True story: I had a college football early bowl preview and awards article set to run this past Friday. All I had to do was cross the t’s and dot the I’s and it was set to print. Unfortunately, real life got in the way.
Of course, when I say “real life,” what I actually mean is that my buddy Paul called, said he was in town, and told me to take Friday afternoon off and come to Boston with him. And since Paul has been directly involved with pretty much every awful decision of my adult life, including at least eight that my lawyers have advised me to never speak about publicly, I took him up on it. Goodbye college football article, hello Boston.
But all was not lost. After getting home Saturday, I decided to tweak that original article, flush a few things out, add in a few more in, and give it a little holiday twist.
So here it is, my “12 Days of College Football." Talking coaching changes, bowl games, holiday advice and much more.
Enjoy. And even though I’ll be writing more this week, it’s never too early to say Happy Holidays to you and your family.
On The 12th Day Of Christmas, AT Gave To Me: Maryland Firing Ralph Friedgen
Well, I guess technically it’s not a firing, since they, umm, asked him to retire. But since he doesn’t want to retire, it’s not really a retirement either. I guess we’ll just call it a parting because of “irreconcilable differences.” Kind of like a bad marriage. Which is exactly what this turned into.
Now in some regards, I do like the move for Maryland. This program was clearly in the no man’s land of “we’re probably going to win between four and eight regular season games every year, never more, sometimes less, and ultimately never completely bottom out, or be a real player in the ACC either.” There are a lot of places to be as a college football fan, but that may be the worst of them all.
Obviously Maryland had a nice record this past season, but the truth is that all the Terps were, were a solid veteran team, and did what solid veteran teams do: Beat the teams they were supposed to, but not the ones they shouldn’t. The Florida State game the second to last week season, was summed up Maryland football in a nutshell. At home, with Christian Ponder at about 40 percent, Maryland still got run off the field, by a team that hasn’t even begun to peak under Jimbo Fisher. That’s the Terps under Friedgen in a nutshell. Usually good, occasionally awful, never great.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that a large part of this firing was because of rumors that Maryland may try to lure Mike Leach to College Park. Which would be fun, I’ve got to admit.
Of course while we’re on the “Leach to Maryland,” rumor, I’m not so sure it’s actually going to happen. Leach has enough street cred to command a hefty salary from Maryland, and this is the same school that kept Friedgen on this season, in large part because his buyout was so expensive last year. Are they going to be able to come up with the funds to not only hire Leach, but put a solid staff around him?
Which brings me to the most important point of this rant: If Maryland can’t get Leach to come to the ACC…well, have you seen the list of their other candidates? Joe Schad reported on Saturday afternoon that among them would be Mike Locksley of New Mexico and former Stanford, Notre Dame and Washington head coach Ty Willingham. Woof. What was Brad Childress not available? Steve Kragthorpe not taking phone calls? When I first heard the Schad report I actually thought it was an April Fools joke. Then I realized it’s December. Now I’m just depressed.
And it’s with Maryland’s list of coaching candidates, which brings me to…
On the 11th Day of Christmas AT Gave To Me: Pittsburgh’s Hiring Of Mike Haywood As Their Head Coach
Ok, so let me start by saying that this hire isn’t terrible. Haywood was awesome this year, getting Miami (OH)from one win in his first season on the job, to nine and counting this year.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention that those two years constitute the entirety of his team as a head coach in college football. And it’s not exactly like he was a Gus Malzahn, Will Muschamp level “can’t miss coordinator,” before that. Sure he worked at Texas, LSU and Notre Dame amongst other schools. But as someone who follows college football pretty closely, he never seemed like someone all but destined to be a head coach.
And honestly, the real reason I’m frustrated with this hire is because it represents something of a bigger trend that I can’t stand in college athletics. What happens is that a school becomes disenchanted with a coach, starts listening too closely to their fans, and makes a quick firing without thinking things through. Then they end up with their 47th choice as a replacement. It happens more in college basketball than college football, but I say this all the time, and it seems applicable here: Before you fire the last guy, make sure you’ve got an idea of who the next guy is going to be.
It happens more than you’d think. It happened when Notre Dame thought Urban Meyer was signed, sealed and delivered, and he went to Florida instead. The Irish got stuck with Charlie Weis (if memory serves me correct, not even close to one of their top candidates), and five years later were again looking for a new coach. It happened after Lloyd Carr was let go at Michigan, when the Wolverines whiffed on Les Miles and basically ended up having to cold-call names out of a phone book before settling on Rich Rodriguez. Three years later, Rodriguez is fighting for his coaching livelihood.
Of course on the flip side, it also happened at Auburn with Gene Chizik. Many (myself included), thought Athletic Director Jay Jacobs was out of his mind for firing Tommy Tuberville after one bad season. Obviously, as Auburn gets set to play for a title, it’s pretty clear that I was wrong. Although I feel like in these hasty firing, rushed hiring coaching searches, Chizik is more the exception than the rule.
My bigger problem is the timing of the whole mess. If Pitt knew they weren’t happy with Wanny, they should’ve put him out of his misery after the West Virginia game, or at the very least, the day after the Cincinnati game ended their regular season. Then they could’ve had the pick of the litter with top candadiates, and even if they didn’t get their man, could’ve saved face a little bit. Understand that I don’t blame Haywood for this whole muddled mess. I blame Pittsburgh.
Which brings me to the man that Pitt originally wanted, and…
On the 10th Day of Christmas, AT Gave To Me: Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia
Now this, my friends, is a hiring AT can get behind!
For starters, I’ve been saying since Week 3 of this season that Holgorsen looks like a registered offender, and all these months later, I still stand by that hard-hitting analysis. With this hiring, and with Holgorsen set to become the head coach in Morgantown in 2011, I’m just thrilled that I’ll have a bigger platform to crack the sex offender jokes, and that more people will actually understand what I’m talking about. The fact that he’ll be coaching alongside Bill Stewart next year makes things even more fun. You know, since Stewart himself looks like a creepy uncle who smells like pee, and may be hiding dead bodies in his freezer.
Speaking of Stewart, I’ve got to give credit to West Virginia Athletic Director Oliver Luck, for coming out and making this statement, that basically said he didn’t believe that West Virginia could compete for National Championships with Bill Stewart at the helm. Granted, Luck could’ve handled the situation a little more delicately, I’ll admit it. Although truthfully the lack of response from Stewart tells you everything you need to know about the guy. He’s just too nice.
Let’s play a game here. Say that Luck came out and made the same statement about any other coach in college football, and essentially put the coach in a situation where he wasn’t fired, but wasn’t really allowed to leave on his own terms, and had to show his own replacement (a man he didn’t know by the way), the ropes on the way out.
How do you think any other coach in college football would’ve reacted to the same situation? I’m guessing that most would throw a nasty tantrum, storm out of their offices, break some stuff, and drop a few F-bombs on the way out for good measure. And those are the nice ones. Bo Pelini might literally go on an eight state, 27 person killing spree. Hell, even Jim Tressel would- at the very least- pour himself a glass of scotch and sit in silence for a while, before penning a really nasty resignation letter. He might even use a few exclamation points for good measure. But none of them would’ve just sat there and taken it.
Well, the fact that Stewart not only didn’t walk away after the announcement, but hasn’t even made much of a public statement, tells you everything you need to know about the guy: He’s a loyal soldier, good company man, and ultimate nice guy. Which is great if you’re the head of the PTO at your kids elementary school. It’s just not so good when you’re trying to win football games.
I’ll miss Stew, and all the cheap shots I’ve taken at him through the years. But this was the right move.
Onto just a few more coaching moves and notes…
(Also, if you're enjoying this article, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres)
On the 9th Day of Christmas, AT Gave To Me: Miami and Al Golden
As we start to wrap up the coaching talk, honestly I don’t really have a strong opinion on this one. If I gave West Virginia an A- with Holgorsen, Pitt a C- for Haywood, and Maryland an F- if they end up with Locksley or Willingham, I’m going to call this one an incomplete. I’ve made this analogy before, but think it’s time to dust it off here: This hiring is like having sex with a regular girlfriend. Not great. Not terrible. Just about what you’d expect.
And honestly, I think it’ll end up working out for Miami. No matter how you cut it, the Canes just didn’t have the resources to get a really big name. Jon Gruden was nice, and a few others would’ve been too. But what people forget is that it not only takes millions of dollars to lure a top head coach, but millions more to hire quality assistants too. The fact that Gus Malzahn just got a raise to $1.3 million a year to stay Auburn’s offensive coordinator says it all. Miami could barely afford to pay their head coach that much. Let alone a handful of good assistants too.
At the same time, I think people are underselling the Miami job a bit. Yes they don’t have a huge operating budget like a lot of top schools, and yes their facilities are at the bottom of the barrel too. Still, there are a lot of things about the school that make the program a good job too, namely the recruiting advantages and strong alumni connections in the NFL. To use a bad cliché, those are things you can’t put a price on.
Taken in another context, this hire could actually work out really well.
Remember, even when Miami rose to dominance, they weren’t exactly hiring the absolute cream of the coaching crop. Jimmy Johnson came to the school from Oklahoma State after finishing 8-4 the previous season. Dennis Erickson arrived a few years later from Washington State, and the last time I checked, Pullman isn’t exactly a coaching hotbed.
And really, the thing that I don’t think Golden gets enough credit for is not only that he built the Temple program, but how he did it. Everything started with recruiting the Philadelphia area hard, and then filling in the pieces from there. I’m not saying Golden will do the same thing in and around Miami. But if he does, this could be the top program in the ACC before long.
Finally onto the biggest coaching hire of the last few weeks…
On the 8th Day of Christmas, AT Gave To Me: James Franklin at Vanderbilt!
Unless you’re a Commodores fan, to which I’ll say, umm, great hire! Yeh, totally…
On the 7th Day of Christmas, AT Gave To Me: Will Muschamp at Florida
And I’m sorry Florida fans, but I’m just not crazy about this hire. Like it. Don’t love it. Give me a second to explain.
Look, to quote Lou Holtz, I think Will Muschamp will make a “fine,” college football coach. He’s been groomed by Nick Saban and Mack Brown, two of the best in the business. He’s got experience both in college and the pros. If there was any assistant that was actually overqualified to be a head coach at this point, it was probably this guy. Plus, in defense of the hiring, it’s not like a really good assistant can’t have instant success. Chip Kelly was the offensive coordinator at Oregon two years ago. Now he’s getting ready to coach in the BCS National Championship Game.
But understand that this isn’t Chip Kelly at Oregon, Steve Sarkisian at Washington, Holgorsen at West Virginia, or anything else. This is the University of Florida. It’s one of the five best coaching jobs in the country, if not the best. I guess I would’ve just liked to see someone with a bit of head coaching experience here. Especially considering the names we heard thrown around with this job: Harbaugh, Stoops, Chris Petersen, etc.
And really as crazy as it sounds, my concerns with Muschamp aren’t what he’s capable of on Saturday’s. Again, Muschamp has a resume that would qualify him for consideration at any job. Except maybe the Dallas Cowboys. That’s really it though.
At the same time, it’s not just what happens on Saturday’s, but everything else too. Just listen to any first-time head coach in college football explain the adjustment to his new job, and it’s always the same. Until you’re a head coach, you never truly understand all the off the field commitments to the job. The media appearances. Booster club meetings. Everything.
Now obviously a contrarian would say, “Yeh Aaron, but he was going to be head coach at Texas at some point anyway. What’s the difference?”
Well, the difference is at Texas, he was going to be phased into the job, picking Mack Brown’s brain along the way. Think of it as like going through a formal education. You’re not ready to enter the real world after first grade or fifth grade or eighth grade. But come 12th grade, you’ve got enough tools to go out on your own, get a job or move away to school.
Had Muschamp stayed at Texas, he would’ve gotten that formal education. Instead, he’s going to Gainesville with most of the tools, but not all of them. Not to mention that at Texas, most years your season essentially comes down to winning one game. Beat Oklahoma and you’re going to be in pretty good shape. It isn’t the same in the SEC, where every weekend is a war.
I wish Muschamp luck, and think he’ll do well. I just hope he didn’t bite off more than he can chew.
And with that, it’s finally time to get off the coaching carousel and…
On the 6th Day of Christmas, AT Gave To Me: Postseason Awards
Ok, ok, so I’m two weeks late, and a dollar short on this one. I apologize, because honestly I was planning on running some sort of awards/bowl preview on Friday, but as I mentioned it didn’t happen. And since I know you’re wondering, yes I had a good time in Boston. Thanks for asking.
Here’s an abbreviated version of that article:
Player of the Year, Cam Newton: Umm, duh
Coach of the Year, Chip Kelly: It’s easy to forget this now, but Kelly was an offensive coordinator at New Hampshire just five years ago. Now he’s getting ready to coach in the BCS National Championship Game. What a difference a half a decade makes, huh?
Man of the Year, Les Miles: You know how Time Magazine does their “Man of the Year?” I’m going to do the same, and give the award to Miles. Nobody provided more joy, more consistently this season than the Hatter did. Well, unless you’re a Tennessee fan. In which case, I’d like to again send my regards.
Annoying Recurring Storyline of the Year, Dan Wetzel + Death To The BCS: Most of you probably don’t know what I’m talking about, but since I happen follow Wetzel on Twitter, his feed has become a one man crusade for a college football playoff. Of course the way Wetzel makes it sound, a playoff would solve all the worlds ills. It’d eliminate the BCS, remove agents from college athletics and cure world hunger all in one fell swoop. He might be right, but I get the feeling he isn’t.
The bowl system might not be perfect, but remember, a playoff wouldn’t be either. If there was a playoff, would Michigan State get a shot at the title? How about Boise? There’s always going to be some level of subjectivity in college football, and to the BCS’ credit, it did what it was supposed to do this year: Pitted No. 1 against No. 2.
So with all due respect to Mr. Wetzel (whose work I like otherwise), I understand you’ve got books to sell, but remember, some of us like the bowls. Just stop.
Asshole of the Year, Thayer Evans Fox Sports: I don’t if someone peed in Thayer’s cheerios, whether Cam Newton slept with his wife, or if he’s just an all-around unhappy person. But whatever the reason, his one man crusade against Newton this year was not only weird, but kind of pathetic.
Now don’t get me wrong, I went to journalism school and understand he has a job to do. Unfortunately what Evans did this year wasn’t journalism. In journalism you “seek the truth and report it.” Evans decided to seek the truth, and when he couldn’t find it, twist the story in whatever direction he pleased. Remember when he “broke,” the story of Newton getting caught cheating at Florida? What’d that have to do with anything again? I’m still not sure.
Favorite Moment of the Year, Jim Harbaugh Spitting A Wad of Chewing Tobacco On The Ground At Notre Dame Stadium: Because honestly, if that doesn’t tell you that Stanford arrived as a program, I don’t know what would.
(On a different note, I recently heard that Harbaugh and his wife are expecting their fifth child, to which I say, congratulations coach. At the same time, is anyone surprised that Harbaugh has five kids? Considering that he’s got more testosterone than a rhinoceros in heat, I’m not. Really, I’m surprised he doesn’t have eight, nine or 10 kids. I’m pretty sure that Harbaugh wanted to, he could impregnate a woman just by looking at her. I’m not joking)
On the 5th Day Of Christmas, AT Gave To Me: Bowl Chatter
I won’t bore you with any thoughts from the first trio of games on Saturday, other than to say that I got so bored partway through the Humanitarian Bowl, that I actually started watching a marathon of “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” on the Discovery Channel. I wish I was kidding.
With that said, let’s talk about some of the upcoming games, because I think we’ve got two doosy’s coming up: Wednesday’s Boise State-Utah game, and San Diego State-Navy on Thursday. Truthfully, these two games are emblematic of everything that bowl games are to me.
With Boise and Utah, it’s a war of emotional attrition. Neither team thought they’d be here. Neither team wants to be here. Who sucks it up, plays hard and ends 2010 with a win?
As for the Poinsettia Bowl with SDSU and Navy, one of my favorite things about bowl season is looking for the teams who use these games as a jumping off point into the next season. Wisconsin did it with a big win over Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl last year. Oklahoma battled back from a season full of injuries to set up this year’s Big XII championship. And of course who could forget Boise’s Fiesta Bowl win placing them squarely in the top five this past preseason?
Well, this year I think that team could be San Diego State. The Aztecs will return a senior quarterback next year in Ryan Lindley, a 1,000 yard rusher in Ronnie Hillman and a darn good coach in Brady Hoke. Everything is lining up for them to have a big 2011, after having a really good 2010. Remember, they beat Air Force, and had two tough losses at Missouri and TCU which could’ve gone the other way. This very well could be a 10 or 11 win teams in 2011.
Speaking of bowls…
On The Fourth Day of Christmas, AT Gave To Me: Some Holiday Bowl Picks!
Here are my selections for the games between now and December 30. I’ll do a New Years Day and BCS Bowl preview sometime late next week as well (make sure to come back then!)
Let’s get to the picks!
St. Petersburg Bowl, Tuesday: Southern Miss (+3) over Louisville- I love Charlie Strong, but other than smoke, mirrors, a prayer and a miracle, I don’t know how he got this Louisville team bowl eligible.
Las Vegas Bowl, Wednesday: Utah (+17) over Boise State- There’s too much of a letdown factor for Boise to be giving 17 points here. Honestly, I think Utah may win straight up.
Poinsettia Bowl, Thursday: San Diego State (-4 ½) over Navy- For all the reasons I mentioned before, and also that San Diego State already beat a better version of this Navy team in Air Force. Plus, option teams never seem to do well in bowl games. See Georgia Tech vs. LSU in 2008.
Hawaii Bowl, Friday: Tulsa (+10) over Hawaii- Remember the first week of the season when Tulsa lost to East Carolina 51-49? This is going to be like that. Ten is way too many points.
Little Caesars Bowl, Sunday: Florida International (+1 ½) over Toledo- Both teams played tough out of conference schedules, and I think FIU handled theirs a little better. Other than that, who’s excited for Detroit in December? Anyone?
Independence Bowl, December 27: Air Force (-3) over Georgia Tech- Simply put, Georgia Tech has seemed disinterested to me all year. Either that or they were just way overrated to begin with. Regardless, give me the other guys.
Champs Sports Bowl, December 28: West Virginia (-2 ½) over NC State- Remember all those jokes I made about Bill Stewart before? Well, truth be told, he’s actually been pretty good in bowl games. Plus I don’t trust the shaky NC State offense one bit against the Mountaineers defense.
Insight Bowl, December 28: Missouri (no line) over Iowa- A lot of really depressing stuff going on at Iowa. I almost included it in this article, but didn’t want to bring everyone’s morale down. This line could be 30 and I wouldn’t touch the Hawkeyes.
Military Bowl, December 28: East Carolina (+7) over Maryland- Speaking of depressing stuff, who’s going to be coaching Maryland here?
Texas Bowl, December 29: Baylor (-1) over Illinois- Two words sum up this game: Zook…..NOOOOOO!!!!!!
Alamo Bowl, December 29: Oklahoma State (-4 ½) over Arizona- Sneaky good game, between two teams that I enjoy watching. Sadly, I think I’m more excited about this one than Arizona or their fans.
Beginning to wrap up…
On the 3rd Day of Christmas, AT Gave To Me: A Quick Holiday Rant
Right after I finish this article, I’ve got to go out and get my sister her Christmas gift. This on the heels of her birthday, which was three weeks ago.
Which brings me to my holiday rant: Look, I love my little sis. I’d do anything for her.
But with that said, I think if you’re born between Halloween and Groundhogs Day, you need to pick another time to celebrate your birthday. No offense to anyone. But at the same time, two holiday’s in such a short amount of time puts entirely too much pressure on us, the present buyers. It’s hard enough figuring out what an emerging woman in her early 20’s wants (They don’t still play with Cabbage Patch dolls, do they?) and now I’ve got to get two gifts in six weeks? I feel like Ron Zook looking at a two-point conversion chart right now. Is there a hotline I can call to help me out? Somebody give me something!
On the 2nd Day of Christmas, Mark May Gave To Me: This Picture
My favorite outcome of the Heisman Trophy celebration. At the same time, if LaMichael James doesn’t show up for the BCS National Championship Game, I’m afraid it might be because Cam Newton ate him.
On the 1st Day of Christmas Mark May Gave to Me: A Happy Holidays!
I’ll be writing more between now and the big day, but in case I forget, just want to wish you and your loved ones a safe and happy holiday.
Also, for his continued take on all things sports, be sure to follow on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook.com/AaronTorresSports or by downloading the Aaron Torres Sports App for FREE for your iPhone or Android!)