Wednesday, September 23, 2009

which coaches?

Lemme start off with a retraction and/or clarification. Monday I said I wouldn't be discussing the imminent departure of Al Groh beyond that one treatise; I really ought to have said I wouldn't be continuing to harp on Groh, nitpicking his moves, or in general joining the Groh Must Go bandwagon in any way.

It doesn't mean that I won't try to be a little ahead of the curve when it comes to what will likely be the all-consuming story around Virginia athletics not long from now. I mean the eventual coaching search, of course.

For tonight, I've taken a look at all 119 other Division I-A head coaches to evaluate the possibilities of their becoming our next head coach. This study doesn't cover assistants (Charlie Strong), I-AA head coaches (Mike London) or currently out-of-work head coaches (Tommy Tuberville.) All three of those should be candidates for the short list, but today we're only dealing with the 119 men currently employed as head coach by a I-A school.

Actually, it's not even that many. The first step was to narrow the list down to 30, by eliminating those who aren't coming even in our wildest fantasies and then those who would obviously elicit Chizik-at-Auburn reactions from the fanbase. The first list is the vast majority of other BCS schools; out of 65 coaches, only 11 are on the final list, and most of those aren't all that realistic either. The second list is like, the whole Sun Belt, most of the WAC and MAC etc., and even a couple struggling BCS coaches.

Some assumptions are made:

1) Our new hire will make about what Al Groh makes now, which is to say, a base salary of $1,875,000. Groh is one of the better-compensated coaches in the country.

2) No racism. That is to say, when teams interview Turner Gill from Buffalo, they're not doing so just to have a token black guy to keep the BCA off their backs. This keeps things simple when figuring out which coaches are in demand.

3) We're not poaching the ACC. I eliminated all 11 of those coaches right off without even thinking about salary, etc.

All coaches are rated on two simple categories:

- Desirability. How much would we want this coach as compared to who else is on the market? Under consideration are the coach's recent success, where they've had that success, and their age, among other subjective factors.

- Poachability. Is the coach working for his alma mater? Does he job-hop, or has he worked for his current employer a long time? On the flip side of that, maybe he was just hired there very recently. Has he interviewed for other jobs in the past? Would his salary here at UVA be an improvement over what he makes now?

Salary info, by the way, is derived from here.

Here we go. The list is ordered approximately from least to most poachable.

Would Probably Just Use Our Offer To Get More Money From Their Current School. Don't Bother.

- Rich Brooks, Kentucky (desirability: medium-low)
- Randy Edsall, Connecticut (desirability: medium-high)
- Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State (desirability: high)
- Gary Patterson, TCU (desirability: very high)

Gundy and Patterson would be awesome, as both have been very successful at very difficult places to be successful. Gundy, however, has a very generous non-base-compensation package and is an Oklahoma State man through and through. He played there and has coached there almost his whole career. Patterson turned down $2 million from Minnesota to stay at TCU.

Edsall also shows every sign of wanting to stay at UConn, having guided the program out of the I-AA hinterlands. Brooks appears to want to retire at UK, and he's damn near 70 anyway.

Job-hop Like Crazy. About As Crazy As We'd Have To Be To Offer.

- Dennis Erickson, Arizona State
- George O'Leary, UCF
- Frank Solich, Ohio (sort of)

These guys have some pretty hefty cases of wanderlust and would at least listen to us, just because it's in their nature to. And they've been reasonably successful at their current jobs. But they're old as dirt. (Well, younger, more recently formed dirt. Groh is actually older.) The same situations with coaches 20 years younger would be highly attractive, but their age turns their desirability into something pretty low.

Solich doesn't fit anywhere else, but he's not a job-hopper either. He's just old.

Would Depend Very Greatly On The Intangibles. Take Trip To Monticello To Seal The Deal.

- Mike Stoops, Arizona (desirability: medium-low)
- Jim Harbaugh, Stanford (desirability: medium)
- Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern (desirability: medium)
- Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt (desirability: medium)
- Mike Riley, Oregon State (desirability: medium-high)

The salary difference between our job and these guys' jobs is pretty significant, and they've all been up-and-comers at one point. Stoops would probably not be worth it, though; he's done a pretty lukewarm kinda job at Arizona and occupies a little bit of a hot seat himself. Riley might be tough to convince to leave Oregon State, having made the very rare move of going back somewhere he once left. But he's done a nice job there.

There's also a trio of guys who at least know what it's like to work at a school where they give a shit about their academic reputation. Harbaugh is a high-risk, potential-high-reward kinda guy. He's a hell of a recruiter, but he runs his mouth and aside from that one upset of USC, his onfield results have been lackluster. It's tough to get a handle on Johnson and Fitzgerald. It seems like they work at very similar schools - the small private-school whipping boy in a power conference - but in fact Vandy and Northwestern are very different on the field. Vandy's just perenially and unnoticeably bad, but Johnson's been inching their standards upwards. Northwestern, on the other hand, is the answer to the trivia question that goes something like, what school has won the most Big Ten championships since 1995 other than Michigan and Ohio State. Which is weird, because they almost always suck otherwise. It's hard to tell what effect Fitzgerald's had there.

In the end, I wouldn't call any of these guys especially realistic, but we're getting into the territory where I wouldn't be surprised if they interviewed.

Out Of The Box, But Sometimes The Box Is There For A Reason

- Ron English, Eastern Michigan (desirability: low)
- Tim Beckman, Toledo (desirability: low)

Both of these guys are very early in their first gig as a head coach, and probably see their current jobs as stepping stones. It seems nuts to consider them, but also consider that they were reasonably in-demand coordinators at high-profile places in former lives. In the end, though, there's a reason they went to the MAC and not, say, Washington.

Would They Even See Us As An Upgrade? If So, Lucky Us.

- Todd Graham, Tulsa (desirability: medium-high)
- Skip Holtz, East Carolina (desirability: medium-high)
- Bronco Mendenhall, Brigham Young (desirability: high)
- Kyle Whittingham, Utah (desirability: high)

All four of these coaches will eventually be coaching at BCS schools if they want to. Whittingham actually turned down his alma mater (BYU) to coach at their rival (Utah, where he's worked since 1994) so his desire to leave is probably limited. At least for anything but just exactly the right opportunity.

These other guys appear to be fair game, though they too can probably afford to wait for the right reason to leave. With Steve Kragthorpe struggling at Louisville and Tulsa continuing to rise, you have to wonder if Graham was actually the brains behind dragging them out of the pits, and if so, who wouldn't want him around? Both he and Holtz are very well paid for C-USA coaches, however, and better compensated than many BCS coaches too.

Mendenhall is the least well-paid of the bunch, but probably will have multiple athletic directors beating down his door every offseason until he leaves BYU. Competition will be stiff.

Regardless of any of the poachability caveats, however, these are four coaches that we absolutely must at least send feelers out to if/when Groh is let go. All would be quality choices, but they'd likely need some convincing in areas that go beyond simple paycheck issues.

Fallbacks. The Girl With Braces Who You'll Take To The Prom If All The Cheerleaders And That Cute Girl From English Class Turn You Down.

- Butch Jones, Central Michigan
- Bill Cubit, Western Michigan
- Kevin Sumlin, Houston
- David Bailiff, Rice
- Larry Fedora, Southern Miss
- Troy Calhoun, Air Force
- Turner Gill, Buffalo

Long list here. All of them would probably jump at an official offer from the desk of Craig Littlepage. Easy to get. Gill especially. He's interviewed all over the place - Auburn, Syracuse - and I don't take that as him having the ability to take his pick, but rather that he'd like to climb the ladder and get the hell up out of Buffalo ASAP.

My little internal chart puts all of these guys at medium desirability, and all for the same reason. All have brought some significant improvement to their teams. These are all bowl teams. With the exception of Cubit, though, they've all been at their jobs three years or less.

Would they be solid hires? Absolutely. But risky too. With any one of these guys, we'd all convince ourselves to feel pretty damn good about the hire. We'd point to the assorted Coach of the Year awards some have earned and the bowls they've been to and the upsets they've pulled off. But these are marriages that could turn out very nicely, or could turn out ugly.

Hey, I Know You

Al Golden, Temple
Derek Dooley, Louisiana Tech

On the poachability scale, these guys are probably sky-high. They have a UVA history and jobs at football backwaters. On the desirability scale, they couldn't be further apart. Golden is only listed because of his history as our DC. But he hasn't distinguished himself much at Temple (though he might with a few more years) and wouldn't otherwise be even close to the radar. He's a little young still and needs more seasoning.

Dooley has skyrocketed through the coaching ranks since playing wide receiver for George Welsh back in the day. He was never a coordinator, yet earned a head coaching gig at Louisiana Tech and in his second year last year, brought that old but complete afterthought of a program to its first non-Boise bowl game since 1990 (and first of any kind since 2001) - and won it. Dooley would fall under the above category but for his diploma. Being a UVA alum instantly makes him a candidate, and I think most fans would love the idea of keeping the job in the family, so to speak in the least eastern-Tennessee-ish way possible.

Might Be Available Whether He Wants To Or Not

Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville

He hasn't been a total disaster, anyway. Part of his problem is that Louisville sees themselves as a hell of a lot better than they really are. (The other part of his problem is he keeps losing to Syracuse and not going to bowls.) Whether he's a good coach or not is probably for a MAC school to find out, though. He'll only be available to us if he's fired, and fans are not going to respond well to hiring a guy from a perceived "lower-tier" program that just got fired because he couldn't win in a worse conference. Strike Kragthorpe off the list.

The Biggest Kahuna

Brian Kelly, Cincinnati

There have been a few knocks on Kelly. Word has it he's a bit of a jerk. Other word has it he's a massive jerk. He doesn't stay in one place very long and is always looking upwards for the next job. His handling of an incident in which some of his players at Central Michigan were involved in a manslaughter case was mildly criticized.

All of which would be forgotten in two seconds if he were hired. He's done nothing but kick ass at every stop. Two Division II national championships. (Grand Valley State is a Division II powerhouse, thanks to Kelly who built that program from the ground up.) He took Central Michigan from a program that won three games every year to MAC champs in three years. They're still enjoying the fruits of that labor. He took Cincinnati to the Orange Bowl. In short, everywhere he's been, he's taken that team to heights they've never before achieved. The Brian Kelly years at three different schools, short though they may have been, have been the pinnacle, which they may have matched since but never topped. The man can coach.

Further, he's dissatisfied with his present situation:
Is it true that you really have no practice fields?

"Yes, we have no practice fields. We practice at the stadium. There is no ability to go out and practice a spread, no-huddle offense. We don't get 120 yards to do that. We have to do it on 50 yards because the defense is on the other half of the field. It is hard to do, and I give our kids a lot of credit for being able to overcome it and continue to win. And, of course, we have no indoor facility. In fact, to prepare for the Orange Bowl [last season], we had to practice in an indoor soccer facility. It obviously wasn't a very good way to prepare our football team."

Where do you think your facilities rank in the Big East?

"Negative. You can't even compare it to any of the teams in our league. There are no luxury boxes, so there is no revenue stream there, either. We have the smallest stadium [35,098 capacity]. From an infrastructure standpoint, the university has to decide if it wants to get it done or not."
Emphasis mine.

Get cracking on that indoor practice bubble. Pay the man his money. Buy him some Polynesian dancing girls. Accept that he will probably stay no longer than four or five years and then go get himself hired at Ohio State. If he produces the same results here as he has everywhere else, every penny of it will have been worth it. We have actual facilities. Everything he complains about not having at Cincy, we have, except for the indoor field, and for the most part, they're all pretty nice, too. Of the 29 coaches we've looked at so far, this is the guy you want.


The Wild Card

Charlie Weis, Notre Dame

Weis is a supremely arrogant lard-ass. Fit-wise, it could get awkward, like those size 48 pants he thinks he can still fit into, only he can't, causing the hilarious and disgusting front-butt effect. His arrogance bleeds onto the field, causing the occasional heinous coaching mistake, and he managed to crater spectacularly in his third -not first, but third - season. You know, the one where you're supposed to have installed your own recruits and your own system. Going 3-9 at Notre Dame is like farting at the Pope's funeral. He's on the hot seat now and in danger of being let go as soon as this year.

But: The man can recruit. And the hot seat at Notre Dame heats up a little easier than at most schools; meaning, you get a grace period of one year, and if you haven't won a national championship in that time, the alums start reminiscing about Rudy and Knute Rockne and wondering if they can pool the money together for your buyout. His coaching pedigree and resume is, you know, good enough to get hired at Notre Dame.

Total shot in the dark here. The joker in the deck. Is he even going to be available (i.e. fired) at the end of the year? Would he call back if Littlepage left a message, or would he consider this job beneath him? Is he really the sort of guy Virginia would hire? Which would kick in first if he were hired - my vomit reflex, or my everything-will-be-alright voice that caused me to not break anything when I learned we hired a basketball coach I'd never heard of? Same question, what about the rest of the fanbase? This isn't just a grand-slam-or-strikeout kind of risk/reward setup. It's more like, a moon shot over the light towers landing in the street beyond the bleachers, or just standing there in the box piddling our pants and then getting beaned by a Randy Johnson fastball. And either way, it would be a circus.


Bird said...

I think UVA's gonna have to think out of the box to get someone right now. No one wants to be the Dan Hawkins of UVA. It's gotta be an off the radar dude or coordinator, in my opinion.

Bird said...

Speaking of which...CHAN GAILEY is available.

Brendan said...

I dunno, I think most coaches have enough of an ego to believe they're not going to turn out that way. Anyway, I wouldn't want a coach that is afraid to come because he thinks he'll fail. Screw that.

As for Chan Gailey, you guys sure are comedians over there.

Sandmeistr said...

Weis can recruit because he's at Notre Dame. Period. I'd put Gill waaaaaay up there as a guy we go hard after. And I know you ignored poaching, but don't sleep on Grobe.

Brendan said...

Well, sure, we wouldn't suddenly be looking at Notre Dame-esque recruiting classes if Weis came, but it's not hard to fail at recruiting there either - ask Ty Willingham.

Suraj said...

What do you think about this guy - Kevin Sumlin (Houston)? Mandel has an article on him at and he seems pretty intriguing...

Brendan said...

Sumlin would definitely be at or near the top of that "fallbacks" list, and his offense would get folks pretty excited. There'd be major growing pains though, because he runs a super-pass-wacky spread, and I've come to the conclusion that you can't shock the system with a wildly new spread offense the way Rich Rodriguez did at Michigan and Brandon did here and expect that to be successful in Year 1. With Sumlin, fans would need to be patient - he would not likely bring an instant turnaround.

rjparkerjr said...

UVA is not TCU. Patterson will be tempted at about the $2.3 level. We have the money.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, the University of Cincinnati just hired a new president. Whether the new administration will meet Kelly's expectations is an open question, particularly given the current economic climate.

Anonymous said...

Interesting read...but I could have saved you the effort. The next coach for UVa will be Mike London..

Brendan said...

"The next coach for UVa will be Mike London.."

Honestly, I hope not.

dj said...

a little late here, but this was an interesting story on Turner Gill which i happened to stumble onto: