cloud of an academic scandal to deal with – but fan approval ratings are low. And the loser Saturday will have even less going for him than the winner.
CONFERENCE COACH OF THE YEAR RACES
Nothing is decided yet. But if The Dash had to hand out hardware today for the best coaching jobs of 2014, these would be your winners by conference:
ACC: David Cutcliffe (19), Duke. His Blue Devils won the Coastal last year but were not the choice to repeat – and chances of a repeat looked even slimmer after all-ACC linebacker Kelby Brown and tight end Braxton Deaver were lost for the season in August to knee injuries (both were granted a sixth year of eligibility this week). But with three games to play, Duke (8-1) controls its own destiny. Win out, and it will get a second straight ACC title game shot at Florida State. Amazing work.
Big 12: Gary Patterson (20), TCU. After a difficult two-year transition from the Mountain West to the Big 12, Patterson embraced change. He revamped his offense, hiring new coordinators and going to a hurry-up, no-huddle attack. The result has been an 8-1 record, a top-10 ranking and a prominent place in the College Football Playoff discussion. Not bad for a team picked to finish seventh in the league.
Big Ten: Urban Meyer (21), Ohio State. Just weeks before the season started he lost what everyone considered to be the Big Ten’s best offensive player, quarterback Braxton Miller, to a season-ending shoulder injury. But Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman got redshirt freshman QB J.T. Barrett ready on the fly, nursed him through an ugly loss to Virginia Tech, and now have the inside track to win the Big Ten East after upsetting Michigan State on Saturday. Barrett was brilliant against the Spartans, compiling 386 total yards and five touchdowns. The award is Meyer’s unless Minnesota and Jerry Kill (22) beats him this weekend. Then the trophy may have to go to Kill, whose Gophers are a surprising 7-2.
Pac-12: They can settle this one on the field Nov. 28 in Tucson: Todd Graham (23) and Arizona State against Rich Rodriguez (24) and Arizona. With some help from Cal this week (upsetting USC) and the Trojans the next (taking down UCLA), winner of Arizona-Arizona State conceivably takes all – Pac-12 South title, Pac-12 title game berth and Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors. Spoiler alert for Cal’s Dykes, on the slim chance the Golden Bears win out.
SEC: Dan Mullen (25), Mississippi State. The only way this even comes up for debate is if the Bulldogs lose to both Alabama and Mississippi. Which could happen. But even then, Mullen could be the choice.
American: Justin Fuente (26), Memphis. The Tigers are bowl eligible for the first time since 2008 and lead the conference at 4-1. Yeah, they were gifted with a schedule that does not include East Carolina or Central Florida, but winning should never be minimized at Memphis. If the Tigers win Saturday at Tulane, it will be the program’s first four-game winning streak since 2003.
Conference USA: Doc Holliday (27), Marshall. The Thundering Herd is undefeated and largely unloved by the nation at large, but there’s little doubt who deserves the spoils of victory within C-USA. Closest thing there is to competition comes from Louisiana Tech’s Skip Holtz, whose team is 7-3, 6-0 in the league and the likely opponent for Marshall in the C-USA championship game.
Mid-American: P.J. Fleck (28), Western Michigan. Youngest coach in FBS took a year to get his feet under him, going 1-11 in 2013. Now he’s starting to get it – the Broncos are 6-3 overall, 4-1 in the league and on a four-game winning streak. One of Fleck’s first recruits, freshman running back Jarvion Franklin, is powering the Broncos’ resurgence with 1,330 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns.
Mountain West: Jim McElwain (29), Colorado State. In his second year, the former Nick Saban assistant won more games (eight) than any Rams coach since Sonny Lubick in 2002. Now in his third year, the Rams are 9-1, on an eight-game winning streak, leading the Mountain Division by half a game and in contention for a berth in one of the New Year’s Six bowl games. Now the question becomes how long Colorado State can keep him.
Sun Belt: Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern. In his first year on the job and the Eagles’ first year in FBS, they’re undefeated in the conference and 8-2 overall while leading the nation in rushing offense. But as mentioned above, does this attention-grabbing success stamp Fritz for a bigger job?
Sometimes, league schedule makers hand one team a golden opportunity – and hand another team a disadvantage. Three worth mentioning this week:
Miami (30) hosts Florida State off a bye and on a roll. The Hurricanes have pounded Cincinnati, Virginia Tech and North Carolina in succession, then been given two weeks to prepare for the rival Seminoles in South Florida. Florida State has had several injuries to deal with this year and is coming off a tougher-than-anticipated game with Virginia. The circumstances favor the Hurricanes, even if the talent and Las Vegas do not.
Mississippi State (31) must go to Alabama, but does so at the right time. The Bulldogs are coming off a walkover game against FCS Tennessee-Martin, and should be relatively healthy and unbruised. The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, is coming off the annual slugfest with LSU – and this one went into overtime. If you don’t think there is an LSU hangover effect at Alabama, think again. For the past three years, Alabama has not covered the spread in the game after playing LSU – and that includes the unforgettable 2012 upset home loss to Texas A&M. But here is the truly crazy stat: The Tide hasn’t scored a first-quarter touchdown in the game after playing LSU in 13 years. Last time it happened was 2001, against Mississippi State.
Iowa (32) is facing a fourth straight opponent that is coming off a bye week. Scheduling is impossible to make perfectly fair, but the Hawkeyes have a legitimate gripe with the Big Ten office. They played a rested Maryland team Oct. 18 and lost. Then Iowa and Northwestern both had a week off before meeting Nov. 1, and the Hawkeyes rolled. Last week they met a rested Minnesota team and were crushed. Now Iowa travels to take on Illinois, which did not play last week. But no, that wouldn’t be a justifiable excuse for losing to the lousy Illini.
BALL SECURITY – YES IT MATTERS
Alabama lost its 11th fumble of the season against LSU, on pace for the most in Nick Saban’s seven-year tenure. On Monday, an exasperated Saban said he may go the other way with his team and start de-emphasizing ball security.
Do so at your own risk, sir. Consider the following turnover-related debacles from the weekend just past:
Auburn (33) ruined its season with two unforced, fourth-quarter fumbles inside the Texas A&M 30-yard line. The first was a blown handoff exchange between quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Cameron Artis-Payne that the Aggies recovered at their own 2. Bad as that was, the second worse: standout center Reese Dismukes snapped the ball off his own derriere with Marshall back in shotgun formation and the Aggies recovered at their own 28.
Notre Dame (34) quarterback Everett Golson gave the ball away all over the place against Arizona State, continuing a spree of carelessness after a fastidious start to the season. Golson had four interceptions and a fumble against the Sun Devils, and 17 total turnovers on the season – zero of them in the first three games.
Utah (35) receiver Kaelin Clay turned in the Stupid Play of the Year against Oregon, as most everyone has seen by now. On a runaway touchdown, Clay swagadociously dropped the football more than a yard before entering the end zone, and the Ducks ran the fumble all the way back for a touchdown and a 14-point swing on a single play. In search of style points, Clay gave away actual points. There are not enough stadium steps in America to run after doing that.
You don’t need to be a scientist – or even play one on TV, like Dashette Melissa Rauch (36) – to know that no stat correlates to victory more strongly than a winning turnover margin. So proceed with caution on the de-emphasis, Nick.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
David Bailiff (37), Rice. The Owls have won six straight after an 0-3 start, clinching a third straight bowl-eligible season. At 6-3, they are one win away from guaranteeing a third straight winning season. Last time that happened at Rice: 1948-50. For real.
COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Pat Fitzgerald (38), Northwestern. Miserable Michigan has won two of its last eight road games – both at Northwestern. The Wildcats gave away last year’s game in Evanston by dropping multiple interceptions and allowing the Wolverines to get the game into overtime on a last-second field goal. This year Northwestern averted overtime by going for a two-point conversion to win down 10-9 with three seconds left. It failed, as have most things the Wildcats have attempted in the past two years. In addition to a complete inability to run the ball – minus-9 yards for the game – Northwestern also fumbled a punt, had its punter drop a snap and kick the ball left-footed, and threw two interceptions. Fitz is 4-13 in his last 17 games.
When thirsty and in need of football viewing in Fort Worth, The Dash recommends a visit to The Aardvark (39), just off the TCU campus. The chopped brisket sandwich is serviceable, not spectacular, but the beer list is strong. Try something local from Revolver Brewing (40) and thank The Dash later.