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CFB's 2005 Coaching Changes
by Larry Ness - 08/01/2005
(4th of a nine-part series)
The NFL is definitely a players' league (like the NBA), while the game of college football has been dominated by its big-name coaches, at its big-name schools (as has college hoops!).
With Nick Saban (LSU) leaving for the Miami Dolphins and John Robinson retiring at UNLV, the college game loses two national-championship-winning coaches. At South Carolina, Lou Holtz, who won a national title at Notre Dame in 1988 leaves but is replaced by Steve Spurrier, who has a career mark of 142-40-2 in the college ranks, including a national title with Florida in 1996.
Of the 23 schools that changed coaches this past year, FIVE have won national titles in the past 21 years. The list includes BYU (1984), Notre Dame (1988), Washington (1991), Florida (1996) and LSU (2003). Thirteen of the 23 new coaches will be in their first year as a Division I-A head coach. Arguably the biggest change comes at Notre Dame, which has hired as its new head coach, Charlie Weis.
Believe it or not, while Weis has spent 26 years in the coaching profession, he has been a head coach just once! That was in 1989, at Franklin Township High School in New Jersey! However, that is hardly the whole story! As New England's offensive coordinator the last four years, Weis played a major role in the Patriots winning three Super Bowl titles! Weis also won a Super Bowl ring with the NY Giants (1990 season).
Weis takes over at Notre Dame this year, having spent just FOUR of his 26-year coaching career in the college game! Notre Dame is second to Michigan for the most all-time Division I-A wins (842-802) but it's hard to argue against the statement that the Fighting Irish are college football's most legendary program.
With coaching names like Rockne, Leahy and Parseghian, a record EIGHT national titles in the media poll era (1936) and SEVEN Heisman winners (the most of any school), Notre Dame is still a very special name and South Bend, a special place.
However, the Golden Dome has definitely been tarnished as of late. The school's last national title came in 1988, a year after its last Heisman winner (Tim Brown in 1987). Notre Dame has finished outside of the AP's final top-10 for 11 straight years and has not won a bowl game in 12 years!
Weis has all 11 offensive starters back this year but it should be noted that Notre Dame finished 81st in total offense last year, after finishing 90th in 2003 and 108th in 2002! Many feel that Notre Dame has the nation's toughest schedule this year (it's surely among the top-three toughest!), so there's little doubt that Weiss will have is work cut out for him.
Back in 1948, Michigan's Bennie Oosterbaan took over as Michigan's head coach from Fritz Crisler (who had gone 10-0 in 1947 and almost won a national title-see my recent BCS article!) and in his first year, led the Wolverines to a 9-0 mark and a national championship. Since then, just three coaches have gone undefeated in their first year as a head coach. Barry Switzer went 10-0-1 at Oklahoma in 1973 (school was on probation and finished third in the final AP poll), Dick Crum went 10-0-1 at Miami-Ohio in 1974 (finished 10th) and Larry Coker went 12-0 at Miami-Florida in 2001 and like Oosterbaan, won a national title in his first year.
It's probably safe to say that NONE of the 13 first-timers in 2005 will survive unscathed this season but here's a quick peek at what's in store for Charlie Weis' 12 coaching peers (alphabetically, by school).
BYU...At 38, Bronco Mendenhall is the second-youngest Division I-A head coach. This highly-respected defensive coordinator takes over for Gary Crowton, who followed a 12-2 season (that began 12-0) in 2001, with three straight losing seasons (14-21 overall), the first time that's happened at BYU since 1962-64! In the final game of the 2003 season, BYU was shut out by Utah (3-0), ending the school's NCAA record of 361 games in which it had scored (a span of 28 years!). BYU has one of the MWC's best defenses in 2005, four QBs in which to choose from (John Beck is the favorite) and a solid (as always) offensive line. Most importantly, the team has a much easier schedule this year and Mendenhall's first year should produce a winning record.
East Carolina...I don't know about the people of Greenville, North Carolina, but it's tough for me to get too excited about a new head coach when he was basically FIRED by his own father! Skip Holtz was DEMOTED from offensive coordinator (and stripped of his play-calling duties) to QBs coach at South Carolina last year by his dad, Lou! How's that as a highlight for your job resume? The younger Holtz was the head coach at U Conn for five years while it was a Division I-AA school (34-23) but this his first Division I-A head coaching gig. East Carolina has gone 3-20 the last two years, so improving on that mark, will not be much of a task. With 17 starters returning in 2005, ECU ties Tulane for the second-most in the league and the schedule does have them missing the three-best teams in C-USA's West division.
Marshall...Mark Snyder was not named head coach until this past spring, when Bob Pruett unexpectedly retired. A Marshall alum who played on many excellent Marshall teams in the 1980s (Marshall joined Division I-A in 1997), many feel Snyder is a good fit. However, he not only has never been a head coach any level, he's only had one year of experience as a Division I-A coordinator (Ohio State's DC last year)! Marshall moves from the MAC to C-USA this year and with only six returning starters, has the fewest (the next lowest number is 10) of any school in the 12-team league.
Miami-Ohio...Shane Montgomery has been the Redhawks' offensive coordinator the last four years, so the transition in Oxford is expected to be smooth. However, it is the only Division I-A experience he's had. Miami hadn't been to a bowl game since the 1986 season, despite nine straight winning seasons but behind the play of Ben Roethlisberger, went 13-1 in 2003, including a 49-28 win in the GMAC Bowl over Louisville. Last year, QB Josh Betts led the team to a second-straight East title and while the Redhawks lost the MAC title game and their bowl game (17-13 to Iowa state in the Independence Bowl), Miami now owns 11 straight winning seasons and two straight bowl appearances. Betts is back in 2005 with a strong OL and the defense could be the best in the league. Miami gets its main East rival (BG) at home, so another good year is expected.
Mississippi...Ed Orgeron takes over at Ole Miss. Orgeron was USC's DL coach and maybe more importantly, its recruiting coordinator the past four seasons. While he has never been a head coach at any level, nor has he served as a coordinator, the fact that he played a key role in bringing some of the nation's best talent to USC, must have been a major factor in him getting this job. By the way, Orgeron also won two national titles while serving as Miami-Florida's DL coach. Ole Miss entered last year (finished 4-7) as the only SEC West team to be bowl-eligible in each of the previous seven years but Ole Miss also holds the distinction of being the lone SEC West team to never play in the SEC title game. In fact, Mississippi's last SEC title came in 1963! With 29 letterman lost (most in the league) and just 13 returning starters, last year's four-win total seems about right for Ole Miss in 2005.
Oklahoma State...Mike Gundy was a four-year starter at QB for the Cowboys and has spent the last 10 years as an assistant on the college level, the last four as Les Miles' offensive coordinator in Stillwater. The bad news, in what should have been a smooth transition, is that Gundy retained just one member of the previous staff. OSU returns just 13 starters this year (tied for 4th-lowest in the Big 12) and despite a schedule that opens with 'cupcakes' like Montana State, Florida International and Arkansas State, the Cowboys (as a member of the Big-12 South), get Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech EVERY year. Good luck Mike!
Pittsburgh...Dave Wannstedt was Jimmy Johnson's DC at Oklahoma State and Miami-Florida but has been out of college football since 1988. He's spent the last 16 years in the NFL, 11 as a head coach, but a record of just 82-86! Wannstedt, a Pitt grad, is known as a good teacher and that should serve him well at this level (it didn't seem to work all that well in the NFL). The Big East is not what it once was (Miami, Va Tech and BC are now in the ACC), so with 16 starters returning (nine on offensive), Pitt has a chance to challenge Big East newcomer, Louisville, for the re-configured league's top spot.
Syracuse...Greg Robinson was Mack Brown's DC last year and has worked under Terry Donahue, as well as Mike Shanahan (won two SB titles) and Dick Vermeil in the NFL. He had been out of the college game from 1990-2003 before returning to Texas last year and now takes his first head coaching job at any level. Syracuse is not much used to change, as Robinson will be just the school's fifth head coach since 1949. Syracuse opened and ended last year's 6-6 season by allowing 51 points (to Purdue in the opener and Georgia Tech in the Champs Sports Bowl!) and with Robinson serving as his own defensive coordinator, will have his work cut out for himself. However, the defense is expected to be much better and as mentioned before, the Big East is not nearly what it once was. A tough non-conference slate (home to Virginia and at FSU and ND), could keep the Orange from a winning year.
UNLV...As Utah's offensive coordinator (under Urban Meyer) the last two seasons, Mike Sanford was part of a team that went a combined 22-2! He takes over a UNLV team that owns just one winning MWC season since the league was formed in 1999. The Rebels went 2-9 (1-6) last year, as the team went from a plus-12 turnover ratio in 2003 to a minus-17 ratio in 2004! The team returns just nine starters in 2005 (the fewest of any team in the conference) but has traded non-conference opponents Tennessee and Wisconsin for Idaho and Nevada on this year's schedule (a good trade!). Considering UNLV was outscored in MWC play by an average of 16.1 PPG, Sanford had better be as good as advertised. A drastic improvement in the team's turnover ratio would help as well.
Utah...Utah became the first non-BCS school to participate in a BCS Bowl last year, as the Utes capped a perfect 2004 season by beating Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl (35-7). Urban Meyer, the nation's hottest coaching property, left for Gainesville and the school's defensive coordinator, Kyle Whittingham, takes over in Salt Lake City. Whittingham, a BYU grad, was pursued heavily by his alma mater, but chose to stay in Salt Lake, where he's spent the last 11 years (the last 10 as the Utes' DC). It seems almost impossible for Whittingham to maintain the level success achieved the last two years, especially with just 10 returning starters (due to the many underclassmen who left for the NFL). Despite six home games, Utah has four very difficult road games at TCU, North Carolina, Colorado State and BYU.
Utah State...Who would really want this job? Utah State was just 6-17 the last two years playing in Division I-A's weakest conference (Sun Belt) and this year moves to the WAC, where it will face a much tougher schedule. Brent Guy took the job and as Arizona's State's DC coordinator the last four years, he presided over a unit that allowed an average of 28.4 PPG, the worst four-year average in school history (I wonder if Utah State's administration knows that?). Guy doesn't have much of a legacy to live down, as Utah State owns just two winning seasons in the last 22 years. Guy is the school's seventh head coach in the last 21 years and is trying to break a streak in which the school's last seven head coaches have had losing seasons in their first year. With 22 letterman gone (third most in the league) and just 12 starters back (second-fewest), the phrase that comes to mind is, FAT CHANCE!
Western Michigan...Bill Cubit was the head coach at Division III Widener College for five years and has been an offensive coordinator in the Division I-A ranks for seven years. His son Ryan is the team's returning starter at QB and for the sake of family unity, let's hope things go better than in 2004, when the Broncos finished 1-10. Cubit is a bit like Larry Brown, as this job is his fifth job in the last seven years. Western Michigan could very well be much better this year but if the school's record doesn't improve, both father and son (Ryan is a senior) can ride off together.
My next column will cover the 10 head coaches that have been at this before but will have new addresses for the 2005 season.