Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A few thoughts on the major coaching changes taking place

It's silly season in college football, when rumors are flying everywhere, sources are sayin', and overwhelmed athletic directors are making some curious choices.

Here are some scatter shots on who's winning and losing in silly season:

Georgia...treading water

The Dawgs have been making some frankly baffling choices. Here's the situation: They had a beloved coach in Mark Richt, known as a man of integrity in every sphere, who had been there for 15 seasons and had one losing season (2010).

After this season's 9-3 finish when they were expected to potentially compete for an SEC title and playoff berth, he was pushed out. Now, two SEC titles and zero national championship appearances, much less wins, is a long history. I understand why Georgia would make the assessment that Richt didn't have much else to offer than what he's already shown.

Here's the interesting aspect of all this, Georgia's trajectory as a program and their decision to replace Richt with Kirby Smart.

You'll notice that, while they've been just worse than the SEC's elite programs, they've also been very good. Even more interesting, let me call your attention to two key features here.

2014 was Georgia's last season with Mike Bobo, a fantastic OC who's now getting consideration for head coaching gigs at major programs. 2013 was their last with DC Todd Grantham (now at Louisville) whom they replaced with Jeremy Pruitt.

Pruitt coached two of the secondaries that I've ranked as the greatest of this century, one at Alabama as the DB coach (2011) and then one at FSU as the DB coach/DC (2013). He took over a Georgia secondary decimated by transfers and still produced a top unit that then improved the following year (this season).

If I had a choice between Kirby Smart, Will Muschamp, and Jeremy Pruitt to be my defensive coordinator at a top program I'm probably choosing Pruitt. Richt made a great hire in pulling him away from Florida State. He made a less great hire with Brian Schottenheimer in 2015 but it's only fair to note that Brian was running Richt's offense and without great options at the QB position.

So moving forward, Georgia is well situated to be a top defensive team year after year and needs either to go in a new direction on offense or simply to find a QB. Since the offensive direction at Georgia has been set by Richt for the last 15 years, it makes sense that if you think his offense puts a ceiling on this program that you'd hire a new head coach.

Georgia hired Kirby Smart who's apparently planning on releasing Jeremy Pruitt back into the wild, where Nick Saban is likely to snatch him up as the DC for Alabama. Smart apparently plans to poach Will Muschamp from Auburn, Alabama's rival.

In summation: Georgia is not going to upgrade their situation on the defensive side of the ball, since they already had an excellent DC who was taking that program to an elite level as a defensive team. They are going to potentially downgrade Auburn's defensive situation and possibly upgrade Alabama's coaching staff.

So far they've made a hire that puts them exactly where they were before on defense, which is good, but they have yet to rectify their situation on offense. There is talk that they'll snatch up Western Kentucky's spread coach...we'll just see how this goes.


The Trojans were my third strongest college program, but I'm starting to have second thoughts after watching Pat Haden flounder through another coaching search. Why is it that the Trojans never, ever seem to end up with a the coach that the top programs are all targeting? Or even a coach that other top programs are considering?

It very much seems like they stumbled upon Pete Carroll almost by accident and have misidentified the key to his success as having been about the explosive offenses he fielded rather than the strong defensive units that have always been his true calling card.

After they had to dismiss Sarkisian in disgrace they ultimately settled on replacing him with...offensive coordinator Clay Helton. Essentially they are doubling down on the original assumption that Sarkisian's staff and approach were what was going to bring the Trojans back to greatness and simply promoted from within. I'm not sure why they thought Helton and the status quo was better than every other option out there, although I will at least say in their defense that their need for a coach was sprung upon their own failure to vet and and provide oversight for their staff.

This is a program that could rule the Pac-12 with an iron fist yet no one is going to be terrified by this move.


I won't pretend to be confident about what a Scott Frost program will look like overall, but I do know that the Oregon offensive system will be murderous with Floridian and Georgian athletes of the type that UCF will be able to regularly bring aboard.

Oregon is based largely around outside zone blocking, which requires hard working, swift-footed OL of the type that a program like UCF can expect to find. From there it's about having an option-savvy QB and blazing fast athletes who can do major damage in space.

It's all too easy to see this going very well at UCF although their conference, the AAC, is quietly becoming one of the best athletic leagues in the nation because it's comprised of schools in talent-rich areas that are starting to invest more in their football and basketball programs.

It's no longer a simple matter to go to an AAC school, do a great job of recruiting local talent, and then going out and whipping people in order to earn a better coaching job back in an AQ conference. Because every AAC school is hiring people trying to do that.

Nebraska fans...losing

I wrote this time last year that "Nebraska can only hire the right coach after a blunt self-assessment." I believe they did so with the Mike Riley hire as they landed a coach that knows how to recruit nationally, how to find players in the margins, how to scheme to create systemic advantages for his players, how to oversee a thriving walk-on program, and who basically has all the competencies needed to make Nebraska as great as they can be.

Nevertheless, their fans seem to want the flashier Scott Frost toy that's in the window and are hoping that Frost will prove his mettle at UCF and in a few years time be ready to take over for a Riley regime they assume will fail.

One ironic thing about this is that Riley inherited a smaller OL built for outside zone and is now trying to remake Nebraska to mash the ball inside with tight zone plays...Frost would have to redirect back to a faster OL if he took over just as Riley would have gotten the OL where he wanted it.

Another ironic note here is that Frost has proven much less as an overall program director than has Riley, who's been the head coach of a team with a good defense before. Frost hasn't even been the OC of a team with a particularly good defense.

If there are any Nebraska fans reading this I would urge you to give Riley enough time to get his program going in Lincoln before seizing on a distraction like Scott Frost. I'd also give caution to the wise to wait and see if Frost can demonstrate the program management skills to win big in the AAC before committing all-in on him on your message boards.

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