College football's coaching silly season was even crazier than usual in 2017
Between Arizona State and Tennessee, no one would have guessed how this coaching cycle turned out
The man who oversaw perhaps the strangest transition of this coaching silly season has some advice.
"The athletic department there is perceived there as a cluster," Sun Devils athletic director Ray Anderson said. "Their athletic director, now Phil Fulmer, in the athletic director's world is a pariah. It is not a good situation."
This from a former NFL executive/agent with no previous athletic director experience who hired his former client. ESPN analyst Herm Edwards isn't even known as a coach to a generation of recruits. He hasn't prowled a sideline in a decade and hasn't been a college coach in 28 years. A multi-page press release to announce his hiring read more like a corporate merger.
"The local reaction -- was the consensus opinion that I made a good decision? Absolutely not," Anderson said. "Was it nationally? No."
But is it the worst coaching hire in this silly season? That remains to be seen. As Anderson suggested, Tennessee attempted self-immolation, doing everything possible to burn its program to the ground. Over a 24-day stretch, the reputation of a fine man (Greg Schiano) was dragged through the mud. Fulmer pulled a successful palace coup, replacing AD John Currie. Eventually, Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt -- perhaps the seventh candidate interviewed -- was hired.
And Anderson is nuts for employing a talking head?
"I knew I had to change the model or I was wasting my time at Arizona State," he said.
What's nuts when Texas A&M paid Jimbo Fisher the most money ever ($75 million over 10 years) for a college coach.
(Quick question: Would Jimbo have taken, maybe, seven years for $70 million?)
"That embarrasses me, because guess what?" San Diego State coach Rocky Long told XTRA 1360 AM San Diego. "He doesn't make one tackle. He doesn't catch one pass. He doesn't score one touchdown."
What's incompetent when Tennessee took 3 ½ weeks while sacrificing Schiano, Currie and part of its dignity?
(Another quick question: If those always level-headed Tennessee fans had been told four weeks ago that Pruitt would be their guy, would there have been a celebration or a protest?)
All of it reflects whatever common thread there was to this silly season: There weren't going to be enough home-run hires to go around.
"A lot of settling," a search firm executive summed up. "Betting on upside."
The result is the situations at Arizona State, Tennessee and elsewhere. College football did not conduct itself well these past few months. The first openings were at Oregon State (Gary Anderson) and Texas-El Paso (Sean Kugler) where those coaches quit on their own halfway through the season. Giving up is quite a message to send your players.
The insane money that changed hands renewed the debate for player compensation. Buyouts alone for fired coaches totaled at least $69 million.
Incredibly, Kevin Sumlin was out of a job after the carousel stopped spinning. Among the new hires, only Chip Kelly, Jimbo Fisher and Scott Frost have better career winning percentage than Texas A&M's former coach.
Trust and loyalty went out the window: Willie Taggart pledged his loyalty to the Ducks, until he didn't, suddenly making Oregon a steppingstone job.
If you had been told three years ago Taggart -- then at Western Kentucky -- would be the next Florida State coach, you'd be laughed out of the room.
Likewise if you'd been told two years ago that Mario Cristobal would be the next Oregon coach. Cristobal was then the offensive line coach at Alabama.
Considering all of that, Arizona State doesn't look so laughable. Anderson doesn't apologize for running his program like an NFL franchise. His senior staff is filled with former NFL employees. In the Edwards era there will be a "general manager," a "team president," a head of scouting and player personnel.
Edwards will earn $2 million per year, making him somewhere around the 65th highest-paid coach. Anderson says Arizona State should be a top 15 program every year. Since joining the Pac-8 in 1978, the Sun Devils have finished there exactly five times in the AP Top 25. The last Rose Bowl was in 1997.
One of those top-15 rankings was achieved by Todd Graham in 2014. Graham was fired this season after beating then-No. 5 Washington and rival Arizona to get the Sun Devils to a bowl for the fifth time in six seasons.
Anderson told CBS Sports he began to consider change after an embarrassing loss to Arizona in 2016. Following this year's Territorial Cup win, Anderson went all in, paying Graham's $12 million buyout and retaining most of the rest of his staff. That comes on top of paying off a $308 million stadium and facilities upgrade.
In a traditional college football world, the holdover staff would be perceived as part of the problem. In Anderson's new-world vision, it's part of the solution.
"It scares a lot of folks," he said. "A lot of folks really believe if we just stay with it another 30 years we'll win a championship. This isn't a traditional world."
The coaching carousel's spin around this silly season proved it.
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