By Michael Felder
As November slowly becomes December and the regular season wraps itself up we're seeing the annual coaching carousel start to heat up. Arizona has already filled their gig with Rich Rodriguez. Ohio State has snatched up Urban Meyer. We'll be seeing hires made by the likes of Ole Miss, Illinois, Arizona State, North Carolina, Washington State, UCLA and of course Penn State amongst others. Those vacancies being filled will result of other job openings needing to be filled at the assistant position and at head coach of whatever school gets their skipper cherry picked.
Thus begins the yearly "which job is better" and "who will hire who" and "who is the hot name" and "winning the presser" and all that other fun talk about the guys who are the flavors of the week at whatever job is in the spotlight right now.
There's a lot to be discussed here and as I scribble my way through I'm going to try and tackle as many of the angles as I can because there are a lot of things swirling when it comes to coaches, hiring and where jobs fit in the grand scheme of the college football landscape.
To kick it off we'll talk about where jobs fit. This is a question that has been posed to me time and again in so many contexts. Is UNC better than Ole Miss? Is Arizona State better than UCLA? How good is Penn State given the issues that they're combating?
The best answer I've got for that is the slotting system that we dropped here at In The Bleachers earlier this year. That's a start, call it a baseline if you will. Within the tiers you'll find stratification based both upon a coaching candidates personal preferences and legitimate resource and restrictions issues at each stop. A coach who prefers the west coast as a base is going to prefer west coast tier three jobs to the east coast jobs of similar caliber. A tier three school with a better recruiting base, new facilities and an administration committed to football success is going to outpace a school in the same tier who has a wishy wash administration and a remote locale.
Every job falls somewhere on the spectrum from Texas, Alabama and Ohio State to the Sun Belt jobs and perennial cellar dwelling BCS jobs. Toss in a coaches personal preference whether it is a wife that likes the south or a kid he wants to raise in the midwest and there's "what goes into" how a coach sees a gig.
That's the first step in selling a coach and yes people, don't get any mistake here, this is a sell job. This is as much a recruiting battle as any that we'll see come late January and early February.
For those five star guys; your top tier coaching options, the Athletic Director, school president, big time boosters, local amenities and everything else gets in on the sales pitch. Throw cash around, take him to dinner, show his wife all the shopping or the public service options or the women's groups that she can spend her time on. Take them to the elementary schools or the high schools and swear on how great some local restaurants are as you pray that he faxes that LOI into you.
On the flipside much like when you get into those low graded three, two and unranked recruits it becomes a "we better make a good eval on this guy if we're bringing him into the fold" while the recruit hopes his film and track record works in his favor. Athletic Directors are doing less selling and more auditioning, watching how the coach interacts with higher ups. Making calls to check background, looking for a fit because while the guy may not be a "universal home run" like that five star coach, he might be an MVP candidate for them when it comes to making their school run successfully.
You're in a fight, constantly selling and being sold on a guy. You sell the right guy and you can ball hard. You fall for the wrong pitch and you will be doing the same dance all over again in a few years and it will cost you.
Which brings us to another point when it comes to making the sell, commitment. I'm staring at you UCLA, North Carolina and Washington State. UCLA is a job that should be better, period. Their woes since the early part of this decade have been absolutely unacceptable. They're a mixture of bad hiring, bad luck and just not getting after it when it comes to selling a program to kids. But what it really boils down to has been lack of commitment. Recruiting should be humming, the Rose Bowl should be filled and the Bruins should be winning games. In this hiring cycle we'll see how committed they are to winning, they've got Pac-12 cash now courtesy of Larry Scott. That means facilities upgrades, ability to afford some coaches and that recruiting budget oughta get maxed out.
In that same vein we've got Washington State who fired Paul Wulff recently. They have some cash now, they can pay to assemble a staff and most importantly back that staff up with a commitment to recruiting through the funds. Wulff had a rough go of it and his team improved markedly each year, just not enough in the win column for people to actually notice.
North Carolina is another case. Sure they're making all the right moves and saying all the right things. They've hired a guy in Bubba Cunningham who was good as an underling at Notre Dame and worked well at Tulsa. However, I'm a believe it when I see it guy where UNC is concerned. It took a monumental push by a couple individuals high up the UNC food chain to push the school towards Butch Davis, revamping the Kenan Football Center and the new Blue Zone. Will that same push for football exist, more importantly will the support of the successful trending of the program exist now that the Board of Trustees is different and Chancellor Holden Thorp has his hands in things? We'll see I guess.
North Carolina brings us to our next topic of discussion selecting a coach. Who should you target, who should you want, how important is their style of play and all that jazz? Ultimately the goal is to get a coach that wins, every athletic director has their own interest in style to varying degress and certain fanbases (We're looking at you Michigan) have a hard-on for a specific style to remain true to heritage. This is part preference and part football when you're talking about choosing between offense and defense or going the spread route and staying with a more traditional pro styled attack.
Personally, I'm a defensive minded pro styled guy. That's how I like to see a team built. That said if it works good for you and your guys. Based upon recruiting ability, conference and what's available from a coaching standpoint the goal should be finding a coach that can maximize your school's success. Schools with a solid recruiting base have a lot more options than schools that are remote "outposts" on the map. Recruiting linemen on both sides of the ball, a 6'4" 225 lbs quarterback with a strong arm and some mobility and downhill running backs to go with big physical wide receivers is not easy to do. When the options aren't there get a gimmick, get a wrinkle, get something different.
If you're in a conference where physical teams are beating up on each other, going small might not be the best answer. That said, defense never goes out of style, play some.
One thing that I have noticed about the spread of the Urban Meyer, Dan Mullen, Gus Malzahn, Rich Rodriguez and even Texas' now defunct variety is a team has to understand what they want to be. You look at the titles won by this style, four of them to be precise, and fan bases must recognize the common thread; it takes a super special talent at the quarterback position to be successful. A transcendent player must be sitting in the signal caller role to achieve that maximum success. Which is why Urban's first title means so much to me in regards to his and his staff's ability to engineer success as football coaches.
Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Pat White and Vince Young types. Yes, I throw Pat White in there because that guy was absolutely special, an thumb injury from putting the Mountaineers in the title game. If you think your school can pull one of those guys' equivalent then knock it out, I'm not sold those types grow on trees.
Style tends to go hand in hand with what I find to be the worst part of hiring coaches in today's climate. "Winning the press conference" is a big deal now. I hate it. Give me a guy that will get my 100 ball players believing in what we're doing, get the recruits believing they need to get on board and a who is willing to bust his ass in film, in gameplanning and at practice. That's what I want. He doesn't need to be a "big name" or have a "jazzy offense" to get me excited. He needs a good track record, be tireless in his pursuit of success and fit into what my program needs.
Plenty of guys can say that right things in front of camera, they can make fans feel warm and fuzzy and they can get folks jazzed up with sexy offense. That's really cute. Can they beat the doors down recruiting? Is he gonna bust his ass in the office with his staff figuring out how to roll the coverage to stop their rivals best wide receiver? Will he adjust his great offensive scheme to fit the personnel that he has in the building right now?
Get a football coach. Get a football coach that fits. Get a football coach that can adjust and is willing to surround himself with minds capable of making your school successful. Get a football coach with a damn plan. All the sexy talk about this being his dream job and we're going to win a title and BCS Bowls are what we do and conference championships will go in the case is so hollow when a guy isn't a good fit.
Speaking of hollow, the calls for loyalty from every side are the epitome of empty. Let's just throw this idea out of the window. Yes, loyalty is a great ideal folks and in a vacuum or a utopia it would matter. However, that's not the world we live in here in 2011 big time college football. There is no loyalty and to force it upon a coach because selfishly you want your team to continue their success is, just that, selfish. Coaching is a job. A job where you're hired to be fired and upward mobility is the name of the game. Positioning one's self to get that next big gig, put their family in a more comfortable position and hopefully achieve some stability is the name of the game.
They don't owe you anything, whether they are a head coach or an assistant, they are there to do a job and the folks they are most beholden to are themselves and their families.
Perhaps I'd feel differently if this ideal of loyalty was a two way street. When a coach leaves a school for another fans scream about what "he said he would do" and he said "he loved being here" and we thought this was his "dream job." When shit goes bad? We never hear a fanbase scream for a school to "be loyal to the coach" or "we need to honor his contract" or "he said this was his dream job."
Does that side not count? Is it not the same thing? He's a traitor when he leaves your school but when he doesn't win games turning your back on him is ok?
Coaches have to look out for themselves because no one else is looking out for them.
It is coaching season folks. Happy hunting. I hope everyone fills their slots with guys that do have success and grow the schools profile. Kids need good coaches and there are a lot of good coaches out there. Think about your school's position when you're looking for a coach, recognize realistic goals and the ceiling for your program. This year some schools have an opportunity to get a little better with a hire and some schools will be working to sustain success after losing an asssistant or a head boss, I hope it works out for all of them.
Get more great college football analysis over at In The Bleachers.