Marshall: Silly, Risky, Close Call, Odd Call

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about recruiting, assistant coaches, the Outland Trophy and other football topics.

The silly season is upon us in full force.

Tuesday, when high school quarterback Tim Tebow announces on ESPN where he plans to sign, thousands in Alabama and Florida will hang on his every word. Tebow is from Nease High School in St. Augustine. Well, sort of. Actually, he's home-schooled and shows up at Nease just to play football.

Some say he is the best high school quarterback in the country, so good that other recruits will follow him like he's the Pied Piper. Of course, others say Springdale (Ark.) High School's Mitch Mustain is the best. And still others say neither one is the best. I don't put much stock in any of that, but there are those who do.

Last week, when word got out that Mustain was reconsidering his commitment to Arkansas, the screams of anguish could be heard for thousands of miles. His decision might even have gotten his high school coach, Gus Malzahn, a job as Arkansas' offensive coordinator

All this over a couple of 18-year-olds who might or might not ever amount to much as college quarterbacks.

In a way, it's funny. But more than it's funny, it's sad.

Anyone who reads what I write in this space regularly knows my feelings about recruiting rankings. If you want to know their value, check out how many players in the NFL were never lauded as "five stars." In fact, check out how many never even had opportunities to play Division I-A football.

But in this age of instant information, young men like Tebow and Mustain are given heroic status before they ever step on a college campus. Once in college, if they are just good, that won't be good enough. They have to be great or they'll be labeled failures. Sad.

The longer players like Tebow and Mustain wait to make their decisions, the more the hysteria grows. Not so long ago, commitments before January were rare. Now, players often commit during the season or even in the summer before the season. A lot of them say they commit early to escape the constant scrutiny from what has become an industry in itself.

Last summer, Spain Park's Neil Caudle's name was every bit as big in recruiting circles as Tebow's and Mustain's are now. But Caudle knew what he wanted to do. He committed early to Auburn. Then he was injured and fell off the radar screen. If he was still making visits and contemplating his decision, he'd be part of the hysteria, too.

Regardless, Auburn coaches evaluated dozens of quarterbacks, including the aforementioned Tebow and Mustain, and decided the two at the top on their list would be Caudle and Steven Ensminger. You'll have to forgive them if, while fans wait and wring their hands, they will be paying little attention to what Tebow and Mustain do.

Like Caudle, Mustain committed early to Arkansas. Then, last week, he decided he'd look around. That means, of course, that he was never actually committed at all. There were those who said the loss of Mustain alone should cost head coach Houston Nutt his job. Friday, Malzahn was named Arkansas' offensive coordinator. Whether he will bring Mustain back into the Razorback fold remains to be seen.

We'll probably never know whether the potential loss of Mustain had anything to do with Nutt's decision. What is certain is that Nutt was calling offensive coaches at other SEC schools in recent weeks asking for recommendations. It's a safe assumption than none of them recommended Malzahn.

I mean, look at the group Malzahn joins. Auburn has Al Borges, a college coordinator for 20 years who has led some of the nation's top offenses at UCLA and Auburn. Alabama has Dave Rader, another veteran who has been a Division I-A head coach. LSU has Jimbo Fisher, a renowned teacher of quarterbacks who has a national championship ring. Tennessee has David Cutcliffe, teacher of the Mannings. Florida has head coach Urban Meyer. South Carolina has head coach Steve Spurrier. Georgia has head coach Mark Richt and coordinator Neil Callaway. The list goes on.

SEC offensive coordinators have won national championships, had unbeaten seasons at the highest level of the game, worked in the NFL. They attack the best defenses in college football, most of them also coordinated by coaches who have been successful on every level of college football and beyond.

Gus Malzahn? He's won three Arkansas state championships. He's never coached a day in college, never developed a gameplan to attack an SEC defense. As best I can tell, he's the only coach ever to jump straight from high school to a coordinator's job at an SEC school. Does that mean he can't do it? No, but it means Nutt and/or Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles are taking a big risk.

Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt is looking to Springdale, Ark., High's head coach for help with the Razorback offense.

Nutt is still looking to hire one more coach at Arkansas to teach either quarterbacks or wide receivers. Apparently, he has interest in UAB offensive coordinator and former Auburn Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan.

Sullivan and Arkansas defensive coordinator Reggie Herring are very close. They worked together at Auburn and Herring was Sullivan's defensive coordinator at Texas Christian. Could Sullivan be lured to work for an offensive coordinator who has coached only in high school? Good question.

Despite his friendship with Herring, I'll be surprised if Sullivan decides to go to work for an offensive coordinator who was coaching 15-year-olds just a week or so ago.

On the other hand, Sullivan has done about all he can do at UAB, a program which could be looking at some hard times. His star quarterback's eligibility is used up. Maybe he'll surprise me.

We shall see.

Moving on…

Obviously, they won't say it publicly, but Auburn coaches were flabbergasted by the outcome of the Outland Trophy voting. Undersized Minnesota center Greg Eslinger won the award over Auburn offensive tackle Marcus McNeill and Oregon defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

Auburn's coaches have seen plenty of Eslinger while breaking down tape of Capital One Bowl opponent Wisconsin and say he is nowhere close to McNeill's level...

Speaking of Wisconsin, Auburn defensive coaches are extremely impressed with the Badgers' offense and say it will be one of the bigger challenges of the season...

Eddie Gran gets a hug from former Tiger Carlos Rogers, who is playing for the NFL's Washington Redskins.

Running backs coach Eddie Gran made a big impression on Middle Tennessee State athletics director Chris Massaro. Even when he was asked to interview for the vacant head coaching job, Gran was considered a long shot. In the end, he finished second to South Carolina assistant Rick Stockstill, who will be named today.

Gran's time to be a head coach will come, and it might not be long...

Until next time...


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