If you follow sports at all, you’ve heard of the coaching carousel.
Well, a word of advice: with the way that carousel is spinning these days, be careful if you venture too close to it. You might get hit by a freshly ejected coach.
The old saying is you can’t tell the players without a program. Well, a printed game program is going to be obsolete when it comes to college football coaches these days.
Better to grab a dry-erase board.
The latest casualty Friday night was Arkansas’ Bret Bielema. In what has been widely derided as a classless move, Arkansas fired Bielema as he left the field after his team’s 48-45 loss to Missouri. Bielema one-upped his former employers by still answering questions per usual at his postgame news conference.
Bielema brings to four the number of Southeastern Conference coaches who have been jettisoned in 2017. That number includes Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze, who was fired for cause before the season began for some unsavory conduct involving escort services and cell phones. The rest of the hit parade includes Bielema, Tennessee’s Butch Jones and Florida’s Jim McElwain. They were all sent packing for more conventional reasons: They didn’t win the SEC championship every year.
Interestingly enough, LSU has played and beaten all four of those schools this season. And it could add another notch to its goal posts if Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin is dismissed after Saturday night’s game between the Tigers and Aggies in Tiger Stadium, as widely expected.
According to a report from ESPN, the SEC hasn’t had five football coaching changes since 1946, though admittedly the conference had 12 teams then, not 14.
It doesn’t take Hercule Poirot to figure out why coaching jobs are becoming more tenuous. As they said in “All The President’s Men,” follow the money.
SEC schools have more cash than ever thanks to the SEC Network, and so they’re lavishing a lot of it on sprucing up things for their cash cow program: football. Head coaches are being paid more; schools are spending more on assistant coaches and support staff; and the money going into facilities is going through the roof.
Come to think of it, a retractable roof on Tiger Stadium might be a good selling point with recruits.
Why would Texas A&M want to part ways with Sumlin? He’s never had a losing season in six years there, but since going 11-2 and tying for second in the SEC West in 2012, his Aggies haven’t finished better than fourth in the division and haven’t won more than eight games overall the last four seasons. Those are big considerations.
But so is money. Texas A&M has poured about half a billion dollars into rebuilding Kyle Field and slapping a new layer of gold plating onto the Aggies’ football complex. The school, namely its deep-pocketed boosters, expect more for the money they’re shelling out.
It’s funny to think, but LSU coach Ed Orgeron looked about as shaky as any SEC coach back in September after shocking losses to Mississippi State and Troy. Apologies to the reader — Coach O’s aunt, perhaps? — who emailed me to say that I’ve harped on those two losses too much. But I only dredge them up again here to say how much has changed over the last two months of LSU’s season. Orgeron went into this one looking like a solid citizen compared to a lot of his fellow SEC coaches.
Another reason for all the quick triggers on coaching changes these days is the new early signing period. Schools will be able to sign prospective recruits for 2018 starting Dec. 30, along with the traditional early February signing period. LSU is expected to sign 17-18 prospects in December, leaving only seven or eight open spots for February.
Meanwhile, schools continue to go recruiting for big fish to be their next coach, you know, the savior who’s going to lead them to the promised land.
As many of them come to find out, making an improvement in the head coach’s office isn’t that easy. Florida is a great job — lots of money, a state full of football talent, not the best facilities, surprisingly, but they can be built. But the Gators already saw their top target, Chip Kelly, spurn them for UCLA.
Kelly, the former Oregon coach, seems more comfortable on the west coast than the east, but UCLA has been a downtrodden program for most of the last 30 years. Now, Florida is expected to train its bank accounts on UCF coach Scott Frost, but if he’s wooed home by Nebraska then Florida will do no better than its third choice.
Spinning the coaching carousel is hard work. And it’s hardly a guarantee of better days.