Thursday, November 30, 2006

Who Will The Next Fool Be?

"After all is said and done / You won't be satisfied with anyone / So after you get rid of me / Who will the next fool be?"

For my triumphant return to 5 Tool Blogger, there's only one topic fitting for such a return - the NCAA coaching carousel. We'll go school by school:

The World Is Not Enough

It's a classic tale that repeats itself all the time. Coach meets school, school likes coach, school hires coach, coach wins his first 24 games, and goes to a BCS bowl in each of his first 3 seasons. He never has a losing record, and takes his team to bowl games in each of his 6 seasons, including two National Championship appearances. Coach recruits thugs, coach loses control of said thugs, coach gets fired, thugs rule supreme, and the cheese stands alone. The operative question here is: What the hell happened?

It really starts with Butch Davis. He got the swagger back in the 90's, and cleaned up a program that was honestly very lucky to be allowed to play. I don't know if any school came as close as the U to receiving the death penalty as Miami since SMU got it years ago. Throughout the late 90's, Miami made a habit of losing to the better teams and absolutely slaughtering everyone else. The recruits were flowing back in, and the U was poised for a big step up when Davis bolted for the NFL, leaving the job to offensive coordinator Larry Coker, a player favorite. Coker went 35-3 in his first 3 years, and went to 3 BCS bowls. While 2004 was a bit of a disappointment, they were still a fairly dominant team and didn't lose a single game by more than 7 points. In 2005 the defense continued its dominance and Miami cruised to a 9-2 regular season record. Both losses were within 4 points. Then it all came crashing down in the Peach Bowl, when the thug bit caught up to them. It wasn't so much the 40-3 asspounding at the hands of LSU that infuriated the Miami brass and the rest of the nation. It was Miami's decision to start a brawl with LSU's players. If anyone wants to know how the brawl went, here's a hint: The next time Miami picked on opposing players, it was Florida International. 2006 was a bit harsh on Coker, and his team really struggled at times, mostly with themselves. The Canes are 6-6 and headed to the MPC Computers Bowl to take on Nevada, where the players will inevitably dance all over the Wolfpack logo before getting their asses handed to them. And then there's the whole can of worms involving the FIU brawl. Or was it FAU? Does it matter?

To be fair, though, this isn't completely Coker's fault. Even Butch Davis had trouble getting rid of the thuggish image down there (remember his star LB, Ray Lewis?). A blowup like this has been stewing for years and years. The air of superiority down there is ridiculous, especially these days when it isn't even accurate. U of M graduates who are now in the NFL generally refuse to train in the offseason with their team, opting instead to train in Miami (which really makes you wonder - why in the hell would ANYONE opt to train down at Miami's piss-poor facilities when an NFL complex is at your disposal?). The Jeremy Shockey, Clinton Portis, Edgerrin James, and Kellen "F****** Sol'ja" Winslow attitude has been brewing down there since the Warren Sapp days. Why did this all fall on Coker's shoulders? What did he do differently?

Coker is 58-15 in his career, nearly .800.
He handled his rival, FSU, pretty well, going 5-2 against the Noles.
Miami's old rival, Florida, was owned by Coker, who went 3-0 against the Gators in their down years.

Really, he was more successful than Butch Davis, and arguably a better football coach. Davis would routinely get stomped by FSU or VT or, cough, UCLA, but Coker generally only lost close games. The Canes came to play, and were always competitive under Coker. I somewhat understand the decision behind the firing, but Miami should know - the pressure is on them, the school: If they don't bring in someone to absolutely clean house, the same thing will happen again. Coker was a victim of the U. It's that U mentality that's killing the program - someone needs to make it Miami again instead of "The U." Coker had one down year (Butch Davis once went 5-6 after winning the Big East) and he's still taking them to a bowl. It was a supposedly necessary firing, but it was a dangerous one. They have to get a coach who commands the respect of those players, which won't be easy. Second, they have to get a coach who will clean up the image down there.

Now, with it being such a dangerous job, the sorts that will be open to it will be varying and peculiar. From what I can gather, here are the candidates so far:

- Randy Shannon - The current DC at Miami, the players are big fans of his. He's constructed one hell of a defense in recent years, and is a very good coach. I don't think he's the right fit, however. Miami needs someone new to come in, like I said, and clean house. If this were about football, then Shannon would be a great choice. This is about discipline and righting a ship, though, and I'm just not sure Shannon would be the man for that job.

- Jim Leavitt - Now, realize I use the word "candidate" loosely. I'm not reporting on who is most likely to get the job - only offering my opinions on the guys being linked with the job. The current head coach at South Florida is the only football coach the Bulls have ever had, and I think he's due for a bigger job at some point. He's certainly earned it. The Bulls have always been competitive, and they've beaten, make that whipped, some physically superior teams in recent years. I don't know much about Leavitt, other than he has been huge for that program. Hell, if he stays even 5 more years, the Bulls might end up playing in Leavitt Stadium one day. He's chiefly responsible for improving South Florida's facilities, and he is as dedicated to a school as I've ever seen. If Miami can pry him away, they'd be fools not to seriously, seriously consider him. Odds are, though, he'll stay at South Florida.

- Steve Kragthorpe - The head coach at Tulsa is equally unlikely to leave, and I'm really not sure why Miami would pursue him. I'll give him credit - he turned a terrible, terrible Tulsa program into a mediocre one almost overnight. In '01-02 under Keith Burns they were 2-21. In Kragthorpe's first two years they were 12-13. Kragthorpe, though, is still building in Tulsa, and I don't think he's going anywhere.

- Chuck Amato - This is really just a curiosity of mine. The one thing always holding Amato back was a lack of great recruits. He turned up a lot of great players, but at Miami he would really be able to put his recruiting talents to good use. He's familiar with the area from his days at FSU, and would be an interesting choice if it came down to it.

- Any number of hot assistants out there. David Cutcliffe, Jimbo Fisher, and many others come to mind. Who knows what will happen with this job? Too bad SOS turned them down - he would be PERFECT for that job. I think Fisher is the more realistic candidate here, but I don't think they're too serious about him.

- The rest of the names I've heard mentioned:
Steve Mariucci (no)
Jeff Tedford (hell no)
Jim Harbaugh (Miami doesn't have the guts)
Barry Alvarez (fuhgettaboutit)
Jim Grobe (yeah, right)
Mike Leach - something to keep your eye on. He's slowly moving up the ranks, from Kentucky to Texas Tech, and is supposedly interested in the job. If he can recruit those south Florida athletes, his system would really be impressive down there.

What I think should happen: I think Miami should go after Texas Tech's Leach or USF's Leavitt. If they both turn them down, go after Kragthorpe, if Arizona State doesn't snatch him up first.

What will happen: Well, Leach's name is certainly getting passed around, but the frontrunner at this point looks like Randy Shannon. I'd say Kragthorpe is probably 2nd along with Leach right now.