Archive for the ‘Oregon Ducks’ Category

Should ‘SC Tank 2009?

August 17, 2009

If you could tear yourself away from the interminable coverage of “unanimous-gate” a few weeks back, the Pac-10’s publicity campaign during its media days provided one of the more interesting stories of the offseason.
Coach after coach stepped to the dais and proclaimed the conference the best in the country. On its face, it may seem like typical posturing. However, the offensive on the part of the West Coasters clearly reflected a well-coordinated plan to boost the conference’s profile nationwide.

Why now?

Well, the question of whether or not USC should have been snubbed from the BCS title game the past few years has been debated ad nauseam. The Trojans keep on rolling out-of-conference opponents and churning out NFL draft picks. However, if you’re looking for the main reason why the Trojans end up on the short end of the stick, it’s undoubtedly the company they keep.

Fair or not, there’s no denying the national perception that the Big 12 and SEC are a cut above the Pac-10. Last year, the fact that the upstart Mountain West Conference owned the conference in non-conference games certainly supported that idea. A more persistent problem would be the conference’s crappy TV contract putting its teams behind the eight ball.
Most importantly, though, Homerism suspects USC’s seemingly permanent place atop the conference standings is perpetuating the notion that the Trojans’ conference mates are closer to the Big East than the Big 12. Every conference has its elite programs, but none have put the league title in the same kind of stranglehold as ‘SC, winner of seven straight championships. Some may interpret that streak as a sign of just how great of a run Pete Carroll’s team is on. The flip side: the rest of the conference is watered-down. Thus, when USC drops a game to Oregon State or UCLA, it’s a major black mark on the resumé.
(Columnist George Schroeder has put forth a similar argument. Dr. Saturday contends that the Pac-10’s monolith simply needs a foil, a la Oklahoma and Texas. If the esteemed Doc’s assessment is correct, though, it seems logical that another team winning the conference would be a good place to start.)
As unappealing as this may seem to the “win forever” crowd, a conference championship for a team like Oregon actually could go a long way raising the national opinion of the Pac-10. And what better time for the Trojans to tank than now? After all, USC is breaking in a brand new quarterback, re-stocking almost its entire defense and facing a brutal schedule. As talented as Carroll’s players are, the odds of a national championship this season are stacked against them. If the ultimate goal is unattainable, why not let another school in on the action for once?
Tanking or not, the Trojans’ run of Pac-10 titles is in jeopardy. California looks particularly strong, and the Ducks could give USC a real push. Plus, programs like Arizona, Stanford and UCLA appear to be in an up cycle and should be a stiffer test than they’ve been in the past.
We’ve heard that line before, though. Despite any misgivings about the Trojans, USC still remains the consensus favorite for the Pac-10 crown with good reason. Those slivers of doubt do open the door for a plausible hiccup, though.
Maybe winning forever actually involves losing every once in a while.

Coaches Waiting to Fail

March 14, 2009

There’s a saying that goes something like “cemeteries are full of irreplaceable people.” Try telling that to the college football world, where a more appropriate credo seems to be “never follow a legend.”

Seriously, Homerism is struggling to think of one instance in the last three decades in which a coach was able to step in and successfully replace a legendary predecessor. (The situations at Miami in the ’80s and LSU this decade come to mind, but the men who started these sustained periods of excellence, Howard Schnellenger and Nick Saban, both had relatively short tenures.)

Yet, you could write a biblical-like genealogy of successors who have failed to live up to the lofty expectations established by an icon:

  • Oklahoma: Switzer begat Gibbs, who begat Schnellenberger, who begat Blake;
  • Notre Dame: Holtz begat Davie, who begat Willingham, who begat Weis;
  • Nebraska: Osborne begat Solich, who begat Callahan;
  • Florida: Spurrier begat Zook;
I could keep going–Alabama, Michigan, Texas, Ohio State, USC–but you get the point. Looking at that list, that whole “ties to the program” hasn’t worked out too well either.

So yesterday’s news that Mike Bellotti had decided to hand over the reins at Oregon to predestined successor Chip Kelly got Homerism to thinking about this trend of “coaches-in-waiting.” Specifically, other than money, why the hell would any up-and-coming assistant like Kelly be interested in this kind of arrangement? 

Kelly’s situation isn’t much different from that of Will Muschamp at Texas, Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, or even Joker Phillips at Kentucky. All are highly regarded assistants with no head coaching experience who parlayed outside interest from other schools into lucrative guarantees from their current employers.

Now, whether or not Bellotti qualifies as a legend is certainly debatable. However, what shouldn’t be debatable is whether or not he is the best coach in Duck history. He’s leaving the Oregon football program in a completely different stratosphere from where it was when he inherited it. For Kelly, there’s a little room to move up and a whole lot farther way to fall. That doesn’t strike Homerism as a situation built to succeed for a first-time head coach.
At least the CIWs are getting paid, though. Considering the track record, athletic directors pushing these arrangements just look foolish.

Sure, the allure of “continuity” is understandable. And maybe coaches actually do benefit from apprenticing at the side of a legend.

In reality, though, when successful leaders leave any organization, seamless transitions just don’t happen–the chain is broken. Likewise, the notion that iconic coaches can be cloned seems like pie in the sky. Sure, it’s possible to impart strategies from one generation of coaches to another, but it’s not like personality transplants occur. Also, obsessing over one aspect of a candidate’s resumé, such as having a history with a school, can cause the people making a hiring decision to ignore what should be its goal: finding the best coach for the job.

Any time a school loses a coach who has become synonymous with its football program–think Bowden, Paterno, Spurrier–the specter of that figure is always going to loom large for whomever takes over. That’s tough enough, but expecting the replacement to actually be his predecessor makes the task that much harder. Especially for a second banana taking over at the top.
When a legend steps down, bringing in an outsider may not play well with the boosters. After all, if it ain’t broke. 
Know what will play even worse with the alums? Disappointment and a painful divorce a few years down the line.