Carroll, Coker, Richt, Tressel and Hawkins are among those who were hired by schools for the '01 season. They are part of a class that merits honor-roll status in the sport's history.

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What was it about four years ago? Acumen? A remarkable run of luck?

Twenty-five major colleges went searching for new coaches after the 2000 season, and the men they hired to guide their 2001 teams — from USC’s Pete Carroll to Miami’s Larry Coker to Georgia’s Mark Richt to Boise State’s Dan Hawkins — stand today as perhaps the finest class in the sport’s history.

Count them:

* Three national championships in three years, won by Coker, Jim Tressel at Ohio State and Carroll. Carroll, of course, is seeking another national title in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 4 in Miami.

* Three more Top 10 finishes by Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen (in 2001) and Richt (in 2002 and 2003).

* Fourteen bowl berths this season, including Urban Meyer’s with Utah and Dennis Franchione’s with Texas A&M. They were hired by Bowling Green and Alabama, respectively, four years ago, quickly found success and moved on.

* Overall, 47 bowl appearances in four years by 18 of the 25 coaches. Also among them are Oklahoma State’s Les Miles, Texas Christian’s Gary Patterson, Toledo’s Tom Amstutz, Virginia’s Al Groh and West Virginia’s Rich Rodriguez.

“In my memory, it’s probably as strong a class of new coaches as I’ve seen come on the scene,” said Roy Kramer, retired Southeastern Conference commissioner.

“What you saw that year, other than maybe Pete Carroll, who’d been in the pros, was there weren’t many coaches who’d (previously) made any real name for themselves as head coaches.”

Indeed, 10 of the 25 — including Coker, Richt and Meyer — were first-time head coaches. Fifteen were first-timers in the NCAA’s top-tier Division I-A.

Not everybody panned out.

John Mackovic lasted 2-1/2 seasons at Arizona. Ohio’s Brian Knorr and Brigham Young’s Gary Crowton were fired this year.

But the hits far outnumbered the misses. Eleven of the 25 have a .600 or better winning percentage. Eight are at .700 or better. Carroll, Tressel, Coker, Richt and Hawkins are a combined 208-42 (.832).

The group’s collective winning percentage (for the schools that hired them four years ago) is .570.

LSU set to interview candidates

BATON ROUGE, La. — Two or three interviews of candidates to become the new Louisiana State coach are planned for this week with athletic director Skip Bertman, according to Stewart Slack, chairman of the LSU board of supervisors.

Coach Nick Saban announced Saturday that he was leaving LSU to coach the NFL Miami Dolphins.

“Skip Bertman wanted to be prepared in the event that Nick (Saban) made the decision to go to Miami, and so in the last three or four days he’s lined up some things,” Slack said last night.

LSU officials are not yet revealing any names of interviewees, but among the possible candidates are Butch Davis, former Cleveland Browns coach; Bobby Petrino of Louisville; Kirk Ferentz of Iowa; Jeff Tedford of California; Tommy Tuberville of Auburn; Mike Leach of Texas Tech; Mike Nolan, Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator; Brad Childress, Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator; Jimbo Fisher, LSU offensive coordinator; and Boise State’s Hawkins.

“I think the fans would be surprised at how much work has been done already,” said Bertman, who described his working list as “long” and with “huge” names.

LSU began preliminary work for Saban’s possible departure days after his first interview with the Dolphins on Dec. 14 and has hired a search firm. Bertman also has talked to Saban and Saban’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, about potential candidates.

Bertman is leading the search with the assistance of Slack; Charles Weems, chairman of the board’s athletic committee; and Richard Gill of the Tiger Athletic Foundation. Weems and Gill were instrumental five years ago in hiring Saban from Michigan State.

Saban, who was the highest-paid coach in the college game, had six years left on a seven-year, $18.45 million contract.

LSU returns most of the players with major roles on the 2004 team that finished the regular season 9-2 and plays Iowa in Saturday’s Capital One Bowl. Saban had the top-rated recruiting class in the nation, according to various polls in 2004, 2003 and 2001, and he proved the Tigers can win a national championship last season when LSU beat Oklahoma for the Bowl Championship Series title in the Sugar Bowl.


* Miami linebacker Willie Williams and defensive back Rashaun Jones escaped injury when Williams apparently lost control of his vehicle while driving to join the Hurricanes for Peach Bowl preparations in Atlanta. Miami plays Florida on Friday.

“They’re fine, which is the important thing,” athletic-department spokesman Mark Pray said of Williams and Jones. “They were somewhere in Georgia, there was ice on the roads and Willie started hydroplaning.”