July 19, 2008

The Most Overrated Coaches in America

Yesterday's discussion of the best coaches in the game got me thinking a little bit about a different topic of discussion when it comes to college football. This topic is a little more enjoyable for me because it's a subject that the mainstream media hates to talk about. There is nothing more uncomfortable for mainstream media types than to go on the record and call out a coach for not getting it done. And yet as a college football fan, there is nothing more frustrating than hearing the media gush over coaches who fans know is not all they are cracked up to be. Guys like Chris Fowler (who I like by the way) absolutely love to pooh pooh the fans whenever fans start getting upset about the performance of their coach. You'll start hearing stuff like "nothing is ever good enough for (insert team here) fans" and "loyalty is a long lost art among college football fans" and "fans will jump all over you at the first sign of trouble." As a college football fan, I usually find those statements insulting (especially when they are directed at the fans of my team) because we know as well as anyone if our coach is getting the job done. In the spirit of open discussion, let's tear down some barriers and throw out a list of college football's most overrated coaches.

1) Mack Brown - The reason I wanted to start with Mack Brown is because he's the perfect example of a coach who has an absolute pristine reputation with the mainstream media but probably faces a lot more grumbling at home in Austin with his own fans. Let me start by saying that I don't think Mack Brown is a bad coach, and it would be silly for me to say that he hasn't been successful at Texas. The guy has put together a 103-25 record in 10 years in Texas and has averaged over 10 wins per season. He got the job done with the national title in 2005, and has never won fewer than 9 games at Texas. He's also 7-3 in bowl games, and 19-11 overall in rivalry games against Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech. When you consider that he took over a Texas program that was in the doldrums when he got there, he has delivered big time results at Texas. By all accounts, he is very popular in Austin and pretty much has a lifetime contract at Texas.

So why am I putting him on this list again?? Because it's Texas!! You're talking about a university that is king in one of the three richest states for high school football talent in the country. Texas high school football is probably the most intense high school football in the country, and just about every one of those kids dreams of putting on those burnt orange colors and playing in Austin. Yea, A&M and Oklahoma and maybe some schools like ND, LSU, and Arkansas might get down there and pluck away a few blue chippers, but the vast majority of the top talent in the state wants to go to Texas. In other words, the head coach at Texas has his pick of the litter. There's no other situation like it in the country. The Florida schools are all cannibalizing each other for players in Florida, and the same applies in California to some degree. There's fans of all different teams throughout those states. In Texas, it's all about Longhorn football, and Mack Brown barely has to step out of his backyard to put together a top 5 recruiting class. In the Big 12, Texas is always going to have the best access to talent in the conference.

I'm not saying that it's easy to win 10 games a year at any school, including Texas, but isn't it safe to say that there are a lot of quality coaches who could do what Mack Brown has done?? Mack Brown has been a success at Texas, but let's not go overboard here. The guy has won 1 Big 12 championship in 10 years. ONE. Read that again. What "legendary" coach has only won one conference title in a ten year span?? Stoops has won five Big 12 titles in the same time frame. Mack Brown deserves better than the "Mr. February" label that he sometimes gets tagged with, but you have to admit that he hasn't produced a lot of powerhouses with the talent at his disposal.

Mack has his national title, but let's not kid ourselves. We all watched Texas that year. They won a national title for one reason and one reason only. VINCE YOUNG. I've never seen a player carry a team more than Vince Young did that year. He turned Texas from a program that always came up small in the big moments into one that found ways to get it done. Other than the Vince Young era, Mack Brown has been "Mr. Holiday Bowl." There's nothing wrong with that, but if you compare Mack Brown's achievements to his national reputation, there's a noticeable gap there. There are probably many Texas fans who insist that Mack Brown is the best thing ever to happen to Texas football, but I would bet there is a vocal minority who think he probably could be doing more with the resources available at Texas.

2) Kirk Ferentz - Any coach who has been able to win 2 co-Big 10 championships at Iowa of all places probably has no business being on an "overrated" coaches list, so maybe it's not fair that I have Kirk Ferentz on this list. In 9 years at Iowa, he's put together a 73-70 record (and that's including his 1-10 season in his first eyar), and he has a 38-34 record in the Big Ten. All in all, a pretty respectable career at Iowa, and his overall tenure has been fairly successful.

I don't think Ferentz has underachieved at Iowa by any stretch, but the reason he makes my overrated list is because he somehow finds himself on the shortlist of candidates at every college and pro job in the country. How does he do it?? Every time a job opens up in college or the NFL, there's Ferentz in the top three saying "I'm very happy at Iowa." He must have the best agent in the country or something. It never fails. Michigan job opens up?? There's Ferentz on the list as the top candidate. Pittsburgh Steelers job becomes available?? Suddenly every Pittsburgh tv station is out in Iowa City looking for an interview from Ferentz. And after he turns down all these jobs, he takes advantage of his leverage and extends his contract until about 2090 and get a pay raise out of it. Case in point. Ferentz is now the highest paid coach in the Big 10.

Yet, if you look at his performance in recent years, why is everyone still so excited about this guy?? In his last three years at Iowa, Ferentz is 19-18 overall with a 11-13 record in the Big 10. In other words, he's basically reverted back to being your typical middle of the road Big 10 coach. At some point, you would think that the interest in this guy would start to dry up. I'm not even sure that he'll be in good graces at Iowa much longer if he has another down year or two.

By the way, what's with Iowa thinking that they are a much better athletic program than they actually are?? They ran Steve Alford out of town and now Ferentz is starting to hear some grumbling. I'm not saying either of those guys are superstars, but it's Iowa for god sakes!! What do they expect?? Do Iowa fans really think they should be competing for Big 10 titles year in and year out in football and basketball?? I respect their passion for Iowa sports, but it's a little shocking to see a mediocre program complaining so much about their mediocre coaches. Dr. Tom Davis and Hayden Fry aren't walking through that door, folks!!

3) Phil Fulmer - Since there has to be an SEC coach on this list, how about we go down to Knoxville and hit up the pumpkin himself, Mr. Phillip Fulmer (break out your Tennessee twang when you're saying it for extra effect). As anyone who has followed his career at Tennessee is well aware, Phil Fulmer is a lightning rod for criticism in Rocky Top country. Just mention the name Phil Fulmer, and you'll have a Tennessee fan riled up for hours.

It's almost like Tennessee doesn't know what to do with Fulmer. He keeps plugging along at around 9-10 wins a year and usually does just enough to look ok, but it's been a long time since Tennessee was really really good under him. He hasn't won a conference title since 1998, and his team hasn't finished in the top ten since 2001. Don't get me wrong, some of those 10-3 type seasons he has been putting together are nothing to sneeze at, but the Tennessee faithful are a little restless these days. He has had a good run at Tennessee overall, but I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up getting pushed into retirement a little earlier than he maybe wants.

With a new QB in place and a fairly tough start to the season (at UCLA, Florida, at Auburn in the first four games), I think Fulmer's seat could get really warm early in the year.

By the way, here's the full list of the coaches who will be participating in SEC football next season:

Urban Meyer
Nick Saban
Les Miles
Steve Spurrier
Phil Fulmer
Mark Richt
Tommy Tuberville
Bobby Petrino
Houston Nutt
Rich Brooks
Sylvester Croom
Bobby Johnson

If you're scoring at home, there are 5 former national champions, 1 coach who had an undefeated season at Auburn, another coach with a 72-19 record at Georgia and 2 SEC titles, and another coach who went 41-9 at Louisville and is widely regarded as one of the best offensive minds in the game. Could you imagine being Bobby Johnson in that league?? Good god, the SEC is so loaded with coaching talent it's not even funny. Compare that to the Big Ten where one of the top 3 coaches in the league might be Ron Zook (yikes). Needless to say, the SEC is in a league of its own in college football these days.

4) Tommy Bowden - Tommy B. One of my favorite whipping boys. Of all the coaches on this list, I think Bowden was probably the most deserving. He's such an easy and obvious candidate for the "overrated" list that it's almost too easy to come up with things to say about him.

One of my favorite rites of summer is the annual "Watch out for Clemson" predictions that you see on ESPN.com and in your college football preview magazines. Doesn't matter if it was the Woody Dantzler era or the Charlie Whitehurst era or the current Cullen Harper era. Everyone loves to get excited about Clemson football in the summer. Every year is going to be their breakthrough year where they take command of the ACC. And yet how many years does Tommy Bowden have to go 8-5 before people start to realize that their big year might not come?? Instead of pronouncing them ACC Champions in the preseason for like the 7th straight year, could we maybe take a wait and see approach?? Considering that Miami and FSU have been down the last few years, the fact that Clemson still hasn't won an ACC title is probably an indication that it's not going to happen for them this year either.

Clemson hasn't been awful during the Bowden era, but they haven't even come close to breaking out yet at any point in his tenure. Bowden has never won an ACC title, and he's only had one season with 2 losses in the ACC. Every other year, he's been 5-3 or 4-4 in the conference. With an overall record of 69-42 in nine years (about 7.5 wins a year), there's really nothing in Tommy Bowden's track record to suggest big things are about to come for him.

5) Joe Paterno - Finally, this list wouldn't be complete without the old man somewhere on it. It always cracks me up to hear the JoePa defenders come out of the woodwork every fall to tell America how much they love having JoePa at Penn State and that they wouldn't want any other coach. JoePa's base of supporters insist that they would be happy if he coached forever at Penn State. Here's my response:


If Penn State fans are happy going 9-4 every year, losing every big game they play, and losing out on big recruits in Western Pennsylvania to Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Michigan every year, fine by me!! I couldn't be happier to see Joe Paterno at Penn State, and I hope he's there another 10 years. It's one less program in the Midwest that I would need to take seriously in terms of competition for recruits. Penn State sits in one of the most fertile high school recruiting areas in the country, and yet they seem perfectly content to give up their chance at regular dominance so that their 80 year old coach can keep himself busy instead of going to a nursing home.

Not only are Penn State fans more than willing to wallow in mediocrity during Paterno's last years with us on earth, they're even going to let him hand pick his successor from his staff. Beautiful!!

So if you're scoring at home, Joe Paterno spent 35 years building Penn State into a football powerhouse, and now he's in the process of sending them into a 20 year swoon. You gotta love Joe Pa!


Chris said...

How in the world is Charlie Weis not on your list of overrated coaches? The only success he has had at ND was with Ty Willingham's players. Plus, his credentials as an offensive wizard while with the NE Patriots is tainted because the Pats broke the rules. If I were you guys, I would be really worried about this guy.

Doug said...

It's a fair argument as to why Weis isn't on this list, but it's also a little early to get a read on how Charlie's tenure is going to turn out at ND. He's only been a head coach for 3 years. The other coaches on this list have all been head coaches for at least 9 years. Would it have been fair for me to throw Kirk Ferentz on this list after his first three seasons of 1-10, 3-9, and 7-5?? I think it would have been a little premature for me to label Ferentz as "overrated" after only three seasons (especially since he won the Big 10 two out of the next three seasons).

Charlie might start deserving an overrated label if the next three seasons mirror his first two seasons, but I think we need to see how 2008-2010 play out before making any definitive judgments about him. He had a very encouraging first year, the team regressed in 2006, and last year was awful in every way. If he produces a series of 8-4/9-3 type seasons over the next few years, he's going to be at the top of the "overrated coaches" list (if he's even still employed). But if he has ND rolling in a couple years as all these top 5 classes start to mature, I don't think he'll be on this list.

I guess my larger point is that the jury is still out on him. He hasn't delivered a lot of big time results on the field to this point, but ND's program is much stronger in terms of talent and depth than it has been in quite some time. He will have to start producing victories soon, but I think we need to give him an opportunity with the players he recruited.

Another point I would add is how can you be overrated when no one is talking about you as a great coach in the first place?? Don't you have to have a reputation for being a great coach before some hack blogger like me starts saying that you are overrated?? Who out there in the national media (outside of Lou Holtz) is telling everyone that Charlie Weis is a great coach?? Seems like most of the ESPN types and national writers have been killing Weis for the last year and a half or so.

Believe me, I'm not making excuses for Charlie Weis. I've been as hard on him as anyone, and I think last year was a complete failure that falls squarely on his shoulders. This season is a fork in the road for Weis. He will take one of three paths:

1) Complete failure - teams doesn't get on track again this year, players quit on him, meltdown, fired from ND

2) Close but can't get over the hump - Weis starts winning regularly, but it's more like Mack Brown winning than Pete Carroll winning; he recruits well and produces a lot of 10-2 type seasons and Gator Bowl wins but not a lot of dominant seasons and big wins; maybe he breaks through and wins a title but comes up small in big games; This path would put Weis on the "overrated coaches" list in about 3-4 years

3) Championship level - Weis starts putting up championship level performances year in and year out and recruiting at the very top level of college football; big bowl wins and wins over USC/Michigan become the norm

Until we know more about how his tenure will turn out, I think it's too early to make a call.

Matt said...

If JoePa is on the list than there has to be room for Bobby Bowden. That program is in just as much trouble as Penn State.