Coaches for 2002

     In mid-September of 2000, I pointed out nine coaches on the rise for Bucknuts.  Before doing the same for the coming season, a quick review of the previous group… 

  1. Jeff Bower of Southern Mississippi.  Jeff is still out there awaiting an offer from a top program.  Alabama flirted with him a bit after Dubose's demise, but ultimately they chose Franchione. 
  2. Walt Harris of Pittsburgh.  Walt's name was mentioned with both the OSU and Alabama job openings a couple of years ago.  I am betting that with Harris' age he will either stay at Pittsburgh or go to the pros.  Harris has done a solid job at Pitt thus far, and though they are in no way in the same league with Ohio State – they are at least respectable once again. 
  3. Tommy Tuberville of Auburn.  Tommy has done excellent at Auburn considering what he has had to work with.  Auburn alums are said to be a bit edgy according to several national sports writers, but what can you expect since Tommy lost to Bama last November?  Tuberville will do just fine so long as he can beat Bama either this year or next.
  4. Glen Mason of Minnesota.  Mason was a finalist for the Ohio State job, but his blatant campaigning for the position hurt his stock a great deal.  It cost him politically at Minnesota, and other athletic directors are not enthusiastic about a guy who is so eager to leave his current school.  Mason's stock will rise again if he has a solid year in 2002.
  5. Tommy Bowden of Clemson.  Bowden is probably one of two or three coaches Florida State is keeping a close eye on for replacing Bobby Bowden.  Mark Richt is also in this mix given Clemson's struggles last year, but if Tommy can take the Tigers to that next level and win an ACC crown?  Look out – Tommy's next stop might just be in Tallahassee.
  6. Tyrone Willingham.  He used to be at Stanford, but after their initial idiocy, Notre Dame hired him away.  All I can say is that all the Domer fans ought to get on their knees in thanks that O'Leary did not end up as their next coach.  Willingham is special, and after all their foolish griping about his hiring- they are just now beginning to see how special.  Next stop for Tyrone?  Professional football.  Look for him to jump to the pro ranks in 4-6 years (depending on the money and perks offered as well as the time required to rebuild a sagging ND program).
  7. Bob Stoops of Oklahoma.  As predicted, he has been courted by every major program.  As predicted, OU alums opened up the coffers for him.  My guess is that Bob Stoops stays for about another 7-8 years (maximum) before following his mentor, Steve Spurrier, to the professional ranks.
  8. Dana Dimel of Houston.  Time is running out for Dana Dimel to prove that he can build a winner.  Texas has a ton of great high school players, so talent should not be a problem.  Unless he can turn the Cougars around this year or next, the conclusion I will have to draw is that I missed the mark on Dana.
  9. Ron Turner of Illinois.  Illinois ended the season as Big Ten champs in 2002.  Turner is also likely to get some looks from the professional ranks in the coming seasons if he can continue to direct them to victories and compete for Big Ten titles.  Right now, he needs to get Illinois to play like they should or no phones will be ringing.  The only thing coming his way will be a pink slip.

     So, who are the coaches to watch for 2002?  What names should pop up at the end of the season for new job openings?  Who will the major colleges be gunning for?  Well, never fear – I have come up with another list of hotshots age 50 and under. 

  1. Urban Meyer - Write this man's name down.  Remember it.  Someone will be calling him following the season.  Though there probably will not be all that many job openings after the season at the major powers, I doubt he is at Bowling Green any longer than 2004.  A native of Ashtabula, Ohio, Meyer just turned 38 but has already served as an assistant to gridiron specialists Lou Holtz, Earle Bruce, and Sonny Lubick.  He is well known as an excellent recruiter and an extraordinary offensive coach.  He played a critical role in the Irish rise to the BCS in 2000 before leaving for BGSU.  One needs only examine the records of ND and BGSU in 2001 to recognize just how important this man was to the staff (and limited success) of Bob Davie.  For those without the resources or desire to look up the information, after a BCS bowl in 2000, in the absence of Meyer, Bob Davie went 5-6 and was fired.  Meanwhile, Meyer took a program that had been 2-9 in 2000 and proceeded to post an 8-3 mark and was named the MAC coach of the year.  Already this season, Bowling Green hammered the same Missouri team that upset Illinois by a margin of 51-28.  51-28?  Ouch.  Who will be the lucky winner of the Meyer sweepstakes?  Whoever it is, you can bet that their fans are going to be thrilled to have him as their new coach.

  1. John L. Smith at Louisville.  This coach has been solid at Louisville.  Yeah, Howard Schnellenberger laid a solid foundation for Cardinal football, but it is still no cakewalk to try and build a program there.  He has been turning out some serious players, and it speaks to the talent on his coaching staff in the multiple areas of recruiting, talent evaluation, and player development.  At 53, Smith is running short on time for a major program to hire him, but with a career mark of 103-54 and 34-15 at Louisville coming into 2001 – how can you ignore him as a responsible athletic director?  Twice named Conference USA coach of the year, in his very first season he turned Louisville from losers (1-10 in 1997) to a bowl team (7-5).  Only once in his entire coaching career has his team not finished in the top 3 in their league (they placed 4th).  Six times he has taken his team to the league title with another four second-place finishes.  The bottom line is that this man can coach.  He will either remain at Louisville and build a top 25 program or be hired by a power program and possibly contend for national titles.  Either way, you will want to keep your eye on this man and his team.  

  1. Jeff Bower at Southern Miss.  I put Jeff Bower on this list once again because he deserves it.  I look for Bower to continue to make noise and end up at a major conference school before too much longer.  His teams play solid if not spectacular defense, even if his offensive schemes leave much to be desired.  In my opinion, his teams' physical, smash-mouth style would be an absolute perfect fit for a Big Ten program so long as he is willing to take care of the academic and behavioral side of the game.  Even if you defeat Southern Miss, you are going to feel it the next day.  He is a personal favorite of mine based upon the performance of his teams.  His coaching record stands at 73-52-1 coming into the 2002 season, but he routinely upsets larger programs and has a very solid eye for talent.  Illinois has already tasted what Southern Miss and Bower dish out to anyone who dares play on their home turf.  In fact, in the last 6 seasons, the Golden Eagles have lost only 4 home games and have played Nebraska, Alabama, Tennessee, and Penn State on the road a lot closer than their fans wanted…  At just over 50 years of age, the clock is ticking for Bower if he wants to move to a traditional powerhouse.  If he does not move, expect Southern Mississippi to join BYU and Colorado State as a top mid-major program.

  1. Dan McCarney at Iowa State.  This guy is not only a good coach, he also knows about rebuilding programs.   Why do I say this?  Well, his first job was as an assistant at Iowa where he helped Hayden Fry take the Hawkeyes to not one but two Rose Bowls (1982 and 1986).  After spending 13 years at Iowa churning out all-Big Ten linemen on the defensive side of the ball (10 of them to be exact with multiple repeat award winners), he left to join Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin in 1990.  Within 3 years as with McCarney as the defensive coordinator, the team went from a woeful 1-10 to an incredible 10-1-1 season that included a victory in the Rose Bowl over UCLA.  Iowa State was looking around for a coach in 1994 and wisely decided that if McCarney and Alvarez could transform the once lowly Badgers, why not the Cyclones?  After bottoming out in 1997 with a 1-10 season, Iowa State has done nothing but improve.  In the last two full seasons, they are 16-8 with two bowls.  Right now, they stand at 3-1 and might have been 4-0 if not for a terrible call by the officials against Florida State.  McCarney is only 49 – the perfect age for an established program seeking a man with plenty of experience but enough time to build a legacy.  If Iowa State can upset Nebraska when they play this year, do not be shocked if the Huskers place a few phone calls to Mr. McCarney at the end of this season or possibly next.

  1. Gary Crowton at BYU.  I do not know if he would leave BYU, but at only 45 – he will likely get the chance very soon.  Taking over for the legendary Lavell Edwards in 2001, he reorganized a team that had managed only 6 victories in 2000 and finished the season with an 11-2 mark.  His offensive schemes are creative and effective, and he can recruit (he took one of if not the top QB prospects in the country last year from all the big boys).  Best of all for anyone looking to steal him away from BYU is that he has a track record of excellence.  His tenure as the head coach at Louisiana Tech University from 1996-1998 resulted in a 21-13 record and victories over Alabama and Mississippi State.  From 1999-2000 Crowton served as the offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears where he managed to cobble together a reasonably productive offense with a collection of less then stellar weapons.  Throw in his association with such coaches as Lavell Edwards, Tom Coughlin, and Mike Holmgren and Crowton's success should come as no surprise.  The only question with him is whether or not he would ever leave BYU.  A reportedly devout member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, he values his family (7 children) and his religion above all else.  I expect Crowton to stay at BYU, but I would at least make a phone call to him if I were in the market for a fine coach.

  1. Tom O'Brien at Boston College.  Had I been the powers that be at Notre Dame last year, I first would have begged Tyrone Willingham to take the job, and if for some reason he had refused?  I would have beaten a hasty path to the door of Tom O'Brien.  He has a reputation as a hard-nosed, disciplinarian type coach who recruits fairly well at Boston College - no small feat.  With a mark of 31-27 in the last 5 years, he has successfully turned a sub-.500 team into a yearly bowl contender (Boston College has played in 3 straight bowls).  At just a few weeks shy of his 54th birthday, O'Brien is reaching the end of his marketability for a new program, but do not sell him short just yet.  If a program has talent but is merely in need of discipline and an attitude check (see UCLA and Michigan State), I cannot think of too many men that I would hire over him in the college ranks – if any.

  1. Kirk Ferentz at Iowa.  For the past couple of years, this poor guy has had to live with the whispers of, "I can't believe we hired this guy over Bob Stoops!!!!  What were those idiots who hired him thinking?"  Those remarks are becoming less plentiful now though with the obvious improvements on the Hawkeyes.  Ferentz has done wonders with the program considering Fry stayed too long and nearly ran it completely into the ground.  Just how improved is the Iowa program compared to just 3 seasons ago when Kirk was hired?  How many Buckeye fans have looked at the 2002 slate of games (like myself) and have muttered, "For once I sure am glad Iowa has rotated off our schedule."  After 1-10 and 3-9 seasons, 2001 witnessed a minor rebirth for the Hawkeyes with a 7-5 mark and a bowl victory over Texas Tech.  The pundits have picked Iowa to do pretty poorly in the Big Ten this year, but I am not so certain that is accurate.  We will see, but I think Iowa with Ferentz at the helm will surprise a couple of teams and might just be bowling in late December.  So, unless Iowa collapses, Kirk Ferentz is sitting in a very fine position.  He can stay at Iowa and build a program that contends for bowls, or he can leave when a major college football power comes calling.  Either way, Ferentz wins.

Honorable mentions:

Mark Richt – The reason he is here is the same one that Houston Nutt was an honorable mention on the initial list of coaches to watch in 2000.  Richt is not likely to move unless to a power such as Florida State or the NFL.  Georgia has more than enough talent to make a run at another national title.  Perhaps this one could come without accompanying NCAA sanctions…

Jeff Tedford – I am not yet ready to put a man on the list after less than half a dozen games.  If I were, this guy would be it.  He has a track record of success after serving as the offensive coordinator for Oregon over the past several years.  He has now moved to Cal to test his abilities to run a program on his own.  Thus far, the results have been fairly incredible.  Those results should be tempered however until the end of the season.  Michigan State has an incredible wealth of talent, but they are "coaching challenged" right now.  Neither are Baylor or New Mexico State top 25 programs in anyone's wildest dream.  No, he certainly has my attention, but I want to see what he does over the course of at least one full season before he is placed upon this list.

June Jones – This is no shocker here.  June could leave for a higher paying job any time he wants.  The only question some teams might have at this point is how well his health is following that brutal car accident that nearly claimed his life.  Has it affected his stamina, recruiting abilities, or any other facet of the head coach position?  We should know within a year or two depending on the measure of success gained by Hawaii.

     Finally, anyone looking for a very good coach in the next few seasons should at least make a phone call to...

Dennis Franchione at Alabama.  This guy can coach.  Will he survive the sanctions?  He has to be wondering this.  I talked to a Bama fan the other day who is convinced that sanctions will not effect the Tide.  I laughed and asked him to have his head examined.  Every SEC program in the region is going to be telling all of the blue-chip recruits not to go there.  After a while, that begins to make an impression.  I can hear the conversation now, "Son… What did them folks over at ‘Bammer tell you?  Did they tell you how they were gonna be a good team and win championships?  Har, Har, Har…  Whooooeeiii.  That is a good one!  Now, let me tell you the truth about Alabama.  Did you know they can't even qualify for a championship right now?  Did you know that they can't even go to a bowl game right now?  Did they tell you just how many scholarships they are losing and how long the sanctions are?  Did they tell you that the NCAA has reserved the right to re-open the case if more evidence surfaces and that the NCAA almost gave them the death penalty?  They didn't tell you all that?  Well, just so as you know I am not lying to you about all of this, I printed this article up for you.  It tells all about it.  You keep it.  Put it by your bed.  Read it a couple of times and think reaaall hard on what it says.  Let me know if you want to win championships with us at XXXXX – or go play at ‘Bama and be everybody's whipping boy."  I would be seriously considering leaving were I Franchione.  Contract or not, The Crimson Tide may get rid of the guy if the sanctions start inhibiting their wins against Auburn, Arkansas, LSU, and Tennessee (and they will).  Like basketball coach Eddie Sutton discovered while coaching at Kentucky, you can be a very fine coach and be destroyed by alumni who do not understand how incredibly difficult it is to win while under NCAA sanctions.  Like Eddie, Franchione should get out of town and go to another program that he can build into a winner.

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