- Jimbo Fisher's Christmas tree became the star of a news cycle, so at this point nothing should surprise anyone.
Congratulations; you made it through one of the wildest weeks of the college football coaching carousel in years. We started out with mayhem in Knoxville and ended with Jimbo Fisher’s departure from Florida State and listened to a whole lot of nonsense in the middle. It seems like two years ago that UCLA hired Chip Kelly. You probably can’t even remember what Butch Jones looks like at this point. If news were to break this weekend that Nick Saban planned to leave Alabama to coach cricket on the moon, you’d probably just shrug and concede that we all should have figured when he launched his Christmas tree into outer space.
College football has gone full weird, and here are the 10 strangest nuggets from a wild coaching carousel season—so far.
1. Jimbo Fisher’s Christmas tree: On Friday morning, Wayne McGahee, a reporter at the Tallahassee Democrat, posted a photo of a discarded Christmas tree—along the curb outside the (now former) Florida State coach’s house. At the time, speculation that Fisher was about to bolt to Texas A&M was rampant, and college football fans took the topped tree as a sign of the coach’s departure.
Turns out, they were right. Fisher’s Christmas tree—probably just a week old and already abandoned, for shame!—was prophetic. By early afternoon, the coach was officially gone.
Lost in this story, though, is the Fisher family’s go-getter spirit when it comes to getting the move to College Station started. I don’t know about you, but I’d always imagined that when fancy sports people relocate—be it when coaches take new jobs or are fired or when players are traded—they leave their houses in a flurry and have their people take care of the details. Apparently not. Or maybe this is totally unrelated to Fisher’s employment status, and he is actually just the Grinch.
2. The power of Tennessee fans when they lose their collective mind: Let’s be clear: No one should be shocked by Knoxville’s outburst on Sunday after Tennessee entered into an agreement to hire Greg Schiano. Vols fans aren’t exactly known for rational thinking, especially when it comes to coaches. (See: Cuonzo Martin.) What I don’t think many people—myself included—realized before this weekend, though, was the power of the collective sports fan mob. Tennessee fans threw a tantrum over Schiano—claiming anger over his link to Penn State during the Jerry Sandusky scandal but probably more related to his average record as a head coach—and then, they were rewarded. It took mere hours for the school to back out of the agreement and jump back into a coaching search that’s now about 800 times more difficult than it was this time last week.
3. The various artistic expressions on Tennessee’s rock: The rock outside of Neyland Stadium has been home to several messages since the start of the Schiano saga, including an explicit (and incorrect) one about Schiano’s role at Penn State. Now, it reads: “WELCOME TO THE HOME OF THE TENNESSEE BROWNS,” comparing the Vols to the NFL’s most hapless team. It certainly doesn’t help that Browns owner Jimmy Haslam lives in Knoxville and is a major Tennessee booster.
The rock also has featured calls for Lane Kiffin to return to Knoxville, which is, well, really something. Kiffin was the Vols’ head coach in 2009, during a season where he was better known for speaking out of turn than winning big games.
4. Peyton Manning endorsing Schiano: Kirk Herbstreit said on ESPN radio on Thursday that Manning had been on board with Tennessee’s plan to hire Schiano. If that’s true, it’s the last thing I’d have expected from Manning, who notoriously holds himself to the highest standards and expects the best. For Tennessee, Schiano wasn’t that. He certainly wasn’t close to the best hire the program could have snared, which was a source of a lot of the unrest.
5. An FSU fan being forcibly removed from Fisher’s radio show: This was really something. On Wednesday, Fisher hosted fans at the broadcast of his weekly radio show, where one such fan had the audacity to ask him about his loyalty to the program. This was days into continued speculation that Fisher might bolt to Texas A&M, making the fan’s question, well, a long way from out of line. Which begs the first question: Why not change the forum of Fisher’s show if anyone was worried about probing questions? And beyond that, why react so absurdly? Fisher and Florida State come off far better if the coach is just allowed to answer the question with a string of hollow clichés.
6. Herm Edwards being in line to take the Arizona State job: Edwards hasn’t coached at the college level since 1989, when he was the defensive backs coach at San Jose State. He hasn’t coached, period, since 2008. This just doesn’t make any sense. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils just fired Todd Graham, a good coach, after a 7-5 season. Arizona State seems to have outsized expectations for its traditionally average program, and hiring a longtime NFL coach to fill them seems short-sighted.
7. John Currie bungling everything: Tennessee’s athletics director, who was fired Friday, has never been known for gracefully navigating the coaching carousel. At Kansas State, he lost Frank Martin to South Carolina and is said to have pulled off some strange machinations regarding Bill Snyder’s successor. In Knoxville, though, things reached a new level. It’s mind-blowing that Currie seemed not at all concerned with gauging fan sentiment when it came to Schiano or floating a trial balloon regarding the coach. Tennessee was already on the hook for Butch Jones’s $8.25 million buyout, and now it’ll almost certainly have to pay out a settlement to Schiano. Currie has always been known for financial management, but in this case, he didn’t even achieve that. And on his way out, he tried to pull off a deal with Mike Leach, which now appears dead.
8. Arkansas pursuing Gus Malzahn while he’s trying to coach his way to the national championship: The fact that Malzahn’s team is still in the hunt for a playoff spot—and has a real chance to win it all—while Arkansas is also pursuing the coach is pretty wild. It’s not often that a team of Auburn’s caliber, with its season still on the line, has to worry about its coach being lured away. And on the other side of the hire, things are almost as odd: Arkansas may hold up its search for more than a month if it really wants Malzahn, who could very well spurn the state where he coached for the good part of 20 years for a raise at Auburn.
9. Matt Luke staying on at Ole Miss: When Luke was appointed as the Rebels’ interim coach last summer, he seemed like a little-known fill-in before Ole Miss would move on to a well-known name. That wasn’t the case; Sunday, he was given the reins to the program and a budget of more than $5 million with which to hire assistants. It was surprising—until Friday, when NCAA sanctions on the Rebels dropped. They’re worse than many imagined, with another year of a bowl ban (the team self-imposed this year’s), three years of probation, vacation of a whole lot of wins and the loss of 11 scholarships over four years. It was going to be tough for the Rebels to lure a big name in light of this, and now Luke has the chance to orchestrate quite a rebuild after an impressive season as the interim head man in Oxford.
10. Chip Kelly taking the UCLA job: Kelly is back in the college ranks, and in the Pac-12 at that. While this isn’t exactly shocking, it’s interesting that Kelly chose to return to a more familiar pasture rather than take a stab at the Florida job—or wait a bit longer for more spots to open up.