Choices and Patience

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 11.29.2016

After the 2012 college football season, some fairly big jobs opened up. Two of the coaches looking to move up to a Power 5 school were Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones and San Jose State head coach Mike MacIntyre. Jones was doing the proverbial tour. He interviewed at Purdue and Colorado before taking the Tennessee job. MacIntyre was lower on the tier and Colorado ‘settled’ for him. Fast forward four years and MacIntyre’s Buffaloes are playing for a Pac-12 title and Tennessee is again 8-4 and not playing for a conference title. So which one was right?

Butch JonesUnder Butch Jones, Tennessee has shown continual improvement in his first three years going from 5-7 to 7-6 to 9-4. With sky high expectations this year, the Vols were never able to put together a complete game. While they did beat Florida, Georgia, and Virginia Tech they also lost to two teams they should have beaten handily in South Carolina and Vanderbilt not to mention being blown out by Alabama. The 8-4 regular season record still qualifies Tennessee for a quality bowl game but the season is seen as failure in the eyes of many.

Mike MacIntyreOut west Mike MacIntyre has not shown continual improvement in Colorado’s record. Going 4-8, 2-10 and 4-9 in his first three seasons in Boulder, only the hardcore football fan could see light at the end of the tunnel. The improvement was incremental but it wasn’t reflected in the record. This season MacIntyre put it all together and turned the 2016 season into a PAC-12 South divisional title.

The Buffaloes got off to a fast start by dominating their in state rivals Colorado State in the season opener. The Buffs built off of that and were able to rattle off some impressive wins even with a backup quarterback under center for three games. Tennessee meanwhile needed overtime and a whole lot of luck to beat a quality Appalachian State team. Both openers were a precursor of things to come.

Both coaches were hired at the same time. While Jones teams showed more promise early on, MacIntyre’s didn’t. Credit to Colorado for giving MacIntyre time to build the program back from the oil spill it was under previous regimes. While he started off on a ‘lukewarm seat’ this season, MacIntyre quickly erased any doubts about his job status as his team rattled off impressive win after impressive win. Jones will need some of that patience from Tennessee as he searches for answers going into year five.

Jones went from being the second coming in Knoxville to ‘is this guy any better than a 8 or 9 win coach?’ His job status will be questioned over the next several months not only because Tennessee didn’t live up to expectations this year with a senior quarterback and highly thought of defense but also because he will have a new boss come summer as current athletic director Dave Hart steps down.

Was Jones the right choice for Tennessee? At the time yes. They needed someone to put out the dumpster fire that Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley left behind. MacIntyre was the right choice at Colorado too. He has built a program with NFL quality talent and a belief that they can compete with and beat the best teams in the country.

While both are right for their jobs, it’s clear that both coaches are at the same crossroad. Both need to go to the next level but momentum seems to only be on Colorado’s side.

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All Coaching Aside

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

Being a head coach in college football is not just about coaching. While actually coaching football is the cornerstone of the job, the majority of the job now consists of selling, raising money and riling up the fan base. Sounds more like a politician than being a football coach.

There was once a time when Nebraska was the 800lbs gorilla in College Football. That changed in recent years and now they have the ‘nicest guy in the coaching’ Mike Riley heading up their program. Riley, like a lot of other coaches, is out shaking hands, making appearances, and selling the program to future recruits.

Nebraska’s recent video reflects the importance of quality PR when you are trying to put a program back on track. It captures some of the beliefs that Riley has and plans to instill and is actually pretty damn cool.

Yes, coaching on the collegiate level is more than just coaching, especially when you have to get a program back on track. Just look at Tennessee. Lane Kiffin was terrible at PR and Derek Dooley wasn’t much better. Butch Jones on the other hand has embraced the role like seasoned politician. He has riled up the fan base, taken pictures, shaken hands and has done a little bit of that coaching part too. He was gotten Tennessee on the road back to prominence or at the very least, raised expectations.

Former Texas head coach Mack Brown may have been the best at this. He had to constantly win people over in probably the most demanding job in all of college football (and probably in all of Texas.) Pat Forde wrote a great series about Brown a few years ago called Constant Eyes Of Texas or CEO of TexasIt seems that a lot of coaches now are pulling pages out of Brown’s book on how to run a successful modern day college football program. They are being part football coach and part politician.

Being a head coach in major college football is a very tough job. You are the face of the program and the only constant it has. With that comes great monetary reward but also great scrutiny, just like any high profile politician. In order to be successful in this day and age, the PR part is almost as important as the coaching part.

How Two Days in January Made Tennessee Fans Smile

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

January 10th & 11th may not seem like great days if you’re a University of Tennessee football coach, player or fan but they may very well turn out to be. During those two days, Vanderbilt Head Coach James Franklin left for Penn State and Alabama hired former Tennessee and USC Head Coach Lane Kiffin.

Jame Franklin

Here are the facts; James Franklin made Vanderbilt viable. A 24-15 record with back-to-back nine win seasons and beat Tennessee the last two years. Vanderbilt hasn’t beaten Tennessee in back-to-back years since 1925. He made Vanderbilt the top football team in the state of Tennessee.

He’s now gone.

To say that Lane Kiffin is “hated” in the Tennessee football community would be an understatement. He left the program for his “dream job” at USC which he slowly drove into the ground. Now he’s at Alabama as their new Offensive Coordinator. While he is considered to be a very good X’s & O’s coach he’s also a liability. He’s been brought up on recruiting violations more than once and has never endeared himself to the media. The second half of that doesn’t really matter when Nick Saban is in charge but the first half of that is a huge liability for Bama.

Butch Jones, many believe, has Tennessee on the right track but here are the facts; Tennessee hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2011, have had only one winning season in the last six years and won a grand total of four conference games in the last three years.

Tennessee is on the road back to relevancy. That road got a little bit easier when one of the best up & coming coaches in the country leaves not only the state but also the conference and a former head coach with a history of recruiting violations shows up at a long time rival.

Yep, things are looking up at Tennessee.

The Quick Turnaround

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

Jones and Kingsbury

In this modern era, things happen fast. From business to sports. Everyone wants the reward now, the profits now, the lead now, you name it. People want it now and no one wants it faster than fans.While customers are demanding fans can be unforgiving. While coaches can sell ‘the process’ fans know that turnarounds can happen faster than ever even when you factor in ‘the process.’

Butch Jones, Gus Malzahn and Kliff Kingsbury were some of the bigger hires during this past off season in college football. All have had their ups and downs this season and all have the possibility of a bowl game within reach.

While Kingsbury and Texas Tech have had more success on the field Jones and his Tennessee Volunteers have no doubt had a tougher road. To this point the Vols have played six teams in the top 15 and their seventh will be on Saturday as they host Auburn. The current 4-5 mark was within inches of being 5-4 but there is no doubt that Coach Jones has a long road to hoe or as he refers to it as ‘the process’.

Speaking of Auburn, they are currently ranked in the top 10 a year after not winning a conference game. With new head coach and former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn at the helm, the Tigers have shown a lot of fight and even pulled off a few upsets. The are now a legitimate threat to no.1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl in a few week.

Kingsbury has revitalized a fan base still bruised from the firing of Mike Leach a few years ago and left disillusioned by the Tommy Tuberville regime. Kingsbury has done it with true freshmen QB’s (one a walk on) and a little bit of West Texas magic. While they will not win the Big 12 this season they are going to a bowl game and the expectations have been elevated for next season.

While all the coaches are different and all of the circumstances unique, all three are on a path to turning around a football program. While some have made that turn faster than others the expectations of the fans will always be for an overnight success. Right or wrong, a quick turnaround can be a coaches own worse enemy.

Auburn @ Tennessee – 9am ESPN

Kansas St @ Texas Tech – 9am ABC/ESPN3

The Silly Season

UT-HIRE

Some people call the last week of November and the first two weeks of December the “Silly Season.” Why? It’s when the college football media explodes into a frenzy of speculation over which college football coach will be fired and hired.

Hot jobs and hot coaches vary year to year. The best example of that is former Florida International Head Coach Mario Cristobal. Cristobal was let go after a 3-9 season. The two previous years he led FIU to bowl games and even tied for first place in the Sun Belt conference. He was considered one of the hottest coach’s in the college football head coaching rumor mill last season. Now he’s out of a job.

This years hot name was Louisville’s Charlie Strong. He led Louisville to a co-Big East Championship and BCS Bowl berth in his third season at the helm. Strong eventually turned down a reported $4 million a year from the University of Tennessee to remain at Louisville. His reasoning and passion are very evident as you can see in his speech to the media and fans.

A name that was not on anyone’s list but at least he thought he’d keep his job was John Embree at Colorado. He’s was let go after two season’s at his alma mater. There is an argument about what the biggest surprise was, Brett Bielema’s move from Wisconsin to Arkansas or Tommy Tuberville’s move from Texas Tech to Cincinnati.

Arguably the “best” job available this year was the head coaching position at the University of Tennessee. After several subpar years (four losing seasons in the last five years to be exact) Athletic Director Dave Hart went looking for someone to bring back the glory days to the Volunteer Nation.

Apparently Hart was turned down by former Super Bowl winning coach and current Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden. After he said no Hart then turned his attention to Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and Charlie Strong. Both ended up saying no but not before the folks at Tennessee believed fully that Strong was their guy. The belief was so strong that people were tweeting the plane tail number of Tennessee’s major donor Jimmy Haslam claiming that the plane was either on it’s way to pick up Charlie Strong or was on it’s way back with him. After all the false hope Tennessee, the supposed best available job in college football, was still vacant and the Volunteer Nation was left wondering, “would former coach Phil Fulmer come back?”

By Friday morning Tennessee found it’s guy with the hiring of Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones. Jones was also ending his own coaching interview tour. He interviewed and turned down the jobs at Purdue and Colorado respectfully. He and Hart met for the first time Thursday evening in Lexington, Ky which would be about the mid point between Knoxville and Cincinnati. Around 5:45am Jones informed his Athletic Director that he was going to Tennessee and at 2:30pm EST he was formally introduced as Tennessee’s twenty-third head coach.

JONES-UT

He and Hart apparently hadn’t slept and until Thursday had never spoken about the coaching position.

With the “best” job filled and other potential candidates signing long term extensions you can see why it’s called the “Silly Season.”

As of Sunday December 9th the following head coaching positions are still available:

Wisconsin, Texas Tech, Colorado, Louisiana Tech, Arkansas St., FIU, Kent St, Southern Miss, Temple, Western Kentucky, and Western Michigan.

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