Inside Read: After first domino, a look at all likely jobs on coaching carousel
The announcement of Will Muschamp’s exit as Florida’s coach marks the first major domino of the college football coaching carousel. With Michigan expected to fire Brady Hoke in the coming weeks, the two jobs predicted all season to open will be vacant. Here’s a look at what could happen by examining the jobs destined to open and the candidates who may fill them. (Information comes from coaches, agents and athletic officials.)
FLORIDA: Athletic director Jeremy Foley has outsmarted himself twice in hiring off-the-radar coaches for one of college football’s most prominent jobs. Both Ron Zook and Will Muschamp were flops. Foley needs a big name with an offensive pedigree (or a track record of hiring good offensive minds) and someone with extensive head coaching experience. And that’s where it gets tricky.
The first name here is Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. Could he have an itch to leave Norman after 16 years? No one really knows, but it could finally be time. From there, the next names are Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze. After that, the list of experienced head coaches with offensive pedigrees who can handle the spotlight in Gainesville is small. Foley isn’t going to hire Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy. Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez and former NFL coach Mike Shanahan are highly unlikely. And please stop mentioning Steve Spurrier. Don’t be surprised if an outside-the-box candidate emerges, such as TCU’s Gary Patterson. Perhaps there’s some regret from two coaches who had a chance to leave last season but didn’t: UCLA’s Jim Mora Jr. (Texas) and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin (USC)?
MICHIGAN: If anyone tells you they know who is getting the Michigan job, don’t believe them. Michigan doesn’t even know who will be firing Brady Hoke or hiring his replacement. Wolverines fans should be rooting for San Francisco to lose, as the 49ers missing the playoffs would perpetuate the notion that Jim Harbaugh could return to his alma mater. It’s still likely Harbaugh stays in the NFL (though probably not in San Francisco), but he’s such a wild card that even he has no idea what he’s going to do. There’s a chance at Michigan, but it’s a slim one. (A key factor is timing, as waiting for Harbaugh would kill the December recruiting period, which is a week shorter this year and ends on Dec. 15. That’s an integral period to shore up the 2015 class and perhaps even more critical for establishing the groundwork for 2016.)
Mullen could end up as the frontrunner here, as he’s the hottest coach. He would have to decide if he wants to leave the SEC. Greg Schiano had a long dance with Michigan while at Rutgers but ultimately turned down the job. He fits their profile for academics, recruiting and style of play. The wildcard name here is Al Golden. He’s on his third athletic director at Miami. Instead of praise from the fan base for enduring the Nevin Shapiro-induced NCAA nuclear winter, he has airplane flyovers calling for his dismissal and former Miami players ripping him on Twitter. His tie-on-the-sideline image would fly much better in Ann Arbor than in Coral Gables. But don’t forget, whoever is hired as athletic director at Michigan will change the whole dynamic.
ILLINOIS: The end is inevitable for Tim Beckman, and his brutal tenure makes you wonder why Illinois administrators didn’t pull the plug earlier. In the era of expanded leagues, bad jobs like Illinois are now worse. The best thing Illinois has going for it is that it’s in the easier division of the Big Ten, away from Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State.
This could well end up as a coordinator hire, as the school went with the hot MAC coach and bombed last time. Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is the obvious name. But would he rather stay at Michigan State to succeed Mark Dantonio? Marshall’s Doc Holliday has an undefeated team but hasn’t received much buzz. Could his proficiency at recruiting Florida help him land a job in the talent-starved Big Ten? First-year Bowling Green coach Dino Babers crushed it at Eastern Illinois, giving him some familiarity with the recruiting base. The recruiting momentum that Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck has created (see more below) could be intriguing.
Ohio State’s Tom Herman, Clemson’s Chad Morris, Baylor’s Philip Montgomery or Oregon’s Scott Frost could bring a shot of offensive adrenaline to a buzzless program. The tricky question here is whether agents will advise their clients to go to a place that’s been a career sinkhole for many coaches.
INDIANA: Kevin Wilson likely will be fired. The Hoosiers are headed toward their seventh consecutive season without a bowl, and a loss to Ohio State this week will bring their current losing streak to six games. (Only one of those defeats, a 13-7 loss to Penn State, was competitive). Indiana (3-7, 0-6) did beat SEC East leader Missouri this year, but a rash of quarterback injuries and a hapless defense have submarined the Hoosiers.
There’s no obvious candidate here, but Nevada’s Brian Polian interviewed last time and was passed over for his lack of head coaching experience. His energy could give Indiana some momentum. After whiffing with the hot coordinator last time -- Wilson is still considered one of the game’s top offensive coaches -- do the Hoosiers go with an FCS coach or a Division II coach?
On the MAC front, Fleck, Babers and Toledo’s Matt Campbell could be in the mix. Whoever ends up as the MAC champion would boost his candidacy exponentially.
KANSAS: An upset of TCU last week would have done wonders for the candidacy of interim coach Clint Bowen. The close loss didn’t hurt him. Bowen was a star player at Kansas, is beloved by KU boosters and even married a former Miss Kansas. Expect him to be part of the staff even if KU hires a more experienced coach.
Memphis coach Justin Fuente could loom as a top choice, as he has the Tigers on target for a nine-win regular season. In a thin year for mid-major coaches, he should be the hottest candidate. If Kansas casts a wider net, Utah State’s Matt Wells and Air Force’s Troy Calhoun could end up as good fits. Other names expected to be in the mix are Nebraska’s Tim Beck, Ohio State’s Ed Warinner and the usual suspect coordinators like Clemson’s Morris, Ohio State’s Herman and Baylor’s Montgomery. Money will be an issue here, as it would be a surprise if Kansas paid its head coach more than $2 million per season.
SMU: The field has narrowed, and it would be surprising if the Mustangs don’t end up with either Herman or Morris. SMU is looking for a candidate with Texas ties. Herman has strong experience there as an assistant on the college level (Sam Houston State, Texas State and Rice). Morris is one of this generation’s most respected high school coaches there. With the Tulsa job expected to open and Kansas potentially drawing from the same candidate pool, don’t be surprised if SMU acts quickly. Oklahoma coordinator Josh Heupel is a candidate, and Baylor’s Montgomery would also be a good fit.
VIRGINIA: Things are free-falling for Mike London, who at 4-6 needs wins against Miami and Virginia Tech to get bowl eligible. This is an intriguing job because London brought in so much high-end talent. The first name would be Golden, who served as a graduate assistant (1994-96) and a defensive coordinator (2001-05). While it would be a step back from Miami, it may be a better cultural fit for Golden to go somewhere he’s embraced.
Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has the academic pedigree from his days at Stanford and was a finalist at Vanderbilt last year. The Colts have the NFL’s top total offense and passing offense. Morris could also be a fit with his familiarity with the ACC, as he’s long been considered a strong candidate at North Carolina should things continue to go south for Larry Fedora there. (Morris and UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham have a relationship back to their days at Tulsa). Calhoun’s Air Force team is 8-2 and he could end up a darkhorse here, as he’s worked in an academic environment and also knows the league from his time at Wake Forest.
BUFFALO: Athletic director Danny White has been bouncing around the country quietly interviewing candidates since letting Jeff Quinn go in mid-October. The buzz on White’s search is that he’s honed in on an experienced head coach, which would rule out BCS coordinators. (So would finances, quite frankly). Look for White to lure a winning head coach from a lower level to kick start the program after it dipped when Turner Gill departed. Towson coach Rob Ambrose fits White’s profile and took his team to the FCS title game last season. Fordham coach Joe Moorhead knows Buffalo’s recruiting footprint well from his days as UConn’s offensive coordinator, and his high-octane spread offense has quickly turned around his current program.
TROY: Larry Blakeney had a long and successful run at Troy. To replace him, the most obvious candidate to emerge this season is UAB’s Bill Clark. With the future of football at UAB uncertain, Clark could use his 5-5 resuscitation to bounce to a more stable job. His performance this year and career of success in the state of Alabama makes him a logical pick. Other names include Mississippi State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, Texas running backs coach Tommie Robinson (a Troy graduate), Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown (former Troy assistant) and Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr.
TULSA: The Bill Blankenship era is sputtering to an end, as the Golden Hurricane are 2-8. A hot coordinator (Morris, Montgomery, Herman) would fit here. Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, who has strong ties in neighboring Arkansas, could get a look. (His boss, Malzahn, is a former Tulsa offensive coordinator). TCU offensive coordinator Doug Meacham, a former Oklahoma State assistant, could also have a shot. Utah State’s Wells is from Oklahoma and would be a big splash hire if he’s willing to jump. Wells is a former assistant under Steve Kragthorpe, who turned around the program from similar depths.
Sizing up some top candidates
Dan Mullen Mississippi State: As we detailed a few weeks ago, Mullen to Florida is unlikely. It’s clear that Mullen is the hottest candidate in the country, bringing Mississippi State into playoff contention. So where does he go? A lot could depend on whether or not the Bulldogs make the playoff, as Mullen is unlikely to take another job while preparing for that.
P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan: The Broncos are in negotiations to keep Fleck, who has impressed both recruiting and on the field. Western Michigan is 7-3 and tied atop the MAC West with a 5-1 record. He could be a candidate for some low-level Power 5 jobs like Illinois, Kansas or Indiana (if it opens). Fleck brought in the highest rated recruiting class in MAC history last year and has Western Michigan at No. 58 in the recruiting rankings this year, ahead of Cal, Kansas State and Colorado.
Brian Kelly, Notre Dame: There’s little chance that Kelly leaves Notre Dame for another college job, especially with 19 of 22 starters slated to return next season (20 if you include KeiVarae Russell, who could be the nation’s top cornerback). Why move to rebuild at a Florida if there’s a chance to thrive immediately in South Bend? It’s widely believed Kelly’s next move is to a high-end NFL franchise. Notre Dame is still his best platform for that.
Jim McElwain, Colorado State: Too inexperienced for Florida, and Michigan just flopped with the hot Mountain West coach. McElwain has a buyout of $7.5 million, and there doesn’t appear to be an obvious fit now, but things could change. A Montana native, McElwain likes it out West, but no Pac-12 jobs are expected to open.
Greg Schiano: Don’t expect him to go to a school that can’t someday contend for a national title. He’s getting paid for one more year after getting fired in Tampa Bay, so he can afford to be picky. He’d also have a chance to return to the NFL as a head coach or coordinator. He nearly took the Michigan job before Rich Rodriguez got it, and Florida was interested in him before Urban Meyer decided to return in 2009.
Matt Wells, Utah State: He’s been impressive this season as the Aggies have won despite losing nine starters to injuries and were forced to go with their fourth-string quarterback. He’s a strong recruiter, has a magnetic personality and is earning a reputation as a magician for having this team 8-3 (5-1 in the Mountain West).
Justin Fuente, Memphis: He and Wells fall into the same category -- mid-major coaches who lack an obvious landing spot but could end up somewhere if a Power 5 coach skips to a place like Florida or Michigan. (Fuente would be a logical choice at Ole Miss or Mississippi State). Fuente will be a hot name after turning around Memphis, which is 7-3. Being a former Gary Patterson assistant at TCU also will help, as the Horned Frogs’ success makes him an easy sell. If Patterson leaves, he’d be among the first phone calls.
Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern: The hottest Sun Belt candidate is Fritz, who has Georgia Southern 7-0 and has a terrific track record as a head coach at Blinn Junior College (39-5-1), Central Missouri (97-47) and Sam Houston State (40-15). He may be too loyal to leave after one season, but his success at multiple stops and different levels has athletic directors intrigued.
• Second-year Arkansas coach Bret Bielema likes to joke that his team is like Bill Murray’s character in the comedy What About Bob? In the flick, Richard Dreyfuss plays a psychotherapist who counsels Murray, his troubled patient, to try taking “baby steps” in all he does.
“We were taking baby step after baby step after baby step,” Bielema told The Inside Read with a laugh.
But Bielema and Arkansas finally took a monumental step with last Saturday’s 17-0 win against LSU, which snapped a 17-game SEC losing streak and was Bielema’s first conference win. It had been widely expected by SEC coaches after the Razorbacks came so close this season against Texas A&M, Alabama and Mississippi State. Those games were decided by a combined 15 points.
The victory symbolizes just how much progress has been made under Bielema after Bobby Petrino’s ill-fated motorcycle ride wrecked the program and John L. Smith ran it into the ground.
“It just didn’t happen yesterday,” Bielema said. “Nobody flinched. Everybody just stayed the course. They believe in what we’re doing.”
When Bielema arrived after winning three consecutive Big Ten championships at Wisconsin, he had to get his players to focus off the field after they’d experienced a 4-8 campaign under Smith in 2012.
“They thought a C in a class was a good thing,” Bielema said. “I kept hearing, ‘I’m eligible.’ We’re not into eligibility. We’re into degrees. You’re not going to go into a job interview and tell them you’re eligible.”
Bielema also revamped his program’s training table, prioritized his players getting proper rest and emphasized they be careful about what they put in their bodies.
“You’ve got to live life the right way,” Bielema said. “As that began to turn, we saw our guys have more and more success on the field.”
It all eventually led up to last Thursday night, when after perhaps the best week of practice under Bielema at Arkansas, he told his team, “You’ve earned the right to win.
“From like Tuesday or Wednesday on, I felt like this one was pretty much in the bag. We matched up really well. I thought our kids were confident. I think we’re going to be able to take this thing and run with it right now.”
Bielema admitted that Saturday’s victory was “kind of cool” because LSU beat Wisconsin earlier this season. “To watch that game and see a lot of the players I coached before and then to be able to execute the plan here the way I want to get it done and see the results is kind of fun to watch,” Bielema said.
Bielema received approximately 300 text messages after the game, some from fellow SEC coaches. Many of those same people wouldn’t even bring up his winless streak in the SEC. “Everyone always kept saying this is the one, this is the one,” Bielema said with a laugh.
And now Bielema finally has one. Baby steps.
• UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley has left many wondering what could have been this season. Entering Saturday’s game against rival USC, the Bruins are ninth in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, the second-highest team with two losses, and riding a four-game winning streak. The 6-foot-3, 226-pound redshirt junior is back to his dual-threat play that spawned his stardom after admittedly not running the ball like his usual self during the first two months of this season.
Hundley attributed it early this month to the “pressure” of trying to show he is an improved passer to NFL scouts, who have concerns about his accuracy and pocket presence. He said he had an epiphany after beating Colorado in double overtime last month, a couple of weeks after the consecutive home losses to Utah and Oregon by a combined 14 points.
The UCLA offensive line was criticized earlier this season for not protecting Hundley, who it turned out was holding the ball too long trying to prove his mettle to the NFL. It caused some of those linemen and others on the offense to lose self-confidence. Hundley’s nonchalant admission about his change of play sparked anger and bemusement about whether he still thinks he is more important than the team. It’s been a bizarre twist for Hundley, who isn’t viewed as an arrogant Johnny Manziel type.
He could have left for the NFL Draft after last season, but wisely stayed. In July, Bruins coach Jim Mora declared Hundley a first-round NFL pick. Now four months later there are questions not just about his suspect passing, but also his leadership and football acumen.
Hundley already wasn’t popular with his teammates entering this season, according to an NFL scout. That may be an even bigger problem for Hundley after this turbulent season. Many scouts believe he should remain at UCLA next year to try to salvage his damaged NFL stock.
• After Bowling Green was blown up in its season opener, coach Dino Babers gathered his team in the locker room for a critical speech. Star quarterback Matt Johnson was lost for the season and a team picked to win the MAC and crash the Top 25 appeared on the brink of disaster.
“We are writing a story,” Babers calmly told his team. “The first chapter was a nightmare, but it’s not over. We’re still writing our story. How do you want to finish it?”
Since then, Bowling Green has won seven of nine games behind new starting quarterback James Knapke. And one of the Falcons' last chapters will be in the MAC title game after clinching the league’s East Division with a 30-20 win over Kent State last Wednesday.
Babers laughs now about his team’s predicament after its opener, but admits it was “a difficult time in the marriage, that’s for sure.”
What the Falcons have done is a testament to the patience of Babers, a former assistant under Baylor coach Art Briles. He came to Bowling Green after two record-setting seasons at Eastern Illinois, which he called the “Baylor junior varsity” for his up-tempo, spread offense.
He inherited a talented Bowling Green team that won the MAC championship last season under predecessor Dave Clawson, who left for Wake Forest. But that was with Johnson, the most valuable player of the MAC title game last season. Knapke had thrown just 10 passes prior to this season.
Knapke, a redshirt sophomore, has had his struggles (12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions), but was perhaps the most efficient he’s been all season in the Falcons’ last victory.
"It kind of validates to me what we’re doing,” Babers said. “If we’d just won it with Matt and nobody got hurt then it’s you know Dave Clawson left you a hell of a football team and you just walked into it. If anybody has any football sense, it validates us a little bit.”
And with just two senior starters on an offense that is 33rd nationally (454.9 yards per game), Babers expects the success to continue. Johnson should be ready for next season and will have two years of eligibility remaining if he receives an anticipated medical hardship.
But for now, Babers is working on finishing a story he and his team started nearly three months ago.
“We’re still writing it,” Babers said, “and we’re a long ways from the ending.”
• When the NCAA announced in September that it had lifted Penn State's postseason ban, first-year coach James Franklin was inundated with calls, texts and tweets. “Everybody was saying, ‘Hey, you’re bowl eligible. This is awesome,’” Franklin told The Inside Read. “I kept trying to explain to them we’re not bowl-eligible. We’ve got the opportunity to go to a bowl. We’ve got to go earn it.”
Franklin and his team did that last Saturday with a 30-14 victory over Temple. It’s another major accomplishment in the continued rebuilding of the Nittany Lions (6-4) under Franklin, who inherited a program that had been on the brink of receiving the death penalty from the NCAA.
“I’m really happy for the 49 guys that stayed when this program and university needed them the most,” Franklin said. “That they’re going to be able to go out the right way is awesome.”
Franklin’s done it this season by playing just 46 scholarship players, a number that excludes those redshirting and walk-ons who received scholarships. Of those, 15 are true or redshirt freshmen.
Franklin opted to not play more true freshmen, sticking to his long-term vision for the program instead of sacrificing it for the short term. “This team is a bunch of fighters and guys who have persevered,” Franklin said. “They’ve been through a lot of adversity together.”
When Franklin replaced Bill O’Brien, who left to become head coach of the Houston Texans, he paid little attention to the NCAA penalties that he inherited. Instead he poured his efforts into recruiting and development of his existing players.
“The sanctions were very black and white,” Franklin said. “Everybody on the outside had opinions of what they thought may happen, but I didn’t want to live in that world because I could set myself and the players up for disappointment.”
Franklin was fully prepared to be barred from postseason play for two more seasons until the NCAA’s reprieve in September. He also was prepared to be without the full level of scholarships (85) until 2016, which also got moved up a year.
Unlike USC, which bemoaned its loss of scholarships from the Reggie Bush penalties, Franklin hasn’t made a significant issue out of the Nittany Lions’ restrictions. It’s difficult to get him to even address the situation.
“It’s something that we can’t control and it’s not going to change,” Franklin said. “There’s an aspect that people have to understand and have to be aware of. You’d like for people to kind of realize the situation you’re in, but we try to stick to what we have.”
For Franklin, that means his team that took Big Ten power Ohio State to double overtime late last month before eventually falling 31-24. That was in the midst of a four-game losing streak in which the Nittany Lions dropped the final three games by a combined 13 points.
But for all the on-field progress, Franklin remains just as focused off it in rebuilding a program that was rocked by the Sandusky scandal.
“There’s healing that’s going on,” Franklin said. “There’s still healing that needs to happen. In our building the guys have been awesome. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’re getting better.”
• Marshall coach Doc Holliday is quick to point out that it was Conference USA, not his school, that hired a publicity firm last month to promote his undefeated team. After all, it’s not the laser-focused Holliday’s nature to worry about whether his team ends up getting the Group of Five conferences’ one automatic berth in the six New Year’s Day bowls.
“We kind of just do what we do,” Holliday told The Inside Read. “We aren’t concerned about what we can’t control.”
After Mississippi State’s loss Saturday, Marshall (10-0) and Florida State (10-0) are the FBS’s only remaining undefeated teams. But while the Seminoles have continued to generate headlines on and off the field, the Thundering Herd’s unblemished record has come quietly, with blowout victories.
That’s how Holliday prefers it. He’s unbothered that the College Football Playoff committee is down on his team’s lackluster competition. Marshall’s wins have come against a group with a combined 36-68 record and only one opponent has a winning mark, Rice, which Marshall beat 41-14 last Saturday. That’s why the Thundering Herd haven’t been in any of the four sets of playoff rankings this season, even though their average margin of victory has been nearly 31 points per game.
If there’s not a highest ranked team from the Group of Five conferences in the final rankings on Dec. 7, the committee will pick a team from the five league’s conference champions for the automatic berth to one of the New Year’s Day bowls.
“There’s a lot of people that think we’re a really good football team,” Holliday said. He’s referring to the Associated Press poll and USA Today coaches’ poll, which both have Marshall ranked No. 18, its highest spot this season. And while most assume the Thundering Herd’s success has come mainly because of star quarterback and long-shot Heisman hopeful Rakeem Cato, it’s more than just a one-man show.
Holliday’s team trails only Baylor in the FBS in points (47.1 per game) and total offense (567.2), and is also sixth in rushing offense (294 yards per game). It is fifth in points allowed (16.3 points per game) and 13th in total defense (322.2 yards per game) under second-year defensive coordinator and veteran assistant Chuck Heater.
It doesn’t hurt that Cato (2,613 passing yards with 26 touchdowns and seven interceptions) is playing what Holliday says is his best football this season. Earlier this season, the 6-1, 176-pound senior broke Russell Wilson’s FBS-record of consecutive games with a touchdown pass, a streak now at 42.
“He’s getting us in the right checks, making the right reads on the run-pass option stuff and his decision-making has been unbelievable,” Holliday said. “A lot of times you get guys that are mentioned for the Heisman and all that, they’re more concerned about throwing the ball around and stats than winning games. He’s all about winning. He’s maybe the most unselfish player I’ve ever been around.”
Holliday’s team still has three games left to impress the playoff committee, which includes the Conference USA championship game. Those three contests are what concerns him most, not weekly rankings.
“If we take care of business, we should be OK,” Holliday said. “We just have to continue to prepare and I think at the end of the day we’ll look up and be happy where we are.”
• Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett’s stellar play has not only made him a potential Heisman Trophy finalist, but also made NFL scouts re-evaluate incumbent starter Braxton Miller. One NFL scout told The Inside Read that Barrett is already better right now than Miller, who underwent season-ending surgery in August to repair his torn right labrum in his throwing shoulder. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said in late September that Miller will be his team’s starting quarterback next season, but has backed off that stance recently.
If Meyer sticks to his word, the scout wants to know the answer to the question many others are starting to ask about Barrett, who has arguably improved as much as any other quarterback in college football this season: “What do you do with him?” the scout said. “You can’t sit him next year.”
It’ll be a precarious question for Meyer. After all, Barrett’s efficiency as a pocket passer has highlighted Miller’s NFL shortcomings, especially his struggles with three- and five-step drops.
“When [Miller] makes plays, it’s always running around,” the scout said. “It’s not a rhythm, timing thing. Those are things you have to take into consideration. He’s a great athlete, but is he a quarterback? Eh, I don’t know. Is he ahead of where Terrelle Pryor was at this stage? Eh, I don’t know. He is what he is.”
There’s an increasing notion in NFL circles that Miller, the two-time reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, may be a product of the Buckeyes’ up-tempo, read-option spread offense. “For what they do, he’s really good,” the scout said. “For what the NFL does, not so good.”
The scout wonders if Miller might be better off in the NFL going the route of former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who has transitioned to running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“The guy can run, but I don’t know if he’s that instinctive as a runner like Robinson,” the scout said. “But that might be what he ends doing at the next level. You put him there and find out what you got.”
• Allegations of grade tampering and players receiving improper benefits at Miramar (Fla.) High has some college football coaches concerned about recruiting at the perennial South Florida powerhouse. Several told The Inside Read they are fearful Miramar players might not be ruled eligible by the NCAA Clearinghouse.
“It certainly puts a stain on all those kids,” said a coach who recruits Miramar.
Former Miramar coach Matt Strout has alleged that he has provided thousands of dollars in cash and gifts to players, their parents and girlfriends and teachers, according to reports. The Broward County Public Schools and the Florida High School Athletic Association are investigating the claims, but in the meantime Miramar vacated its position in the state playoffs last week.
Strout was forced to resign in late October after a 5-3 start in his first season. He succeeded Damon Cogdell, who was hired as West Virginia’s defensive line coach in January after seven seasons at Miramar. Strout has also said Cogdell was part of Miramar’s problems. Cogdell won a state title at the school in 2009 with future West Virginia standouts Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey.
Cogdell has helped the Mountaineers secure five commitments from Miramar. Cogdell did not respond to multiple attempts to reach him about the latest allegations, but earlier this month he told The Inside Read, “Those [Miramar] kids love me,” Cogdell said. “I love those kids.”
Another coach told The Inside Read he doesn’t think Strout’s allegations will be substantiated. One alleged that highly touted Miramar senior wide receiver and West Virginia commitment Jovon Durante had been playing while academically ineligible. He missed a game while his grades were probed in late October, but was allowed to play the following week.
There was more bad news for Miramar on Monday when star senior cornerback and West Virginia commitment Tyrek Cole was charged with misdemeanor battery stemming from an incident in September. He has since been dropped from the roster of the Under Armour All-American High School Football Game in January.
Cole’s commitment to West Virginia came the same day of his alleged assault. He had previously been a Florida State pledge and could not be reached for comment. Some recruiters had been wary of the 5-11, 162-pound Cole, who was suspended for undisclosed reasons in late September for two games.
Q&A with Texas coach Charlie Strong
Texas coach Charlie Strong has the Longhorns bowl eligible at 6-5, and they have a chance to pull a season defining upset against No. 4 TCU on Thanksgiving. Strong’s first season at Texas has been eventful, as he’s dismissed nine players, rebounded from a 2-4 start and juggled the balancing act that comes with being Texas’ coach. He took a few minutes to talk to The Inside Read this week about everything from his fashion critics to meeting Bill Clinton and the emergence of star receiver John Harris.
Your sideline outfits have become quite the conversation piece in Austin. Can you illuminate?
I wore an orange mock turtle neck against North Texas and Iowa State. The week after Iowa State, I put on white we got beat by Kansas State. Next one, I put orange back on. We were getting ready to play West Virginia, and people were like, ‘What’s he going to wear?’ I came out (for warm-ups) in an orange and white striped polo. Everyone was like, ‘Nooooooo. You can’t wear that.’ I came back and changed to orange and everyone was clapping. Clearly, the turtle neck is what started us winning. (Laughs).
You’ve met some cool people since getting to Texas. Give me a quick thought on meeting each one. Jim Brown.
I met Jim in Louisville and again here. You watch a guy when he ran the ball and then you see what he’s done for the community and as an activist and how he’s been a part of so many communities and helped with racial issues and tension.
Matthew. (Laughs). He’s someone who has so much pride in how much he loves being a part of this university. It means so much to him.
I grew up in Arkansas. We were talking about that, and had a chance to sit at the table at a lunch. It was amazing. You don’t realize how smart he is. He doesn’t forget anyone. We sat at a table and remembered everyone’s name and asked what they did. I told him I was from Batesville and he said he’d been there. It was fun.
We had a chance to sit down and talk about different issues. Not only on the college level but on the professional level. The issues that we have, they trickle back down to the college level and high school level. We were having discussions on how to deal with these issues. As a college coach, what can we do on our end to make it better for you?
OK, back to Texas football. John Harris had 190 career receiving yards before this season. He’s on the cusp of 1,000 this season as your leading receiver. What’s that been like to see?
It has been so much fun watching John Harris come on and become the player he’s become. When we got here, we didn’t really know who the players were. I don’t even think we had him on the first team in the spring. He was backing up Marcus Johnson at the X receiver. That’s where John was playing. Now that I think about it, wow. For him to come on, and he’s become our go-to guy. The thing about it is that he’s not only big, but he plays big, physical and he’s hard to bring down. He makes the tough catches. He’s 24 yards away from having a 1,000-yard receiving year. You can tell now his confidence is better. It’s just fun to see that happen.
What about star linebacker Jordan Hicks, who leads your team in tackles? Have you been happy to see him shake off injuries and really produce?
Jordan has fought through the injuries that he’s had here. He’s able to finally go through a full year. Everyone knew that he had the ability. It was more about him going out and playing up to that ability that he’s been blessed with. It’s been a fun year for him. The thing I love about him is his leadership ability. He’s tried to get the defense going and other things going. He’s played well, and his play speaks for itself.
What’s been the evolution of your relationship with the team? From the outside you’ve been branded as a disciplinarian for the suspensions and dismissals. What’s it been like behind closed doors?
From the moment I took this job, there’s always been a bond with this team. Everyone hears about me being a disciplinarian and taskmaster and running these guys off, but that’s what happens when you have a team and a group of guys kind of doing it their way. The team is looking at you like, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ If you allow it to go on, you are just going to have more issues. Really, at the end of the day, kids are looking for discipline. The kids doing it right want to see if you’re going hold up your end of the bargain. We’ve always had a bond, and a lot of times we have a lot of fun. From the outside, people see the suspensions and dismissals. But within the program, guys are joking and having fun every day.
What was the turning point after starting 2-4? Was it that start against Oklahoma?
We played well against Oklahoma, and that game kind of got us going, even though we didn’t win. But if you think about it, we played well in Red River and against Iowa State. But if I were to say there was a turning point, it would have been Kansas State (a 23-0 loss). You could see it from the players and the seniors at the time. I told the team, we’re not going to change this team until someone develops ownership in this program. A few guys voiced opposition and weren’t very pleased. That was where we woke up. We have the talent, but we were holding ourselves back. We had not done a good job coaching and playing until that point, and then we went out and won the last three.
What would a win against TCU on Thanksgiving mean?
What I’m looking for is for our seniors to go out the right way. Things changed here because of the leadership provided by the seniors. We want them to leave the right way. That’s what I want to see happen. The game is at home and senior night for those guys, the last time they play in this stadium.
• When Eric Morris was recruited to Texas Tech by then-coach Mike Leach, he was enticed by Leach’s card tricks and a telephone call with a physic woman called “The Wizard.”
“It was a different age,” said Morris, a wide receiver for the Red Raiders from 2004 to '08, with a laugh. “He definitely had some tricks up his sleeve.”
Now Texas Tech’s offensive coordinator and receivers coach, the 29-year-old Morris uses a more modern pop culture approach to recruiting that has made him one of the nation’s best. He is 10th in one service’s current recruiter rankings and has been a godsend for a struggling Red Raiders program short on talent and depth (its current recruiting class is ranked 26th nationally by one service).
Morris keeps up to date with the latest buzz through Instagram, YouTube and Tweets of the day chosen by the players in his meeting room. Favorites include Barstool Sports, failed attempts by skateboarders and zany football plays. There’s also of course, Kim Kardashian’s latest Internet-breaking photos.
“Sometimes you got to pull them back a little bit and let them know, hey that’s probably not appropriate for our meeting,” Morris said with a laugh.
Morris also stays in tune with what’s next in music by letting his position’s player of the week choose the songs for their weekly highlight tapes. “If you involve these kids in what you’re doing in your meeting room, you kind of naturally get schooled up on what they’re doing,” Morris said.
Of Morris’ five commitments, his biggest prize is Stephenville (Texas) quarterback Jarrett Stidham, the nation’s second-best dual threat quarterback and consensus top 50 recruit in the country. He will enroll at Texas Tech in January and is perhaps the highest ranked recruit to ever choose the Red Raiders.
“There’s a bunch of people that believe this kid is the most pure passer that they’ve seen at the high school level in a long time,” Morris said. “The kid’s mechanics are impeccable. He gets the ball out quick and on time. It’s just a beautiful natural throwing motion.”
The 6-2, 183-pound Stidham first impressed Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury and Morris at a camp before he had even started a high school game at quarterback. Afterward Kingsbury couldn’t believe he had been a wide receiver the previous season during Stephenville High’s state title run in 2012.
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Morris recalls Kingsbury telling him. “There’s no way that kid didn’t play quarterback last year.”
Even better for Texas Tech, Stidham just might end up being the program’s best recruiter. He was influential in highly-touted Dallas wide receiver Carlos Strickland’s commitment last month and has stolen a page from Morris’ social media approach in using Twitter to try to help land other recruits.
“He wants to come in here and be the guy that changes this whole program,” Morris said.
Sounds like Morris and Texas Tech just might have another trick up their sleeve.
• Utah assistant Ilaisa Tuiaki wouldn’t have believed it two years ago if he had been told he would be coaching defense. Back then, he was the Utes’ fullbacks and tight ends coach. In college, he had played running back, a position he later coached at Utah State during his first collegiate assistant job. “There’s no way,” Tuiaki told The Inside Read. “I considered myself an offensive guy.”
But the 35-year-old Tuiaki is now entering his second season overseeing Utah’s defensive line, a group largely responsible for the Utes leading the FBS in sacks (47), nearly a full sack more than the next team. It’s headlined by star senior defensive end Nate Orchard (16.5 sacks) and emerging redshirt sophomore defensive end standout Hunter Dimick (nine sacks). “We’re doing a good job,” Tuiaki said with a laugh. “Players make you look good.”
Tuiaki made the change to the defensive line to replace Chad Kauha’aha’a, who left to take the same position at Wisconsin after the 2012 season. He did so at the request of rising Utes defensive coordinator Kalani Fifita Sitake, who knows about changing sides of the ball. He was Tuiaki’s running backs coach at Southern Idaho and the two grew up together in Hawaii. “He’s a guy that I’ve always trusted,” Tuiaki said of Fifita Sitake.
Tuiaki didn’t have long to get up to speed on coaching defensive linemen. His first call was to Vanderbilt defensive line coach Frank Maile, one of his relatives who he considers a brother.
“Listen, you’ve got to come over here and teach me everything you know,” Tuiaki recalls telling Maile.
Maile did that even though he was at Utah State then and the Aggies later played Utah that season. Tuiaki also solicited advice from Kauha’aha’a and former Utah defensive line coach John Pease.
Tuiaki also made a trip to Wisconsin to spend a few days with Badgers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda when legendary defensive line coach Pete Jenkins visited. Badgers coach Gary Andersen was Tuiaki’s coach at Southern Utah. “Everything I know I basically stole from a bunch of other great minds,” Tuiaki said.
Tuiaki believes his offensive experience has also helped him better explain to his defensive linemen how to combat schemes they face. Philosophically, he preaches fighting and finishing.
That approach dates back to his days as an MMA fighter, which he took up after his career at Southern Utah ended in 2004. He got started first in boxing before progressing to the disciplines of Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, Filipino Kali and t’ai chi ch’uan.
“A lot of the different arts are useful in what we do as defensive linemen,” he said.
But Tuiaki can’t remember if he has record of either six or seven wins to go with his lone loss as an MMA fighter. “I lost one and that burned up my brain,” said Tuiaki with a laugh.
Just like he would have once laughed at coaching defense linemen.
It’s become a staple of first-year Alabama-Birmingham coach Bill Clark’s program -- the barbecue from the Full Moon Bar-B-Que Southside location just east of UAB’s campus. It’s what his players often eat for team meals and is a favorite of his staff when it orders in while working long hours.
Not surprisingly, the chain’s co-owners, brothers David and Joe Maluff, are major supporters of the Blazers (Joe has a degree from UAB). So much, the Maluffs will have a Full Moon location in the university’s new student center set to open in August.
“We eat with those guys all the time,” Clark said.
With so many barbecue options in the Birmingham area, Clark admits that he likes ribs at many restaurants, but only “loves” the ones at Full Moon. They are a slow-roasted on an open pit for two-and-half hours.
There’s also a sweet, heavy Ketchup-based sauce.
But it’s not just the ribs that keep Clark going back to Full Moon. He suggests the restaurant’s extra cheesy macaroni and cheese along with the sinful homemade banana pudding.
Many don’t know about the latter because it’s only on Full Moon’s catering menu. Clark also gets a gallon of the restaurant’s sweet tea every Monday.
With so many barbecue options in the Birmingham area, Clark knows his allegiance to Full Moon is likely to be dissected as much as his game plan. But he’s got the perfect defense for the restaurant.
Said Clark, “It’s really all good there.”