December Madness!
Bobby Petrino
National Recruiting Analyst
Posted Dec 12, 2007
Jamie Newberg

When it comes to coaching moves does anything shock you anymore? Bobby Petrino quitting on the Falcons to take over the Razorbacks should be a surprise. But is it really? How will his hire effect Arkansas? How will the other hires impact recruiting? What other coaching changes are on the horizon? One thing for sure, this makes for a wild post season in college football.

Round and round we go, as the coaching carousel continues to turn. Remember these words college football fans, the last domino as yet to fall. More intriguing coaching moves are on the horizon with two high profiled jobs still open. Those two openings could possibly set off more changes. And we are smack dab in the middle of the recruiting season, with Signing Day a mere seven weeks away.

I will say this; Arkansas certainly landed one heck of a football coach in Bobby Petrino. It should surprise no one that Petrino left the Falcon’s nest in Atlanta. He coached only 13 games for Atlanta and Arkansas is his third stop in the last 11 months.

As a pure college football coach, Petrino is one of the best. I do believe he can X and O with the best of them, he has a good eye for talent, he knows how to develop that talent, and score a bunch of points. More importantly, especially in today’s era, he wins games.

Now that didn’t happen for Petrino in Atlanta. I am not making excuses for him but he lost his star quarterback (Michael Vick). More than that though, he lost his team, as not many Falcons bought into what he was selling in Atlanta. My point is he’s a college coach and a very good one at that. Just like Steve Spurrier. Just like Nick Saban. Just like Pete Carroll. For whatever reason, it didn’t take in the NFL with these top notch college coaches.

On the flip side, be careful what you wish for because Petrino could be gone in a blink of an eye. This is the same man that met with Auburn while they had a head coach and talked with LSU before the ink was dry on his new contract extension while at Louisville.

Can you fault Arkansas? All they were attempting to do was hire the best man for the job in the ultra competitive SEC. They went after the big names and some excellent coaches in Tommy Tuberville, Tommy Bowden, Butch Davis, Jim Grobe and others. I wouldn’t fault Razorback Athletic Director Jeff Long for simply wanting the best for his University. He turned next to Petrino and made it happen and I fully expect Arkansas to be a very good football team under him. But how long will Petrino stay knowing his track record? Can he unify the Razorback nation?

At least we know this, Arkansas has their man. In terms of recruiting, Petrino and his new staff will have to address the stability issue with all the recruits, their parents and coaches because they will likely get hammered on this key point. Prospects want to go to a place where there’s stability from the coaching standpoint.

Houston Nutt
Staying with the Arkansas theme, I though it was very interesting of the move former Arkansas Head Coach and current Ole Miss Head Coach Houston Nutt made yesterday in hiring South Carolina defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix for the same position in Oxford. Nix played and coached at Southern Miss and was in the running for that job as well. Nix is very well respected in the state and is a fine coach. That looks like a real good move by Nutt, as he continues to build his staff smack dab in the middle of the recruiting season. Why didn’t interim Arkansas Head Coach and defensive coordinator Reggie Herring go to Ole Miss with Nutt? That tells me he has something else lined up.

Despite the very good job that former Rebel Head Coach Ed Orgeron (and his staff) did there in terms of recruiting, Nutt will still evaluate all the current Ole Miss commitments and make his own decision on whether he wants them or not. This can get dicey for Nutt and anyone in his position. For those that he is lukewarm on he will give them an opportunity to look and sign elsewhere. In the end though, those that want to attend Ole Miss he will grant them their wish.

Ed Orgeron
What will Ed Orgeron do? The former Ole Miss Head Coach is one of the nation’s top recruiters and one heck of a defensive line coach. Orgeron has four National Championship rings (two with USC, two with Miami) and will be coaching for someone next season. He is too good of a coach and recruiter to be sitting home. Coach O would like to stay in the South but chances are he heads back west (with USC and Pete Carroll). Perhaps he could end up at UCLA, if Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow does get that job. But his loyalty to Carroll runs deep. Or perhaps he gets to the NFL?

What will be interesting with Orgeron is that he really wants to be a defensive coordinator somewhere. The question is will he have that opportunity and if so, would he jump at it? My guess is that it would depend on the situation and the right fit. Does he have a shot at going to Columbia with Steve Spurrier? Perhaps Arkansas with Petrino? Maybe LSU with Miles? In our industry, the college football recruiting industry, it will be real interesting to see where Coach O ends up because he’s such an excellent recruiter.

What direction will Coach Steve Spurrier go for his defensive coordinator search? Do the Gamecocks try and land co-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong away from Florida. Remember, Strong was part of Lou Holtz’s staff in Columbia and coached with Spurrier in Gainesville. Or does the head ball coach turn to Ted Roof, John Hoke, or Brian Van Gorder?

Rumor has it that John Tenuta, the Georgia Tech defensive coordinator under Chan Gailey, could be the new man in charge defensively at LSU. If not Tenuta, maybe they promote a coach from within like Doug Mallory?
Les Miles
Les Miles
That is if Les Miles stays? Do you really believe that Miles was talking with Michigan earlier this week trying to assist the Wolverines in their coaching search? I don’t necessarily buy that and still think there is something there with Miles and Michigan.

This is what I don’t understand. This is Michigan, one of the top 10 programs in the country still without a coach. This is mind boggling to me. It’s been how long since Lloyd Carr announced his intentions to step down?

It just doesn’t add up. Miles was their guy and things got messed up. It was leaked to the press prematurely and Miles squashed all the rumors. Despite Miles and LSU playing in the BCS National Championship game I still believe there is some legs to Miles to Michigan.

If not does the maize and blue turn toward Jim Grobe (Wake Forest), Brady Hoke (Ball State), Ron English (Michigan defensive coordinator), etc.?

It may not seem like it now but Southern Miss made a big splash today with the hiring of Larry Fedora. I have been waiting the past few seasons for someone to go get Fedora. USM hired him away from Oklahoma State, where he served as the Cowboy offensive coordinator. Prior to his stay at Ok-State he was at the University of Florida under Ron Zook and Middle Tennessee State with Andy McCollum. Fedora has a very good offensive mind and is a sound coach on that side of the ball. He’s young, energetic and innovative. Fedora is also a very good recruiter that works hard on the recruiting front and is an excellent communicator. He’s been through the off the field recruiting wars in the SEC and Big 12. Fedora has strong ties to the South as well as the great state of Texas. Watch out for him and what he does at Southern Miss. Fedora has finally gotten his chance and is a coaching star in the making.

Paul Johnson
Paul Johnson
On to Georgia Tech, where they have hired Paul Johnson away from Navy. I think this is a very good hire by the Yellow Jackets. All Johnson has done at both Georgia Southern and Navy is win. At Georgia Southern, Johnson was 62-10, including two National Championships (1999-2000), five consecutive Southern Conference titles, and was named 1-AA National Coach of the Year for four straight seasons (1997-2000). Johnson took over for Navy in 2002 and inherited a Midshipmen program that went 1-20 the previous two years. His first season, Navy went 2-10. In six years at Navy Johnson finished with a record of 45-29. In 11 seasons as a head coach Johnson’s record is 107-39.

When you are at one of the service academies you must recruit on a national basis. Johnson did that and won there. So you know he has strong ties nationally. Johnson is also very well connected in the Peach State from his days in Statesboro as the Georgia Southern Head Coach.

At any school you have to be able to recruit your home state well. Sure the University of Georgia mostly dominates in-state recruiting but they all can’t go to UGA. The Peach State has really exploded over the last decade or so and now produces so much talent for the 1-A level. That’s why so many out of state programs recruit Georgia. Johnson will help anchor things a bit better in-state for the Yellow Jackets. And with Georgia Tech having more stringent academics they have to recruit all over the country and find prospects that meet their needs both on the field and in the class room. Having spent time at Navy will certainly help Johnson and his staff.

But as a head coach you can only recruit as well as the staff you surround yourself with. Sure you must have assistant coaches who can coach. But you also have to have coaches that can go out and recruit, especially when you are smack dab in the middle of the South, where college football in king and recruiting is cut throat. Retaining good coaches that have the great ability to recruit is paramount. That’s why it’s very important for Johnson to pull all the stops to retain a coach like Giff Smith. Smith, who was the GT recruiting coordinator and DL coach under Gailey, is widely regarded as one of the nation’s best recruiters and recruiting coordinators. But Smith would love a shot to be a defensive coordinator some where. Will he get his shot this season, could he be elevated at Tech or will he stay in the same capacity? Smith played his college football at Georgia Southern (before Johnson arrived there).

Time will tell and Smith would be one of the key cogs in the Georgia Tech/Johnson recruiting machine. We will all know shortly if he will be part of this staff as well as the others. Whatever happens in that regard it looks like GT got a good one who knows how to recruit the Peach State and beyond.

Jimbo Fisher
Staying in the ACC, how many programs would have gone the pro-active route like the one Florida State made? Sure there are not many schools in that situation unless you are Penn State. But giving legendary head coach Bobby Bowden an extension and naming Jimbo Fisher his successor is a super move. First, Fisher is one of the rising stars in the coaching business. Certainly he would have had a great opportunity somewhere (Georgia Tech or Arkansas) to become a head coach over the past two weeks or so. FSU had to tie him up and keep him.

Smart move Seminoles.

Over the past few seasons, it has become increasingly difficult for the Florida State coaches to answer the “Bowden” question when talking to respective recruits, their parents and coaches. Opposing teams would hammer them on the uncertainty in Tallahassee with Bowden, his impending retirement and who ultimately would be his successor. Now those questions are answered. Bowden can coach as long as he wants and Fisher will be in place when he decides to step away. That will certainly help the ‘Noles in terms of recruiting.

Looking back, had Florida State not gone by this path, they would have likely lost Fisher and this great recruiting class would have taken some hits. To make matters worse, FSU would have had to start all over with a new offensive coordinator and they would face the same old questions about coach Bowden, the offense, their future, etc.

Now they don’t have to. I expect drastic improvement in year two with Fisher and their recruiting should continue on the upswing.

Mark J Terrill
Karl Dorrell
What’s going on in Durham? It looks like former UCLA coach Karl Dorrell could be their guy. This would be a good move by the Blue Devils. They want to make a splash and hiring an African American who had some success at UCLA would do just that. Dorrell could make an impact with Duke in terms of recruiting, especially on the West Coast. Duke, because of their academics, have a smaller pool to recruit from and must be a school that recruits on a national level.

I will add this; Duke was not as bad as their record indicated. Sure they won only one game but they lost a few close ones. The Blue Devils return 18 starters, including quarterback Thaddeus Lewis who will be a third year starter next season. There is no reason why they can’t win their share of games in the ACC. I am not saying Dorrell or anyone could step in and win the ACC. But Duke is closer than people think at turning the program around and winning some games.

Another name to watch for the Blue Devils is Rick Neuheisel. Duke wants an offensive minded guy and he is just that. What hurts him with this job and some others is the baggage he has accumulated. It is haunting him. Someone will give him a chance one day and get themselves a guy that can win. The interesting twist here is that Dorrell and Neuheisel have worked together in the past and are very good friends. Another possibility is still Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe.

Paul Wulff
Out west Washington State made their move earlier this week and hired Eastern Washington Head Coach Paul Wulff. He is a coach that is very highly thought of that has always recruited well in the state of Washington and in the Northwest. He is also from Northern California and has good ties in that part of the Golden State. More importantly he has won. Wulff was 53-40 at Eastern Washington and lost this season in the playoffs to Appalachian State. He was the Big Sky coach of the year three times and is notes for his high octane offense.

DeWayne Walker
DeWayne Walker
UCLA officially interviewed DeWayne Walker, their current interim head coach and defensive coordinator under Dorrell. There is some thought the Bruins may wait under after the La Vegas Bowl to make their final head coaching decision. This will more of less be his audition and give Walker a viable shot. If not there are still some top quality coaches out there, like Norm Chow and Steve Mariucci. Chow will interview soon and that interview could dictate whether he finally gets his shot at becoming a head coach. If it’s Chow they could try and pair him with Walker, which seems like it would give the Bruins would get the best of both worlds. Mariucci could price himself out of this one, although it’s closer money wise than most think. If UCLA landed a big fish like Mariucci than there may not be a lot of money there for him to go out and get the kind of assistant coaches he would want. Certainly if Dorrell were to get the Duke job that would lessen his buyout and free up more money for UCLA. Mike Price and Rick Neuheisel are still being mentioned. If they went this route odds would be in favor with Neuheisel because of his ties to the program.

Wow, what a few weeks it has been regarding all of these coaching changes with openings still at schools like UCLA, Michigan, and Duke. Certainly we haven’t seen the last of the shocking coaching moves and the pending dominos it will cast.

Then again does anything shock you these days?

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