COMMENTARY: Dispelling coaching myths

IT'S AN ARGUMENT that inevitably makes the rounds wherever college football fans gather to ride out the storm of a painful season, be it the neighborhood watering hole or cyberspace. A coach moves up to Division-IA from a lower level and struggles. The coach is out of his element. Like D-IAA players, the coach isn't good enough to compete with the big boys. Is it a valid argument?

It's more accurate to say a good football coach is, or will be, a good football coach whether it's I-A, I-AA or D-II. So is a poor one for that matter. As to the former, one is Frank Beamer, who came from Murray State, which competes in the FCS (formerly I-AA). Beamer inherited a Virginia Tech team that went 9-2-1 on the field the year before...and promptly led them to 2-9 and 3-8 seasons his first two years.

The next four seasons weren't much better. Beamer went 19-23-1 over that span. In today's climate, he never would have lasted that long. Six years? Are you kidding? Not a chance.

But once Beamer got his kinds of guys in the program, once his systems had been assimilated by the players, once the players had really bought in, look what happened. In 9 of 15 seasons since, Virginia Tech has notched double digit wins. Further, in 14 of those 15 years, Virginia Tech won no fewer than eight games a season. Their worst season the last 15 years? They won seven games and went bowling.

Should it take six years for Paul Wulff to right the ship? Lord, I hope not. And you can make the argument Beamer took too long to turn it around in the first place. But there is no arguing -- none -- with what Beamer has done since. The huge numbers of V-Tech fans who said 'ol Frank wasn't D-IA material during those six long years? They've been proven as wrong as wrong can be..

ANY OTHER EXAMPLES who were "not D-IA material" per some of their fans? There's one now at a BCS school that made a change at the end of the 2000 season, believing the team had underachieved under the old regime.

In his first year, fans believed their new coach had the players to compete for the league title and a BCS bowl. The coach in question went 7-5. Said the fans: He's in over his head. His staff has no idea what they're doing. We have WAY more talent than this and the reason we're losing is plain and simple: It's coaching. That Mickey Mouse Double-A stuff won't work here where the big boys play.

In the six years since, he has won a national championship and his team finished out of the Top 5 in the final polls only once -- the year they were ranked No. 19. They've gone 71-12 over that stretch. Not many Ohio State fans still think Jim Tressel was the wrong hire.

ANOTHER WHOSE previous only head coaching experience came at the NAIA level came to lead a BCS school in 2001. He went 3-8 his first year. Incompetent. Dumb. Worthless. We've regressed at so many different positions. That and more was said to describe his hiring during Year 1. What happened next? He went to a bowl game the next six straight years. His teams had three seasons where they won 11, 11 and 10 games. They never had fewer than 8 wins.

Many West Virginia fans now revile Rich Rodriguez but it's for the way his departure at WV unfolded, not because he was a poor coach. And Michigan is now struggling in Rodriguez' first year there, sitting at 2-5. They lost to Toledo. Fire this clown. We made a terrible hire. This guy doesn't understand the Big10.

I submit that Michigan's future will be similar to what Rodriguez did at West Virginia. After some serious struggles this first year, Michigan will be better next season under Rodriguez and it will not be long until Michigan begins challenging for league titles and BCS bowl games under Rodriguez...After Rodriguez gets his guys and systems established there.

The lessons learned from Beamer, Rodriguez and Tressel? It takes time. It's hard to stomach. It can be brutal. But it takes time. If you want to do it the right way and build a program, it takes time. Well if that's true, then how does a new coach ever have success in his first year? After talking to a friend of mine who close to the Cougar program, here's one theory on that.

SOME COACHES get that first year "bounce". These coaches usually have a disposition of energy to the extreme. They come into a little bit better base to work with than the media would have you believe. They motivate and engender such confidence in all their players they, as a whole, play well enough at the spots they are thin, to win. Mike Price and what he did at UTEP his first year there? The quintessential example.

But what often happens in the following year (and years, as anyone who has followed Price can point to), is the program backslides off a great opening act. Why? Because the fundamental core issues that were preventing them from winning still exist. It is only ever truly solved by recruiting, both in talent and in the right guys for that coaching staff and school, followed by the right coaching moves then being made.

Paul Wulff didn't get that first year bounce because he's not that kind of ebullient coach and the WSU depth was very thin from the get-go this year and injuries have been catastrophic. Wulff's a positive guy, but he's also a no-nonsense, no-BS, work hard and earn your stripes kind of coach. He praises kids when they deserve praise, but he's not a bouncing off the walls cheerleader type coach. Which brings us to...

Is Paul Wulff the right coach for WSU. There are some things, like what he's done in recruiting so far, and in considering the deep yawning chasm with which he was saddled, to lead me to think he is...but I don't know for sure and won't until, at the very least, Year 3. And no one can say he's definitively the wrong choice until then either. Not credibly, anyway.

I do think Paul Wulff will get his bounce. But it will have to wait until he gets more of the kinds of guys who really respond to a straight-up, no-nonsense approach. He has some of those kinds of guys right now. But not enough of them.

A FINAL THOUGHT to leave you with.. Dennis Erickson actually had a lot of talent his first year at Washington State in 1987. What did he do with it? He won three games. The '87 squad, on paper, they should have been better. The following year, the Cougs went from getting their doors blown off and but three wins... to a team that knocked off No. 1 UCLA and went to the Aloha Bowl. It takes time.

Joe Cline is a longtime Cougar fan from Spokane.

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