Another week has rolled by, and although there are few games being played there is a lot of intrigue. Coaches hired. Coaches fired. Some coaches being as coy as that cute little gal who plays hard to get while others coaches being about as easy as a two-bit floozy. So what are my thoughts on this week's events?
OSU and the Fiesta
I will likely address this in more detail in the week prior to the game, but I am amazed at all the negativity by the national media. It almost seems as if they are angry at Ohio State for winning all of their football games. I am disappointed in some of the coverage for the Buckeyes on ESPN with commentators literally laughing at Ohio State and cracking jokes about them on the air. There is a level of professionalism that I have come to expect out of journalists, but multiple talking heads on that network obviously lack any sense of decorum. The numerous hack jobs that boldly claim Ohio State is going to lose now rank in the dozens with some forecasting ludicrous scores that should earn them scorn instead of headlines.
Second, I have been a bit disappointed in a couple of Ohio State players this past week. Let Miami do the talking. Let them supply all the bulletin board material. Why is it necessary for any of our players to be foolish and talk smack back? In particular, two of our seniors have made some comments that were better left unsaid. Hopefully, they will have the wisdom to keep their thoughts to themselves in the coming weeks. If they do not, then I hope the coaches will "help" them out a bit. Focus on the game and do not flap your gums like some senior citizen who has forgotten to put in their teeth.
Mike Price and Alabama
Another coaching change for Alabama, another year in which the talking heads have egg on their faces. The top two high profile jobs in all of college football are Notre Dame and Alabama. Period. At Notre Dame the pressure is the greatest because you are required to win every year and do it with class and integrity. At Alabama, the pressure is simply because you WILL be expected to win every game and it does not matter how you do it (though hopefully this is changing some). Alabama fans would expect to defeat the Green Bay Packers on the frozen tundra at Lambeau field, and I am not exaggerating in the least here. This go-round, Alabama landed another high profile candidate in Mike Price. Admittedly, his hiring caught me by surprise simply because I would have thought that Price would stay put after all of the time he has spent in the Pacific Northwest. Never underestimate the power of the male ego for desiring to coach at somewhere like Alabama, Ohio State, USC, Texas, Notre Dame, etc.
Was this a good move for Mike Price? Sure, he gets a fanatical fan base and a higher profile job. Sure, he has a bigger paycheck with a long-term contract that makes him more secure than a government employee. Sure, he is the toast of the state of Alabama (excluding the Auburn fans). My concern is that Price may not fully comprehend just how quickly that same "toaster" can be converted into a "roaster" when he loses a ballgame. Price has never been associated (even as an assistant or a player) at a university that takes its football so seriously. Just like in Northern Ohio and Columbus, Football is life and death in Alabama. Unless you have lived in this type of environment, you cannot begin to comprehend it. Also, I would question the impact on his family. His wife and he have spent their entire lives in the Pacific Northwest (sans 3 years at Missouri as an assistant). For his wife to pick up and leave everything, including her children, is a terrible blow. Do not think for one moment that it does not have an impact upon the performance of the coach if his wife is not happy. Will she be able to adjust? I think she probably will, but then again – there are some people who are just not designed to live in the Deep South (and the same could be said for any region in this country).
Was this a good move for Alabama? Sure, they landed a high profile coach. Sure, they shut up all the yahoos who thought Bama was surely done this time. Sure, there were not too many guys out there who looked to be as solid a hire as Price. However, in looking at the situation there are a few red flags waving over the university at Tuscaloosa (red and not crimson). First of all, Price has an abominable record of 4-10 against his rival Washington. 2-5 will get you fired at Alabama, let alone 4-10. Did the trustees look at this? Second, Price is not a Southerner. In the South, more than any region in the country, it is critical that you be an "insider" when it comes to certain high profile positions. If John Cooper had trouble in Ohio gaining acceptance, multiply that by 5 and that is the dynamic going on here. It is no exaggeration when I say that families in places like Tuscaloosa still remember whose kin were carpetbaggers. I have literally heard remarks like, "Well, that family is nothing but descendants of carpetbaggers anyway so what do you expect?" Price will never be viewed as "one of theirs" because he is in no way a Southerner, and this will give him some troubles. What about Price's overall record? Though he is being toasted right now because of the repeat 10-2 marks, did the Alabama fans and trustees notice that Price has more losing seasons than winning? Sure, one can argue that winning games at Washington State is about as easy as giving a wide-awake crocodile a root canal, but I beg to differ. Washington State is not Baylor or Duke or some such university; the Cougars do have enough to compete in their league. Further, when the Pac Ten was down for a number of seasons in the mid 1990's, a great coach would be expected to dominate, but Price did not.
I think this is an excellent hire and possibly a smart career move, but there are still question marks here. Keep an eye on matters down in Tuscaloosa because when the effects of the sanctions begin to erode victories like the Ocean's tides crumble sand castles, Mike Price and Alabama will either have to gel or they will part ways.
Michigan State and John L. Smith
While this hire should make me a happy man with the validation it offers (considering I called him a coach on the rise earlier this season), I am not sure I like it. (Please see shameless self-promotion here).
First, Michigan State's program is in a shambles, and they are in need of disciplinarian to clean it up. The runaway train that is their football team makes the wreck in the movie The Fugitive look like a minor derailing. Without going into the tawdry details, I must say that I have never seen a team with so much talent accomplish so little. This group of malcontents and underachievers who should have contended for a Big Ten title instead ended up as everyone's favorite whipping boy. The problem here is that Smith is not known as a disciplinarian. In fact, his teams are known for playing undisciplined. Commentators were making note of the fact that the penalty yards for Louisville (something like 80) against Marshall were in fact under their average. That is a clear mark of an undisciplined team.
Second, the hiring was extremely messy. I told a local SEC fan two weeks ago (when it looked like they might land Lewis) that Michigan State would botch this hire in some form or fashion. They did not disappoint. The school could not have been more inconsiderate if it had tried. To be talking to a coach just days (and maybe hours) before his bowl game? Allowing information concerning his impending hiring to leak hours before his team played? You have to be kidding me. That is inexcusable. That is so bush league that Michigan State should be forced to play all of their games in Arizona in 2003. If I were Louisville, then I would be furious – absolutely apoplectic. Michigan State submarined their program on national television. Spartan administrators were completely unprofessional with their handling of the matter. If in the future Michigan State wished to talk to one of my coaches, as an Athletic Director, I might just deny them permission until such time as I felt it would not be detrimental to my school. Why? Michigan State proved they cannot be trusted to provide proper and expected professional courtesies.
Finally, I feel that Michigan State had several coaches out there who might have provided a better fit for the university. Tedford at Cal has the look of a fine coach for the future, and he would have been worth the risk, like the old saying, "If you can't beat them, join them." Tom O'Brien of Boston College not only runs a disciplined program, he has shown he can win big games and compete with lesser talent. This is a valuable quality any coach at Michigan State has to have when playing football against traditional powerhouses such as Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State (not to mention the annual tilt against Notre Dame). If the Spartans were looking for a guy who could recruit the Midwest and run a fabulous offense, why did they not talk to Urban Meyer? If they were set on an NFL guy, why not make a run at Tom Coughlin who is known as a disciplinarian and had an extremely successful college tenure at Boston College? Tom would have provided the huge media splash that every school wants when they hire their next coach, and he might have been tempted to move with the right offer considering his tenure in the NFL looks tenuous right now.
I have nothing against Smith as this looks to be a great career move for him. I am just not certain (as with Price – but even more so in this situation) that John is the best choice for Michigan State right now. I wish them well so long as they are not playing Ohio State as the better the Spartans are the better it makes the conference.
I am going to say the same thing about Bobby Bowden that I believe about all aging legends. There comes a day when they should hang up the playbook and walk away from coaching. The Seminole program looks to be melting faster than ice cream on the hot July asphalt. The best talent is no longer staying in the state capitol; they merely stop there for gas on their way to Coral Gables or Gainesville. Richt and Amato are running very successful programs with pretty offenses while Bowden and his son cannot seem to get the needed results on their scoreboard. The losses, arrests, and even –gasp- suspensions (which are rarer than the Dodo bird under Bobby) are beginning to pile up.
I believe Bobby should retire before he tears down the very mansion that he built. Yes, Bobby can likely win 8 games a year until infinity in the ACC. Yes, even a weakened Florida State team is – sadly – better than anyone else in the conference. The issue here is one of tarnishing a legacy. Why limp out when you could walk out with your head held high? Why is it necessary for the administration to sit back and watch their program humiliated by Georgia and do nothing?
I know there will be some sentiment that this is a "what have you done for me lately" attitude. To the contrary. This is about Bobby and protecting his legacy. Why wait for him to go out disgraced when it does not have to be that way? Why not gracefully encourage him to retire and give him a wonderful sendoff in 2003?
Happiest Two Coaches in America?
Mark Richt and Bob Stoops have to be happier than a feline with catnip. Overjoyed. If their teams blow their bowl games, then they deserve to be put in the stocks on the campus quadrant and verbally abused by every redneck/roughneck in their respective states.
Georgia faces the worst Florida State squad in two decades. If that is not enough, FSU is now without their starting quarterback in Chris Rix. Let's see… this team without its top two quarterbacks, it has a vulnerable secondary, its best running back is out for the season, and top assistants from seasons past are coaching elsewhere? Meanwhile, Georgia has a solid defense, a very capable QB with a bevy of soon to be healthy wide receivers, and a top running back in Musa Smith…
Out on the West coast, unless the Cougars decide to "win one for the Gipper", the news that their head coach is leaving has to impact Bowl preparations. Don't tell me that trying to recruit for Alabama, getting ready to move, figuring out who you will hire for your new coaching staff, etc. will not impact your ability to adequately coach your current team. If Stoops and co. can figure out a way to shore up a suspect secondary, they should win this one with ease with all the disruptions on the opposite sidelines. Boomer Sooner fans everywhere have to be ecstatic about how this bowl season is moving.
One More Year
It looks like Ohio State will have its assistants coming back for 2003. That is great news for the program. I would not expect this to happen in the coming seasons however if OSU continues its success.
That is a positive.
Assistant coaches, just like players, have to be recruited. They want to make sure before picking up and leaving that the Buckeyes are the right place for them to go. They want to be sure that Ohio State can help them reach the next level in their coaching career. They want to see that Jim Tressel and the other men on the staff will hone their skills and prepare them for upward mobility.Expect anywhere from 2-4 current coaches to move up the ranks in coming seasons (again, provided the Buckeyes experience continued success). Some will leave for head coaching jobs while others will receive coordinator positions. Wish them well when they go and understand that this is great for both them and Ohio State in the long run.