The pay is good, but the hours are long and the job security is pretty lousy.
Welcome to the high-pressure world of coaching big-time college football, where “what have you done for me lately?” seems to be the criteria being utilized by more and more school presidents and athletic directors in evaluating their football coaches.
Earlier this year, four games into the season, LSU dismissed head coach Les Miles. All Miles had done in 11-plus years in Baton Rouge was post a record of 114-34, win the national championship in 2007 and finish runner-up in 2011, when he was named national Coach of the Year. Not good enough.
Miles is not alone. Texas coach Charlie Strong has been carrying a life preserver all year as his status is debated in the media every day. A few years ago, USC’s Lane Kiffin was fired on the tarmac at LAX at 3:14 in the morning after a disappointing loss to Arizona State, also just four games into the season.
As we noted last week, pay for college coaches has gone through the roof, with 36 now making over $3 million. But there’s a lot of heat in the kitchen.
A current case in point is Mark Helfrich, reportedly on the hot seat at the University of Oregon. After absorbing a 45-20 spanking from USC on Saturday, the Ducks are just 1-5 in conference play, 3-6 overall, and with games against Stanford and Utah remaining, a good bet to have their first losing season in 12 years.
But how quick we forget! Less than two years ago, on Jan. 12, 2015, Oregon played in the National Championship Game against Ohio State. The Ducks posted a 12-1 regular season record, routed Arizona in the Pac-12 title game and destroyed Florida State in the playoff semi-final before losing to the Buckeyes.
Now many pundits are predicting that Helfrich will be fired after this season, and his school’s name appears on every list of “attractive jobs that will be available” after the 2016 season. Rumor has it that Super Duck and Nike founder Phil Knight is willing to contribute $10 million to the head coaching kitty. Knight is already an unofficial member of the Oregon football coaching staff. His suite at Duck games is equipped with a headset that allows him to listen to the conversations between Oregon’s coaches during the game.
(I’m not privy as to whether or not there’s a seven-second delay).
Oops! The College Football Playoff Selection Committee has a lot of egg on its collective face after No. 4 ranked Texas A&M’s stunning loss to 14-point underdog Mississippi State on Saturday. In its initial rankings last week, the committee positioned the one-loss Aggies in the 4th spot ahead of undefeated Washington.
The committee’s rationale was that A&M had played a more difficult schedule than Washington and its only loss had come against No. 1 Alabama. Also factored in was the committee’s rather obvious SEC bias. Lots of folks, including this writer, felt that because the Aggies had lost by 19 points to Alabama and only had one quality win (Auburn), they should’ve come in at No. 7 behind Washington and two other one-loss teams with better resumes—Ohio State and Louisville.
It’s all moot now, of course. The Aggies will plummet and Washington hopefully will be ranked at No. 4 this week, where it belongs, after another impressive victory over the Cal Bears.
No flag zone: Navy (6-2) became bowl eligible for the 13th time in the last 14 years with a 28-27 win over Notre Dame Saturday. A big part of Navy’s success this season has been avoiding costly penalties. Or, to be more accurate, avoiding any penalties. Incredibly, Navy has been flagged for only 17 penalties this year—in eight games—to rank first in the nation with an average of 2.1 per game. By comparison, there were 25 penalties called in Thursday night’s UCLA-Colorado contest, and two weeks ago, the Oakland Raiders had 23 in one game. Yes, discipline does matter.
Gridiron marathon: Saturday’s Texas-Texas Tech game lasted four hours and twenty minutes. There was no overtime. The game started at 9 a.m. PT on Fox Sports1, with the Stanford-Oregon State game slated to follow at 12:30 p.m. Unfortunately, the game didn’t end until 1:20. Those of us looking for the Cardinal-Beavers tilt had to watch the first 50 minutes on Fox Desportes. Fortunately, I took Spanish in high school.
Four-hour games have become the norm in college football as more and more teams use a no huddle, pass-happy offense that results in more plays, more scoring, and more incomplete passes that stop the clock. Plus, defense is a lost art these days. For the TV networks, which routinely schedule back-to-back-to-back games in three-and-a-half hour windows, this is becoming a weekly nightmare.
Buffs’ defense shines: The resurgence of Colorado football under former San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre is due to a lot of things—an excellent rebuilding plan, improved recruiting, a balanced offense, and perhaps most of all, a stingy defense. Colorado (7-2) has allowed only 58 points in its last five games, all against high-scoring Pac-12 opponents. Thankfully, there are a few schools still playing defense.
The Buffs secret weapon is defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. You may remember Leavitt as the man who built a terrific program at South Florida from 1997-2009. His team climbed as high as No. 2 in the national rankings in ’07.
Tough sledding: Many seasoned observers consider LSU’s Leonard Fournette the top running back in the nation. Watching him run is like watching a runaway freight train. Yet in his last two games against No. 1 ranked Alabama, Fournette has carried the ball 36 times for a total of 66 yards. Alabama’s defense is even better than Colorado’s.
Tedford update: Former Cal head coach Jeff Tedford, now an offensive consultant on the Washington Huskies’ staff, is reportedly in line to be the next head coach at his alma mater, Fresno State, if and when that job becomes available.
Foster Farms Bowl: This is the time of year when people start speculating about which teams are going to play in the various bowl games. This year the Bay Area’s post-season game, the Foster Farms Bowl, will again feature teams from the Pac-12 and Big Ten. Right now the likeliest candidates to play at Levi’s Stadium on Dec. 28 are either USC or Washington State from the Pac-12 and Minnesota or Indiana from the Big Ten.
Heisman update: 1. Unless he has a total meltdown in the next three weeks, Louisville QB Lamar Jackson will win the Heisman Trophy. Jackson had another sensational game Saturday against Boston College, throwing four touchdown passes and running for three scores. It was the third time this year he’s been responsible for seven or more touchdowns in a game. 2. Jake Browning, Washington QB. Browning threw for six TDs against Cal on Saturday and now has 34 scoring passes and only three interceptions this season. If it weren’t for Jackson’s routinely dazzling performances, Browning would be the favorite right now. 3. Deshaun Watson, Clemson QB. Watson deserves more consideration than he’s getting; 4; Jabrill Peppers, Michigan. The do-everything Wolverine played six positions this week; 5. Jalen Hurts, Alabama QB. Stock is rising as he takes a more prominent role with the nation’s best team. Meanwhile, the man who should’ve won the trophy last year, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, is now fully healthy and had a scintillating game on Saturday with 199 rushing yards.