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  • In this week's #DearAndy mailbag: Why the first AD to fire a football coach this year turns himself into a guinea pig, whether it's a good idea to be skeptical about Georgia and when the right time is to start the Mike Leach-to-LSU rumors.
By Andy Staples
October 04, 2017

As we get closer to the first spin of the coaching carousel, a rule change enacted this spring is adding some drama…

From Paul: Will the new early signing period make schools more likely to fire coaches in season? 

Athletic directors already routinely fire coaches in season. The operative question here is whether the new mid-December signing period for high school players will cause ADs to fire coaches earlier in the season than usual. Will they go the other direction, waiting to pull the trigger until the last possible moment?

I explored this in a column about the choice Tennessee athletic director John Currie faces with Butch Jones, but this circumstance is not unique to Tennessee. Every program that might change coaches this year is a guinea pig. There is no consensus among the athletic directors I’ve spoken to about the best way to handle this situation, but I can make a case for two different philosophies.

Fire Him Earlier

If the entire world already knows you’re going to make a coaching change and your recruiting for the class of 2018 is average to poor, fire the current coach as early as possible and get your ducks in a row so that you can bring the new guy aboard the morning after his last game and get him recruiting that afternoon. The AD will have more than a month to vet candidates and assess interest. That way, when the season ends, the AD can conduct an in-person interview with the top choice and—if all works out—the deal is done with more than two weeks before the signing period begins.

Chances are the new coach isn’t going to want some of the recruits the old coach had committed. This gives the new coach a chance to do the right thing by those high schoolers and give them two months to find a new school. (Remember, players can still sign in February as well.) This feels like the tack most struggling programs looking to make a change will take.

Fire Him At The Last Possible Moment

For programs with good recruiting classes—and this is where Tennessee falls—it might make more sense to keep the window between the firing of the current coach and the hiring of the new coach as tight as possible. Though Texas didn’t have a great recruiting class last November, the Longhorns did keep that window tight. The time elapsed between the official firing of Charlie Strong and the official hiring of Tom Herman was less than seven hours. That doesn’t give rival coaches much time to raid the class.

Of course, if a team just lost by—let’s just throw out a number here—41 points to a division rival in a must-win game, then rival coaches are already smelling blood and tugging at those committed recruits. If that good class is the reason the AD is waiting and that good class starts falling apart, then there is no sense in waiting.

From @jclowers5: Why in the world is Butch Jones still employed by Tennessee? [Answer linked here, and in the video atop this story.]

From @tyfeddy: Why all the UGA love? Isn’t it possible Tennessee and Mississippi State aren’t that good?

It’s possible, but it’s also likely that Georgia has a dominant defense and is the best team in the SEC East (whatever that means). Remember, Georgia also has a road win against Notre Dame that looks better every time the Fighting Irish take the field.

I’m with Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason on the Georgia quarterback situation. Jake Fromm is the guy the players respond to, and it would be silly to yank him now even though Jacob Eason is back healthy. Kirby Smart might enjoy being cagey, but the truth is he’s now in the enviable position of having two capable quarterbacks and a defense that allows a scant 3.8 yards a play. That’s good for fourth in the nation and only three hundredths of a yard behind Auburn for best in the SEC.

From Paul: Will we see anything like the FBI investigation into basketball recruiting on the football side? [Answer linked here, and in the video below.]

From Timothy: Tell me a better fit than Mike Leach at LSU? And would they ever lose a game with that talent and him coaching?

Leach would be a fit at a lot of places, including in his dream job at Key West High School. But barring a complete disaster—like losing every remaining game—Ed Orgeron is going to get a chance to improve at LSU.

Interim coaches who get the full-time gig tend to get a shorter leash than coaches hired from the outside, but not that short. Orgeron has a buyout that when prorated for what he’s already made this year would cost LSU about $8.5 million to fire him. Why did LSU agree to this when no one else was trying to hire Orgeron as a head coach? Orgeron’s agent would say that rival coaches would use any contract that didn’t look like theirs against LSU in recruiting. Common sense would say LSU AD Joe Alleva isn’t the shrewdest negotiator.

I get that everyone is upset about the loss to Troy, but let’s not forget the next-to-last interim coach given the full-time job at a major program. This time last year, we had USC’s Clay Helton fired. He turned things around. Maybe Orgeron can as well.

Orgeron’s best bet is to stick to what got him the job. He promised that unlike during his disastrous tenure as Ole Miss’s head coach, he would do what he does well (recruiting and motivating) and let his coordinators do their jobs. Last week, he told offensive coordinator Matt Canada to eliminate motions and shifts to help some younger players adjust to their first playing time. The result was a goose egg on the scoreboard at halftime and a lesson that Orgeron had told everyone he’d already learned. He said this week that Canada will have free rein to run his offense Saturday at Florida. That’s good, because that’s the reason Orgeron hired Canada. It’s also the only way this thing will work.

From @cookppp3: Is Mike The Tiger really crying? [Answer linked here, and in the video below.]