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CFB's Coaching Changes (Part 2)
by Larry Ness - 08/04/2005
(fifth of a nine-part series)
There will be 23 schools with new head coaches for the 2005 college football season, 13 who will have no previous experience as a head coach at the college level. I covered those 13 coaches in my most recent article (see archives). In my latest installment, I cover the other 10 'new' college head coaches, including the two most prominent names, Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier.
Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier are linked through the University of Florida. Spurrier won the Heisman in his senior year as a Gator (1966) and led the Gators to a 12-year SEC record of 87-14 while at Gainesville, including a national title in 1993. Meyer takes over at UF, one of the nation's best jobs, after just four years as a Division I-A head coach.
Meyer took over the reigns at Bowling Green in 2001. The school had posted six straight losing seasons, including a 2-9 mark in 2000. All Meyer did was lead the Falcons to an 8-3 mark in his first season, as the team averaged 30.3 PPG, 384 YPG on offense and posted a turnover ratio of plus-17. The following year, BG went 9-3, averaging 40.8 PPG, 449 YPG and posting a turnover margin of plus-9. Of note in those two seasons, was Meyer's perfect 5-0 mark against BCS-affiliated schools.
Meyer took the Utah job in 2002, after the Utes fired long-time head coach Ron McBride on the heels of two sub-500 seasons in the previous three years. His "Urban Renewal" project didn't take long, as the Utes went 10-2 in 2002, averaging 28.7 PPG and 375 YPG, while posting a turnover ratio of plus-9. In 2004, Utah got the attention of the entire college football world, as Utah became the first non-BCS school to gain a BCS bowl bid. Utah's 35-7 win in the Fiesta Bowl over Pittsburgh, capped a 12-0 season in which the Utes averaged 40.8 PPG, 500 YPG, had a turnover ratio of plus-17 and finished No. 4 in the AP's final poll!
Meyer's Florida team is loaded in 2005 and Gator fans will not have to worry about a fourth straight five-loss season. QB Chris Leak is a legitimate Heisman candidate and this year's team lost just 20 letterman and returns 15 starters. The Gators get Tennessee at home but will have major "showdown" games at LSU and against Georgia in Jacksonville. Also, Meyer knows he can't overlook a trip to Columbia, South Carolina on November 12!
Waiting for the Gators on November 12 will be the Gamecocks and their new head coach, Steve Spurrier. Spurrier spent the past year playing golf and is back in college football, where he belongs. His career mark is 142-40-2 and he led the Gators to 12 straight seasons of at least nine wins, finishing among the AP's final top-15 every year! He takes over for Lou Holtz, who after a great start in Columbia, seemingly ran out of gas. Holtz took over a South Carolina team that had gone 1-21 in 1998 and 1999 and went 8-4 and 9-3 his first two years, including bowl wins each season. However, the Gamecocks went 5-7, 5-7 and 6-5 the last three seasons and it was time for Lou to move on.
Spurrier is one of college football's great offensive 'minds' but he'll have his work cut out for him this year. Just nine starters return and it's hard to see South Carolina winning at Georgia, Auburn, Tennessee or even Arkansas. The Gamecocks do get SEVEN home games this year, none more important than Florida's visit in November. I wouldn't bet against Spurrier getting this team to six wins in '05 but I wouldn't bet on it, either!
In alphabetical order (by school), I'll check in on the other eight head coaches, taking over new programs in 2005.
Illinois...Ron Zook was fired at Florida with four games remaining in the 2004 season. Zook, known as a great recruiter, won some big games but overall was just 23-14, including six losses in "the Swamp." Compare that to Spurrier's record (just five home losses in 12 seasons!) and it's easy to understand his unpopularity. However, he did become 'loved' after his firing and lead Florida to season-ending wins over Vandy, South Carolina and Florida State. Still, one can't ignore the fact that the Gators lost five games for three straight years under Zook (actually, he didn't coach the team in last year's bowl loss). Wanna bet Meyer doesn't lose five games at Gainesville this year? As for Illinois, the school owns just ONE winning Big-10 season since 1994 and the Illini better hope Zook can recruit as well in Champaign-Urbana as he did at Gainesville. More importantly, he better be able to coach better, too!
Indiana...Terry Hoeppner takes over at Indiana after spending 19 years at Miami-Ohio. However, I'm not sure that this move is a step up! Hoeppner led Miami to 48 wins in his six years as the school's head coach, including a 13-1 mark in 2003, led by Ben Roethlisberger. Winning at Indiana will be another story. The school has suffered through 10 losing seasons and its last bowl appearance came in 1993 (bring back Bill Mallory!). Indiana did beat two ranked teams last year (Oregon and Minnesota) for the first time in the same season since 1987 and also lost two games by just four points plus one in double-overtime. However, it's hard to find a win in the team's final six games of this season. While Miami most likely is headed to its third straight bowl at the end of 2005, Hoeppner will likely see his new team suffer its 11th straight losing season.
LSU...Les Miles is taking over for Nick Saban (off to the Dolphins) at LSU. At Oklahoma State, Miles took the Cowboys to three straight bowl games the last three seasons, ending the school's four-year bowl drought. He is also the only coach in the nation who owns two wins over Oklahoma's Bob Stoops! LSU is loaded offensively in 2005 and has seven starters returning on defense as well. The Tigers have just four road games this year (opponents were a combined 15-29 in 2004) and SEVEN home games. Tennessee, Florida and Auburn visit Baton Rogue this year and if LSU can win them all, the Tigers have a shot to be in the BCS title-game mix!
New Mexico State...Hal Mumme brings 14 years of head coaching experience (four at the I-A level) to Las Cruces but also some baggage. There is little argument over him being an offensive genius as he took over a Kentucky team that was 109th in total offense in 1996 and saw them finish 6th in the nation in his first year at Lexington (1997), led by Tim Couch. At I-AA SE Louisiana last year, his team led the nation in both total offense and passing offense. However, he was forced out at Kentucky after going 2-9 in 2000 and in 2002, the Wildcats were put on probation for violations that occurred under Mumme's watch. While the Aggies are moving up in class this year (from the Sun Belt to the WAC), don't be surprised if under Mumme's tutelage and JUCO QB Royal Gill's arm (17-1 TD-to-INT ratio last year), the team flirts with a winning record.
Ohio...Frank Solich spent 19 years as an assistant coach at Nebraska and was part of 11 conference championships and three national titles. In six years as the school's head coach, he went 58-19 and played in the BCS title game in 2001. However, Nebraska fired him after a 10-3 season in 2003 and last year the 'Huskers finished 5-6 under Bill Callahan. Such is the life of a head coach! Solich takes over at Ohio U, a school that has had just two winning seasons since 1982 and won its last MAC title in 1968! Not much pressure here for Solich and he may just like that.
San Jose State...Dick Tomey owns a career mark of 158-11-7 in 24 years of coaching and is the all-time wins leader at both Hawaii and Arizona! He spent 2003 working for the SF 49ers and last year on Mack Brown's staff at Texas. At 66, he will be the 5th-oldest coach in Division I-A. So why San Jose State? Maybe because no one will know he is there! San Jose State finished dead-last among 117 Division I-A schools last year in attendance, averaging 6,479 fans per game!
Stanford...Walt Harris was underappreciated at Pittsburgh where cleaned up Johnny Majors' mess and led the school to five straight winning seasons. Last year's team won six of its final seven regular season games and reached a BCS Bowl for the first time in school history. Alums probably would have preferred Norm Chow but in Harris they may be pleasantly surprised. Stanford has 10 offensive starters back but faces a very tough schedule in 2005. It may take a year (or two) but Harris should be just fine.
Washington...While the NCAA's record of hiring minority coaches is deplorable, Tyrone Willingham can hardy cry 'foul'! If there is a job opening, college or pro, his name usually pops up, despite a rather ordinary 65-51-1 record. At Notre Dame, Willingham opened 8-0 but was just 13-15 after that. His Notre Dame teams suffered FIVE losses of 30 points or more, something the school hadn't seen happen even ONCE> in the previous 16 years! His West Coast Offense went 'south', as under Willingham, the Irish finished 108th in total offense in 2002, 90th in 2003 and 81st in 2004. Washington finished last year 1-10 and opened the year with 10 straight ATS losses. The school does return 19 starters this year but is that good or bad news? The same question could be asked, as to the hiring of Willingham?
Monday's column looks at college football's streaks heading into 2005 and how they compare to the all-time records.