The College Football Coaching Carousel

Chip Kelly is returning to college football as the coach at UCLA.  Most commentators have had nothing but laudatory things to say about this hiring decision, but a couple folks want to take a “wait and see” position here.  Their “concern” is that lots of other coaches have copied Kelly’s hurry-up style of offense which means that defensive coordinators have seen it more frequently.  One might conclude from that logical train that the times have caught up with chip Kelly and his offense; it is no longer unusual or mysterious.

That may indeed be the case, but here is why I do not think it will be the case:

  • I agree that the Chip Kelly Offense has been “solved” at the NFL level.  I think that the reason it has been “solved” there is that NFL defensive coordinators have 11 defenders who are elite athletes who have played football for an extended period of time and who can adapt their play from game to game in significant ways.
  • In college, however, defensive coordinators – other than the one at Alabama – are fortunate to have 1 defender out there who is an elite athlete at the level of those NFL defenders.  The college guys are less experienced too and most teams have a far more restricted menu of defensive maneuvers to present to offenses.
  • I suspect that the Chip Kelly Offense will continue to work in the PAC-12 so long as Kelly can recruit the kind of players he needs to make the system work.

For the skeptics out there, Kelly signed a 5-year deal worth $23M.  More than likely he will have sufficient time at UCLA either to convince the skeptics that they were wrong or to give them reason to say, “I told you so…”

The other “juicy” story about the college football coaching carousel is the one at Tennessee.  I wrote previously about the fiasco of hiring Greg Schiano and then pulling the offer off the table because fans and boosters tied him to the Penn State scandal from several years ago.  [Note:  The chain that ties Schiano to that scandal has so many weak links in it that you have difficulty deciding which one will break first.  Nonetheless…]  If you think that sort of embarrassment would prompt folks there to get the process under control, you would be sorely mistaken.

Let’s review the bidding for a moment:

  • Fans and boosters bought into the rumors that Jon Gruden would leave ESPN and take the job at Tennessee.  Much as I wish that were true just to get him off the airwaves, it is not happening.
  • Greg Schiano became the replacement for Jon Gruden and that did not sit well with the fans/boosters who pitched a fit.
  • Since that embarrassment, other folks who are not Jon Gruden have been associated with the job and have turned it down.  David Cutcliffe will stay at Duke; Mike Gundy will stay at Oklahoma State; Jeff Brohm will stay at Purdue; Jim Bob Cooter turned down even an interview and will say as the offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions.
  • There was another rumor floated that Cowboys’ TE, Jason Witten, would retire and come back to his alma mater to coach.  Witten has said otherwise.
  • Currently, Tennessee is courting NC State coach Dave Doeren and – according to rumor – NC State is preparing a counter-offer.
  • I have reached out to Alfred E. Neumann to see if he had been contacted about this job, but I have not heard back from him yet…

There is an English idiom about people with champagne taste and a beer budget; some people like things that they simply cannot afford.  The Tennessee football fans/boosters have a variant on that idiom.  The folks at Tennessee have deep pockets; they can afford to lavish top-shelf salaries and perks on their head coaches and his staff; money is not their problem.  Here is the variant of the idiom that seems to afflict the Tennessee folks:

  • They want a “Top Ten Coach” but the job is not a “Top Ten Job”.

As is the case in much of the Southeastern United States, the Tennessee football coach lives his life under a microscope in Knoxville, TN.  The intensity there is equivalent to the situations at schools like Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Georgia, Florida State, Ohio State, Michigan … you get the idea.  The big difference here is that those schools are perennial “contenders” while Tennessee has been a middling program for the last 20 years or so.  The last time Tennessee finished a football season with less than 4 losses was in 2004.  Since 2004, Tennessee has been a regular participant in the Outback Bowl and the Music City Bowl in those years when they were actually bowl-eligible.

The Tennessee program is at an ebb tide level today.  In 2017 they were the only SEC team to go winless in conference games; Tennessee lost to Kentucky and Vandy on its way to an 0-8 SEC record.  Put yourself in the shoes of a “Top Ten Coach” or “The Big Fish Out There In The Hiring Pool”.  Do you want the Tennessee job with all that intense scrutiny plus the fact that you are in the same conference as Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia and Florida?

Ten years ago, Philip Fulmer was the coach at Tennessee.  In 1998, Fulmer led the Vols to the National Championship; the only other time Tennessee was the national champ was in 1951.  Fulmer was at Tennessee for 16 years but in 2008 he had the audacity to post a losing season and the fans/boosters ran him out of town.  Since then, here are the coaches that Tennessee has lured to Knoxville:

  1. Lane Kiffin:  He stayed 1 year and bolted to take the job at USC.
  2. Derek Dooley:  He lasted 3 years and lost 7 games every season.
  3. Butch Jones:  He lasted 5 years, posted an overall winning record and was fired with 2 games left in the 2017 season.

If you are a hot coaching property, do you REALLY want that job?

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry’s Sideline Chatter in the Seattle Times:

“Hastings, Neb., is gearing up to host its second Bigfoot Conference starting Feb. 15.

“Cornhusker football recruiters, leaving nothing to chance, plan to be in attendance.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



2 thoughts on “The College Football Coaching Carousel”

  1. In many ways the coaching carousel makes not a bit of sense. ASU fired Todd Graham because he was too average at 7-5 this year. The team is going to a bowl game and has to deal with a conference where at least nine teams are going bowling this year. While the Pac-12 may be afflicted with parity, they do have teams that do well.

    The salient thing I recall being mentioned about the difference between the NFL and college football is the speed of the players in the NFL being just so much better across the board. Back in the days of wishbone and veer offenses being ubiquitous in colleges, they never caught on at the NFL level because there would always be 2-3 players who tackled very well waiting on the edge without leaving gaps in the middle.

    Likewise, the run-and-shoot was too one-dimensional for the pros.

    It’s somewhat similar for Kelly. Schemes and players are better the higher one goes, but since he did not neglect the passing game or the running game entirely he did have a brief bit of success in Philly.

  2. Defensive coaches make adjustments to stop offensive schemes after a while. I watched this year as Duke moved their middle linebacker further away from the LOS to make it harder for a Ga Tech lineman to block him. The result was that he was an unblocked body facing the QB in Paul Johnson’s veer attack. The next week uga did the same thing and Roquan Smith made a tackle on almost every play.

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