NEW ORLEANS (AP) -Hours before the Southeastern Conference championship was to be decided between LSU and Tennessee, all everybody wanted to talk about was who was going to be the next Michigan coach.
So LSU coach Les Miles held a testy news conference to say it wouldn't be him.
The meeting Miles was scheduled to have with Michigan athletic director Bill Martin two days later never happened. Miles stayed with the Tigers and led them to the BCS national championship game, where they'll try to beat another Big Ten team, top-ranked Ohio State, in the Superdome on Monday night.
Having missed on Miles, Michigan then went after Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, which caused Scarlet Knights fans to cringe.
Schiano stayed ... a win for the Scarlet Knights.
Next target for Michigan was West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez.
That proved to be a win for the Wolverines and a loss that stung Mountaineers supporters as much as dropping the season finale to Pittsburgh.
What happened with Michigan and the other schools that were pulled into its search is now a part of the season within the college football season.
Call it the coaching-change season.
Just when the stakes are the highest, when conference championships and bowl bids are on the line, the college football season gets hijacked by news about coaching changes.
Who's leaving? Who's staying? Who's going where?
Obviously, this is far from a perfect way to do business, but big-time college football plays by a different set of rules.
``To take a very comfortable approach, you can draw a line in the sand and say you can't contact (a coach),'' Miles said earlier this week. ``You can have informationals. You can say you can go through an intermediary, but you cannot have contact with a coach.''
Miles knows, however, that restricting schools from pursuing another school's coach until after the bowl season isn't realistic.
``There's not an easy answer to it, but there's probably a commonsense answer that's out there,'' he said.
The big problem is recruiting.
There's a dead period on the recruiting calendar that starts around Christmas and ends the second week of January. Immediately before and after that dead period are critical times in recruiting.
Today, not only are schools trying to fill jobs fast, they're also getting rid of coaches earlier to get a jump on the best candidates.
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley took that route when he fired Ron Zook during the 2004 season and quickly hired Urban Meyer away from Utah soon after the regular season.
``You can't wait until the bowl games are over,'' Foley said. ``There's always going to be a disruption ... when it comes to bowl games and I don't think you can minimize that.''
Seventeen major college football programs have changed coaches since the start of this season. Only SMU, oddly the first school to get rid of its coach, remained without a head man Thursday.
Of the schools that've hired coaches, three lured away another major college team's head coach. Baylor picked Houston coach Art Briles, leaving the Cougars with an interim coach for their bowl game.
Georgia Tech hired Navy coach Paul Johnson and the Midshipmen almost immediately promoted offensive coordinator Ken Niumatalolo to the top job.
All of that creates ``distractions,'' a word used often in the season within a season. Once a job comes open, the game begins.
Sometimes it's speculation. Sometimes it's a rumor. Sometimes it's a fact.
Always it's a distraction.
The bigger the name, the bigger the distraction.
Jim Tressel, whose Ohio State team will face LSU in the BCS championship, is a big name.
``I've been through that many times,'' Tressel said. ``That's just probably the least fun times you can have.''
Chuck Neinas, who heads a search firm for schools looking for new coaches, said his advice to a coach who might be eyeing another job is: ``The less said the better.''
That, however, creates its own set of problems.
Miles was compelled to shoot down a report he was heading to Michigan about two hours before the Tigers played Tennessee in the SEC title game.
Of course, coaches bring some of these situations on themselves.
When Miles, who played and coached at Michigan, came to LSU from Oklahoma State three years ago, LSU was concerned enough about him bolting for the Wolverines it put a specific clause in his contract to make it an expensive move.
Even before Michigan's Lloyd Carr said he was retiring, Miles was being mentioned as his replacement.
Then, when Martin asked LSU athletic director Skip Bertman for permission to meet with Miles after the SEC title game, the coach didn't turn it down.
Foley said he believes some agents will leak a client's name to the media with the hope of raising a coach's profile and maybe getting the guy a raise from his current employer.
Also, a school searching for a coach might want to float a name to see how its fans reacts.
M coach Mike Sherman, said his agency prides itself on keeping quiet.
``You have leaks that really destroy any chance of negotiations,'' LaMonte said. ``What you don't want to do is come forward with something before it actually happens.''
M and Arkansas openings. Arkansas was also reportedly interested in Clemson's Tommy Bowden.
Both Bowden and Tuberville stayed put and got contract extensions. Arkansas hired Bobby Petrino away from the Atlanta Falcons.
LSU gave Miles a raise after Michigan came calling, though Bertman said he was comfortable with how the Miles-Michigan episode played out and did not feel the coach was trying to use the interest as leverage. Miles' annual salary will be around $3.5 million if he wins the national title and $2.8 if he does not.
``For LSU it worked out well because we have a noble coach and his agent's a good guy,'' Bertman said.
As long as everyone involved - coaches, ADs, agents - goes about their business honestly, Bertman said, being a player in the coaching-change season is manageable.
Though it certainly can be a distraction.

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