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Open Date, Open Thoughts

Thinking through some of the college landscape after a weekend without LSU Football.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Florida
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
  • Early lines have LSU at least a 21-point dog to Alabama this week. Can’t say I blame the folks in Vegas. Do expect that to drop though, as Bama is always a heavily public team in terms of betting. At a glance, Alabama looks a lot like they did a year ago: explosive running game, shaky passing game, stingy, opportunistic defense. But there will be plenty of time to talk about that game though.
  • Florida and Jim McElwain have “parted ways,” which seems like some odd language to use if they truly do want to use the whole “death threats” controversy as cause to avoid paying out his contract. It was always an odd fit to me — McElwain was a great coordinator at Alabama, and built a nice program at Colorado State that Mike Bobo is still benefitting from. But he never struck me as that “gotta have” coach, especially when Jeremy Foley was reluctant to buy him out of his CSU contract in the first place. I’ve talked about it several times in recent years; he did a nice job of duct-taping an efficient, if boring and un-explosive, offense out of some spare parts in Gainesville. But in year three, at a job like Florida, that’s not something you get much credit for. This Gators team is short-handed on offense, signed a grad transfer that can’t help and is pushing Felipe Franks out before he’s ready to really lead a top-shelf program. Yes, it’s not his fault that nine players were struck dumb over this credit-card fraud deal, but this just seemed like an unhappy marriage for everybody.
  • McElwain’s skill set seems a better fit for a mid-major program. Not a top-five job where the recipe to win is to load up on talent and smart assistants to deploy.
  • Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin also probably wanted to make his own mark, and we know that ADs do that by hiring football coaches. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t already have Dan Mullen in mind, after working alongside him at State. That said, I don’t think Mullen gets Florida where they really want to go, either. Yeah, he’s a fantastic coach on Saturday afternoon. But running a big-time program like Florida means getting out on the trail and beating out Florida State and Miami for the best players in that state — while also keeping out the rest of the SEC. Mullen completely failed to create any sort of network like that in Mississippi when Ole Miss was struggling under Houston Nutt and transitioning to Hugh Freeze. Yes, the State job has its own limitations, but so does Ole Miss, and Mullen was never really able to get a consistent foothold over them on the trail. That makes me suspect he wouldn’t do it going up against Jimbo Fisher or Mark Richt.
  • That isn’t to say Mullen wouldn’t be tough at Florida. But Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin ain’t walkin’ through those doors.
  • So Florida is in the market, Tennessee should be by the time you read this, and of course, Ole Miss will not be retaining Matt Luke beyond his interim stint. That makes three SEC schools looking for head coaches this cycle, and there’s still the possibility of Texas A&M, Arkansas, and Mississippi State if Mullen does move on. Nearly half of the SEC.
  • Arkansas may be getting a little feisty in support of Bret Bielema after Saturday’s big comeback at Ole Miss, but even if the Hogs can find three more wins to get to bowl eligibility, it seems pretty clear that after five seasons, what we see is what we’ll get here. BERT sold his program vision as specializing in line play, especially offensive line play, but that works at a program like Wisconsin with the walk-on program that attracts massive humans that can develop over time. In the SEC, if you want baddass line play, you have to recruit it. Unless Bielema wants to find himself a staff that will do that, this isn’t going to work. Only question is if Arky is willing to buy him out.
  • If they are, maybe Arkansas finally gives in to the part of their fan base that has long been lusting after Gus Malzahn? That’s another marriage that seems destined for divorce sooner or later (although I guess every coaching marriage is, really?). And as Charles Hannagriff mentioned during my weekly radio hit on Friday, Auburn could be in position to land the coach they’ve wanted for 15 or so years — Bobby Petrino.
  • Here’s the thing about all of these jobs: success in college football comes down to acquisition and deployment of resources, both in terms of money and talent. The historical powers generally have easy access to the player resource. Others use money to help attract them, or had some other type of network in play.
  • Nebraska, another program that could likely be in the hunt for a new coach, fell into that last category for a long time, using partial-qualifiers and the benefit of college football’s television model at the time, which favored them, to bring in talent from Texas and the West Coast. In short, the best skill players came there because they were on TV all the time, similar to Notre Dame. In the 21st Century, everybody’s on TV, and without that attractant, Nebraska hasn’t been able to overcome their proximity to talent centers.
  • If you don’t have the money and leadership to build your own way of attracting that talent, a la Oregon, there’s always systemic specialization, like with an option-based offense or a full-bore spread attack a la branches off the Mike Leach or Art Briles trees. Nebraska doesn’t seem interested in going back to the option, but somebody like Ole Miss or Arkansas probably should. Although with Ole Miss’ roster current, a coach like Tulsa’s Phillip Montgomery might make more sense.
  • If somebody in the SEC hired Paul Johnson, I’d probably cuss out loud.
  • Aggie had all that goodwill for Kevin Sumlin and then
  • Speaking of Fisher, he’s staring down the business end of a 4-8 season — and that’s IF interim coach Randy Shannon doesn’t have the Gators breathing some fire in the final week. Good coaches have bad years, but this should raise some structural questions about what Fisher’s built in Tallahassee. After about a decade in charge, FSU was stuck with no quarterback depth when DeAndre Francois went down, and they’ve been utterly ineffective with James Blackman, despite blue-chippers all around him. I watch FSU against Louisville last week and Boston College this week, I see an offense that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Reminds me a lot of LSU trying to transition from Zach Mettenberger & Co. to Anthony Jennings in 2014. Right down to the botched veer handoff against the Cardinals, which looked like a play Blackman and the Noles hadn’t practiced very much.
  • Fisher should be asking himself some major questions about his staff, and FSU power brokers should be asking him why it took this kind of a disaster to bring all this to light.
  • Firing Fisher would cost Florida State damn near $40 million, however, something tells me they’d be willing to grant Jimmy Sexton a break on his departure buyout if, say...Auburn came calling.