Posted on: December 9, 2011 12:58 pm
Edited on: December 9, 2011 1:10 pm

Friday Mailbag: The coach Penn St should pursue

Here is this week's mailbag. As always, if you have questions send them to me on Twitter at BFeldmanCBS.

From @Newberry75 Is PSU interviewing anybody? Seems pretty quiet for such a high profile search.

It's been kept very quiet if they have. Given all of the uncertainty with the leadership there and the cloud that will hang over that community for a very long time, it's a delicate situation. I can report that a hot rumor which was swirling in the past 36 hours is untrue that was linking former Penn State player Al Golden to the job. Golden, the rumor went, was picked up Wednesday in New York in a private plane and flown to PA to meet with Penn State officials. However, a source explained to me that the private plane that Golden was flying in is actually owned by a Miami donor and the coach was going around the northeast recruiting for Miami.

The guy who I think Penn State should target for this job is actually a different guy with Miami ties, Mario Cristobal, the head coach at FIU. As I wrote here a few months ago, Cristobal has done wonders taking over what was the bleakest, messiest, most screwed-up FBS program in all of college football. He is a high-energy, no-BS guy who knowns the northeast well from his time as Greg Schiano's top recruiter when they were trying to breathe some life into the Rutgers program. Cristobal knows what it takes to win both as a player and as a coach. He has shown he has great focus, which I think will be paramount for the next head coach there given everything that you will inherit.

If you're skeptical about Cristobal's tenacity and savvy to land such a big job with such unique problems,  click the link and look at the bottom of the column:

I said no coach in FBS took over a worse program. The reason: FIU was like no other program at that level. There was no infrastructure. They had no film library. They had no academic support system in place for the players. They had to build everything from scratch when Cristobal's staff arrived. "Our first month of official visits, we didn't show them the locker room or the weight room," said a former staffer. "We were running smoke and mirrors. Everything focused on the campus and the city of Miami. We'd just show them plans of what we were building."

The facilities were laughable. The program also had administrative issues where players had a hard time even getting their Pell Grant money. On top of that, Cristobal also inherited a dreadful APR rating and the program was going on academic probation, so they couldn't even go after full recruiting classes.

From @astubert Do you think Devon Still wasn't selected as an AFCA All-American because of the PSU scandal?

I'd hope that wasn't the reason behind it since Still had nothing to do with it. I was surprised to see him NOT on the team. If you were to ask which DT had the most impact on his defense and doesn't take a lot of plays off, Still would be the first guy I'd think of. He played on a top 5 defense, and he was the biggest reason why they were so tough. He had 17 TFLs, which is really impressive since most of the other top guys in tackles for loss are edge rushers, not guys who consistently see double teams and lots of traffic.

From @tperk54 why on earth did you not vote for Trent Richardson for the Heisman?

Richardson is an outstanding back. He was on top or near the top of my ballot for much of this season. He had some spectacular moments. Best example was that amazing run he had against that dreadful Ole Miss team. In a few games against some of the tougher defenses he played, he was good, although he only averaged a little over four yards per carry against Penn State and under four yards against LSU and his team didn't even score a touchdown. I feel like he's a better back that Montee Ball, but the Wisconsin back put up even more impressive numbers and he did so against some good defenses too. Both backs had very good years. I believe there are six or seven guys you could make a strong case for. I watched a lot of games on each of those guys. To me, it just comes down who had the best year in terms of making the most impact on his program and, as I detailed in the Big Picture column, that was Robert Griffin III.
From @SouthernJetNC Is Fedora a great, good or average hire for UNC?

I'd categorize him as a good hire. He's aggressive, has a sharp offensive mind and a really keen eye for talent. That last part is big. He helped land some very unheralded prospects at Oklahoma State who blossomed into stars. Obviously, a lot will depend on the caliber of assistants he can surround himself with, but I was impressed by the staff he assembled right away when he took over at Southern Miss. Those guys could really recruit.

From @T_Dwyer Is "Charlie Weis? Huh?" enough of a question or should I be more specific?

That one caught me off guard too. I can see why KU would consider Weis, although I wouldn't think they'd hire him over, say, a Gus Malzahn or even a Chad Morris, if they could've landed either. Weis isn't a first-time college head coach, but it's not like he was a big success at ND with a lot more resources there. His name will carry weight with some recruits, but so would those other guys.

As for the other side of it: Kansas is a really, really tough place to win at. Remember before Mark Mangino arrived, KU hadn't had a winning season in a half-dozen years before and hadn't been to a bowl since 1995. In 2007, when Mangino got KU into a BCS bowl, which they won, was arguably the best coaching job we've seen in the last 20 years. KU was 12-1 and finished No. 7. Amazing. KU isn't in a fertile recruiting state and it can't take many of the local JC players that other programs in that league can. Then they got rid of him and the program has bottomed out in two seasons with Turner Gill. They weren't even competitive. 

Weis, should attract some talent on offense. According to the New York Times, Dayne Crist, a former Weis QB at ND, will visit there this weekend. Landing Crist would be a good first step for the coach. Weis will inherit a talented young RB in Darrian Miller, but also the nation's worst defense. Crist would be a quick fix to try and help them get respectable in a hurry, maybe go 4-8, 5-7 to win over some skeptical recruits. But it is going to be a very uphill battle. Top recruits won't perk up for KU as they will listen if you're the head coach at Notre Dame. Now maybe some QBs and tight ends may given Weis' pedigree, but there are other coaches with strong NFL track records too and they're at bigger programs. When Weis was at ND, he was at the glamour school. Now, he'll be below OU, Texas, Oklahoma State and just about everyone else in the Big 12. 

From @MatthewLevi If Bama wins BCS, what are the odds that LSU still gets AP title since LSU beat Bama at Bama's house and had a stronger SOS?

My hunch is those are slim chances LSU would still get the AP title. Keep in mind if Bama won, they'd be beating LSU in the Tigers backyard. Also, people, by nature, are creatures of the moment. They tend to go with what they just witnessed and put heavy emphasis on it. By overlooking the BCS title game like that would make a farce of something (the BCS) that is already pretty dubious.

From @AnalogSports Is Mike Leach going to run his same offense up in Pullman? In the snow? Will he get the right kids for it?

They ran the Air-Raid system in Iowa, where the weather was brutal and had a lot of success with it under those conditions. It can get pretty windy in Lubbock and some parts of the Big 12 too. 
Sounds like he already has a few of those kids in the program right now with those two QBs (Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday) and Marquess Wilson, a great sophomore WR. The challenge will be for them to grasp the nuances of the system and rep it so much where they can get the timing down.

From @cdunk87 Who do you think would be better fit at Nebraska for DC Ron Zook or Mike Stoops?

Zook is a fantastic recruiter, but as a DC, I'll go with Mike Stoops. Ask OU fans about what they feel like the program has lacked since Mike Stoops left for Arizona. He is a very good coach. People I've spoken to who have worked with him saying he was an excellent tempo setter at practice and very good in the day-to-day. That said it would be interesting to see him on the same sideline with another up-to-the-edge intensity guy like Pelini, but since both go back I suspect they'd could play off each other pretty well if Stoops does end up in Lincoln.
Posted on: December 6, 2011 11:09 am
Edited on: December 6, 2011 11:26 am

Tuesday Top 10: Biggest duds of 2011

Coming into the season there was so much optimism at different programs, but fast forward three months and there's been a lot of disappointment. This week's Top 10 list: biggest duds of the 2011 season. (I'm leaving off the BCS, which you could make a strong case for deserving to be on this list every year.)

1. Maryland: Randy Edsall's first season in College Park was a disaster of the highest order. The Terps got off to a nice start, edging a seriously depleted Miami team that was gutted by NCAA suspensions, but then things completely fell apart. They didn't beat another FBS program the rest of the way. They got blown out at home by Temple 38-7. They lost to a bad BC team by 11. They blew a huge second-half lead against NC State. The stunning part in all of this was it's not like Edsall inherited the FAU squad. They were 9-4 last year and had the best young QB in the conference in Danny O'Brien. However, the sophomore quarterback regressed in a big way under Edsall. The team was 111th in passing efficiency. In the final eight games of the season, the Terps managed to scored more than 21 points twice. Somewhere, Ralph Friedgen is probably still laughing at his bosses who ran him out of his alma mater after winning ACC Coach of the Year honors.

2. The State of Florida: The Noles were preseason No. 6 and slogged their way to an 8-4 record where they didn't even make it to the ACC title game. At one point they had a three-game losing streak. In mid-November, they lost at home against unranked UVA. ... The Gators, No. 22 in preseason, fizzled on offense and went 6-6 by dropping six of their last eight games. . . . Miami's hopes were torpedoed on the eve of the season by the Nevin Shapiro mess that would sideline a bunch of key players early. The Canes never recovered, losing six games by eight points or less before opting out of what figured to be a mediocre bowl game in hopes of appeasing the NCAA down the road. Their final game: a home loss to a 3-8 BC team. ... USF got off to a fast start, beating a ranked Notre Dame team on the road, but then Skip Holtz team flopped, losing seven of their final eight. ... UCF, which despite having the No. 11 D in the country, failed to even get bowl eligible, going 5-7. Last year UCF was 11-3. Now there is much uncertainty and who knows if sophomore QB Jeff Godfrey, who had seemed to be the centerpiece of the upstart program, will be back in Orlando in 2012?

3. Texas A&M: The Aggies, preseason No. 8, had way too much firepower to go 6-6. Even 8-4 would've felt like a big let down. Statistically, they were a very hard team to figure out. They were seventh in the country in total offense, first in fewest sacks allowed, first in sacks, 13th in rushing defense but they also were 100th in turnover margin. They blew a ridiculous amount of games in the second half. They ended up losing four of their last five and Mike Sherman lost his job because of it.

4. Ole Miss: A lot of people pegged the Rebels for the bottom of the SEC West, but no one would've expected they'd have the worst season in school history. Houston Nutt's lackluster recruiting at Ole Miss really caught up with him. His team got thumped by Vandy in a way that the Commodores never beat another SEC program. The Rebels also lost by 17 to lowly Kentucky and then get crunched by La. Tech 27-7 at the their homecoming game. The 2-10 season cost Nutt his job and was punctuated with another blowout loss to arch-rival Miss. State, 31-3.

5. Oklahoma: [Note: The Sooners were a bad omit on my part when I initially published this list.] They were preseason No. 1 and sputtered badly in the season half of the season, losing three of their last six. The first loss was home to a four-TD underdog (Texas Tech) that would end up having its worst season in almost 20 years. The Sooners finished off the season getting drilled by rival Oklahoma State, 44-10.

6-UCLA defense:
Few teams look better on the hoof, but the Bruins just never could get it done under Rick Neuheisel. Despite a defensive unit were more than its share of former blue-chippers, the Bruins were 112th in sacks and 96th in scoring defense. They surrendered 38 or more six times this season.

7. Mississippi State: They were a long shot to win the incredibly stacked SEC West, but the Bulldogs were still a preseason top 20 team but they never got much of anything going. They went 6-6. The only team with a winning record they beat was 8-4 La. Tech. Their other four wins over FBS opponents went 12-36 combined.

8. Notre Dame offense: The Irish were ranked a respectable 43rd in scoring, but given the weapons Brian Kelly had (led by WR Michael Floyd) ND should've been a lot more dynamic. They were held to 20 points or less five times this season. They also were brutal when it came to taking care of the football, tying for third-worst in the country in turnover margin.

9. Kansas: Turner Gill was fired after just two seasons because the Jayhawks were so overwhelmed this season. They beat an FCS program and then knocked off the eventual MAC champs (NIU) in Week 2 and it was all downhill from them on as it was one epic blowout loss after another. They ranked 106th in total offense and 120 in total defense. Of their final 10 losses to finish the season, only two were decided by less than double-digits. They lost six games by 30 points or more.

10. Illinois offense: Things set up so well for Ron Zook this season. They had a dynamic young QB (Nate Scheelhaase) and some talented backs and receivers. The Illini jumped out to a 6-0 start and then the bottom drops out. They lose the next six, failing to score more than two TDs in any other game. They managed just seven points against a Minnesota D that was 102nd in scoring defense. They scored 14 on a Michigan, which is 51 points fewer than they scored on the Wolverines on a year ago. The Illini finished 91st in scoring, dropping 59 spots from where they were at mid-season. They also ended up 106th in sacks allowed.

Posted on: December 4, 2011 11:00 pm
Edited on: December 5, 2011 8:32 am

Freeze to become Ole Miss head coach

After leading an Arkansas State program that hadn't had a winning season since 1995, to a 10-2 record this year, Hugh Freeze informed his players at a Monday morning meeting that he has accepted the head coaching job at Ole Miss, a source told CBS. 

Freeze takes over a Rebels program that is coming off a brutal 2-10 year, its worst season in school history. He replaces Houston Nutt, who was fired after four seasons at Ole Miss. The Rebels are in the midst of a school-record 14-game losing streak in SEC play. They were hammered by Vanderbilt, lost 30-13 to Kentucky and blasted 27-7 by Louisiana Tech at the Rebels homecoming weekend. They were 11th in the SEC in scoring offense and 12th in the league in scoring defense. Under Nutt recruiting had lagged, where many of the top signees he landed either never made it to Oxford or fizzled and ended up leaving the program.

Freeze, known for running his up-tempo offensive system, will return to Oxford, where he coached for three seasons while he was an assistant on Ed Orgeron's staff. He had been the Rebels interim head coach in the transition after Orgeron was fired, but was not kept on staff after Nutt was hired.

In 2010, Freeze sparked a big improvement after joining the Red Wolves as offensive coordinator, turning a unit that had been 95th in scoring and turning it No. 43 nationally. Still, the team only went 4-8. Head coach Steve Roberts was fired, but Freeze stayed on, getting promoted to head coach. Prior to coming to the Sun Belt school, he spent two seasons at NAIA Lambuth, where he went 20-5.

Before getting into college coaching, Freeze coached for 13 years at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis. At one point, his teams went to six consecutive state championships. A Senatobia, Miss. native, Freeze did not play college football, but did graduate with a mathematics degree from Southern Miss.

Expect several of the members of Freeze's staff from Arkansas State to come with him to Oxford.
Category: NCAAF
Posted on: December 2, 2011 4:47 pm
Edited on: December 2, 2011 5:21 pm

Friday Mailbag: The changing face of the Pac-12

Here is this week's mailbag. As always, send your questions via Twitter to BFeldmanCBS.

From @Jdangelo4404  what do you think of the pac12 hiring all of these offensive minded coaches and how does it affect the perception of the conf?

The perception of a conference's merits change when it wins big games against other top teams from other leagues. Best thing that happened for the Pac-10 was when Pete Carroll's USC teams went to Auburn and Arkansas and hammered them and when the Trojans drilled Oklahoma in the BCS title game. Don't forget Carroll was fortunate to have some really sharp offensive minds with him (Norm Chow, Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian). Jim Harbaugh was a home run hire for Stanford but you'd have to peg him as more of an offensive guy. Mike Stoops was a defensive guy but never could get Arizona to be a consistent winner. Point is, it's way too easy to generalize about "offensive" and "defensive" head coaches.

Urban Meyer was thought of as an offensive guy and that worked out quite well for the SEC. Same for Steve Spurrier. Bobby Petrino's an offensive guy and his hire at Arkansas is looking very good. There isn't only one way to build a powerhouse.

Obviously, hiring the right guys to run your defense if you are an "offensive" guy is vital though. Meyer had Greg Mattison and Charlie Strong. Rich Rodriguez who is a superb offensive mind didn't have those types of guys as his DC at Michigan. It'll be interesting to see who Rodriguez and Mike Leach land to run their defenses this time around and what UCLA and ASU end up doing. I do think what's interesting here is you're seeing these programs hire guys who both have very unique schemes and a lot of head-coaching experience in big conferences, not guys who are learning to be head coaches on the fly.

It is a very intriguing time for the Pac-12 right now. USC is hot again, but after 2012, they may feel at least some of the effects of the scholarship sanctions. Oregon is likely headed to its third BCS bowl in a row, but still has a sizeable NCAA cloud hanging over its head. Stanford has to replace a true franchise QB in Andrew Luck. Cal and Oregon State, which had been stronger in recent years, appear to be tailing off. The two new additions, Colorado and Utah showed they're still a ways from being able to compete for a league title. Then you have four programs going through coaching transitions. 

From @jeremyarc7 Do you feel a&m fired Sherman too soon? 

Nope. They'd given him enough time. Texas A&M is a big job and 25-25 and just 15-18 in Big 12 won't cut it, especially as the Aggies go into the SEC. This is Texas A&M, not an Iowa State, Baylor or Kansas, where they haven't traditionally had a lot of top 25 seasons. This team lost too many games in the second half, and it got to the point where if they'd finished 8-4, not 6-6, it still would've felt like a clunker of a season. Truth is, it looked like the Aggies took a backwards step this season. Sherman couldn't afford it in Year Four. He hadn't shown enough to warrant the confidence that he could get this program back into the top 10.

If the A&M brass feel like there are coaches out there that are better to get things cranked up (such as a Kevin Sumlin), they were smart to cut ties now and make that move.

From @RobGiffin how bad has the TN situation under Dooley gotten?

Much worse than I think anyone around the program would've anticipated if you'd asked them honestly three months ago. It's true they are young and they were stung by injuries, but I doubt anyone there truly believed they wouldn't even get to a bowl game. Remember, former UT AD Mike Hamilton backed out of a game against North Carolina and the Vols ended up with Buffalo instead. Even if the Vols beat Kentucky to go 6-6, I still think the year would've been a dud, but to lose to such a bad UK team playing a WR at QB was embarrassing for many Vols fans. It not only cost a young team more bonus bowl practices they won't get, but it leaves the program in a bad light on the recruiting trail.

I get that there is reason for some optimism because they have some gifted sophomores and freshmen, but can anyone really point to a reason for optimism about Derek Dooley running this team? Given his track record, I don't see how at this point.

Having said that, short of more NCAA trouble, I don't believe they could pull the plug on Dooley after just two seasons given all of the turnover from the end of Fulmer -- through Kiffin -- to now. He has to get least get a third season. They hired him and he does have a hefty buyout. But it is looking very obvious that Dooley is in fact in over his head here.

This is a guy who didn't even have a .500 record in the WAC, so for him to take over an elite SEC program looked really curious. I suspect there will be more turnover on the Vols staff this offseason than just WR coach Charlie Baggett. Dooley's 0-17 against ranked teams all-time. If he doesn't beat one or even two ranked teams next year, I have a feeling it won't matter if he gets UT bowl eligible. It's Tennessee. The Vols have a proud tradition, a huge stadium and a staff getting paid a lot of money. They're also in the much easier side of the conference right now. They shouldn't be content with bowl eligible.

From @Robherbst are you surprised that leach didn't hold out for a seemingly better job and are you surprised washington state coughed up the money to pay him?

Not really. I think realistically aside from Washington State, the other school that seemed to be genuinely interested in Leach was Kansas. He has been close to their AD for a long time. But Washington State made a lot of sense to him because it's in a stable conference (Pac-12) which now is reaping the benefits of a robust TV deal; he's at a program where they've had a lot of success not that long ago (having been to a few Rose Bowls in the past 15 years); have a rich history of prolific offenses and he inherits a nice group of young players. However, the biggest thing that Wazzu's program had going for it was the AD Bill Moos, who is a straight shooter (when asked about the search committee on Tuesday, Moos said 'you're looking at the Search Committee") -- stuff like that is huge to Leach. The politics and number of people involved makes the job that much more appealing. And they were stepping up making a big financial commitment to him and to his staff.

From @spry23  NCAA basketball tourney makes $ why can't college football find a way wouldn't it make more sense

Because when it comes to college football, it is really about power and control more than money, and the power brokers of the sport aren't ready to relinquish that.

From @Jus10Sarabia Who seems to be a logical replacement for Houston if Kevin Sumlin leaves? Co-offensive coordinator Jason Phillips?

I could see UH keeping things in house to try and minimize the transition. Tony Levine, who is the special teams coordinator and assistant head coach, may get a long look. As I wrote a few weeks back, Levine's a guy who has worked under some excellent coaches in college and the NFL. Phillips, given his ties to the program as a player, will get consideration too. Keep in mind, the guy who really runs the offense is Kliff Kingsbury, who in a few years figures to be ready to run his own program. My hunch is Kingsbury goes with Sumlin wherever he goes. UH also may consider Clemson OC Chad Morris as well given the former Texas HS coach's background.

From @melchrestmanjr after spending time with Coach Orgeron, what makes the Ole Miss job so tough?

The biggest hurdle has been the politics of the place and the leadership around you. The outgoing AD Pete Boone was a big headache/stumbling block. He treated football more like a C-USA program than an SEC program. The other big challenge is you have to bust your butt to find promising recruits and get on them before everyone else does because in all likelihood if that same kid gets offered by LSU, Alabama or Florida, you'll miss out or if you're not hustling, you'll never get in the front door. Orgeron was very good at connecting with recruits early in the process. Some times it was rewarded (Dexter McCluster for example); sometimes it still wasn't good enough (Drake Nevis). Houston Nutt, from what I've been told by people who were around the Ole Miss program, never really went as hard, treating it more like Arkansas than Ole Miss, and you can't get away with that in Oxford.

Ole Miss' facilities are pretty good, but by SEC standards, they're still below average, especially when you compare stadiums.

They do have a solid recruiting pool around them, especially in terms of JUCO talent and there is the flexibility to get some of those good, borderline academics recruits admitted. But many others still can't get into major four-year colleges. There's also a delicate racial history that in some cases, makes it very tough to recruit players to Ole Miss. I know from talking to assistants who have coached at Ole Miss they've run into several situations where the kid's parents or some grandparent or relative won't allow them to go to Ole Miss because of the perception they have of it, which is something the football staff has to work hard to combat. 

From@Drofdarb23  What kind of an impact does the coaching rumor mill have on recruiting?

It certainly doesn't help, but unless you're talking about later in the process, like in late January, the coaching staff should be able to overcome it.
Posted on: November 30, 2011 3:39 pm
Edited on: November 30, 2011 8:08 pm

Leach taking over at Washington State

    As we first reported, Mike Leach is taking over as the head coach at Washington State. Leach, who was offered the position late Tuesday afternoon, agreed to a five-year contract. Leach will travel to Washington on Monday and be introduced at a press conference Tuesday, Dec. 6 at noon in Pullman.

"This is an exciting day for Washington State University and Cougar football," said Washington State athletic director Bill Moos. "I have spoken about the need to re-energize our fan base and take Cougar football to the next level. I believe the hiring of Mike Leach accomplishes both of those goals. His credentials speak for themselves." 
The 50-year-old Leach replaces Paul Wulff, who was dismissed Tuesday morning.  The hiring of Leach would seem to mesh with  Moos' comment earlier at the press conference where he announced Wullf's firing that he likes a "flashy, high-octane offense that lights up the scoreboard."

"First off I would like to express my appreciation to Paul Wulff for all his efforts and dedication to Washington State and wish him the best in the future," said Leach. "It's an honor to have the opportunity to work with Bill Moos, who is a legend in this business. To have the opportunity as a coach to work with someone like that is an experience few head coaches get. Along with Bill and Dr. Floyd, I'm excited about being a part of the future of Washington State.

"I have always admired the tradition of Washington State. It's a university on the move that is experiencing growth. I'm excited about what they are doing with the facilities and it's a team that has battled through some hard times and shows great promise in the future. I'm proud to be a part of this team."

Wulff was 9-40 in four seasons at Washington State and just 4-32 in league play. The Cougars program has struggled for much of the past decade. Washington State hasn't been to a bowl game in eight years. But prior to this stretch, there had been quite a bit of success, with two Rose Bowl appearances and four Top 10 finishes between the 1997 and 2003 seasons.
Under Wulff, a former Washington State offensive lineman, the Cougars did make strides in the past two years. They were 4-8 this season while being hit hard by injury. Still, the Cougars lost seven of their final eight games. They had to play three different quarterbacks, losing starter Jeff Tuel for much of the season. They ranked 48th in the country in scoring, but just seventh in the Pac-12. In 2010, the Cougars were 106th in scoring and dead last in the Pac-12. Most of the talent Wulff had assembled will be back in 2012, including Tuel and standout wide receiver Marquess Wilson. Both figure to be good fits in Leach's Air-Raid system.

In his 10 seasons at Texas Tech, Leach had a career record of 84-43 and was the architect of some of the most prolific offenses in college football history. Eight times in those 10 seasons, one of his quarterbacks led the nation in passing. The year before Leach arrived in Lubbock, the Red Raiders averaged 23 points per game. By Leach's second season, they averaged over 35 ppg and they never averaged less than 33 points the rest of his decade running the program. The Red Raiders finished in the top 25 rankings in five of his last six seasons at Tech.

His teams had Top 10 wins over No. 4 Cal (2004); No. 3 Oklahoma (2007); No. 1 Texas (2008) and No. 8 Oklahoma State (2008). In 2008, he won national Coach of the Year honors. The Wyoming native was the only coach in Texas Tech history to lead his team to bowl games every year.

At Texas Tech, Leach also inherited a program that had one of the lowest graduation rates in college football and was on academic probation. He eventually turned it into one that had the highest graduation rate of any public institution in major college football. However, he was fired from Tech in December, 2009 regular season after allegations that he had mistreated a player, Adam James, the son of ESPN announcer Craig James.

The controversy led to Leach to sue Texas Tech for breach of contract and file suit against ESPN and James for defamation. Both cases are still unresolved.

Full disclosure: I co-authored Leach's 2011 book Swing Your Sword, which details, among other things, his path into coaching, his offensive system as well as the circumstances surrounding what happened with him and Texas Tech in his exit from the Big 12 school.
Category: NCAAF
Posted on: November 29, 2011 12:04 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2011 12:51 pm

Tuesday Top 10: Best coaching jobs of 2011

As we get close to the end of the regular season, it's time to get into our year-end awards. This week's Top 10: the best coaching jobs of 2011.

1. Bill Snyder, K-State: If the Wildcats beat Iowa State at home, they'll finish 10-2, which would be remarkable given there were such modest expectations for this team every place outside the KSU football complex. K-State was, after all, predicted to finish eighth in the 10-team Big 12 before the season began. Snyder's team had only two starters back on the O-line and uncertainty at QB, yet here they are in the Top 15. The Cats have had an absurd number of tight games and they've won a head-turning amount, going 7-1 in games decided by seven points or less. Before this year, the KSU program hadn't won more than seven games since 2003 when Snyder led them to an 11-3 record.

2. Les Miles, LSU: Yeah, I know his team may have more talent than any other squad in the country. But to make it through a season without a stumble, especially one with as many formidable opponents as they had is very, very impressive. Nothing seems to deter this guy or his damnfineteam. Lose the best defensive player in college football (Patrick Peterson)? No worries. Suspensions to key players? No big deal. Hostile road environments? No problem. Potential QB controversy? Who cares? The Tigers are steam-rolling their way to the BCS title game. They faced seven teams that were ranked in the top 25 when they played -- and only two of those games were in Baton Rouge -- and they won all seven with an averaging victory margin of 19 ppg.

Fans, you can voice your opinion for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year by voting HERE

3. Kevin Sumlin, Houston: This is the hottest coach in the country with a bunch of intriguing jobs coming open. Sumlin should be their first call. He has done a terrific job elevating this program. The Cougars, who only had 12 starters back, are 12-0 and in the top 10. He has made some brilliant coaching hires that are paying off in a big way on both sides of the ball. They are averaging over 53 ppg, but also are playing pretty solid defense, ranking No. 30 in scoring D and No. 3 in TFLs. The knock (because there almost always has to be some knock) is their schedule featured no ranked opponents, but the Cougars could only play who was on their schedule, and no one has been able to catch them.

4. Hugh Freeze, Arkansas State: On the eve of this season, a member of Freeze's staff predicted this team would win the Sun Belt. Bold talk for a program that went 4-8 last year and hadn't had a winning season since 1995. The Red Wolves also only returned one starting O-lineman. But the assistant, D-line coach Chris Kiffin, had that much confidence in Freeze and what he was doing there. Monte Kiffin's younger son knew what he was talking about. ASU is 9-2 and 7-0 in Sun Belt play and Freeze's name is hot. He's either going to be the next head coach at Ole Miss, Southern Miss or Memphis. This is good offensive team and also only one of two squads that kept Va. Tech's great David Wilson under 5.0 yards per carry or under the 100-yard mark this season.

5. James Franklin, Vandy: I wrote in more detail about the transformation job the first-year head coach has done in Nashville in the Big Picture Sunday. In a nutshell, here's his case: A program that had won two games each of the past two years and then loses its best player to injury before the season (Warren Norman) yet still finds a way to go 6-6 in the SEC, and came very close to going 10-2. They lost games against Arkansas, Georgia, and at Florida and at Tennessee by a combined 19 points. If the Commodores win two of those, Franklin's No. 1 on this list.

6. Brady Hoke, Michigan: The Wolverines finally beat Ohio State after almost a 3,000-day stretch, and they won 10 games this season. Hoke deserves plenty of credit, although he did inherit a good situation with an explosive offense led by a dynamic QB and an experienced O-line. The biggest change came on defense where the Wolverines were lacking. His hire of Greg Mattison as DC is why Hoke's on this list. Mattison sparked a metamorphosis in this bunch, taking a unit that was No. 108 in scoring defense last season and turning it into the No. 9 D in the nation.

7. Willie Taggart, WKU: The former Jim Harbaugh assistant has transformed arguably the worst program in FBS to a respectable one this season. WKU, which had gone 4-32 the previous three years, looked like it was headed for more misery after the first month of the 2011 season. The Hilltoppers opened 0-4, even getting blown out by an average FCS team, Indiana State. But then they got rolling, winning seven of their last eight, which included wins over ULL and FIU, a couple of 8-4 teams.

8. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State: A cult hero for his locker room speeches, Rhoads is emerging as a hot commodity, thanks in large part to his ability to contain potent offenses in big games and pull huge upsets. He was the architect behind the Pitt Panthers' stunning upset as a four-TD underdog of WVU when the Mountaineers were on the cusp of going to the BCS title game a few years ago. Earlier this month Rhoads' team did something similar by sparking the victory of another four-TD fav, Oklahoma State. In reality, it's a stunner this team is even bowl eligible if you asked Vegas experts before the season. Almost as impressive is his team's 5-0 record in games decided by six points or less.

9. Lane Kiffin, USC: At the mid-year point of this season, the people in Kiffin's corner seemed to be dwindling. The Trojans had looked shaky against some lowly opponents (Minnesota, Syracuse and Arizona) and got blown out at ASU. A road trip to Notre Dame was coming. ND played it up big. Outsiders talked about how Brian Kelly would out-coach Kiffin and the Irish would maul the Trojans. The opposite happened. Despite the shadow of the NCAA sanctions and no post-season bowl hopes, USC's been rolling ever since, picking up momentum. They ended Oregon's 21-game home winning streak, which had been the longest in the country. The Trojans finished the season hammering UCLA 50-0, meaning they beat their two archrivals by a combined score of 81-17.

10. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina: I was close to putting UVA's Mike London in this spot but opted for Spurrier, who led the school to only its second 10-win season in Gamecocks history, despite losing his most valuable player, RB Marcus Lattimore early in the season, and on top of that had issues with his starting QB Stephen Garcia.

Posted on: November 28, 2011 12:03 pm
Edited on: November 28, 2011 12:21 pm

Urban's back and with a potent triggerman

We'd sat in the meeting for some three hours and Urban Meyer didn't gush when any of the top 150 recruits' names came up. Well, at least not like he did when the name Braxton Miller was called out that day.

About a dozen of us were seated around one of those long rectangular tables in a cramped room in Charlotte last February. I was there to work with the former Florida coach, among others, on ESPN's 10-hour Signing Day show. The day before we had a three-hour production meeting where Meyer talked about, well, raved about having watched film on Braxton Miller. We'd gone thru ESPN's top 150 players one by one on that list and I recall Meyer, who always seems quite measured, didn't rave about any of them like he did when Miller's name came up.

Meyer and former Miami coach Randy Shannon were two of our expert former coaches on the personnel in the 2011 recruiting class since they've had first-hand knowledge of many of the prospects, not just about what they'd eye-balled on film, but also from being hands-on with some of these players in camps, on visits and having an actual read on them off the field and in the classroom. Meyer had been very matter-of-fact whenever there'd be a kid he was familiar with. He seemed so non-plussed. With Miller, it sounded different. He got a little fired up. The room, which had more than its share of side conversations, went silent when Meyer spoke about what he saw in Miller. He even used the word "special" when describing the QB from Huber Heights, Ohio, who had been rated as the 80th best prospect in the class. Of course, Meyer's recruiting class ended up with another blue-chip quarterback, Jeff Driskel, who was a promising local QB while Miller had been long committed to the Buckeyes and Jim Tressel.

Who could've ever imagined that less than a year later Meyer would have the chance to coach Miller at Ohio State?

About a month after that day, the tattoo mess that had surfaced in December of 2010 engulfed the Ohio State program and eventually led to the downfall of Tressel. The entire year became a nightmare for Buckeye football. Tressel was forced out in shame. His bosses, OSU AD Gene Smith and school president Gordon Gee kept tripping over themselves and each other every stumble of the way as the NCAA focused on the Buckeyes. On the field, things weren't much smoother. A program that had won or shared six Big Ten titles in a row and had gone to six consecutive BCS bowls plummeted to a 6-6 record after coming into the season ranked No. 18 in the preseason polls. Worse still, after 2,926 days, the Buckeyes were finally beaten by their archrival Michigan.

One of the few bright spots in Columbus, though has been the emergence of Miller, who appears to be an ideal fit for the spread option scheme that Meyer used to attack defenses for the previous decade. Miller went 14-25 for 235 yards with two TDs and one INT to go with 100 yards rushing and a third touchdown in the 40-34 loss at Michigan. It was his third 100-yard rushing game in the past four weeks, and he ran for 99 in a victory over Wisconsin a week before that.

Miller doesn't possess Tim Tebow's bulk so it's unlikely he can provide the same power-running component to the offense, especially in short yardage situations, but the 6-2, 210-pounder has a lot more burst and elusiveness than the Gators Heisman Trophy winner had. Miller is also much more than just a dynamic runner with superb feet. He's blessed with a powerful arm and a quick delivery. Special? Maybe so. If anyone can develop his skill set, it's Meyer.

Obviously the Ohio native isn't coming back just to coach Braxton Miller. He's openly spoke, with awe, about his feeling for the program for more than a decade.

That said, it's hard not to be cynical when you look back at the statements the coach made toward the end of his time at Florida. In December 2009, he said he needed to quit, saying he "ignored" his health for years, but " recent developments have forced me to re-evaluate my priorities of faith and family.” However, in equally stunning news, the next day, after attending a UF bowl practice, he did a 180 and that would be reduced to a "leave of absence" and he was back on the sidelines for the season. Bizarre doesn't even begin to sum that whole 36-hour period up.

The Gators, without Tim Tebow and many other key players, struggled in 2010, though. They'd been ranked preseason No. 4, but went 8-5 and just 4-4 in the conference. They went from No. 6 in the nation in total offense in 2009 down to 82nd. And there was another bombshell, only it really wasn't such a shocker, Meyer, again, announced he was stepping down at Florida. His explanation was "it was time" to put his focus on his his family, yet not long after word got out that he he was undertaking an analyst role with ESPN, where he ended up criss-crossing the country to visit various colleges and also handle in-studio work in Connecticut.

As much as we've all tried to get inside his head the past 24 months, it's virtually impossible to know what he truly envisioned of his future as it related to foot, er, his life when he retired from the sport back then or unretired and then re-retired. Most of us flip-flop on big decisions in our lives. We get conflicted. We just don't typically have to have press conferences, huge contracts and hundreds of people hanging on our every word.

I've been told by people who know both Meyer and another notorious coaching grinder Nick Saban that the two are wired very differently. Coaches tend to try and control everything because they know or have learned that they can control so many things in their power, and their sphere of influence only expands as they win more and their profile and persona swell. Meyer, a coach pointed out, stresses over a lot of stuff that Saban doesn't care one bit about and that only makes things that much harder on him.

Meyer's life at Florida became increasingly more stressful as the chips on his side of the table piled up. Expectations and the spotlight got higher and hotter. More and more was made of his programs high arrest number. Talking to him a year ago he sounded like he had less and less patience for the drama that had become increasingly the norm from dealing with blue-chippers. He lamented what he called the "de-recruiting" process. It also didn't help that he had lost some vital assistant coaches over his time at UF, most notably trusted defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, who Meyer said really had a read on the pulse of what was going on with the players inside his team. When Strong left to become the head coach at Louisville, Meyer's program internally took a huge hit.

I suspect there were times not long after Meyer made his "spend more time with my family" retirement speech that it flashed in his head that OSU icon Jim Tressel, who was in his late 50s, probably wouldn't be coaching the Buckeyes that much longer. Maybe, Meyer reasoned, Tressel would retire three or four years down the road and the timing might be right for him to return to his native Ohio, his roots. After all, Meyer would've had those years to spend more time watching his kids' games and hanging around the house with his wife. He'd have some, well, normalcy. But at the heart, he is a coach and coaches coach. That is their "normal" and some guys can cope without it. Some can't. It's no stretch to think that one of the reasons why Meyer was so successful is because he is so consumed by what being a coach means to him. This all might've been more manageable if everything with Tressel and Ohio State happened a year later and Meyer had more time. Maybe not. 

He is walking right back into a pressure cooker, taking over a program with a huge, passionate fan base after coaching in a league that has dominated college football and the Big Ten. Remember, it was Meyer's Gators that beat Ohio State in the 2007 BCS title game that launched the SEC on this epic run.

There also is uncertainty from the NCAA investigation hanging over Columbus. Meyer does inherit that promising young QB to build his team around, though. He also gets what looks like a loaded defense. This will be fun to see if Meyer now can help shake up the balance of power in college football as he did not that long ago.
Category: NCAAF
Posted on: November 23, 2011 12:04 pm

Inside the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry

    This is rivalry time in college football. Earlier this month Travis Haney and Larry Williams’ book about the nasty Clemson-South Carolina rivalry, A State of Disunion was published. I caught up with the two authors to get their take on that game and what's unique about it. I also asked Haney, who has since left the South Carolina beat to cover Oklahoma, about the comparisons between covering Steve Spurrier and his former assistant Bob Stoops and spoke to Williams about the Tigers' intriguing 2011 season.

Question: You guys have covered other programs who all have had some arch-rival. What makes this rivalry unique?

Williams: This rivalry is different from others because it's such a small state and there are no major geographic strongholds for fans of either school. Seems like all the bigger cities have a good mix of representation. That leads to a lot of fans sharing the same neighborhoods, boardrooms, barrooms, churches, even families in a ton of cases. I suspect it's a good bit different in, say, Florida with Gators and Seminoles fans. Not saying that rivalry isn't bitter, but it seems there are more geographic enclaves that favor one school or another. That state is just so much bigger and more far-flung.

One other interesting thing: This rivalry hasn't been bitter since the start; it's been bitter since before the start. Clemson owes its very existence as an institution to strife and bad blood with the school in Columbia. In the late 1800s, the farmers in this state thought the state school provided a sham of an agriculture program that misused federal land-grant funding during Reconstruction. Clemson opened its doors in 1889, and seven years later they started playing football. So it was the perfect battleground for a lot of the hostilities and strife. I suspect a lot of rivalries are cultivated through time; this one didn't take much time at all to get really nasty and bitter. 

Haney: I was talking about this today with a friend. I believe it could be the most contentious rivalry between in-state, out-of-conference teams. (Florida-FSU in same ballpark?) But, well, that's probably just semantics, although it does make it unique. Larry made a nice point that the difference in Clemson-South Carolina and UF-FSU is that, well, those teams have historically been successful. Folks in South Carolina get amped up for a bigger game, like the 2011 game -- of course they do -- but they still care, a bunch, even if the teams flat-out stink. Could you say that in a lot of places? Geography is something I keep coming back to, also.

It's such a condensed state that everyone, alums from both sides, wind up living on top of one another. The kicker quote to the book is from Gamecocks defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, a native who has also coached at Clemson. He said he creates an emotional wake wherever he goes. Depending on their persuasion, fans are either thrilled with his employer -- or they loathe it. They even remind him of this ... at funerals. It's a 365-day rivalry. Unlike Florida-Georgia or Alabama-Auburn or Oklahoma-Texas, there is no other rival on the schedule. This is it.

Question: How did this rivalry change when Steve Spurrier took over at South Carolina?

Haney: That's been sort of weird. I know I expected the Gamecocks to improve, and improve rapidly. I really thought he would signal a move toward success the school hadn't previously seen. I guess that's sort of happened the past couple of years, but I thought it would happen sooner and be more profound. He's done a nice job, relative to the program's historical mediocrity, but it hasn't gone to plan. He admits that, too. As far as the rivalry, it didn't initially change. For whatever reasons, Tommy Bowden had a stranglehold on South Carolina -- even if he couldn't win the ACC, when it was there for the taking. Whenever Bowden left, it's as if everything switched. Clemson sold its soul for the ACC (division) title, and now it's lost to South Carolina for the first time since the late 1960s. (Did you know it had been that long?) He does bring, even now, some national attention that it might not have if, say, Skip Holtz were coaching the Gamecocks. Spurrier will always provide that, as long as he's coaching.

Williams: I'm not sure it changed a great deal because the Tigers owned Lou Holtz when he was here, and Spurrier lost three of his first four against Clemson. People say Holtz placed far more importance on the rivalry game, and the conclusion is that it generated too much pressure on the players and they faltered in the game. I'm not sure I buy that. I believe the reason the Gamecocks have won the past two years -- they hadn't won back-to-back games in 40 years -- is because Spurrier upgraded the talent. They just became a better, more physically imposing team with horses they aren't accustomed to having traditionally. 

One interesting thing about Spurrier is you haven't seen him take many shots at Clemson during his tenure. Maybe a few subtle jabs here and there, but nothing like the stuff he'd say about FSU and Tennessee when he was in Gainesville. I think he respects Clemson's program and some of its coaches. Or maybe he hasn't felt confident enough in his own team to brag. Or maybe he's just older and more mellow. All of the above, perhaps.

Question for Haney: Having now covered Spurrier and Bob Stoops, what is one thing diehard fans probably would be surprised to know about each?

Haney: Man, that's a great question. I presume I'll learn more about Stoops as I go, but I am thinking right now about a story my colleague Berry Tramel wrote this fall about Stoops visiting an area hospital on a regular basis, to see sick children. He develops friendships with them. That's pretty inspiring, for a guy who's incredibly busy. Fans see this coach who looks grumpy and comes off gruff in the media ... but there's a heart in there.

As for Spurrier, I think there's a prevailing perception that all he does is play golf and he doesn't work hard. I don't think that's the case. He really cares about winning at South Carolina, even if some (a lot?) of that is based on his own pride. A lot of people think he will retire once he becomes the school's all-time winning coach. So, he's still driven. He might be the youngest 66-year-old I've ever been around. He was the butt of jokes after that shirtless pic surfaced last year, after I did the workout story with him for his 65th birthday. But, heck, he's probably in better shape than I am now. I'm not going to judge the guy. He's just as competitive as you'd think, too. I remember, during my first year, I got paired with him in his media golf outing. He was supposed to switch groups at the turn, to play with some other media members. But we were in contention, so he blew them off to stick with us. We actually played through the group ahead of us, too -- in a scramble. First and only time that's happened in my life. I just sort of waved as we sped past then-defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix's group.

Question for Haney: How has covering Spurrier helped prepare you for covering Stoops?

Haney: I was curious to see the differences and similarities between the two, with the understanding that Stoops was likely a hybrid of Spurrier and Bill Snyder. He's a lot more like Snyder, I think, in terms of how he deals with us. But you see little similarities in nuances and organizational things he picked up from Spurrier. (Minute things like what day he does his presser. Or bigger things like how he manages the clock.) Ha, well, Spurrier probably has the biggest ego of any coach/manager I had ever covered previously (Bobby Cox, Pat Summitt, Phillip Fulmer, et al.), so perhaps he prepared me for other coaches who don't really give us media boys a second thought. Spurrier and Stoops both do their media responsibilities -- after all, it's part of their contracts -- but neither really seem to enjoy it on any level. They're no Mike Leach, right? They're itching to go the minute they get going with us, because they'd rather be focusing on their team. Can't blame them for that, can you? I'm sure it's a big reason why they've been so successful over the years.

Question for Williams: Did the Clemson fan base completely buy in this year, thinking 2011 would be different before the NC State game? And how has the reaction been since that blowout to such a mediocre team?

Williams: The Clemson fans were really optimistic during the offseason, and the optimism was weird to some distant observers because they were coming off a 6-7 season. But the acquisition of Chad Morris, plus the infusion of some elite talent (most notably Sammy Watkins) gave fans a lot of hope that things could be turned around quickly. I don't think anyone expected them to go 3-0 against Auburn, Florida State and Virginia Tech, so when they swept those games and later went to 8-0 the people were really giddy.

The loss at Georgia Tech was jolting, and then people were really surprised that Wake Forest came within a whisker of snatching the Atlantic Division title from the Tigers' grasp at Death Valley. But last week's debacle in Raleigh really has people concerned about this team. It's starting to look like the epic collapse in 2006 (lost four of last five after 7-1 start), and that's a numbing possibility given that this team was the national media darling just last month.

If they win in Columbia and then win the ACC championship game for their first conference title in 20 years, I think all will be forgiven and the ugliness against N.C. State will be viewed as a mere blip. But if they lose to the Gamecocks for a third consecutive season, there's going to be a lot of heartburn and heartache in these parts. Remember: Dabo Swinney's predecessor (Tommy Bowden) went 7-2 against the rivals down the road.

Question for Williams: If Clemson loses this game against So Carolina, is Dabo back on the hot seat again?

Williams: I don't think he's on the hot seat, because the Tigers would still be a win away from a 10-win season and that hasn't been done here since 1990. Clemson athletics director Terry Don Phillips was the one who promoted Dabo and gave him the gig for good in December of 2008, and Phillips himself has acknowledged that his own fate as AD hinges on the fortunes of the football program. So Phillips definitely won't have a quick trigger.

Question for Williams: Who has more to lose this weekend?

Williams: It's a great question, and I've been asking myself the same thing. I think we could call this the "Forgiveness Bowl" because the winner atones for a lot. The Gamecocks haven't really done much this season, taking advantage of an uncommonly weak SEC schedule. Fans were really griping after the home loss to Auburn and the shellacking at Arkansas. But a win over Clemson gives the Gamecocks their second 10-win season ever, and they'd absolutely love rubbing three straight wins over Clemson into the faces of Tigers fans. 

Clemson has a lot to lose, but I'll give SC the edge in the answer to your question because the Tigers can still win the ACC even if they lose Saturday. That said, it's hard to imagine them going to Charlotte and winning the ACC coming off back-to-back spankings at the hands of the Wolfpack and Gamecocks.


Category: NCAAF
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