Building From The Bottom Up

Quietly, the number of black head coaches is rising. I say quietly because none of them is really landing at a program known for being anything resembling a football powerhouse. Maybe that’s as it should be, but it’s also part of circumstances that beyond each individual candidate’s control.

dewaynewalker

UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker is set to be introduced tomorrow as the head coach at New Mexico State, joining former Illinois OC Mike Locksley, who took over at UNM mere weeks ago. In that interim, Turner Gill re-upped at Buffalo after losing out on the Auburn gig,  Notre Dame OC Mike Haywood went to the other Miami in Ohio, and Ron English left Louisville after one season as DC and headed back to Michigan — Eastern Michigan, the lowest of the directional schools in the state. That makes seven when you add Houston’s Kevin Sumlin and Miami’s Randy Shannon (the latter being the only one at a BCS school now.)

Given that 7 out of 119 (9 minority coaches out of 119 total) still sucks, but there appears to be no obvious way to crack the ranks further post-Barkley ranting about what many of us thought int he wake of the Gene Chizik hiring. That kind of frustration is writ large sometimes for observers, if the coaches won’t say it themselves, especially in a case like Walker’s, who watched a guy he recruited get a head coaching gig in a BCS conference before he did:

In the mid-1990s, when Walker was a young assistant at Brigham Young, he recruited [Steve] Sarkisian to play quarterback. In 2001, when Walker was at USC and working as Pete Carroll’s associate head coach, Sarkisian was getting his toes wet as quarterbacks coach for the Trojans. On that USC staff was another lower-level assistant, Lane Kiffin.

Sarkisian and Kiffin are now the first-year head coaches at Washington and Tennessee, respectively, at the ripe old ages of 34 and 33.

Now, Walker is headed to Las Cruces, a place where there’s no real tradition to build on. He would have been much better off starting with the San Diego State job that wound up going to Ball State’s Brady Hoke — he wouldn’t have strayed too far from his SoCal recruiting base, and I’m not sure that Hoke was any less of a risky hire in SD (riding Nate Davis’ arm, maybe?)

But it may be better this way for Walker and the others: they are in situations in non-BCS conferences where they have to build programs of their own. As far as the conference goes, it’s not like there are automatic losses in the WAC outside of Boise any longer.

While it’s tougher in principle for Locksley in the Mountain West (Utah, BYU, and TCU make it harder) and for Haywood in the MAC, the old “Field of Dreams” principle will have to do, as minority coaches will have to jump at any head coaching opportunity they can impress with.  What better test of recruiting expertise than by seeing if those connections will work when you make the top job?

“If you build it, they will come.”

Besides, everyone remembers the man who builds a program into a winner. Rarely are the ones who merely maintain a winner as well thought of.

Rushing The Field: Another SEC Barnburner

Seriously, if we’re gonna go through this every week with SEC teams in the night game on ESPN, it’s gonna be a real long, nail-biting season.  LSU pulled out the victory in the Tiger Bowl against Auburn thanks to a late touchdown pass from Jarrett Lee, who was subbing after Andrew Hatch got concussed, to Brandon LaFell to end a game largely characterized by the hard hits on both sides along with fits and starts on offense that have to infuriate Auburn fans. I mean, just watching the passing on Tony Franklin’s offense look spectacular one minute and awful the next has to drive the Auburn faithful nuts rights now.  So much more of the game was about the heavy hitters on defense, and the eight guys LSU rotated in and out on the D-line came through and pounded Chris Todd in the end to secure the win.  Les Miles would also like to remind you about the size of his play-calling balls.

When UGA’s Rennie Curran took Rudy Carpenter’s helmet with him on a sack in the first half of Georgia’s visit to Tempe to face Arizona State, I knew this game was going to be in favor of the Dawgs, and ugly in the second half. Matthew Stafford now has a new target in A.J. Green, who caught for more than 150 yards last night and a score on top of two more touchodwns from the reliable Knowshon Moreno.  Carpenter now has a fifth off-brand orifice thanks to an offensive line that can’t protect him; at least two of them were provided by USC’s Rey Maualuga.

The Tennessee Volunteers just flat out gave up when Florida came to town. The final score does say that the Vols got on the scoreboard, but really, when you’re down 27-0 in the third quarter, do any points after that count?  It wasn’t exactly a spectacular game for Tim Tebow, and that offense still looks a little too dependent upon him and Percy Harvin, but the Vols defense had very few counters and the Vols on offense — well, this is a team with two studs at RB in Arian Foster and Monterio Hardesty whom they can’t open holes for and get the ball to. Jonathan Crompton is still being asked to do way too much.  In joining Steve Spurrier as the second Florida coach to beat Tennessee and Phil Fulmer four times in a row, Urban Meyer would be perfectly within his rights to snark, “You can’t spell Outback without UT.”

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The Shakedown: Six Days ‘Til Kickoff

Come next Saturday, I’ll be planted in front of the TV for every Saturday afterwards as giant dudes bash heads for school pride (or something like that.) Better take a look at who’s competing for the chip this year, and who’s got the best shot. (Note: this is how I’ve arranged the top 10, I know Georgia’s #1 going in, folks.)

(Rey Maualuga is coming for you, puny quarterbacks.)

1. USC – This isn’t pure SoCal homerism. I think the Trojans get the better of the Buckeyes and the Pac-10 isn’t a whole lot outside of Arizona State this year. If Mark Sanchez (or Mitch Mustain) can be anything resembling good and there is a wide receiver that stands out, they have the easiest path to get to the MNC game. The defense will be nasty, but the offense needs a star to pop out — whether that’s Joe McKnight, Vidal Hazelton, Damian Williams, somebody needs to be a go-to-guy. Of course, you can win big-time with team effort, and the fact that the Pac-10 looks to be in a bad swoon (Arizona State is the only other program that has any upside to look at this year) means a nice, laid-out path to the BCS game. Of course, we wrote all this last year before Stanford.

2. Ohio State – If there is any sort of karmic justice in the sport, OSU will find a way to nab a 2nd loss after losing to USC, thus promptly knocking them out of title contention. However, it took a miracle from Illinois to do it and they still have the best talent in the Big 10, by a long shot.  Their odds of making it back to the BCS title game really do depend on how much the defense can make up for losing Vernon Gholston to Sundays and whether Todd Boeckman will be consistent enough in throwing to the two Brians at wide receiver. If not, the Sweater Vest may bring in Terrelle Pryor earlier than he’d like to.

3. Georgia – The Dawgs’ in-conference schedule will eat them up. Probably won’t have more than one loss, but I don’t think they make it unscathed. They could live up to this pre-season #1 ranking they have if Matthew Stafford can up his completion percentage and Knowshon Moreno continues the form that had everyone drooling last year. Probably second best defense in conference to LSU.

4. Oklahoma – Bob Stoops has a real good chance to go undefeated in the Big 12 — but that defense allows way too much on the ground. The Sooners have laid eggs in their last few bowl games, but bring Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray back for what was a good, solid offensive attack last season. That said, there are few coaches I loathe more than Stoops — he’s whiny and petulant, an SEC coach without a bit of the inherent humor that comes with coaching in that conference.  He should be fortunate that OSU has lost two straight BCS championship games — otherwise, someone would notice he’s 0 for his last 4 BCS bowl games in the past four years.

5. Mizzou – If the Tigers’ vaunted defensive haul is true, then Chase Daniel and Co. stand a real good shot at taking out Oklahoma come Big 12 Championship Game time — and even though teams will probably double team Jeremy Maclin all season, it will only make Daniel and the spread attack in Columbia that much more dangerous. The thought that Gary Pinkel has a bunch of defensive starters returning and is confident that this team will keep others out of the end zone could make them a dark horse favorite if the tops falter.

6. LSU – Fear the Hat, but Les Miles has a quarterback deficiency. If Ryan Perrilloux hadn’t been such a dunce cap, this team likely would have been #2 pre-season with their loaded status at all the skill positions on offense and a robust defense returning, even with Glenn Dorsey moving on to play on Sundays. As is, they’re a favorite for the SEC West crown and a chance to knock off UGA.

7. Florida – The Gators are here until the team proves it has a secondary, essentially. I don’t care how much Tim Tebow you throw at opponents — there are teams they won’t be able to keep out of the end zone and there are defenses (the U, LSU, Georgia) that will pound Tebow, Percy Harvin, and Emmanuel Moody around.

8. Texas Tech – Mike Leach’s Pirate Academy could put a very real scare into OU, Texas and any of the Big 12 South’s regular powers. I don’t expect them to make a championship game yet — but the defense will be a load better and Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree are back. If nothing else, Leach’s teams are nothing short of fun to watch — and hopefully Fox Sports will do a lot of regional games with them.

9. Clemson – In a very, very weak ACC (Virgina Tech is offensively depleted; Boston College is trying to replace Matt Ryan), Tommy Bowden is running out of excuses. He has Cullen Harper, a backfield tandem of James Davis and C.J. Spiller (plus a freshman back by the name of Jamie Harper hoping to get PT), and he’s fallen short the past few years. An ACC title has to be his or he may not be back.

10. West Virginia – The Mountaineers go as far as Pat White’s legs and arm will take them, and as long as Bill Stewart will stay out of the way as head coach. (This was still an epic hiring error.) They certainly won’t be in a position to make the BCS game — not that the conference is great, but when USF has your number, no division is yours.

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Above The Rim: Going Jack Bauer On Your Ass

Lakers 130, Suns 124 – Kobe and Shaq, back playing against each other again. Bryant just went balls out late, notching 41 to go with Pau Gasol’s 29 in the Laker win, which was close down to the last minute or so. Shaq played 29 minutes, more than expected, and put in a respectable 15 points and 9 boards. The real test will be how his game continues to flow in the Suns’ offense, while I dream of what it will look like when Andrew Bynum comes back.

Warriors 119, Celtics 117 – Boston is once again reminded why it rules the Eastern Conference, losing the first two games of its Western Conference road swing. Baron Davis nails the game winner with three-tenths left. Monta Ellis pumped in 26, and Andris Biedrins matched KG’s 17 and 15 boards with 21 and 13 boards of his own. Ray Allen got wicked with six threes and 32 points total.

Hornets 104, Mavs 93 – Not exactly an auspicious return to the Mavs franchise for J-Kidd: 9 points, 5 dimes, 6 turnovers (in his first career NBA game, he had a triple double, a harbinger of things to come.) Chris Paul was one steal away from a triple double (31 points, 11 assists, nine steals); does anyone know if there was ever a triple-double with 10 or more steals as part of the stat line?

76ers 124, Knicks 84 – As if there were no more depths for Isiah Thomas to plumb. Philly had scored 100 after three quarters.

Miami 96, Duke 95 – The Blue Devils can’t come back from 20 down after not hitting threes for way too long. Miami gets its first win over Duke since 1962.

Memphis 94, Tulane 71 – Chris Douglas-Roberts scores 29 to keep Memphis undefeated and get John Calipari his 400th win.

Tennessee 89, Auburn 70 – The Vols are led by Ramar Smith’s 19, headed towards a weekend showdown for #1 with the aforementioned Memphis team.

Nebraska 74, Kansas State 68 – The Cornhuskers hold Michael Beasley scoreless for the first nine minutes and shoot 52% to pull off the upset. Beasley still manages to tie Carmelo Anthony’s single-season double-double record.

Photo: AP/Ross D. Franklin