Comparing the USC and Texas head-coaching jobs; more mail

Wednesday October 2nd, 2013

Despite recent team struggles, Texas' head-coaching job remains one of the most coveted in the nation.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Stewart Mandel Podcast
Stewart and Ryan Abraham of discuss Lane Kiffin's demise, potential replacement candidates and the impact of athletic director DeLoss Dodds' retirement at Texas.

I was all set to write an opus on the Breaking Bad finale, but no one asked about it. Coaching jobs, on the other hand ...

Hey Stewart, in your opinion, what is the better head-coaching job, USC or Texas? And why?
-- Mike S., New York

Well, let's look at the pros and cons of each.

Both programs are in extremely desirable recruiting territories, but Texas is the flagship university in an enormous state dripping with talent, whereas USC's stronghold is primarily in one region of its state. On the other hand, the USC brand is stronger nationally, both because of its recent tradition (we're only five years removed from USC essentially being what Alabama is now) and its Hollywood image. Kids in Texas grow up wanting to play for Texas, but kids from New Jersey want to go play at Snoop Dogg's favorite school.

Money is not an issue at either place, though Texas has more of it. Facilities may have been a concern at USC in the past, but they're certainly not anymore. The John McKay Center, which opened last year, has all the bells and whistles one could ask for. Conversely, USC pays its head coaches plenty, but it's not likely to give out $5 million a year, like Texas has to Mack Brown, or hire Greg Robinson as a quality control guy. Advantage, oil money.

MANDEL: Lane Kiffin's firing adds to early coaching chaos; more Overtime

Meanwhile, Texas draws 100,000 fans every week to its constantly refurbished on-campus stadium. USC often plays in front of 10,000 to 20,000 empty seats at the dilapidated Coliseum (though it certainly rocks when the Trojans are winning). Austin is a college town. LA is not. Advantage, 'Horns.

Finally, if a coach is looking for the best path to conference and national championships ... it's at Texas. Pete Carroll might disagree. In fact, I might not have held this opinion five years ago. But assuming a coach has the necessary band of four- and five-star recruits, which would he prefer -- facing and recruiting against Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and Washington or Oklahoma and ... ? If a coach has things rolling at Texas, his only worthy adversary in a given year should be the Sooners. If he has things rolling at USC, he still has to face the Stanford defense and the Oregon offense.

Both schools offer top-five jobs (along with Ohio State, Florida and Alabama) and they should both have no trouble attracting a plethora of A-list candidates. But the answer to this question is Texas.

Stewart, where do you foresee Lane Kiffin reemerging? Obviously he's toxic to any elite college teams, so what's his best bet? Being an assistant or coordinator at a top school? Becoming a position coach in the NFL? Is there any way he gets the Bobby Petrino treatment and ends up as the headman at a lower-tier school? Who is crazy enough to trust this guy with their program?
-- Christopher, High Point, N.C.

I've had my share of interactions with Kiffin dating back to his days as offensive coordinator under Carroll, and while few of you may believe this, Kiffin is not, in fact, the devil incarnate. Petrino hired his mistress for an office job and lied to his boss about his motorcycle incident. What was Kiffin's biggest crime all these years? Lying about voting USC No. 1? Deflating footballs? While shady, those missteps are not exactly in the same stratosphere. But Petrino is a proven college head coach, and that's why he had little trouble getting another job. Kiffin is not a good head coach. Save for one standout 10-2 campaign in 2011, he's been a walking disaster. So no, I do not believe he'll be getting that lifeline just yet.

Back in 2010, I wrote this about Kiffin: "Is he a chronic manipulator who will step on however many toes it takes to succeed, or is he a football-centric savant that never developed basic social cues for appropriateness?" Three years later, I believe he's a little bit of both. The difference is, someone can be the former and still be a very good head coach. Not so with the latter. Eventually, a coach is going to lose some games. If, like Kiffin, he's adversarial with beat writers, appears arrogant and aloof in interviews and generally fails to inspire confidence, things will implode in a hurry. Thus, I believe Kiffin's next job will be one that involves more X's and O's and less time in front of the cameras. He'd make a very good recruiting coordinator at a high-profile school, but if I were a betting man, I'd guess he's an NFL receivers coach at this time next year. And the next head-coaching job he gets may well be at that level, too, albeit several years down the road.

STAPLES: USC smart to fire Lane Kiffin before program gets any worse

Is it possible that everyone has this wrong, and USC isn't that easy a place to win? The Trojans' record the past 30 years -- outside of the 2002-08 Pete Carroll years -- is spotty at best. Notre Dame-like. The way he is handling the NFL, it looks like Carroll is a generational coaching talent. I just don't think they are going to put someone in there and the magic is going to come back. Maybe the school should take the fourth or fifth guy on its list (like former USC athletic director Mike Garrett did with Carroll).
-- Matt Cook, Birmingham, Mich.

I've seen this premise written several places this week. I don't buy it. You could say the same thing about nearly every other traditional power. Alabama's record was spotty in the 15 years before Nick Saban's arrival, a period that spanned three different coaches. Oklahoma's record was spotty in the decade-plus between Barry Switzer and Bob Stoops. Tennessee was one of the top programs in the country in the '90s and early 2000s; now it can barely beat South Alabama. No matter what the program's tradition, you've still got to hire the right coach. USC hired some pretty questionable coaches before and after Carroll, so it didn't win at a consistent level.

Now, it would be silly to assume that USC, with the right coach, will automatically go back to winning 11-12 games every year like it did under Carroll. Those types of dynastic runs are few and far between. Carroll was indeed the perfect guy at the perfect time at the perfect school for his personality. The next Trojans coach doesn't need to be Carroll. But I have very little doubt that Kevin Sumlin, for example, would regularly contend for Pac-12 titles at USC. He's already won big at two places that hadn't won big in a long time. He'd do the same at USC. I can't say that with the same certainty about Jack Del Rio. Maybe he'd be the next Carroll, but he could just as easily be the next Paul Hackett.

Stewart, you previously mentioned Paul Rhoads as a candidate for the Texas head-coaching job. If Iowa State beats Texas on Thursday in Ames, does this improve the chances of this happening?
-- Tom McHale, Council Bluffs, Iowa

Why not? I have little doubt Rhoads would make Texas SO ... PROUD to have him as its coach. Let the record show Rhoads is this week's Mailbag next Texas coach of the week.

North Dakota State is currently 4-0 with key wins over Kansas State (above) and South Dakota State.
Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

Awesome of you to notice North Dakota State stonewalled a very potent South Dakota State offense last week, highlighted by holding the FCS' best running back in Zach Zenner to a mere four yards a week after he ran for 202 against Nebraska. North Dakota State held SDSU to -32 yards rushing. Knowing the Bison already have a win at Kansas State under their belt, I think this begs the question: How good are they really, and why can't they get any Top 25 love from the media?
-- Adam, Ellicott City, Md.

I was still an AP voter back in 2007 when Appalachian State beat Michigan, and I remember emailing the person in charge the next day to ask whether I could vote for an FCS team. I was initially told no, Appalachian State is not eligible. That policy quickly changed, and the Mountaineers spent most of that season in the "others receiving votes" group (they finished with five points). I'm no FCS expert, but it sure seems the 4-0 Bison -- two-time defending national champs and currently going on a streak of nine straight scoreless quarters on defense -- are as good, if not better, than those 2005-07 Appalachian State teams. Either that, or more discerning voters are waiting on the result of this week's showdown with Northern Iowa.

Now, is North Dakota State, or any FCS team, truly on the same level as Top 25 FBS teams? I doubt it. All due credit for beating Kansas State, but clearly this year's Wildcats are not Top 25-caliber. And I'm not going to bother getting into the old Boise State "if they had to play a whole schedule ..." thing. Ask USC what it's like to play with 20-plus fewer scholarship players week to week. More realistically, the Bison are a top 40 or 50 team. But look, if we're just talking about a token nod of respect, why not give them a vote? After all, the esteemed voters in the Coaches' Poll saw fit to elevate Nebraska -- the same Nebraska that allowed 600 yards to Wyoming in Week 1 and those 202 yards to an FCS running back -- back into its rankings this week. That's absurd. Why not vote for NDSU instead?

STAPLES: Alabama, Oregon top latest college football Power Rankings

What are the chances that Georgia and LSU face off again in the SEC championship game? Zach Mettenberger played his heart out and it'd be so cool if he gets another shot against Aaron Murray in Atlanta.
-- Sharath, Columbus, Ohio

There's a pretty good chance you'll see Georgia there. Florida might have something to say about that on Nov. 2, but the Gators still have to face LSU and South Carolina, too. The Dawgs, already 2-0 in the SEC, will be prohibitive favorites in every other game they play the rest of the way. LSU, on the other hand, will have its hands full with both Alabama and Texas A&M. After covering the Tigers' opener against TCU, I thought maybe Les Miles had managed to magically reload on defense despite losing eight players to the NFL draft, but it turns out that TCU's offense is just bad. LSU's usually dominant front four got very little push up front against Georgia, which does not bode well for stopping Johnny Manziel. Alabama is having its own issues up front, so perhaps the Tigers could win that one (that game is always a toss-up), but they're already in a hole after their first conference loss. The SEC West champion is not likely to have two losses.

Wow, you were really off on your Week 5 picks, most notably your Upset Special of Ole Miss over Alabama, but also on your close final scores that turned out to be blowouts. As your record to date is around 75 percent (that's a C in most classes), why continue to do it?
-- Casey, San Francisco, Calif.

Are you serious? I admittedly whiffed on Ole Miss, but at 42-12 I feel like the bishop in the rain in Caddyshack having the best round of his life. If you find someone that's getting an "A" (90 percent) picking football games, I'd like to meet him ... because he probably lives in a sweet mansion outside Vegas.

Hey Stewart, I just read that Alabama needs to cancel a home-and-home series with Michigan State due to SEC scheduling conflicts. When Notre Dame needed to do the same thing with Michigan, the Irish were "chickening out" and the media ripped them. What's the difference?
-- Bill Womack, Parker, Colo.

Brady Hoke was the one who used the term "chickening out" in regard to the Irish, and the media picked it up and ran with it. If Mark Dantonio wants to accuse Alabama of "chickening out" on the Spartans, by all means, we'd love to hear it.

Alabama under Saban has been pretty smart about scheduling, both from a business and football standpoint. The Tide aren't afraid to take on a challenging nonconference foe as long as the game is played at a neutral site. (Alabama did play a home-and-home with Penn State in 2010 and '11.) In the next two seasons, the Tide will face West Virginia in Atlanta and Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas. Those venues pay enough to make up for losing a home game. However, Alabama, like everyone else, wants at least seven home games each year. With the increasing likelihood that the SEC will go to a nine-game schedule by 2017, the year the Tide would have visited East Lansing, the school likely didn't want to risk getting stuck with five conference road games plus the one at Michigan State. I don't think this means the end of home-and-homes, but it's tough to plan without knowing which years a team has five road games. Pac-12 and Big 12 teams do plenty of home-and-homes because they know their future league schedules and can plan accordingly.

ANDERSON: Eddie Jackson, Kenyan Drake growing into bigger roles for Alabama

Stewart, c'mon man. You can't go running around making Real World references like it's the '90s. As a longtime reader, I beg that you age more gracefully than citing pop-culture that's now old enough to drive a car.
-- Carter Harris, Charlottesville, Va.

I'm not sure if you realize this, but the Real World is still on the air. But you're right. I should have gone with The Challenge.

Why do so many smart people insist on using the terminology "read-option?" Is there some form of option out there that doesn't have a read? (Hint: There's not.) When will you and your cohorts stop being lazy and reject this misnomer?
-- Andy, Annapolis, Md.

I didn't realize until I received this email how much that term actually drives me nuts. In the college game, when the Rich Rodriguez/Urban Meyer/Chip Kelly offenses took hold, we most commonly referred to such plays as the "spread-option." While hardly perfect, it at least differentiated between the modern shotgun-run game and the old-fashioned Wishbone-style triple-option. For whatever reason, though, once the zone read and quarterback-run game started trickling up to the NFL, it became the read-option, which, as Andy notes, is redundant. The entire premise of an option play is to read the defense and choose an "option" accordingly.

I recently engaged in a Twitter conversation about this very topic (inspired by this email) with Chris Brown of Smart Football and a few others. While sharing my frustration primarily with NFL broadcasters (who now refer to any fake handoff, even on a play-action pass, as the "read-option"), Brown believes it may well be the best catchall for the umbrella of running plays that now constitute what we once referred to as the spread-option. Even zone read is not always applicable anymore. He also suggested that the most accurate catchall may be "Gun option," as in shotgun option, but I don't see that catching on for obvious reasons. Hopefully, people will one day simply refer to the plays themselves ("power," "inside zone," "speed option," etc.) rather than fixating on the fact that the quarterback is making a read.

Stewart, I couldn't help but notice the Buckeyes lost points in the polls to Clemson this week despite beating a ranked team. In fact, since the beginning of last season, Ohio State has dropped five times in the AP Poll despite winning every game it has played. Do Buckeyes fans need to be worried about getting shut out of the national championship game despite potentially going 25-0 over two seasons?
-- Josh L., Columbus, Ohio

No, I would not worry about that, because only once in 15 years of the BCS have three teams from the power-five conferences finished undefeated (2004). As always, the chances of it happening this year are very slim. Ohio State's problem is it has no margin for error with that schedule. If the Buckeyes lose once, they're done, unlike Georgia for example, which has a loss and is already back to within two spots of Ohio State.

It seems time to issue my annual reminder that there is no use worrying about the too-many-undefeated-teams conundrum until at least early November.

Stewart, I read your column every week. It is very possible we could have three or four teams finish undefeated. Who gets left out of the title game?
-- Lyle Saunders, Atlanta

Not that I can stop you.

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