Football's Most Interesting People of 2011
Chris Petersen is a wanted man by almost every athletic director involved in a coaching search, and yet, he's content right where he is at Boise State. With rumored salaries up to four million dollars a year being thrown at him from other schools, Petersen has held his ground.
What makes Petersen tick is obvious—he's not into climbing the ladder to the most high-profile school, he's not concerned solely on being one of the most highly-paid coaches in America. Petersen loves Boise, Idaho and he doesn't have the same pressure on him that other coaches are facing. Sometimes, living relatively stress-free like a king in a small-market area has advantages that money can't buy.
Robert Griffin III, quarterback, Baylor
He plays in the Big 12 conference, captured the hearts of even the most critical football fan bases and won the Heisman Trophy, a first for his school. Before Robert Griffin III won the Heisman, he showed off an accessory he was wearing under his suit at the Heisman award ceremony—blue Superman socks, including a red cape. America approved.
The very fact that Griffin plays for Baylor—a school that has never been associated with football prowess—makes him immediately more interesting than most football players. Articulate, quick-witted and blessed with tremendous ability, Griffin made us root for Baylor when the Bears upset perennial-powerhouse Oklahoma. Griffin is one of the feel-good stories of the year.
Charlie Weis, head coach, Kansas
After a brief stint at Florida as the Gators' offensive coordinator, Charlie Weis is the new head coach at Kansas after Turner Gill was let go. Schematic advantage jokes aside, this hire is a puzzling one. Kansas recruits heavily in the state of Texas and Weis had not built a lot of pipelines into that state while he was the head coach at Notre Dame.
Weis clearly knows how to break down film and prepare a game plan, but adjusting an offensive plan on game days and bearing the responsibility for failures have been his weaknesses. His blustery personality and banter with the media was kept to a minimum while at Florida, but it's a given we'll see it back in full force at Kansas. Bring it.
Dan Guerrero, Athletic Director, U.C.L.A.
Dan Guerrero has a lot of responsibilities, and part of those responsibilities includes hiring coaches for U.C.L.A.'s athletic programs. While U.C.L.A. has the most recognized national championships (107) of any school, the Bruins have lagged behind in football—their one and only claimed national championship was in 1954.
Guerrero has endured the wrath of several Bruin fan websites, so when he hired Jim L. Mora—much to the dismay of many Bruin fans—the criticism continued. Mora, in the mean time, has hired an outstanding staff of coaches and has somewhat tempered the "Can Dan" outcries. Will Guerrero's fourth football head coaching change in a decade be the one the turns around the program?
Eric LeGrand, defensive tackle, Rutgers
Last year changed Eric LeGrand's life. During a game between Rutgers and Army, LeGrand attempted to make a tackle on Army's Malcolm Brown and after a hard collision, he fell to the ground motionless. He was later diagnosed with a severe spinal cord injury that resulted in paralysis from the neck down. Despite the grim outlook, LeGrand was about to make a bigger impact off the field than he ever made on the field
Early in 2011, LeGrand's progress made headlines when Rutgers reported he had movement and sensation in parts of his body. Throughout the year, LeGrand posted pictures from his twitter account that showed him standing with assistance. He has more functionality and is even working out on a treadmill. Eric LeGrand's focus and perseverance remind us all that football isn't the most important thing in life.
Lee Corso, College Gameday sportscaster, ESPN
Ever since Lee Corso suffered a mild stroke, he hasn't been quite the same. He's made tremendous progress and his speech is quite remarkable but there are still momentary lapses of slight confusion every now and then. Some pundits think this may be Corso's last year on College Gameday. Frankly, that would be a shame, because Corso represents the passion of college football.
When College Gameday was at the Houston-SMU game, Corso was in rare form. At the pivotal moment when Corso was ready to select the headgear of the team he thought would win, he said, "Ah, f*ck it", much to the shock of everyone on the set. Corso later apologized, but not before millions of fans embraced his spur-of-the-moment utterance. Corso is not infallible, and that's precisely what makes him so beloved and so interesting.
Tyrann Mathieu, cornerback, LSU
The last time a defensive player got this much attention from Heisman voters was when Ndamukong Suh was playing at Nebraska. While the Honey Badger takes what he wants, this time, Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu didn't take the Heisman—next year may be the year he does it if he can stay out of trouble.
Mathieu's unique ability to make the big plays at the exact time they would impact the game most is what makes him so interesting. His instinct is phenomenal and his athletic ability is exceptional. Every time he fields a punt, it's a glorious treat for the eyes. We can't wait to see what the Honey Badger "takes" in the BCS Championship game.
Urban Meyer, head coach, Ohio State
After leaving Florida for "health reasons", Urban Meyer is now the head coach at Ohio State. While Buckeyes celebrated wildly, the NCAA tempered that party when they announced the sanctions levied against Ohio State. Among the penalties were a one-year post season ban and a loss of nine scholarships over three years. Former head coach Jim Tressel also got slapped with a five-year show cause, which in all likelihood ended his college football coaching career.
Meyer—who did an outstanding job as an analyst for ESPN—is now back in football coaching and that instantly makes him relevant and interesting. While Gator fans may feel a bit betrayed, it'll be fun watching how Meyer's recruiting changes the look of the Buckeyes. It'll also be interesting to see how on top of things he is concerning rogue boosters.
Todd Graham, head coach, Arizona State
Todd Graham gets on this list for the very fact that he appears to be fickle in his job destinations. Graham's first job as head coach was at Rice in 2006. After winning the Conference USA Coach of the Year, Graham signed an extension with a large pay raise. Days later, he left Rice and accepted a head coaching position at Tulsa. Graham lasted four years at Tulsa before landing the head coaching gig at Pitt. Less than one year later, Graham was headed to Arizona State. He reportedly had Pitt's Director of Football Operations forward a text to his players informing them of his departure.
What's most interesting about Graham is that prior to leaving Pitt, he chastised three of his assistant coaches for leaving their positions to go coach for Rich Rodriguez at Arizona by calling them "nothing but mercenaries", according to a Post-gazette.com story. Ah yes, controversy is always interesting, which makes Todd Graham one of the most interesting men in college football.
Dominique Whaley, running back, Oklahoma
He transferred from Langston University, an NAIA program, to Oklahoma to chase a dream. That dream will have to wait until next year. Dominique Whaley came to Oklahoma as a walk-on running back but ended up with the starting spot on the roster. A walk-on starting running back for the Oklahoma Sooners? That in itself is an amazing story, but there's more.
Whaley was the Sooners' leading rusher up until the Sooners' game against Kansas State. On the first offensive series for the Sooners, Whaley fractured his ankle while making a block—the feel good story of the year just went up in smoke. He will return next year and all eyes will be on him. In the meantime, he certainly gave us reason to cheer—most walk-ons never get headlines but Whaley proved heart and desire can go a long way.
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