By Brian Edwards
As always, there were coaching changes galore at the conclusion of the 2007 college football season. To be exact, there are 18 new coaches at major programs going into the 2008 campaign.
Rich Rodriguez claimed the most marquee job when he bolted his alma mater to take over at Michigan for the retiring Lloyd Carr. R-Rod’s departure from West Virginia resembled a messy divorce.
Pockets of WVU boosters were incensed that the school didn’t meet Rodriguez’s requests for better facilities and higher salaries for his assistants. On the flip side, the majority were adamant that R-Rod was a traitor, flirting with Alabama the previous year to get more money, only to skip town less than a year later.
There was also the contract signed by R-Rod calling for a $4 million buyout, but he’s taking the school to court over this matter, claiming he was pressured into signing with assurances that his requests would be met. (He claims they never were.)
Whatever the case, the drama between R-Rod and WVU continues to linger. In addition, he’s been met with resistance at Michigan with a slew of players transferring, including three starters on the offensive line and quarterback Ryan Mallett.
Most telling, R-Rod pulled a major blunder when he elected to reward the No. 1 to a player other than a wide receiver following spring practice. You see, a guy by the name of Anthony Carter used to wear No. 1 for the Wolverines.
Since then, the number has been awarded to the wideout most deserving at the conclusion of each spring practice. Not only is this a multi-decade tradition, but it’s also the basis for a foundation set up by Braylon Edwards with a $500,000 donation. Needless to say, R-Rod has some explaining to do.
With Rodriguez out, the Mountaineers have turned to Bill Stewart, who led Pat White and Co. to a dominant 48-28 win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Did WVU overreact to the emotional win by giving Stewart his only head-coaching gig besides a three-year tenure at VMI? Only time will tell, but there are certainly skeptics galore.
Speaking of skeptics, Bobby Petrino certainly has plenty of his, especially in Louisville and Atlanta. But he’s being treated like royalty in Arkansas, where he steps in for Houston Nutt. Petrino’s shaky reputation reached its pinnacle last December when he elected to leave the Falcons – with three games remaining – to take over the Razorbacks.
In a super-surreal moment just 24 hours removed from coaching the Falcons against the Saints on Monday Night Football, Petrino was ‘calling the Hogs’ live on Sports Center.
When you get past Petrino’s shadiness, there’s no denying his outstanding 41-9 record during his four-year tenure at Louisville. And Arkansas might get fortunate in this regard: Petrino’s character (or lack thereof) will most likely keep other colleges from knocking at his door, so an extended tenure in Fayetteville could be in the cards.
Nutt went out with a bang at Arkansas, leading the Hogs to a thrilling overtime win at LSU, which won the national title five weeks later. Just hours removed from the press conference announcing his resignation, Nutt inked a long-term deal with SEC West rival, Ole Miss.
This space speculated about that potential move as far back as late September, so loyal readers weren’t surprised when Ed Orgeron took his pink slip in Oxford. The Rebels got it right this time, two years after allowing Illinois to beat them out for Ron Zook.
They moved fast for Nutt, who is a proven winner in the SEC West and is extremely familiar with recruiting in the surrounding area. And he walks into a respectable situation.
Orgeron was nothing short of atrocious as a game coach and made a horrible move by entrusting his tenure to QB Brent Schaeffer. With that said, he did a better-than-decent job of recruiting talent to Ole Miss, and Nutt inherits Jevan Snead, a QB transfer from Texas who initially committed to Florida during the recruiting process.
SMU is apparently ready for a return to the glory days of the Pony Express (think Craig James and Eric Dickerson). The school shelled out big bucks to hire June Jones away from Hawaii. Jones might not win right away, but the Mustangs can count on lots of offense from his Run-N-Shoot aerial attack.
After turning down SMU and Duke, Paul Johnson left Navy for Georgia Tech to replace Chan Gailey. Like Rodriguez at Michigan, Johnson has been met with some resistance in Atlanta.
A slew of wide receivers have transferred because of uncertainty about the position’s involvement in Johnson’s triple-option offense. The unorthodox approach has enjoyed big-time success at Georgia Southern and Navy, and now we’ll see if it works in an ACC that’s wide open due to the demise of both FSU and Miami.
Staying in the ACC, Duke hired David Cutcliffe to take over for Ted Roof. Since Steve Spurrier left Durham in 1989, the Blue Devils have endured 18 consecutive losing seasons. Cutcliffe, who tutored Peyton and Eli Manning during their collegiate careers, has his work cut out for him.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
--Say what you want about WVU’s Stewart, but he pulled a huge coup by hiring away one of Urban Meyer’s top recruiters, Doc Holliday, who has great connections in the fertile recruiting grounds of South Florida’s Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Holliday was an assistant for the Mountaineers under Don Neyland from 1979-1999.
--Stewart sort of reminds me of an elder version of Ron Zook.
--I didn’t like the way Southern Miss dismissed Jeff Bower, who passed up a number of better jobs to remain in Hattiesburg during his 17-year tenure at the school. But the Golden Eagles have a bright future under Larry Fedora, who was outstanding as an offensive coordinator at both Oklahoma St. and Florida.
--Coaches on the hot seat in 2008:
1-Greg Robinson (Syracuse)
2-Ty Willingham (Washington)
3-Phil Fulmer (Tennessee)
4-Mike Stoops (Arizona)
5-Kirk Ferentz (Iowa)