A New Environment For College Football

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about Auburn and SEC football.

College football has changed in so many ways over the past 20 years that it boggles the mind of one who has followed it closely. The game is different on the field. The players are bigger, faster and stronger. Schemes are more sophisticated. There is far more parity. But the biggest changes might have come off the field.

In this world of instant information, nothing remains a secret for long. Before the Internet and widespread talk radio, fans had to wait for information and had few opportunities to make their feelings known. That has changed. Oh, how it's changed. Fans have a voice now, which can be a good thing or a bad thing. They are heard far more than they ever have been before.

It is in this climate that Alabama athletic director Mal Moore has gone searching for a coach to replace the departed Dennis Franchione. His every move is scrutinized and analyzed, not just by media members covering the search but by fans following it on Internet message boards and talk radio. Moore, a private man by nature, has tried to operate off the radar screen. He hasn't had much success. When he gets on the school plane it is public knowledge in a matter of minutes.

What we know as the search nears the end of its first week is that it has not gone like Moore wanted or expected it to go. He offered the job to New Orleans Saints assistant and former Alabama player Mike Riley on Wednesday and expected him to take it. Instead, Riley is going to visit UCLA on Monday before making up his mind. As was the case when Franchione got on the airplane to go to Texas A&M, it would be surprising if Riley visits UCLA and does not take that job if offered. Reports on Friday say Moore interviewed another candidate last night. It probably won't be long before his name is public knowledge.

Auburn fans, of course, are watching it all with some amusement, as Alabama fans would be if the situation were reversed. Instant information, unfortunately, also has spawned instant hostility between fans of our two major state schools, but that's another story.

Whatever happens with Riley, one would expect that Alabama would have a head coach by next week. Whether he is the first choice or the fifth choice really doesn't matter as much as some would like to think. At the historically strong football schools in the Southeastern Conference--Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee--a qualified coach will usually have a good chance to win. Alabama will get a qualified coach. Besides, second choices sometimes turn out to be the best choices.

Go with me back to 1980. Auburn had cut Doug Barfield loose after his fifth straight loss to Alabama. Auburn alumnus Vince Dooley was the only serious candidate. Dooley did everything but sign his name on a contract. The deal was made. He had even decided he would not coach his unbeaten Georgia team in its bid for a national championship in the Sugar Bowl. At the last minute, Dooley changed his mind, deciding that his heart was at Georgia. Auburn officials were caught by surprise. It was almost a month later, in early January, that Pat Dye was hired as head coach. Four SEC championship trophies attest to the wisdom of that decision. Would Dooley have done as well? We'll never know.

It's hard to imagine what that month would have been like had there been Internet message boards and widespread radio talk shows. The pressure would have been immense to make a quick decision. What's going to happen at Alabama remains to be seen. The guess here is the next coach will be someone we haven't heard from yet, but that's just a guess. Whoever it is will have some difficult days ahead because of NCAA sanctions.


Here are the answers to questions some of you have asked in recent days:

Q: Will Auburn lose anybody to the NFL?

A: A lot of people seemed to be concerned that linebackers Karlos Dansby and Dontarrious Thomas could make the jump. I would be surprised if either did. Tight end Robert Johnson might consider it, but he is not projected as a high-round pick.

Q: How will Auburn deal with finding playing time for four tailbacks--Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, Tre Smith and junior college transfer Brandon Jacobs next season?

A: There'll be some fierce competition and the ones who practice the best will play the most. Offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino has shown he will find ways to utilize his players' strengths.

Q: How good is Penn State tailback Larry Johnson?

A: Good enough to gain more than 2,000 yards rushing, which is a magnificent accomplishment at any level.

Q: How does this year's recruiting class look?

A: Check back with me in a couple of years. That's when we'll know.

Q: Who will be the contenders in the SEC next season?

A: I'd say Auburn and LSU in the West and Georgia, Tennessee and Florida in the East.

Q: How much better is Auburn's basketball team than last season?

A: A lot better, but so are most other teams in the SEC. I don't recall a season when so many starters returned. I would be shocked by a repeat of last season's 4-12 SEC record, but finishing over .500 in the league and getting an NCAA bid will be difficult.

If you have a question you'd like to see answered here, email Phillip at pmarsh9485@excite.com

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