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Kiffin, Carroll and a coaching carousel fix, plus more mail

People always ask me: What do you write about in the offseason? My answer, half-jokingly, has always been "there is no offseason." But it no longer feels like a joke. This particular season literally won't end. It's gotten to the point where I'm scared to log online in the morning for fear of what crazy coaching story will have popped up next.

Jim Tressel resigning to begin new career as late-night talk show host ... South Florida to hire Holtz -- Lou Holtz.

Is there anything we wouldn't believe at this point?

Stewart, this college coaching carousel is crazy. This makes you appreciate guys like Paterno even more. Do you think college football should implement a policy where a school that hires a coach who is currently under contract at another school loses scholarships?-- Mike Patschke, Newton, Pa.

We heard this often after the Brian Kelly/Sugar Bowl episode -- people want the NCAA to step in and do something about the timing of coaching changes. But it's not the NCAA's jurisdiction. These aren't pro franchises, these are universities, and the football coach just happens to be one extremely well paid university employee. The NCAA has no more authority to tell a school when it can or can't hire its next coach than to dictate its next chemistry professor.

The one pertinent thing the NCAA does have control over is its recruiting calendar, which is the single driving factor behind the timing of said coaching changes. The reason Kelly felt he couldn't stick around for Cincinnati's Sugar Bowl appearance was the need to get started on recruiting for Notre Dame (which was only a couple of weeks away from entering a dead period) as quickly as possible. The reason USC, and now Tennessee, were put in such a bind was that they lost their coaches just a few weeks before Signing Day (which itself was unavoidable because the NFL -- which created the Carroll ripple -- ends its regular season a month after college).

If the NCAA created an early Signing Day (as some coaches have been pushing for several years now) or moved it later, there wouldn't be so much pressure for schools and coaches to act so quickly. Recruits are still going to get caught in the middle one way or another -- I don't know how to avoid that other than to continue cautioning prospects that their coach could leave at any time -- but you could cut down on the awkward situations where coaches leave on the eve of bowl games or the devastating effect when they leave right before Signing Day.

So let me get this straight. Kelly ditches his kids (who worked so hard all year) prior to the biggest game of their lives versus Florida, without finishing the season or giving advanced notice like REAL professionals do, in order to get started at ND, and that was a great thing. Now, this guy (Kiffin) leaves during the OFFSEASON, and he is chastised for it? You better get your bias straight prior to writing articles 'cause it's blatant.-- Anthony, Baltimore

I'm not sure how you got the idea that anyone (myself included) thought Kelly leaving before the Sugar Bowl was a "great thing," but it is true that I understand why he did it. I also thought that while Cincinnati players' initial bitterness toward Kelly was understandable, ultimately they and Bearcats' fans should feel far more gratitude toward the guy for transforming their program from an irrelevant International Bowl team into a two-time Big East champ and BCS participant. Kelly did far more good for that school in three years than the harm he may have caused for a few weeks prior to the bowl game.

Kiffin, on the other hand, ditched Tennessee having accomplished almost nothing. He delivered a seven-win season and one great recruiting class. Thanks for that. And as strange as it sounds, his timing was far worse than Kelly's due to the ramifications it could have on the Vols' future. I do understand why he took the job. USC was his "home" (if there is such a thing), and it's a more attractive job than Tennessee for several reasons -- the existing talent on hand; the natural recruiting backyard; and the better chance to compete for conference titles on a regular basis.

But leaving any school after just one year is poor form, especially considering the considerable leash extended to Kiffin by AD Mike Hamilton. While Hamilton put on a good face publicly, I have to think the guy was cringing just a little bit every time Kiffin ran his mouth, and especially when he broke NCAA rules. The understanding throughout was that Kiffin was just trying to generate publicity for the program, that there was a greater goal in sight -- but apparently that goal was to get back to USC. Cincinnati fans may feel jilted by Kelly, but at least their program is in infinitely better shape than when he arrived. Kiffin won seven games and left behind a whole bunch of wreckage. At this point, the school would have been better off keeping Phillip Fulmer for another year.

Is it possible that Pete Carroll saw the writing on the wall regarding potential upcoming sanctions over the Reggie Bush fiasco?-- Steve, Mayors Income, Tenn.

Maybe I'm the most gullible person on the planet, but I don't believe the NCAA/Bush situation was a driving factor. As Carroll said, the issue has been hanging over the program for three-and-a-half years now. If it truly scared him, he could have bolted a long time ago. It's admittedly suspicious timing that the NCAA's letter of allegations finally arrived recently (USC will appear before the Committee on Infractions in February), but from all indications, the Seattle thing came out of nowhere. It's not like Carroll was hatching his escape.

Most importantly -- and I know this is going to disappoint many of you -- barring some surprise revelation, USC's football program is probably going to avoid anything serious. (Basketball: Not so much.) If in fact the NCAA proved Bush received extra benefits (and it would have to be the worst investigating unit in history if it didn't), the most likely ramification is that the school will have to vacate wins from that period. Unless the NCAA finds the coaches had direct knowledge of said benefits (and my guess is they didn't), there should be no docked scholarships or postseason bans. The athletic department itself is in danger of a "lack of institutional control" charge, but AD Mike Garrett figures to be the fall guy for that one.

I think Carroll's decision came down to two factors: 1) His obviously strained relationship with Garrett (which may in part be a result of the AD's handling of the Bush and Joe McKnight investigations). I'm not sure I've ever heard an AD throw an otherwise revered coach under the bus the way Garrett did during a radio interview last month discussing the Trojans' disappointing season; and 2) I just think he got bored. If you've ever spent any time around Carroll, you know he has the attention span of a 5-year-old. He needs constant stimulation. We all know his favorite word -- compete -- and deep down, I think he's always been itching to do it again at the highest level.

Those first five years or so at USC, he seemed truly grateful to be in college and to have the opportunity to build his own program. In recent years, however, USC started more and more to resemble a mini-NFL franchise, from its coaching staff to its offensive schemes to its seeming lack of interest in anything but the biggest games, and you have to wonder in hindsight whether Carroll was using the Trojans as his own personal NFL laboratory. If nothing else, he's made it abundantly clear he prefers a sport with a playoff. He did seem rather detached (though insightful) working for ESPN at last week's title game. I guess now we know why.

I think Texas' loss to Alabama is the fault of Mack Brown. He should have used those blowout wins during the season to prepare his backup QB for a situation like this instead of padding McCoy's stats to win the Heisman. Now McCoy didn't win the Heisman and Texas lost the national championship. What do you think?-- Vin, St. Paul, Minn.

It's a fair point, but I don't think a bunch of meaningless fourth-quarter appearances would make a true freshman quarterback any more prepared to enter the national championship game. Nothing could have possibly prepared Garrett Gilbert for that besides actual starts in big games during the season. I can't even imagine what it must have been like for him to be abruptly thrown into the fire against Alabama's defense on the biggest stage in the sport. Once he calmed down and acclimated himself to the speed of the game in the second half, you could see his abilities, but that first half had to be the most overwhelming experience imaginable.

What hurt Texas far more was its lack of a running game. It wasn't a new problem -- Texas hasn't had a dependable rushing attack in two years -- but the Longhorns had been able to compensate for it due to McCoy's deadly accuracy and ability to use the short-passing game as a substitute. In an ideal scenario, you lean on your running game and put as little responsibility on the quarterback's shoulders as possible. But the 'Horns (not surprisingly) never got things going on the ground, Gilbert was forced to throw the ball 40 times and, inevitably, he made some costly mistakes. He's a true freshman. Ask Matt Barkley or Tate Forcier what that's like.

Stewart, I only want to ask you one simple question. With all the pregame talk about the BCS Championship game being a mismatch, after seeing them play, did Texas belong in the BCS Championship game?-- Toby, San Antonio

Absolutely. The final score was deceiving, but Texas played its guts out, especially on defense, which boasted every bit as much athleticism as Alabama's. The 'Horns really got to Greg McElroy on the few occasions he passed. The Tide's running game did overpower them in the second quarter, but Will Muschamp must have made some important adjustments at halftime because the 'Horns mostly shut 'Bama down the rest of the way. I just wish we'd gotten to see their full team.

With Colt McCoy being out for most of the BCS title game and with Texas keeping it close late in the game, don't you think Alabama should have an asterisk next to its name in the record books? It's highly likely McCoy would have made the difference and Texas would have won.-- James Gargiulo, Gilroy, Calif.

No asterisk. Injuries -- even one as calamitous as McCoy's -- are part of the game. And while it makes for fun debate, one should never make assumptions on the outcome of a game based on hypothetical scenarios. That's particularly true considering how early the injury happened. The entire game would have played out differently, one way or the other.

Alabama won fair and square.

I can't stand that you continue to use the term "cyclical" to describe the ebb and flow of successful teams and/or conferences throughout the decades. There is nothing "cyclical" about it. If there were, we would have by now seen Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Army, Pennsylvania, Cornell, etc., in the Top 25. How about we retire the term "cyclical"?-- Craig, San Antonio

Sure -- just as soon as the Ivy League schools rejoin Division I-A and World War II breaks out again.

So after all the hoopla surrounding the Fiesta Bowl with Boise State-TCU, did it live up to what everyone was looking for, a.k.a. the TV rating?-- Rob Trainer, Baltimore

Pretty much. First of all, the atmosphere inside that stadium was electric. All those people who said the teams were relegated to a "meaningless" game apparently forgot to tell Boise State's fans. The announced attendance was 73,227, of which at least 40,000 were wearing orange-and-blue. That's pretty impressive when you consider Boise's home stadium only seats 33,000.

The TV rating -- not earth-shattering, but not the disaster many were predicting. The game did an 8.2 rating (13.8 million viewers), which put it slightly lower than the Florida-Cincinnati Sugar Bowl (8.5), but well above the Iowa-Georgia Tech Orange Bowl (6.8). It confirmed what I believed from the beginning: that fans would find that matchup more interesting than they would the other feasible options, which had Boise playing Iowa in Glendale and TCU playing Georgia Tech in Miami. Neither of those games would have rated as well. (And no other proposed matchups were realistic given the selection order.)

Of course, it also confirms once again that brand name programs will always be a bigger draw than mid-majors, regardless of record. Last year's Texas-Ohio State Fiesta Bowl did a 10.4

Well, the AP had the chance to put its money where its mouth is and it didn't. How can Boise be fourth in the final poll? How does a team beat the third-ranked team in a BCS bowl and end up fourth? Where would TCU have ended up if it had won? Behind Florida? The press likes to rail against the BCS, but it sure seems like the AP and Coaches' poll are as much a part of the problem as the BCS system.-- Rick, Salt Lake City

I stated my opinion that I thought the Broncos should have finished ahead of at least Florida, but it's not hard to see how it happened. The Gators (at No. 5) were ahead of the Broncos (at No. 6) in both polls going into the bowl games. Florida crushed No. 4 Cincinnati. Boise edged No. 3 TCU. The voters moved them up the same number of spots. I'd hardly call it an injustice.

But you raise an interesting point that gets overlooked far too often. BCS critics (like the folks behind last week's television ads) tried to use TCU and Boise as exhibits of the system's purported unfairness while conveniently overlooking the fact that there was absolutely nothing stopping the voters from placing those teams in the title game. The BCS didn't show favoritism toward Alabama and Texas; the voters did. Why was there no similar outcry over Cincinnati? The Bearcats may have had an automatic bid, but they didn't get into the title game, either.

For all the outside uproar, I noticed there was no BCS outcry whatsoever from Boise or TCU's coaches and players. (Gary Patterson flat out said he doesn't want a playoff.) Chris Petersen is not a rock-the-boat kind of guy, but he also realizes that no program in the country has benefited more from the BCS than Boise State. Without a system that mandated their inclusion, the Broncos would probably still be that cute little team that plays on the blue turf, fortunate to reach the Poinsettia Bowl. Thanks to those two Fiesta Bowl wins, they've been able to build up their respect level to the point where they're now being ranked alongside teams that had a 100-year head start. It's incremental progress, but it's happening faster than I ever would have imagined.

Now that Saban has won another national championship in the SEC, and LSU has continued down its long slide toward mediocrity, who is more on the hot seat: Saban to win another national title or Les Miles to win?-- Pearce C., Baton Rouge, La.

Miles -- and it's not even close. We're about to find out just how quickly a coach can go from national championship (2007) to the firing squad (2010?) in the SEC, because right now we're watching every LSU fan's worst nightmare play out: Alabama is turning into the kind of program LSU might have become had Saban never left, at the expense of the Tigers. I've been a big Miles fan in the past, but he's lost a lot of his luster the past two years. LSU's slide to 8-5 the year after the title season was forgivable considering how much turnover the Tigers endured that offseason (including at quarterback). This year's 9-4 season seemed more disappointing both because of the Tigers' offensive ineptitude (they finished 112th nationally) and Miles' repeated game-management blunders.

There's still plenty of talent in Baton Rouge -- but it's young. LSU is only a year removed from landing Rivals.com's No. 2 recruiting class, and a lot of those guys are going to have step up to help fill the void left by veterans like Ciron Black, Charles Scott, Brandon LaFell, Trindon Holliday, Chad Jones and Harry Coleman. You know Miles must be feeling the pressure when the school's AD, Joe Alleva, felt compelled to write one of those "state of the program" letters to LSU's fans. "Improvements are already underway," he wrote. "We will work hard in the off-season to make the adjustments necessary to compete for a championship in 2010."

Miles' record at LSU, by the way, is 51-15.

Five reasons Texas will win: 1) Colt McCoy, Jordan Shipley and the offense, 2) Earl Thomas, Sergio Kindle and the defense, 3) Special teams, 4) Coaching, 5) Great team.

Five reasons you will never be welcome in Texas: 1) You have talked down Texas all year, 2) You have talked down Colt McCoy all year, 3) You are a no-count Yankee, 4) You are a reporter for SI, 5) You are not a very good reporter for SI.-- Jerry, Standish, Maine

I can't explain why that feels like the right way to end the season. It just kind of does.

While the Mailbag will go on hiatus for a few months, I'm guessing you'll still be seeing plenty of me on this site as long as Tennessee and USF are still looking for coaches and recruits are still looking for a place to sign.

In the meantime, if you aren't already, I welcome you to follow me on Twitter. I'm on there sharing nuggets and testing one-liners pretty much every day. And hey, Feb. 2 will be here before you know it.

That's the season premiere of Lost.

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