As coaching carousel keeps spinning, lots of mid-level jobs may open up before season's end
On Sunday Maryland fired coach Randy Edsall, capping off a four-day stretch that showcased the school's administrative dysfunction and athletic director Kevin Anderson's ineptitude. History shows that there is a legitimate argument for firing a coach midseason if things aren't working out. But the Terrapins' four-day stint as a college football punch line shows what happens when a midseason firing is handled by the Ringling Brothers.
By sacking Edsall, Maryland officially kicked off what projects to be one of the highest volume hiring-and-firing seasons in college football history. (Illinois got things started in August when the school fired Tim Beckman, and North Texas let Dan McCarney go late Saturday.) The consensus opinion entering the year had been that there wouldn't be any head coaching jobs available among the nation's elite teams, but that's changed now that USC has fired coach Steve Sarkisian. The Trojans' opening adds to the sheer volume of coaching positions in a job-turnover cycle that projects to be overwhelming.
In theory, the Terps' decision to let Edsall go this early could be perceived as wise. There's a slew of other solid but unspectacular jobs that could potentially be coming open soon, either in the Big Ten or in Maryland's region of the country—Virginia Tech, Virginia, Rutgers, South Carolina, Purdue and Syracuse. (The Fighting Illini, of course, already have an opening.) Firing Edsall now gives Terrapins officials time and freedom to do back-channel research, reach out to candidates and essentially get a leg up on what should be stiff competition.
But the praise for Anderson's decision should end there. His ham-handed handling of Edsall's departure may end up backfiring on him. When 247Sports.com reported last Thursday afternoon that Edsall would likely be fired this weekend, Anderson went dark. The school released a weak statement that said that Edsall would coach against Ohio State on Saturday, essentially confirming the report and leaving Edsall twisting in the wind.
Anderson bungled every angle—letting the news leak out, not communicating and then hiding when the lights got bright. His lack of communication with Edsall included not calling him for nearly eight hours after the news was released.
This irked uberbooster Kevin Plank, a former Maryland football player and the founder of Under Armour. Plank found it disrespectful that Anderson didn't communicate with Edsall after the story broke. Edsall was a solid coach for the Terps (a 22–34 record in 4½ seasons) and acted with class throughout his tenure. Hanging him out to dry is poor form, no matter whether the ultimate decision came from Anderson or somebody above him.
Anderson's clunky moves achieved a brutal daily double. He managed to look like an athletic director for whom no big-time coach would ever want to work, while also irritating his top booster. (Anderson declined to comment, but in another report apologized to Edsall for the story leaking out. "That wasn't the way it was supposed to happen," Anderson told The Washington Post.)
Consider this poor execution of what could have been a smart play.
In the past, other schools have successfully fired their coaches during the season. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley fired Ron Zook in October 2004, which gave him time to covertly court Urban Meyer, who was then at Utah. Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne fired Mike Stoops in October '11, allowing him to properly research Rich Rodriguez. (Byrne also spoke to Meyer and Mike Leach, both of whom were, like Rodriguez, out of coaching at the time.) Byrne hired Rodriguez on Nov. 22, edging out schools that had waited to fire their coaches and giving Rodriguez time to secure a decent '12 recruiting class.
Anderson is now in a tricky spot in his search for Edsall's successor. Maryland has Under Armour support and will eventually cash in on a full share of Big Ten money in 2017, helping the athletic department climb out of debt. The Terrapins are also in the midst of a $155 million football facility renovation at Cole Field House, a symbol of their commitment to the sport. Can the school find a high-end coach to match? Even with the bells and whistles, Maryland is still the fifth best job in the Big Ten East.
There will be dream targets like Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly and Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien, a former Terps assistant. But those are long shots at best.
Don't be surprised if Rodriguez gets a look, as he was a top target of Anderson the last time the Maryland job came open. Others on the radar will be former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, Bowling Green's Dino Babers, Temple's Matt Rhule and Indianapolis Colts assistant Pep Hamilton .
Anderson gave himself a jump with his clunky firing of Edsall.
We'll see in the next few weeks if that has helped or hurt him.
Other Potential Early Job Openings
The only person who didn't see this dismal season (1–4) coming was Cavaliers AD Craig Littlepage, who brought back Mike London despite little evidence that he could win as a head coach. An early firing could give Virginia an advantage over Virginia Tech, which can't let Frank Beamer go early out of respect. The Hokies also could be in contention in the ACC Coastal Division late in the year, a problem the Cavaliers likely won't have. The potential race between Maryland, Virginia and Virginia Tech for head coaches is a fascinating subplot.
UCF is in a particularly intriguing spot after its awful 0–6 start, lowlighted by a 40–13 loss to UConn on Saturday. The Golden Knights' dreadful performance means that George O'Leary won't likely be around next year. (He'd also been the school's interim AD since June, but he stepped down from those duties on Monday.) And it means that his preferred successor, UCF assistant Brent Key, has no shot at replacing him. The clock is ticking on filling both jobs, especially with the South Florida coaching job also expected to open. These rivals will be hiring from a similar pool. Both jobs are better in many coaches' eyes than positions at such schools as Rutgers, Iowa State and Purdue.
When the season began, this was expected to be the best job available. The Hurricanes' financial issues, lack of on-campus stadium and decade of irrelevance (other than their troubles with the NCAA) have made Miami a less attractive landing spot than it used to be for top coaches. But perhaps if Hurricanes officials put a merciful end to the Al Golden era sooner rather than later, they will be able to target and land a top coach. Some coaches and agents view Virginia Tech as a better job these days than Miami, and the Hokies project as the Canes biggest competition in the coaching market.
The bloodletting will begin soon, as there's no conceivable way that school officials will allow AD Julie Hermann to hire Kyle Flood's replacement. The Scarlet Knights need a complete reboot to show they belongs in the Big Ten; the program has been defined more by its off-field dysfunction than by its on-field performance. Rutgers needs to show it can do something— anything—right. Golden would be a good fit here, as the Scarlet Knights are about as low as Temple was when he took over there in 2006.
Steve Spurrier stayed a year too long. No one knows this more than the Ol' Ball Coach, who is 0–4 in the SEC with three blowout losses this season. It would be wise for the Gamecocks to declare their intentions soon while still allowing for a proper send-off for Spurrier. South Carolina has made huge leaps as a program under him. Finding someone to replace Spurrier is daunting. The good news for the Gamecocks is that theirs could be the only SEC job that will be opening up. The bad news is that they will be competing for coaching candidates with Virginia Tech, Miami and Virginia. South Carolina also has the disadvantage of being at least two years away from being competitive.
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Charlie Strong takes Texas from the parking lot to victory
Texas coach Charlie Strong had just finished his somber press conference last Monday when he saw Longhorns tight end Caleb Bluiett. In the aftermath of his team's embarrassing 50–7 loss at TCU, Strong was asked some tough questions, including about whether his players actually cared about their poor play, the panicking of the Texas faithful and his own future in Austin. The press conference was more like a funeral for his program than a pep talk for its upcoming game against rival Oklahoma in Dallas.
It was a bleak scene, with Strong defending his young team for nearly 30 minutes, a noble effort that didn't go unnoticed by Bluiett.
"Hey coach, listen, don't worry about all that," Strong recalls being told by Bluiett. "We've got you. We've got this one for you."
As much as Strong appreciated Bluiett's words, they also troubled him. He was concerned about the effect that all the overblown talk about his job status could have on the Longhorns' fragile psyches.
"Listen, let me handle the coaching and getting the players ready," Strong told Bluiett. "I've got a plan. Don't worry about [whether] you got me. We all just need to play well for each other."
And that's what finally happened on Saturday in Texas's stunningly dominant 24–17 upset of the No. 10 Sooners. It was easily the biggest victory of Strong's two-year tenure in Austin, a defining moment in his attempt to rebuild the downtrodden, divided program he inherited from Mack Brown.
"We needed a signature win just to get the kids going," Strong told The Inside Read. "What I was so happy about is all the emotion from the kids from start to finish. They wanted this game so bad. Everybody was talking about them. Saying they couldn't do it and aren't pretty good. They just got sick of it."
Strong knew his team was poised for a breakthrough victory well before kickoff on Saturday. He could tell when he had his team go through a 6 a.m. walk-through in a hotel parking lot on game day.
The Longhorns had done the same thing a week earlier, before their brutal loss to the Horned Frogs, but this time was much different. This time players weren't slow to get out of bed, quiet or worried about going back to sleep.
Texas was so listless before the game against TCU that Strong nearly pulled his team off the field during warm-ups. "I didn't feel like they were ready to go," Strong says. "We weren't focused at all."
But the Longhorns were more than ready for Oklahoma. During Saturday's early walk-through, they were wide awake, whizzing through the game plan and brimming with a vocal confidence that carried through to pregame warm-ups.
"I could tell then we were ready to go play," Strong says of the parking lot practice. "It was amazing."
His confidence was also why Strong was short on words before Saturday's game. "I'm not going to say much at all," Strong told his team. "We're going to go to work. There's nothing else that needs to be said."
After Saturday's triumph, the questions in Strong's postgame press conference were much more upbeat than the ones he faced just five days earlier. When asked about his players' improved play against the Sooners, he replied, "I guess they didn't want to see me get fired."
"I had to throw it in there," Strong says with a laugh.
But Strong knows that all the wild speculation about his job security isn't funny to his players. He's seen the concern in their faces and heard it in their words.
"That's why it's so funny when I hear people say he's lost the locker room," Strong says. "When you're in their corner defending them, they know how you feel about them."
Strong also knows that his team is still far from where he wants it to be. Texas (2–4) is off this week before consecutive games against Kansas State, at Iowa State and Kansas, the most favorable part of a schedule that has been among the nation's most difficult this season.
"We'll be fine," Strong says. "We just need to keep getting better."
After Saturday's win, Bluiett sought Strong out again. The redshirt junior's two-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma turned out to be the difference in the game.
It was also the first touchdown of Bluiett's collegiate career. He had been inherited by Strong.
"I told you we had you," Bluiett told Strong.
The two laughed as they hugged. Now that's a big victory for Strong.
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WKU won't play fast and loose with QB Brandon Doughty
Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm likes to joke that he can beat Hilltoppers star quarterback Brandon Doughty in a 40-yard dash. "If we ran," Brohm tells The Inside Read with a laugh, "that's not something I would broadcast to anybody."
But no one in FBS would be beating Doughty in passing yards if Brohm allowed his quarterback to play full throttle for an entire game. The sixth-year senior is second nationally in passing yards, with 2,359, despite completing only 22 of 25 total passes for 187 yards in the second halves of Western Kentucky's last three blowout wins.
Doughty also ranks first in the country in completion percentage (74.7), second in pass efficiency rating (187.4) and third in touchdown passes (20). His impressive stats have made him a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate under Brohm, whose Hilltoppers are off to a 5–1 start.
Along the way, the second-year Western Kentucky coach—coming off an 8–5 record and a victory in the Bahamas Bowl last season—has emerged a potential candidate for the job at Illinois.
"I've kind of called off the dogs in the second half and got conservative," Brohm says of his handling of Doughty this fall. "He probably could have a lot more."
For that reason Doughty might not top his ridiculous 4,830 passing yards and 49 passing touchdowns from last season. But he's completing more of his passes than a year ago (when he connected on 67.9% of his throws) and is averaging just over 1.5 yards more per completion (10.3). His three interceptions have him on pace for fewer than last season (10).
Doughty is doing all this despite garnering much more attention from opposing defenses. He's also doing it against a tougher nonconference schedule that has included two Power 5 opponents (Vanderbilt and Indiana).
"He's playing at a high level," Brohm says. "Very efficient and accurate. He's done a really good job."
Lost in Doughty's eye-popping pass completion percentage is the fact that he's thrown more deep passes this season, according to Brohm.
"To me, that's the hardest thing to do even at the NFL level," Brohm says. "That's what he's been very, very good at to add to his game."
With Doughty having added 13 pounds in the off-season, his 6' 3", 218-pound frame is now more NFL-ready. Brohm points out that Doughty delivers the ball quickly and accurately, is a smart decision-maker and has good-sized hands, which all help his professional prospects.
Doughty's vast experience in the Hilltoppers' pass-happy scheme is a plus too, especially because it requires him to take snaps not only of the shotgun, but also under center.
"I think he'll definitely get a chance somewhere," Brohm says.
And while Doughty has his limitations athletically, he continues to work tirelessly on his movement in the pocket, as well as on scramble drills and off-balance throws—all of which he does daily in practice.
"He plays more athletic than you think," Brohm says. "While he doesn't get yards running, he can escape a little bit to allow someone just a little bit more time to get open. Two years ago, he wouldn't do that at all."
These days, Brohm is waiting on Doughty to take him up on that 40-yard dash. "I might win running backwards," Brohm says. "I don't think he would want to race me or probably any linemen on our team."
Just like none of them, including Brohm, a former NFL quarterback, would probably want to face Doughty in a passing contest.
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