So now Vangorder can join a now infamous list of coaches in recent weeks who have decided to move on to seemingly greener pastures while leaving a disaster in their wake. But should fans really be directing their disgust towards people like the Vangorders, Todd Grahams and Dennis Ericksons of the world? Maybe they should direct their anger at the athletic directors who are supposedly making these decisions. Or maybe, just maybe, fans (aka boosters) should just look in the mirror.
For starters, let's look at the aforementioned Georgia Southern football program – just for fun. Its athletic department is led by Sam Baker. Some of the recent decisions Baker has made for the school:
December 1996: Hires Navy offensive coordinator Paul Johnson as head coach
January 2002: Promotes Georgia Southern Offensive Coordinator Mike Sewak to head coach
August 2005: Rewards Mike Sewak with three-year extension after leading team to 27-10 record in his first three years.
November 2005: Fires Mike Sewak.
December 2005: Hires Brian Vangorder as head coach and signs him to four-year contract.
On his decision to fire Mike Sewak, Baker said, "After considerable thought and reflection, I decided our football program needs to go in a different direction…our expectations for the football program have not been met. Therefore, I feel it's time to find new leadership."
And just this week, having learned that Vangorder was leaving, Baker had this to say. "I am working diligently to find a head coach that will improve on the progress we made and return Georgia Southern to national prominence."
I'm sure Baker will talk your ear off about progress made off the field with facilities and other "program successes" but when he decided to fire Sewak he did it because he felt it would take the football team in a "different direction." Well, if by different direction, Baker meant down, then somebody needs to give that man a four-year extension.
Look again at the list of decisions Baker made and focus on the last two – fire Mike Sewak and hire Brian Vangorder. I think it is safe to say that Baker is 0-2 over the past two seasons as athletic director. Why is nobody calling for his firing? Maybe a better question is what exactly does an athletic director need to do in order to get fired?
How about the University of Minnesota's athletic director Joel Maturi who decided a few weeks ago to fire head football coach Glen Mason? All Mason had done was lead the Golden Gophers to five straight bowl games and seven bowl games in 10 seasons. But you have to give Maturi some credit – he did find an experienced high school coach in Tim Brewster to replace him. How is that for a slap in the face to Mason? If Brewster leads Minnesota to the Rose Bowl next season, I'll have to eat my words, but I'm betting that Maturi will have a way to spin a 3-win season as progress for the program.
When football teams lose games, a lot of good quality coaches take the blame for it. However, when athletic directors hire the wrong football coach, who do they blame? When was the last time you heard an athletic director say, "That probably wasn't the best decision on my part. I take full responsibility for that hire."
Then there is Arizona State athletic director Lisa Love who relieved Dirk Koetter of his head coaching duties in favor of Dennis Erickson. Love said she was "looking for a higher platform." In other words, she was looking for a coach who could somehow beat USC. Koetter couldn't, although he came pretty close the last two years, so he was dismissed. I'd love to see USC demolish Arizona State this year so Love can get talk about how a 48-0 loss to the Trojans is progress for the program. Or heck, what happens if Arizona State wins 10 games? Do you really think Erickson will be around for year two of his contract?
Let's not forget about Alabama's Mal Moore, who made Mike Shula available for unemployment just one year after Shula led the Crimson Tide to a 10-2 record and a Cotton Bowl victory. What is even crazier is that last May, Moore gave Shula a new six-year contract worth $1.55 million per year. The buyout for Alabama is reportedly around $4 million.
We are witnessing bad decision after bad decision by athletic directors. Yet in 2006, not one Division 1-A or Division 1-AA college president fired a single one. This is probably because although athletic directors announce the hiring and firings of football coaches, chances are they had little or nothing to do with the decision.
How else can you explain athletic directors who sign coaches to multi-million dollar contract extensions with huge buyouts one month, only to fire them the following month? Do college presidents actually authorize athletic directors to literally throw away millions of dollars? Of course not – they don't need to. I realize I am not breaking any major news here but in 2006 alone, the Alabama booster club raised somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million. And last time I checked, $30 million can buy you a new football coach, probably with only one or two phone calls.
I'd love to be a third party on some of those calls. Perhaps they go something like this:
Booster: I think it's time for Mike Shula to pack his bags.
AD: But we just signed him to a six-year extension in May. I'm going to look foolish.
Booster: Your right, I think this $30 million would be better spent on upgrading the library. Enjoy your next job. (dial tone)
Then there is the call from the AD to the university president:
AD: Sir, we need to get us a new football coach.
Pres: But we are going to a bowl game.
AD: Sir, we (emphasis on we) really need to get us a new football coach.
Pres: Oh, why didn't you say so? Make it happen. How about that Spurrier guy?
Just this week, Georgia Southern Athletic Director Sam Baker has already gone on the record as saying that he wants to keep the triple-option out of Statesboro. He must have gotten that idea all by himself. I mean just look at his bio:
Don't you see that line in it that talks about his ability to evaluate football personnel and how he ran a certain offense while coaching at James Madison University? You don't? Me either.
So how exactly do you fix this situation? The NCAA has imposed all kinds of restrictions on booster clubs, but the money and influence is as prevalent as ever. Maybe the answer is to just eliminate the position of athletic director all together. I mean if they are not making the most important decisions for the sports department, do we really need them?
Maybe the booster club in Statesboro should just go ahead and announce who the next coach will be at Georgia Southern. I'd love to see Paul Johnson call the Georgia Southern boosters to tell them that he was seriously interested in the opening. How exactly would the ensuing conversation between the boosters and athletic director Sam Baker play out?
Booster: Um, Sam, Paul Johnson is fed up at Navy and he wants to come back home to Statesboro. I'm not kidding.
Sam: But you, err, I said that we can't run the triple option anymore here.
Booster: Don't worry, we will help you with the announcement for the media.