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The 'Silly Season' Of Coaching Changes
November 27, 2011
Wendell Barnhouse is a nationally-known and respected columnist who has spent over 20 years covering collegiate athletics. He has reported from 25 Final Fours and more than three dozen bowl games and has written about the Big 12 and its schools since the conference's beginning. Barnhouse will be updating the Big 12 Insider on happenings and behind-the-scenes information about the conference.
The last 12 to 18 months in college sports haven't been covered in glory. Your Humble Correspondent won't waste band width listing the scandals/controversies that have kept the headline writers working overtime.

However, YHC will offer an opinion. The scandals/controversies have involved, singularly or in combination, three factors: money, ego and pride. From a tainted Heisman winner to tattoos to conference realignment to shielding an alleged child molester … money, ego and pride are factors in any and/or all of the stories.

Money, ego and pride are also in play as the football season ends and the “silly season” of coaching musical chairs begins. Coaches at Ole Miss, New Mexico and Arizona got “the big haircut” in the middle of the season. New Mexico and Arizona already have hired new coaches. It appears that the Pacific-12 Conference will have at least four new coaches next season. Ohio State interim coach Luke Fickel went into the season finale against Michigan as reports swirled that Urban Meyer had been hired as the Buckeyes’ next coach.

Money, ego and pride? What about wins and losses? That’s one of the bottom lines an athletic director must assess. But the victories and the defeats are black and white factors easily analyzed. Money, ego and pride are contributing factors.

Money: Paying off the coach’s current contract, no matter the size of the payment, is just “the price of doing business.” The game is played like this – lure a coach with a multi-year, multi-million dollar deal. If he’s not “the right guy” then, well, go ask contributors (boosters) to pony up the donations to help pay off “the wrong guy” so the school can throw more money at the next “right guy.”

Ego: It’s all about winning. You can’t have a marketable “brand” and be at the bottom of the standings. A university might tout its education and research and campus life in its PSAs, but more often its self- esteem is measured in the football team’s success. When that brand becomes iconic, it must be protected at all costs (see: Penn State).

Pride: See, ego. No one likes to be the butt of jokes. When a school's football team is losing, it becomes a comedic punching bag.

YHC points out that if you keep score, somebody has to finish last. No one wants to finish last all the time. The cycle of the sports seasons churns through recruiting classes and the departure of successful coaches. Things change, stuff happens. But winning tends to beget winning as losing begets losing. 

One word rarely uttered during the silly season of coaching changes is “patience.” Football success is now considered microwaveable. A new coach is given a five-year contract because that’s the amount of time needed to build a winning program. But maybe two is the new five.

Kansas dismissed coach Turner Gill Sunday. In two seasons, Gill was 5-19 overall and 1-16 in Big 12 games. He signed a five-year contract that pays him $2 million a year. Kansas will owe him $6 million to not be its coach. KU paid previous coach Mark Mangino $3 million to walk away.

Is it fair to dismiss a football coach after two seasons? That’s an open and lengthy debate with no easy answer. The precedent, though, is being set and impatience is winning out.
Akron fired coach Rob Ianello Saturday. On Friday, his team lost its regular season finale to finish 1-11. He was 2-24 in his two seasons. Ianello was informed of his dismissal Saturday … by telephone … as he traveled to New York City … to attend his mother’s funeral.

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