James discusses the Master Coaches Poll

These days in college football, a vigorous debate always erupts at the end of the season as to which team is truly #1. Many fans dislike all the bowl games. Many others pine for a playoff system to settle things with finality. Until that day comes, the best solution to what ails the current BCS system might be the Master Coaches Survey.

The Master Coaches Survey is an elite group of former college football coaches that undertake intense study of each week's games and then vote a Top 25, just like USA Today/CNN and the Associated Press Polls. One of the members of the MCS is Washington's own Don James. Dawgman.com spoke this week with the former Husky coach, and asked him for more details.

"We have sixteen or seventeen coaches, most of whom are in the Hall of Fame," said James. "We've got them from all around the country. There's (Gene) Stallings and Pat Dye from down there in Alabama. And we've got Terry Donahue, John Robinson and myself for the west coast. There's also Don Nehlen, Hayden Fry, and several others. We have all these former coaches who are very interested in the game of college football. We get all these DVDs of 10-15 games each week, and we study them. Each DVD shows the whole game, but we have them take out commercials and replays so as to condense it. Afterwards we communicate with each other. We have a weekly conference call every Monday at 1 PM, and give each other reports as to what we saw.

"We started two years ago," continued James. "We used to get our DVDs and then not vote until Thursday, and it was just too late. It was just old news. But now we vote Saturday night and Sunday, and we have our Monday conference calls. We've been getting our poll published in some places, but not in some other areas of the country. Our goal, basically, is to become the BCS poll-- because we have a lot more credibility (than what is currently in place). When we were coaches, almost all of us voted in the Coaches' Poll, and the problem is that you only see the team you're playing that week and the teams you've already played. And you might happen to see a little of a team that is on the same film as another team you're scouting.

"We just have a lot more time to study it," he added. "And we don't turn it over to our SIDs to vote, like many current coaches do. Compared to the Harris Poll and other polls, we think we're more qualified. We see so many games. Just this past Saturday, I probably saw ten games, and had three games going at once on our televisions."

James was asked to go into more detail about the conference calls with the other former coaches.

"When we have our conference calls, I will find out about the LSU game, the Alabama game or the Big Ten," he said. "We've got guys like John Cooper who stay close to the Ohio State program, and Tom Osborne, who saw the most recent Nebraska game, or Frank Kush who saw the Arizona State game. Last year, I talked to Bo Schembechler on the conference call the week before he died. We all give each other reports of what we've seen. It's amazing to me how objective these guys are. Tom Osborne is not pushing Nebraska, Vince Dooley is not pushing Georgia, Pat Dye is not pushing Auburn.

"Because it's important to note that we don't cheer for our respective schools," said James. "It's fun to hear the coaches and hear their opinions. I want Washington to win, but I would never tout Washington if they didn't deserve it. Likewise with Don Nehlen; he wants West Virginia to do well, and they are doing well. But he is objective, and I think most of the guys are as objective as can be."

As the conversation took a turn toward specific teams, James was asked about a certain storied program from South Bend, Indiana. One would think that the words "Top 25" and "Notre Dame" would go hand-in-hand. But not so in 2007, as the 0-4 Irish are nowhere to be found in the MCS Poll. James was asked his thoughts on how the Irish could be so awful.

"It's just hard to believe that if you and I were recruiting for Notre Dame, that we couldn't recruit better talent," said James. "When I say better talent, I mean a couple of great running backs, a couple of great quarterbacks and a couple of great wide receivers. There are probably a few (great players) playing at other places who, if the coaches had done a better job of evaluating and recruiting, might be there now at Notre Dame. Maybe they have too big a (recruiting) list, maybe the Untied States is too big a territory. They are sitting right there in Ohio, and they can get down to Texas and Florida. You look at the great jobs being done by South Florida and Central Florida, and you're telling me that you can't have much stronger team at Notre Dame?

"I don't know what it is," he said. "Our posture (at Washington) was that when you get together a recruiting list, you're going to have about 75 players. Each player has got to be a solid player; they've got to be big, strong and fast. Notre Dame's list probably isn't as high as 75. They can appeal to the better student athletes. So when Notre Dame compiles a list, you wonder why can't they get a better (recruiting) class? My goal each year was to always have six pro prospects in each class. With Notre Dame, you would think that they would get sixteen in each class."

Also discussed was Nick Saban, whose Alabama squad broke into the MCS Top 25 this week for the first time this season. Saban, who played for James at Kent State back in the early 1970s, is now the highest-paid coach in college football. Given that 90,000 fans turned out for Alabama's 2007 Spring game, James was asked if Saban has been put on too high a pedestal to live up to expectations.

"First of all, there is probably a shortage of patience in the Southeastern Conference," said James with a chuckle. "Nick is a solid coach, and a solid recruiter and evaluater of talent. Right now, obviously, he is coaching other people's players. But he is good, smart and tough. He is a no-nonsense kind of guy. He will expect you to work hard and go to class and stay out of trouble. He'll be fine, and I think anything he does this year will be a bonus."

As the interview concluded, James was asked if there were any other aspects of the MCS Poll that he wished to discuss.

"It's amazing to me that we haven't gotten more visibility," he said. "I have called four of the newspapers that cover the Huskies, I called the beat writers. I didn't even get a reply from two of them. I didn't even get a call back. And one of the writers I left two messages. It's mind-boggling." With a chuckle, James added: "I'm just waiting for either one of those two newspapers to call me for an interview some day. I'm going to remind them of that.

"But the main thing is that we think our poll has the credibility that the other polls don't have," he said. "In some areas of the country we're getting good visibility and we're getting articles in the paper. But on the west coast, with guys like John Robinson, Terry Donahue and myself, it's amazing to me that we're not getting more visibility. We've also got John Ralston, who was down at San Jose State. So we've got the west coast covered. It seems like we're getting the least amount of visibility on the west coast. And you know, it's not like I've been paid a whole lot of money, so we're not in it for the big bucks. We're having fun with it, and we hope to make a contribution to college football."

But has the Master Coaches Survey made progress toward becoming THE poll?

"I'm not sure," said James. "I think we're making a little progress each year. The Harris Poll and Coaches Poll receive the most notoriety. And the AP poll gets printed obviously because of who they are. I have always been against a playoff system, so I can't be critical of the bowls. I just think that at the end of the year they need one more poll-- or a better poll-- to select the final eight teams. I think we're most qualified to be that poll."
Check out the website - www.mcspoll.com

Want to ask Don James, Tom Osborne or one of the other coaches a question? Click their bio and send them an email.
Derek Johnson can be reached at derekjohnsonbooks@comcast.net

His website is www.derekjohnsonbooks.com

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