May 29, 2009

Mailbag: How do you replace a legend?

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When legendary coach Bear Bryant ended his career, the Alabama administration looked to the NFL for his successor, Ray Perkins. Notre Dame did the same thing and hired Dan Devine when Ara Parseghian retired.

Some programs replaced their legends with coaches who were successful at lower-profile schools. For example, Ohio State replaced Woody Hayes with Earle Bruce from Iowa State, and when Darrell Royal retired at Texas, the Longhorns hired Fred Akers from Wyoming.

Still other programs have promoted assistants with various degrees of success. Legendary Nebraska coach Bob Devaney was succeeded by Huskers offensive coordinator Tom Osborne, who then became a legend, too. It didn't work out quite as well at Michigan and Georgia. Michigan replaced Bo Schembechler with offensive coordinator Gary Moeller, who posted 44 victories in five seasons but resigned after an arrest on a disorderly conduct charge. When Vince Dooley, the winningest coach in Georgia history, retired, his running backs coach, Ray Goff, was a surprising choice as his successor. Goff had a couple of good years, but he was replaced after three consecutive disappointing seasons from 1993-95.

This all leads to the question of the approach Penn State will take when Joe Paterno decides to end his career.

There are deserving assistants on Paterno's staff. No doubt, there are several coaches in the NFL who would jump at the chance to lead Penn State's program. And if a coach at another school was sought, the Penn State administration would be wise to consider a coach who turned a perennially struggling program into a championship contender, is set for success at his current school and has a Pennsylvania background.

Who would that be? The answer is in the mailbag.

The next in line

From Tom in Topeka, Kan.: If Joe Paterno were to leave for whatever reason, do you think Penn State would go after Mark Mangino of Kansas since he is a Pennsylvania native?

Before Mangino took over at Kansas in 2005, the Jayhawks had endured five losing seasons in a row, had never made bowl appearances in consecutive seasons and had just three bowl wins in their history. Now, they've had four consecutive seasons without a losing record and have posted three bowl victories in four years. In the past two seasons, Kansas is 20-6 with an Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.

Most coaches with that kind of résumé would be aggressively courted by programs in need of a proven coach. Yet Mangino's name never surfaces for high-profile jobs.

Maybe he's not interested in leaving Lawrence. But it's also very possible he has been ignored because of his weight, and that's unfortunate and unfair. Yeah, he's a big guy, but he's also a good coach who has done an absolutely amazing job turning around Kansas' program.

The Jayhawks project as the preseason favorite to win the Big 12 North Division. At the least, Kansas should have another winning season and make another bowl appearance. It will be interesting to see if any schools go after Mangino.

One of those teams could be Penn State. Paterno is 82. And though he's said he has no plans to retire, it's not a stretch to think he could change his mind.

If he does, Penn State likely doesn't look to Mangino. The guess here is Penn State would look within the program and probably promote defensive coordinator Tom Bradley as Paterno's successor. If the search did go outside, I think Rutgers' Greg Schiano or Connecticut's Randy Edsall would be targeted.

Lasting power

From Tim in Greenville, S.C.: Are Steve Spurrier's days numbered at South Carolina or does the ol' ball coach have one more trick up his sleeve? I'm tired of waiting.

If Spurrier's days are numbered at South Carolina, he should be the one numbering them. Really.

Spurrier has not had a losing record in four seasons in Columbia, and that's no small feat. The last South Carolina coach to put together four consecutive non-losing seasons was Jim Carlen from 1978-81, when the Gamecocks were an independent and did not have to endure the SEC grind.

Still, your urgency is understandable.

South Carolina never has won an SEC championship – or even an East Division title. Spurrier's hiring in 2005 spawned visions of championships, or at least validation as a contender in the division. But dreams of dominance faded into teams that were merely decent. An eight-win season in '06 was impressive enough, but there were aspirations for so much more.

Don't give up on Spurrier just yet, though. He's an outstanding coach, but he hasn't had as much talent to work with as he had at Florida. Among other things, he's constantly had to juggle unreliable quarterbacks. This year's starter, sophomore Stephen Garcia, is the most talented quarterback Spurrier has had at South Carolina. That alone is reason to be interested, if not encouraged.

I don't think South Carolina is a legitimate contender in the SEC East. But I do think the Gamecocks will post a fifth consecutive non-losing season. By the way, South Carolina hasn't gone five seasons without a losing record since 1930-34.

Orientation time

From Casey in Dallas: Arkansas seems to have too many running backs with no clear-cut go-to guy. Michael Smith is the starter, but as we saw last season, his lack of size means he can wear down. Do you see anybody capable of stepping up as the feature back?

You're worried that Arkansas has too many running backs? That's not a problem. Ask your neighbors down in Austin about that.

Smith is 5 feet 7 and 176 pounds, and he did wear down last season. He was knocked out of the South Carolina game with a sore shoulder and missed spring practice with a sore hamstring. But Smith did rush for 1,072 yards last season, and he'll benefit from a passing game that is expected to be improved with Ryan Mallett at quarterback.

Despite his size, or lack thereof, Smith can be a feature back. He just needs to be featured with 20 or fewer carries each game.

Arkansas has the depth to give Smith a few breaks. Sophomore De'Anthony Curtis, a former four-star prospect, was the star of the spring game. Sophomore Dennis Johnson rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown in last season's upset of LSU. Junior Broderick Green, a former four-star prospect, has transferred from USC and is hoping to be granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA.

The depth is so good that four-star freshman prospect Knile Davis, who broke his right ankle in spring drills, figures to redshirt even if he's sufficiently recovered when the season starts.

Not optimistic

From David in San Francisco: Where do you see Arizona finishing this season? Are we bowl-bound?

Good news and bad news, David.

Let's get the bad out of the way: Based on the loss of record-setting quarterback Willie Tuitama, tackle Eben Britton and wide receiver Mike Thomas and a schedule that includes trips to Iowa, Oregon State, California, Arizona State and USC, I see Arizona as a second-division team in the Pac-10.

But on the other hand, a bowl appearance certainly isn't out of the question. I'd take the Wildcats in non-conference games against Central Michigan and Northern Arizona, and Arizona surely will be favored against Washington and Washington State. That would leave the Wildcats in need of two more wins. Unless they pull an upset on the road, they'd need to win at least two out of three at home against Stanford, UCLA and Oregon. That could happen.

Six or seven victories appear a reasonable goal. And if either Matt Scott or Nick Foles perform at a high level in place of Tuitama, the Wildcats could equal last season's eight victories.

Tar Heel hopes

From Jordan in Kings Mountain, N.C.: What are the chances of North Carolina being a championship-contending team in the ACC in the next two years? And do you think North Carolina eventually will be a BCS-caliber team with the direction that Butch Davis has this team going?

The Tar Heels are ACC contenders right now.

Last season, North Carolina finished 8-5, with four of those losses by a combined nine points. With nine returning starters on defense and quarterback T.J. Yates back from injury, the Heels have the potential to post a double-digit victory total.

Of course, they have issues, especially at wide receiver where Brandon Tate and Hakeem Nicks must be replaced. But every team has significant voids to fill.

The defense should keep the Heels in every game. And if Greg Little becomes more reliable and a youngster such as Dwight Jones establishes himself, the questions at wide receiver could be answered quickly.

North Carolina must travel to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, which will make winning the Coastal Division extremely difficult. Still, it would be a mistake to completely count out the Tar Heels.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for He can be reached at
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