In College Football, Coaching is King
Welcome back after a wild weekend of college football. Tomorrow we'll find out just how much the College Football Playoff rankings have been changed, and to be honest none of it really matters until after the conference championship games this weekend. Despite a crazy weekend of football that saw the top 2 teams in the rankings fall, the story on Monday was just as wild.
Tennessee, in their ever-futile pursuit of being relevant in the SEC again, swung for the fences to get Jon Gruden, whiffed, and ended up with current Ohio State DC and former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano. On the surface this was an OK hire, and had it been made 5 years ago, the Vols fanbase would probably have viewed it as a successful, but not sexy, hire. Schiano is an experienced head coach at both the college and pro level, and his greatest accomplishment is making the rain-soaked-dirty-diaper-in-a-roadside-ditch that is Rutgers football into a nationally relevant program that regularly graduated players and churned out NFL talent. Any major college program looking for a coach would look at that and trip over themselves to hire him...but this is 2017, and Greg Schiano has some, shall we say, interesting skeletons in his closet.
As news of Schiano's hiring broke late Saturday into Sunday morning, Vol Nation erupted into action. It seems that the fanbase that celebrates their all-time great quarterback Peyton Manning (despite his repeated sexual harassment and sexual assault of a former team trainer while he was at UT) decided that now was the time for moral outrage and quickly organized a campaign to protest Schiano's hiring to the powers-that-be at the University of Tennessee. It seems Greg Schiano, who was an assistant at Penn State while Jerry Sandusky was still an assistant coach there, was alleged to have witnessed the sexual assault of a child by Sandusky. This allegation was made by Mike "I definitely witnessed a child being raped and didn't intervene" McQueary, who heard it second-hand from another assistant coach. Tennessee fans, it seems, are A-OK with sexual assault supported by victim accounts but hearsay allegations of witnessing sexual assault is a bridge too far.
Now, let me be clear: if Greg Schiano did indeed witness sexual assault of a child and do nothing about it, he is a garbage human being. My point is not to make excuses for Greg Schiano or defend him in any way. I do, however, question the "concerns" of Vol fans who objected to the hiring of Schiano based on the fact that someone said he heard from someone else that Schiano maybe saw something. If the same allegations were made against #1-in-their-hearts coaching candidate Jon Gruden, would the fanbase have done anything except celebrate? Not a chance. The overwhelming rejection of Schiano has to do with one thing and one thing only: Tennessee fans don't think it's a good hire.
So why? Why does it matter so much that an unsexy candidate like Schiano not be allowed to lead the once-great Tennessee Volunteers football program? Well, the simple answer is that in college football, more than any other sport, coaching is king. Having a top-tier head coach in college football can mean the difference between 0-12 and 12-0. It is the difference-maker, in the same way that having an elite quarterback in the NFL, or a LeBron in the NBA can make a team an instant championship contender. The elite college coaches are able to dominate on the recruiting trail, instill discipline in a bunch of talented 18-22 year olds, and out-scheme opposing coaches 90% of the time.
And so, every December, struggling Power 5 programs fire unsuccessful coaches and scour the rest of college football for the Next Big Thing (a coach that has turned around a school you forgot existed or regularly plays games on Thursday nights) or the Back to School from the NFL (a highly successful college coach that made the jump to the NFL, proceeded to shit all over himself, and then return to what he knows best). For proof of the Next Big Thing, 0-12 to 12-0 and turning around a school you forgot existed, see Scott Frost. The 2nd-year head coach has turned around a UCF Knights football team that was winless the year before he arrived and has them on the verge of an undefeated season (despite an insanely hectic schedule filled with 3 separate hurricane-induced cancellations, a rescheduled game against a top-level conference opponent, and a last-minute addition of an FCS foe). Despite this magnificent turnaround, Frost has never been a target for Tennessee fans or administrators, who seem to have gone all-in on Jon Gruden and come out holding nothing but their proverbial dicks in their hands. After Florida flirted with Frost, they ended up hiring Mississippi State head coach and former Florida assistant Dan Mullen. Which leaves Nebraska (his alma mater) as the only logical landing point for Frost.
This year's Back to School from the NFL coach is Chip Kelly, the former Oregon Ducks offensive guru who flamed out as coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers. UCLA essentially hit a home run, hiring the former Pac 12 head coach who also reportedly had been offered by Florida. Kelly is returning to a conference he knows, and especially a recruiting territory that he knows. Florida then turned around and hired Mullen, and around and around the coaching carousel turns. Nebraska, Tennessee, Arizona State, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Oregon State are all major programs still in the market for a new coach. One, maybe two, of these teams will land a "sexy"candidate like Frost, while others will be left gambling on high profile coordinators, middle of the road candidates from smaller programs, or hiring assistants from within.
To me, the coaching carousel each December is almost as fun to follow as bowl season. The insane idiots tracking flight data, anonymous probably-full-of-shit sources on Twitter swearing that they heard some scoop from deep inside the program, and delusional fans thinking that some high profile name is coming to their school because his wife's OBGYN is a big booster there. It combines the great and terrible aspects of college sports and puts them under a microscope during the lull between conference championship Saturday and the start of bowl season. And it is often more Michael-Jackson-eating-popcorn-worthy than most of the games.
Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to start writing my "Brian Kelly fired, Bob Stoops headed to South Bend" article for next week.