Open To New Opportunities
If last weekend in college football had a title, it would be Reality Check. An alternative title would be, Time to Freshen Up that Resume. That’s because several teams received a cold dose of truth as they either underperformed or, as some might suggest, revealed their true self, and certainly the gap between where they are and where their fans assumed they might be. Perhaps the most glaring example came when the University of Texas lost resoundingly to its neighbor and former and now future conference affiliate Arkansas, who was previously best known as the only team in the SEC that might lose to Vanderbilt. This happened in the wake of the Longhorns’ flexing their economic muscle by largely reconfiguring college football with a single decision, where we now realize that fiscal impact doesn’t inherently equal success on the pitch.
Another shock came when Florida State, fresh off an overtime loss to Notre Dame last week, gave up a Hail Mary touchdown as time expired to lose to Jacksonville State, which is in Alabama, not Florida. It was, in a word, embarrassing, and could cost 2nd year head coach Mike Norvell his job – maybe not now, but eventually. Now former USC head coach Clay Helton didn’t have to wait that long, as he was released pretty immediately after the Trojans lost at home to Stanford last weekend, a tough swallow for the school that once dominated the college football universe and now can’t even get past those eggheads up north. As USC athletic director Mike Bohn stated, they’ve provided every opportunity over the past two years to compete for football championships. Losing to Stanford isn’t that. And for the record, USC was potentially one win away last season from the playoffs, even if they didn’t deserve it.
Perhaps it’s because last year was such an anomaly, where teams kind of played a somewhat truncated season, but there’s clearly more uncertainty and higher expectation than ever on big time college football teams. That’s exacerbated even more by the game of musical chairs going on in conference realignment, where weak programs might fall into the land of misfit toys, known currently as the American Athletic Conference. And of course, now programs need to develop high profile opportunities for athletes to leverage name, image, and likeness, something that’s much easier to do on a title contender than, say, Kansas. So if there was pressure on college football coaches to win before, well, that was simply the prelude.
Obviously, and this is probably the most obvious yet overlooked concept in all of sports, not everyone can win. College football, like every group of teams that play together, is a zero sum game. It’s not Lake Wobegon, and everyone isn’t above average. I can’t tell you if all the men are good looking, but I do know that for every Alabama, there’s going to be a Bowling Green, with all apologies. Which means that more often than not, you’re going to have angry fans and a trigger happy athletic director looking for the next messiah. And one who’s comfortable considering everything temporary housing.
Of course, I’ll never feel all that bad for big time college football coaches. Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian has a guaranteed $34 million contract over six years. So even if he gets fired tomorrow, he’s still filthy rich. Coaches choose this line of work, and those that succeed can buy a small island off the coast to cheer up after getting the red slip. The question here isn’t about any coach’s job security or their feelings. It’s about the end game in a college football world that’s moving faster than lightening. We’re getting closer and closer to a landscape where there’s about 40 teams that matter, and the rest play some form of glorified rec sports. And the only way to be north of that line is to win at all costs. Which means that if you’re a coach who does a nice job leading a group of young men and graduates your players and wins around half the time, this is not a job for you. The coaching carousel is no longer a seasonal game in college sports, and it’s spinning faster and faster every day. And with more schools wanting a seat on the ride – just see Houston, BYU, Cincinnati, and UCF in the Big 12 as point positive – I’d encourage everyone in the coaching business to keep their resume current.
Of course, Clay Helton knows all about that. He is, I’m sure, open to new opportunities.
Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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