So you're talking upsets in college football? Here's one: Monday came and went, and nobody got fired. No coach teetering on the brink got...
So you’re talking upsets in college football? Here’s one: Monday came and went, and nobody got fired. No coach teetering on the brink got cashiered by an administration that can’t figure out why it’s not in the BCS-bowl discussion.
Suddenly, it’s almost a weekly rite after Columbus Day. Somebody’s team gets worked over on Saturday, the moneyed bunch gets to the athletic director, and two days later, somebody’s arranging chairs for a news conference.
Welcome to the frazzled world of college coaching, where, on a languid summer day they’re announcing they’ve extended you, and three months later, you’re the reason for that dreaded euphemism: “We’ve decided to go in a different direction … “
It’s a rising epidemic that’s reached an unprecedented level this year. Tommy Bowden resigned under pressure Oct. 13, when his Clemson team was 3-3. Tyrone Willingham was gonzo by the last Monday in October. And within 10 days, well before anybody has finished a season, the grim reaper had scooped up Phil Fulmer of Tennessee, Ron Prince of Kansas State and Tom Amstutz of Toledo.
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More on Washington, and the implications of these hurry-up times, in a minute.
Never before have terms been defined so coldly — and so early. Some guys barely get to the hot seat before they’re incinerated.
Consider last year: There were 18 coaching changes, only a couple made as early as the five this year.
This could be the collateral damage for the move in recent years to turn to search firms — “head hunters” — to flesh out the candidate field. In the past, an athletic director might do his own clandestine snooping if he were inclined to make a change in a month.
Now, if he hires a search firm, he has to own up and fire the coach first. He can’t be made to look the fool.
Not that he doesn’t anyway. Think about the high-profile coaches in the last two seasons who were canned only months after signing a new contract. It includes Bowden, who is due $3.5 million; Bill Callahan, who collected a $3.1 million buyout from Nebraska in 2007; and Fulmer, who gets $6 million to ponder what went wrong at Tennessee.
You hear a lot about “market value” when it comes time to hire a new coach, and there’s some validity to the concept. But what’s the going rate for administrative stupidity when you rework a deal and then fire your guy 10 games later?
There’s a Washington angle to this, of course, owing to the fact Tyrone Willingham is 6-26 in Pac-10 games and three weeks from his last one. There’s a strong belief that UW president Mark Emmert and new athletic director Scott Woodward are going to go out and try to make a splash with this hire, partly just to say:
Because we can. And we’re back.
In this climate — in which the money accelerates the pressure — that doesn’t come without risk. In one Pac-10 precinct this week, the rumor making the rounds was that Washington will try to make a big run at Missouri’s Gary Pinkel.
Better be patient, with him or anybody else. It wasn’t until Pinkel’s seventh year at Mizzou — last year — that he had a season in which he topped .500 in Big 12 games.
Even if he were interested, you figure it probably would take $3 million a year to unhook Pinkel from Missouri.
If you land him, you defend yourself from the inevitable faculty and public catcalls about out-of-touch sporting salaries in a bad economy. You say that none of this is tax money, that it came from boosters who write fat checks.
And then off you go to Olympia in a couple of months, pleading poverty while you ask for state funds to remodel Husky Stadium.
So, memo to Emmert and Woodward: Go hire the next Don James. We’ll take smart over splashy any day.
The Weis watch
Speaking of ludicrous contracts, there’s the redo Notre Dame gave Charlie Weis — 10 years, $30 million — a few games into his tenure in 2005.
Willingham’s struggles at Washington far outstrip Weis’ in South Bend, but his four-year tenure hasn’t exactly been seashells and balloons. This week, the new Irish athletic director, Jack Swarbrick, said Weis isn’t in any danger, but he might start hearing some baying wolves if he doesn’t beat a decent Navy (6-3) team Saturday.
After last week’s shutout loss to Boston College, Weis announced this week he’s taking over play-calling duties.
Weis is 27-19 in his four seasons, but since Notre Dame went to the Fiesta and Sugar bowls his first two years, mostly with Willingham’s recruits, there has been little punch to the victories. Notre Dame’s last 11 wins, dating to the ’06 season, have come against teams that either didn’t finish with a winning record or currently don’t have one.
The combined record of those 11: 33-89.
Weeks ago, we noted in this space the competitive rise of several traditional academic giants. One (Northwestern, at 7-3) has clinched a bowl game, while the other three are staggering in an attempt to become eligible.
Stanford (5-5) needs to beat either USC or California. Vanderbilt, 5-4 after a 5-0 start, has to win at least one among Kentucky, Tennessee and Wake Forest. Duke (4-5), which has tied its most wins in 14 years, must win two of three against Clemson, Virginia Tech and North Carolina.
Vanderbilt hasn’t been to a bowl since 1982. Duke went in 1994.
The end zone
• Since Aric Goodman kicked an overtime field goal for Colorado to beat West Virginia in September, CU kickers have combined to go 1 for 10 on field goals.
• Another chilling sign of the times: Kansas State AD Bob Krause told The Kansas City Star that the firing of Ron Prince had more to do with the loss of faith by fans than the athletic department. Said Krause, “I don’t think our fan base has patience to be supportive at the level necessary.”
• Penn State QB Daryll Clark said he talked with his personal mentor, former Nittany Lions QB Michael Robinson, to get over the disappointment of PSU’s first loss at Iowa. The roles might have been reversed after Monday night; it was Robinson, now with the 49ers, whose last-play dive for the goal line came up short at Arizona.
• South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier met swimmer Michael Phelps after a win over Arkansas, still steamed after one of his players was ejected for fighting. According to The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., Spurrier told Phelps, “It’d be about like you, right before the big meet, going for one of those gold medals, to go cuss out one of the officials and get ejected.”
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org