By DERON SNYDER
College coaching carousels are fascinating to behold, a sport within sports.
Maybe it’s the public nature of job openings that often materialize after rampant speculation. The list of hot prospects and rumored candidates are intriguing as well. So too is the debate in defining great jobs vs. good jobs vs. lousy jobs. The high salaries involved don’t hurt, either.
A lot of mid-major coaches can’t be picky when opportunities arise within a Power Conference. Moving up often offsets any deficiencies found at the new school.
But the most sought-after up-and-comers can turn down overtures from lesser outposts, waiting a few years for destination jobs.
That’s especially true in basketball. This season, Archie Miller has the reins at Indiana after six seasons at Dayton, which he led to the last four NCAA tournaments. Two years ago, Shaka Smart was the nation’s most-coveted mid-major hoops coach after taking VCU to five consecutive NCAA tournaments, including a Final Four. He parlayed that success into the Texas job.
Dayton and VCU have become veritable launchpads. Miller is the third consecutive Flyers coach who left for a Power Conference. Will Wade, now in his inaugural season at LSU, is the forth consecutive Rams coach to make the leap.
But whereas 68 coaches reach basketball’s Big Dance each season, the stakes are higher in football. Only four teams reach the College Football Playoff. Another eight teams are slotted in the remaining “major bowls.”
Wannabe-contenders don’t want a football coach who merely reaches a minor bowl – the threshold for eligibility is a measly six victories. They want a coach who can take them to the big-time, the national title game or “New Year’s Six.”
UCLA wants a taste so badly, it’s willing to pay Jim Mora Jr. $12 million over the next four years to NOT be the coach, while it gives the job – and $23.2 million – to Chip Kelly instead. Florida thinks so highly of itself that it fired Jim McElwain – whose teams won consecutive SEC East titles way back in 2015 and 2016 – and replaced him with Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen.
Tennessee reportedly was set to announce Greg Schiano as its new football coach Sunday. But the school backed out after an uproar from fans and state lawmakers regarding Schiano’s time as a Penn State assistant under former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who’s currently imprisoned for sexually abusing young boys.
During Sandusky’s trial, another assistant testified of hearing that Schiano once recounted witnessing a molestation. Schiano, currently the Ohio State defensive coordinator, denied the allegation. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers later hired him as head coach after “hours and hours” of interviews and background checks, according to a tweet Saturday from former general manager Mark Dominik.
Anthony Lubrano, a trustee at Penn State since 2012, issued a statement Monday, saying that Schiano “had nothing to do with the Sandusky scandal. Any stories about his involvement are completely uncorroborated and without basis in fact. To impugn Mr. Schiano’s character based on hearsay alone is irresponsible and unfair.
Call me cynical if you like. But I don’t think a similarly random allegation would’ve derailed, say, Jon Gruden if he was up for the job. If Schiano was a more-promising candidate, he’d be in orange today.
The entire ordeal is an example of how crazy life can be in the Southeastern Conference, where unrealistic expectations and overinflated self-images run rampant.
Texas A&M fired coach Kevin Sumlin after six seasons in which he was 51-26 with nary a losing record. Another example is Georgia, which fired Mark Richt two years ago after he went 164-56 in 15 seasons, with just one losing campaign. Tennessee is looking for its fourth coach since 2008.
The dominoes have just begun to fall, and their unpredictable nature is what makes the changes so intriguing.
Central Florida has become a better job since Scott Frost took over two years ago. But he could be headed to his alma mater, Nebraska. Texas A&M and Arkansas are looking for coaches right now. But Auburn and Florida State could be in the market shortly, as Gus Malzahan and Jimbo Fisher, respectively, are candidates to sign with other schools desperate for their services.
“My question about all this stuff is: Who do you hire?” Alabama coach Nick Saban told reporters. “You basically start all over. You keep starting all over.”
Indeed, they do. New hires become passé and eventually give way to fresh faces at another introductory news conference. Eventually comes word that a parting of the ways has occurred, causing the cycle to repeat.
It never gets old. And each year, we can’t wait to see where the carousel stops when it fires up again.