Friday, November 30, 2007

Don't we have a game to play?

Amid all the distractions, we have a game to play. Let me tell you, I don't have a really good feeling about it. All the intangibles seem to be going against us. We're dealing with the imminent loss of our head coach, and our defensive coordinator is busy interviewing for other jobs. We're coming off an emotionally devastating loss in triple overtime. Even more key players are injured, including our starting QB, who may not be able to play.

Word around the campfire is that Les Miles has told the team he will be leaving. Pelini expects to get the Nebraska job and may take an assistant or two with him. Will there be anyone around to coach this team for a bowl game? Will Jacob Hester put on the headset and call the plays in January? The man does everything else, so why not?

We definitely have coaches for this coming game, but you have to wonder if their hearts are in it. Honestly, I'm not sure my heart is in it.

I'm sure the players' hearts are in it though, and that's the most important thing. They still have a lot to play for.

As for the new coach, the three most talked-about names remain Spurrier, Saban, and Del Rio. Between the 3, I like Del Rio the best, but I think I would prefer an experienced college coach currently coaching at a different level. Like, for example, Troy's current coach Larry Blakeney, who has made Troy into a consistent threat.

Poseur and I have talked a lot over the years about why NFL coaches don't necessarily translate to college and vice-versa. The reasons are myriad, but it comes down to the basic fact that the two jobs require different skill sets. A college head coach has to go into parents' homes to recruit. He has to deal with the fragile egos of 18 year olds who for the first time in their lives aren't the star players. He has to deal with the X's and O's of the college game, which is in some ways simpler and in some ways more complex than the pro game. It's simpler in that, because there's a lot less practice time than in the NFL, you can only make your own playbook complicated up to a point. It's more complex in that the teams you face will have a LOT more variation in their own playing styles than you will see in the NFL. There simply aren't two teams in the NFL who play offense more differently than do Florida and Bama. Or Kentucky and Arkansas. And let's not even get into Hawaii and Army.

A college coach also has to teach his players to play football, a task that generally is not needed in the NFL. In college, a coach will have many players who have simply never had competent instruction in their lives. You'll have a running back who, though talented, was never taught how to hold a football so as to avoid fumbling it. You may have a cornerback who has no idea what slide stepping or inside technique are. Or worse, you may have a cornerback who has never played cornerback. You just don't see this in the NFL nearly as often.

In college, the game is emotional, where in the NFL, it's a lot more analytical. A college coach is expected to "rah rah" his way to his players' hearts, whereas an NFL coach who tries that is generally laughed at.

I don't want to get completely sidetracked on this topic, so if you want to read more about why NFL coaches don't necessarily translate to college, read Stewart Mandel's column from earlier this month, about Charlie Weis. It also goes the other way. See Saban, Nick; Spurrier, Steve.

I would model the search on Ohio Stat's eventual hiring of Jim Tressel. They looked far and wide and eventually came up with a guy no one had ever heard of, but who ended up being a terrific coach who was absolutely perfect for their program.

There's reason not to do that, of course. Recruits like to see a splashy, sexy hire. It would definitely pay some immediate dividends to go out and steal away a Nick Saban from Bama or a Steve Spurrier from South Carolina, or any big-name coach from any program, really. It would provide a shot of excitement into any program, energizing fan basing and catching the attention of potential recruits out there.

In the long run, it could be a mistake though. Much more important than making a sexy hire for short term gain is to make a smart hire for long term gain. Hire someone with the management skills to handle a modern major college head coaching position, which is less about X's and O's and more about Human Resources Management, leaving X's and O's primarily to assistants.

Despite all that, I think Del Rio actually has the potential to be a good college football coach. He seems to have the fiery personality that serves college coaches well. He doesn't seem to be the detached analytical genius that excels in the NFL but fails in college (see Weis, Charlie). Further, he has a lot of ties to the area and it seems like he'd stay at LSU until LSU no longer wanted him, adding much-needed stability to a program that has lacked it for decades.

Plus, you know, recruits like to see coaches it NFL experience. Having a former NFL linebcker as our head coach may help with guys like Arthur Brown and Ryan Baker. (I know! I know!).

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