July 23, 2010

Buchanan mailbag: Bad coaching fires

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It was Newton (Isaac, not C.M.) who said that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Actually, C.M. Newton, a former college basketball coach and athletic director, likely would agree. He'd probably point out that for each bad choice in the hiring of a coach, there is a poor decision in the firing of one.

Of course, pointing out bad coaching hires in college football is easy. Almost every major-college program has made them.

Ask Georgia fans about a dark period and they will bring up Ray Goff, the successor to legendary Vince Dooley. Goff's teams managed six or fewer wins in five of his seven seasons.

Alabama fans lament the four years of the Mike DuBose regime, which ended with a 3-8 debacle in 2000.

Curley Hallman presided over four losing seasons from 1991-94 at LSU.

Gerry Faust's predecessor (Dan Devine) and successor (Lou Holtz) led Notre Dame to national championships. But in five years under Faust, the Fighting Irish never posted more than seven victories.

Oklahoma boasts one of the most successful programs in college history. But the Sooners trudged through three consecutive losing seasons from 1996-98 under John Blake. Two years after Blake was fired, the Sooners won a national championship.

Recalling the bad decisions to fire a coach isn't as easy, but there are several cases where programs shouldn't have made a change.

Some of those examples are listed in this week's mailbag.

Firing mistakes

What, in your opinion, were the worst head-coach firings? My list goes something like this: Glen Mason at Minnesota, Jeff Bower at Southern Miss, David Cutcliffe at Ole Miss, Paul Pasqualoni at Syracuse and R.C. Slocum at Texas A&M.
Allentown, Pa.

Perhaps I'm biased (I covered Texas A&M in 2002), but then-Texas A&M president Robert Gates' decision to fire R.C. Slocum never made sense to me.

Slocum is the most successful coach in A&M history (123-47-2) and the Aggies never had a losing record in his 14-season tenure. He cleaned a program that had been on NCAA probation and had scholarships taken way. And you're going to fire that guy?

True, he made some mistakes (perhaps most notably firing Bob Toledo as offensive coordinator in 1994) and had a 3-8 record in bowl games, but the Aggies also won four conference championships under his guidance.

In his final season, the Aggies were 6-6, with four losses by seven or fewer points. A rash of injuries, particularly in the secondary, was a big problem that year. It was so bad A&M couldn't include a nickel package in defensive game plans. That problem also affected special teams, which typically are loaded with defensive backs. As a result, the Aggies couldn't hold big leads against Texas Tech and Nebraska.

As disappointing as that season turned out to be, the Aggies upset No. 1 Oklahoma behind freshman quarterback Reggie McNeal. The next week McNeal was injured early and hardly played in a 33-27 loss to Missouri. If ever a coach deserved a mulligan for a season, it was that one. And A&M still didn't have a losing record.

After firing Slocum, the Aggies targeted and hired Dennis Franchione away from Alabama, a move wildly celebrated by Aggies at the time. Ironically, many Aggies now lament the hiring of Franchione, who definitely made mistakes (not going for two late against Clemson in '05, choosing to kick a late field goal rather than go for a touchdown against Oklahoma in '06), but his regime wasn't nearly as disastrous as many Aggies now claim it to be. After all, A&M did go to three bowl games during his tenure.

Still, it's fact that Slocum never endured a losing season as A&M's coach. Since his departure, the Aggies have had four and have not finished in the top 25.

Of course, a strong case for the worst firing could be made for all the other coaches you mentioned, too.

Pasqualoni was 107-59-1 at Syracuse, but the Orange managed just six or fewer wins in four of his last five seasons.

Even though Ole Miss was 4-7 in Cutcliffe's final season, his dismissal didn't make sense. The Rebels were 44-29 in his six seasons, with only one losing record. They also came close to winning the SEC West, losing by three points to eventual national champion LSU.

Bower posted 13 consecutive winning seasons at Southern Miss, but was fired after finishing 7-6 in 2007. Southern Miss has finished 7-6 in each of the two seasons since his dismissal.

Ban FBS vs. FCS games?

Has there been any discussion of prohibiting FBS teams from playing FCS teams? There is no reason besides money for Florida to play Charleston Southern in football.
Lincoln, Neb.

There isn't a move to prevent FBS teams from scheduling FCS teams, and I'm glad.

Although we all remember Appalachian State's stunning upset of Michigan in the '07 opener, the vast majority of FBS-FCS matchups are easy wins for FBS programs.

Personally, I don't mind FBS teams playing one FCS team, particularly when it's a regional matchup like Iowa-Northern Iowa or Oregon-Portland State.

Those games produce $750,000 or more for the FCS teams to fund their athletic programs.

Besides, that gives regional players who weren't quite big or fast enough to get a scholarship to State U. a chance to play in huge stadiums and measure themselves -- or perhaps prove themselves -- against the big-time teams.

My problem is when FBS teams try to pad their win totals by scheduling two FCS opponents. The most glaring example was Kansas State, which bought out of a home game against Fresno State in 2008 so it could play FCS Montana State instead.

Fortunately, only one win over FCS opponents counts toward bowl eligibility. That's why Kansas State didn't qualify for a bowl game with a 6-6 record last season. Two of the Wildcats' wins came over Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech.

Season-ticket holders should be angry when their schools play two FCS opponents. Ticket-holders certainly aren't getting their money's worth when they're paying to see two gross mismatches.

Boise State-TCU in title game?

If Boise State and TCU went undefeated and all the teams in the "power" conferences had losses, would Boise State and TCU play for the national championship?
Santa Fe, N.M.

The theatre, hysteria and controversy that would accompany that scenario would be awesome to observe -- but in the end, the answer is no.

Go back to 2007, when WAC champion Hawaii was undefeated and LSU had two losses. Which team played for the national championship?

LSU, of course.

No one seriously questioned that because Hawaii had played a historically weak schedule, while LSU had slugged its way through the treacherous SEC. Then, Hawaii was routed in the Sugar Bowl by Georgia, while LSU beat Ohio State, which came in with one loss, in the national championship game.

But if Boise State and TCU go undefeated this season, each would make a better case for playing in the national championship game than Hawaii did in '07.

If Boise State goes unbeaten, it will have wins over Virginia Tech and Oregon State. A perfect season for TCU would include victories over Oregon State, BYU and Utah. That's not bad.

The BCS system hasn't allowed a team from a non-automatic qualifying conference to play for a national championship even though Boise and Utah each have finished unbeaten twice.

Thus, if non-automatic qualifying conferences can't get one team in the national championship game, two just isn't realistic.

Maybe if everything falls right, a team such as Boise State, TCU, Utah or BYU will get a shot at the national title. But only one. And frankly it probably will take another season like '07, when all the teams from the "power" conferences seemed to have at least two losses.

A reach for Leach?

With athletic director Debbie Yow leaving Maryland for N.C. State, many in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area think this season will be coach Ralph Friedgen's last regardless of how well the team plays. As a Maryland football fan (yes, we do exist), I'd like to know if you think I'm crazy for thinking that Mike Leach would be a perfect coach for Maryland?
Washington, D.C.

Some think Leach, the former Texas Tech coach, is crazy. But you're not.

If neither Friedgen nor coach-in-waiting James Franklin returns in 2011, Leach would be an interesting choice, provided Maryland's administration isn't leery after his controversial firing last year.

Leach's system is fun to play in and to watch. Quarterbacks and wide receivers in the mid-Atlantic region surely would be intrigued by his version of the spread.

In his 10 seasons as Texas Tech's coach, the Red Raiders led the nation in passing six times and were in the top five nine times. They were 11th the other season.

Each of Leach's teams went to a bowl. He made Texas Tech football nationally relevant.

He also has a fascination with pirates, so he'd probably be interested in the area.

The question is whether Maryland would be interested in Leach.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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