Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Catching up will only work with Michael Lombardi

It's been real: So ... Marcus Lattimore. He be gone:
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Injured South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore is finished with college football. Lattimore announced Wednesday he was giving up his final season to enter the NFL draft.

He was considered a can't-miss, first-round talent after his first two seasons. However, a horrifying right knee injury in October has dropped his draft stock, and it is unclear when Lattimore might return to action. Lattimore dislocated his knee and tore several ligaments when he was tackled against Tennessee. He had what doctors say was successful knee surgery and is off crutches.
Sigh. He's basically taking the Willis McGahee route, with the differences being (a) the desirability of running backs 10 years ago as compared to now and (b) McGahee's one major injury as compared to Lattimore's one major injury and one utterly devastating one. And I can't say I blame him; keep in mind that Lattimore probably isn't gonna play at all next year (the estimated recovery time for a total knee-ligament reconstruction is 12-18 months), meaning he'd have been looking at a year and a half away from football entirely followed by a senior-year return in 2014 that would've served almost no purpose other than to re-establish draftability. The alternative: leave school now, get drafted a little later than he probably would in 2015 (after a hypothetical return to South Carolina) and get paid some not-insignificant amount while rehabbing with NFL trainers/doctors.

So the choice probably wasn't really that hard from a what-makes-more-sense standpoint; it was definitely depressing for those of us who have enjoyed watching Lattimore be a manchild for the last three years, though. I'll try to remember the good times rather than the AAAHHHHH screenshots (don't click here) and accompanying sadness.

Southern Miss has a coach: It's Todd Monken, most recently Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator. As you may or may not recall, Monken was brought in (he had been quarterbacks coach and receivers coach for the Jaguars but had worked his way up as passing-game coordinator for Okie State and LSU) after Dana Holgorsen left for West Virginia and detailed a very specific plan to change nothing and learn the intricacies of the offense from Brandon Weeden; that obviously worked out pretty well for all parties involved since Okie State finished third in total yards and second in scoring last year and then fifth in total yards and fourth in scoring this year.

It's worth noting that Oklahoma State's O-coordinator before Holgorsen was Larry Fedora, who of course went to Southern Miss and did some pretty swell things before leaving for North Carolina last year. It's not unreasonable to think that the Monken offense will bear some resemblance to the Fedora one and therefore require less of an overhaul than in most coaching-change instances.

The problem: Fedora was one coach ago. Ellis Johnson took over before last season and promptly lit the program (one coming off a 12-2 season resulting in a Conference USA title) on fire en route to the only 0-12 finish in the country. Given the relatively typical number of returning starters from the 2011 team, it seems likely that this year's inexplicable awfulness had more to do with coaching than it did with talent (although the situation at quarterback wasn't a good one), so just getting the offense back to its typical level of production should be sufficient to get Southern Miss back to its typical level of production, which is to say 9-3 and the Liberty Bowl (or whatever Conference USA is affiliated with now). Really, based on historical success and recruiting locale and whatnot, Southern Miss is a pretty good job (probably one of the better ones) by non-BCS-conference standards; a couple years of success there could definitely make Monken the 2014 version of 2011 Larry Fedora.

Arkansas State has a coach: It's Bryan Harsin, most recently Texas' O-coordinator but probably known better as Boise State's O-coordinator for the five seasons prior to the past two, when Boise was putting up hilarious numbers and going 11-1 pretty much every year.

Harsin is 35, meaning he's been a big-time program's playcaller since the age of 28 (wow); he's also pretty highly regarded, in part because of what he did at Boise and in part because he was able to extinguish some of the Greg Davis dumpster fire and re-establish a respectable running game at Texas over the last two years. For statistical reference, Texas finished 21st nationally in rushing yards in each of the last two years while going from 54th in yardage and 55th in scoring in 2011 to 37th and 24th this year (despite the weird inability to find anything resembling consistency at quarterback). So he's probably a pretty good coordinator, and considering that he's spent the last 12 years under Mack Brown and Chris Petersen, he oughta have a pretty decent idea of how to assemble a staff, too.

The nice thing about Arkansas State is that the program's in pretty good shape right now: Hugh Freeze won a lot and got the Ole Miss job last offseason before Gus Malzahn won a lot in his one year and got the Auburn job this offseason. So the complete lack of historical success means little considering that the last two years have been full of pure Colombian awesomeness (by Sun Belt standards). FYI, Arkansas State wrote a massive buyout into Harsin's contract that makes it pretty much impossible for him to leave after next year and only slightly easier to leave after the 2014 season; still, if he can do what the last two guys did (stay around 9-3 and win a conference title or two) over the next two or three years, he'll probably have the option to leave and take over some program that (a) is in an actual conference and (b) isn't located in northeast Arkansas.

As for Texas, finding Harsin's replacement required about seven seconds of searching, and by "searching" I mostly mean "drafting a press release":
Applewhite, who has been Texas' co-offensive coordinator the last two seasons, was handed play-calling duties for the Texas bowl game and next season on Wednesday when co-coordinator Bryan Harsin left to become the head coach at Arkansas State. Applewhite will also tutor the Texas quarterbacks. Applewhite has held the co-coordinator title for the past two years while Harsin called the plays. 
FWIW, Applewhite has called plays before: He was O-coordinator at Rice in 2006, when the offense was pretty average at everything, and then at Alabama (?!?) in Nick Saban's first year in 2007, when the offense was pretty average at everything. Interpret that data as you will. If nothing else, Mack Brown's obviously got a lot of faith in the guy since his other coordinator hires over the last few years have been based on the mission statement "find elite coordinator, offer him lots of money, profit." Then again, Mack Brown also had a lot of faith in Greg Davis, so yeah.

UTEP has a coach: It's Sean Kugler, most recently the Steelers' offensive line coach and otherwise an unknown since his relevant college experience consists entirely of eight years at UTEP from 1993-2000 and one year at Boise State in 2006. He has never been a coordinator or head coach or anything other than an O-line coach at any level, although that apparently wasn't a concern for the UTEP administration/alumni:
"Sean is one of the most incredible people I could ever imagine taking this position," said former college teammate Philip Gabbard. "His knowledge and experience are unparalleled. His coaching style soaks into players, they play for him. So many people in El Paso wanted this."

After his hiring, UTEP released two pages of quotes from people who worked with and played under Kugler and all painted a similar picture of a man players love to play for and get better under.
Some of those references: Mike Tomlin, Chris Petersen, Steve Mariucci, et al. So that's nice; what's less nice is the aforementioned total lack of experience. Having coordinator experience isn't an absolute necessity -- Brady Hoke is doing OK for himself after having been only a D-line coach before getting the Ball State job -- but it's definitely helpful, especially without having the recruiting background or current network (at the college level) to readily build a staff.

That said, UTEP is UTEP; Mike Price did pretty well to finish 40-45 since no coach has left with a .500 record in 25 years. In that regard, getting a guy with legit NFL experience and legit UTEP connections probably qualifies as a win. Also a win: getting a guy who looks like this.

Kentucky has an O-coordinator: Unsurprisingly, that O-coordinator is Neal Brown, the former Kentucky receiver who's been doing the Air Raid thing as offensive coordinator at Texas Tech for the last three years:
As expected, Neal Brown will be the offensive coordinator on Mark Stoops' first football staff at Kentucky, the school announced Monday.

The 32-year-old Brown, a Louisville native who was a wide receiver at UK before transferring to Massachusetts, was the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech for the past three years.
In other news, what am I doing with my life?

Anyway, Brown did reasonably well at Texas Tech (even if he didn't get much credit for it since NOT MIKE LEACH RABBLE): Tech finished 15th in yardage and 23rd in scoring in 2010, 13th in yardage and 22nd in scoring in 2011 and 12th in yardage and 16th in scoring this year. The offense was slightly more run-biased than it was under Leach, but that was partially by default and perhaps partially by Tommy Tuberville mandate.

Regardless, what Brown's hiring means for Kentucky is that there is a philosophy on offense, and that philosophy is as follows:
"We’re going to have an offense you’re going to be proud of," Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. "We’ll get out there and rip it around a little bit -- we are going to throw it.”
That quote really shouldn't have come as a surprise considering what The Other Stoops have been doing for most of the last decade. It's still newsworthy, though, that Kentucky is apparently assembling a staff of actual coaches and therefore making more progress toward respectability than at any point in the Joker Phillips era.

Arkansas has two coordinators: SEC money, yo: It buys SEC coordinators.
Former Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was hired to the same position by new Arkansas coach Bret Bielema on Wednesday night, becoming Bielema's second assistant this week. Chris Ash was hired away from Wisconsin on Tuesday as Arkansas' defensive coordinator.
The Ash hiring was expected; Ash, who was Wisconsin's D-coordinator for the last two years after Dave Doeren left for the Northern Illinois job, was reportedly the only assistant asked to join Bielema at Arkansas. The Chaney one was definitely not expected (at least not that I'd heard of) since what Tennessee had been doing under Chaney in no way resembled what Wisconsin had been doing under Bielema. Details: In four years under Chaney, Tennessee averaged a ranking of 35th nationally in passing yards and 84th nationally in rushing yards, with both the 2010 and 2011 offenses finishing below 100th in rushing. BTW, Chaney was also Purdue's O-coordinator back in the Drew Brees days before spending some time in the NFL; he likee the pass.

An apt assessment from ESPN:
His hiring also shows Bielema, who was known for a power running attack while guiding Wisconsin the last seven seasons, is serious about being committed to a balanced offensive attack.

"Jim Chaney's approach will blend well with my ideas as we work to put together a plan for the team we have and over time develop our specific philosophy," Bielema said.
Given the talent that currently exists at Arkansas, having an O-coordinator with the ability to manifest a coherent passing-game will undoubtedly be beneficial (at least in the short term); the question is whether the playcalling on the whole will be coherent when the coordinator and the coach apparently have entirely different ideas about the best way to, like, score points and stuff. I'm intrigued.

This week in 'Nick Saban to the NFL': Via Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe:
According to the NFL sources, Saban has let it be known that if he returns to the NFL — where he previously flopped, going 15-17 with the Dolphins from 2005-06 — it would likely be with (Browns GM candidate Michael Lombardi) playing Pioli to his Belichick.

Saban could well be looking for his next/final NFL opportunity if he wins his fourth national championship next month in the BCS title game against Notre Dame. If the Browns (Saban is from northern West Virginia, played for and coached at Kent State, and was a Browns assistant under Belichick) and Lombardi are dangled, he may indeed take the plunge again.
/rest of SEC West nods approvingly

Rabble rabble tradition: Notre Dame will have names on its jerseys against Alabama:
Notre Dame will be wearing names on its blue jerseys for the Jan. 7 national title game against Alabama, continuing its bowl tradition under coach Brian Kelly.

The Irish had names on their away jerseys in the 2010 Sun Bowl win over Miami and on their home attire last year in the Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State. 
Rabble rabble? Ehh. Notre Dame apparently used to do the names-on-the-jerseys thing in bowl games way back in the day under Ara Parseghian, then stopped doing it for a while until the 2008 Hawaii Bowl under Charlie Weis. So it's kind of a tradition; this isn't Penn State deciding to throw names on the back of the been-plain-forever jerseys just to do something different. Rabble-ness on a scale of 1-10: 2.

LOL jkjkjk: Marquess Wilson didn't really mean "abuse" when he said "abuse," obviously:
Washington State has completed its internal investigation into abuse allegations by former wide receiver Marquess Wilson, and athletic director Bill Moos concluded that no such abuses occurred. ...

Moos revealed in his memo that he received a text message from Wilson after the UCLA game "where he recanted the allegations of abuse made in a letter written by he and a relative and sent to the media earlier that evening."

Wilson's text to Moos was included in emails released by the school Wednesday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

"Mr. Moos this is marquess ... With that letter I wasn't trying to accuse the coaches of hitting players or anything. I was just trying to put it in different terms and now everything is getting misinterpreted and I didn't mean it like that at all ... I simply was trying to get my story across and get my name cleared instead of having it say I'm suspended for breaking team violations ... That could mean like I did drugs or something."
I blame Craig James. #cjk5h


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