Commentary

Coaching chaos, rivalry games add spice to holiday week

Originally Published: November 20, 2007
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football ("Mike Shula [1] Never Lost to a Sun Belt Team" T-shirts sold separately):

Coaching Chaos: Michigan Dept.

Lloyd Carr (2) made a point of saying that his Monday retirement announcement was solely to benefit the school he was leaving, Michigan. One thing is certain: it wasn't done to benefit Les Miles (3).

The Dash doesn't know what Carr thinks of Miles -- whether he'd like him to be his successor or not -- but he clearly did the LSU coach no favors by announcing his retirement less than 48 hours after the Nov. 17 end of the Wolverines' regular season. Miles now has conflicting personal dreams competing for his heart and mind -- conceivably for the next seven weeks.

This is Miles' To-Do List from now until Jan. 8:

• Beat Arkansas Friday.

• Beat whoever wins the SEC East in the league title game Dec. 1.

• Recruit for a couple of weeks in December -- for someone.

• Win the national title.

• Stonewall daily (perhaps hourly, maybe minutely) questions about Michigan.

It could be the longest and most awkward seven weeks of Miles' life. Remember the Billy Donovan-Kentucky basketball flirtation that went down this past spring? That was a mere two weeks long, and it seemed like it lasted forever.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Joe Murphy/Getty ImagesLes Miles could be facing an awkward time.

Now here's Miles in an even tougher spot, with a potential job he has reason to want more than Donovan ever could have wanted Kentucky. Because Michigan is in Miles' blood. A better basketball comparison would be Roy Williams' having to stave off rampant speculation that he was leaving Kansas for alma mater North Carolina during the 2003 NCAA Tournament.

That pressure eventually drove Williams to cuss at Bonnie Bernstein (4) on live national television. Let's hope Les keeps it civil with all sideline reporters between now and decision day.

(Miles already has earned Dash points for not pulling a Nick Saban (5). He hasn't repeatedly and bellicosely denied any interest in a job he might end up taking.)

The only thing that could quickly stop the madness would be a definitive declaration by Miles that he's not interested (not likely) or a definitive move by Michigan toward other candidates. And even if Michigan favors other candidates, ignoring an alum who is ranked No. 1 in the country would be dicey PR.

So this topic isn't going away. And even more than waiting out a basketball coaching move during the NCAA Tournament, a seven-week churn without a coach down the home stretch of the football recruiting period would be truly difficult.

What if you're LSU? Do you sit back and wait for Michigan to poach your coach? A source told The Dash Monday that LSU is working to sweeten Miles' deal and might present him with an enhanced contract after the SEC title game. But if Miles isn't interested in a better deal and seems intent on leaving, what do you do?

"I'd have to let him go and move on before the bowl," said one prominent athletic director Monday.

Could it come to this: Miles communicates to Michigan through channels that he'll come, but not until after Jan. 7. LSU athletic director Skip Bertman (6) pulls a Bo Schembechler (7) when Bill Frieder wanted to leave for Arizona State after the 1989 NCAA Tournament and declares "I want an LSU man coaching LSU," releases Miles and promotes, say, defensive coordinator Bo Pelini (8) to coach the Tigers for the national title game? Unless, of course, Pelini is already the coach at Nebraska by then?

LSU dealt once with having a lame-duck head coach in a bowl game, when Saban's last Tigers team lost to Iowa in the 2005 Capital One Bowl. By all accounts that's not a road the school would like to travel again.

So pulling a Schembechler could be the avenue of last resort -- and could end well in the short term, if history repeats itself. That Michigan hoops team won the 1989 national title with interim coach Steve Fisher.

Coaching Chaos: Louisville Dept.

Rumors started running late last week that Steve Kragthorpe (9) could be one-and-done at Louisville of his own volition, beating a hasty retreat to Conference USA bottom feeder SMU (10). Sources told The Dash that SMU is interested in Kragthorpe, who made a name for himself turning Tulsa into a mid-major power. The question is whether Kragthorpe, who has significant Texas ties, has reciprocal interest.

[+] EnlargeSteve Kragthorpe
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesSteve Kragthorpe could be one-and-done at Louisville.

Initial indications were that Kragthorpe wanted to stay at Louisville, but a source Monday termed it "50-50" whether he'd jump if the SMU job were offered. At the very least, his first season with the Cardinals has been turbulent enough to conceivably make a man reconsider his career move up the food chain.

A preseason top 10 team, Louisville has spiraled to 5-6, bottoming out with a 55-17 loss at South Florida on Saturday that was the Cardinals' worst defeat in 20 years. Nobody saw that coming with the skill-position arsenal Louisville returned from its 2006 Orange Bowl champions. But then again, nobody foresaw a defensive collapse and massive off-field turmoil.

Kragthorpe has suspended and/or dismissed several players this season. Sources say he inherited a host of problems that former coach Bobby Petrino (11) minimized, managed or swept under the rug while compiling a 41-9 record in four seasons.

He also inherited half of Petrino's old staff in an arranged marriage that was encouraged by athletic director Tom Jurich (12). Given the way that's turned out, expect a complete staff overhaul in the offseason.

But the biggest disappointment for Kragthorpe might be the seemingly disproportionate fan outrage directed his way. A fan base that appears to have forgotten that Louisville was 1-10 a decade ago has criticized Kragthorpe relentlessly since early in the season, and a good number of them believe two seasons is at least one too many.

"If he rides this thing out, he's one tough guy," said one source close to the program.

Jurich is squarely in Kragthorpe's corner, which has to help. In fact, Jurich has staked so much of his career to Kragthorpe that he might be a flight risk himself if his coach decides to leave after one year. Jurich had been contacted earlier this year about replacing the retiring Dave Hart at Florida State (13) and Paul Dee at Miami (14).

Coaching Chaos: Alabama Dept.

Somebody buy Charlie Weatherbie (15) a stogie and a bottle of champagne. The good stuff. Because it's not like the Louisiana-Monroe coach can go affording that on his own, even after beating Alabama.

Charlie Weatherbie
Courtesy of ULM AthleticsCharlie Weatherbie should get a raise for the Alabama win alone.

Weatherbie earns $130,000 a year, which might be the lowest I-A salary in America. Saturday he beat the highest-paid coach in America, $4 million man Saban, who makes more in two weeks (about $154,000, before taxes) than Weatherbie makes in 12 months.

Something tells The Dash that the 92,000 Bama fans who crammed into the spring football game probably didn't see this one coming. And if it helps result in a second straight 6-6 regular season? St. Nick will be challenging Charlie Weis (16) for Overpaid Coach of the Year. (With Kirk Ferentz [17] making yet another run at that crown.)

Savvy Alabama fans can rip a page out of the Notre Dame fan playbook and blame the previous guy. If The Scourge of Humanity (18) is still on the hook in South Bend -- as well as being to blame for the ever-earlier Christmas marketing blitz -- surely Shula can still be on the hook for trouble in Sabanation.

Mizzou-KU: Who Knew?

You think Auburn-Alabama (19) is bitter? Compared to Missouri-Kansas (20), it's gridiron detente.

They've been playing each other continuously since 1891, longest rivalry west of the Mississippi. But the grudge runs far deeper and bloodier than that, to the days when The Border War really was a border war.

On Aug. 21, 1863, William Quantrill (21) led a band of pro-slavery bushwhackers out of Missouri and into Kansas, whereupon they set upon the abolitionist Jayhawkers. Quantrill's people burned Lawrence to the ground and killed 183. Prior to that, Missourians were subject to raids by John Brown (22) and his abolitionists.

Funny thing is, a rivalry that actually began as an armed conflict has more often been a pillow fight. These are two historically inglorious football programs, compiling an uninspiring tale of the tape. (In other words, this ain't exactly Oklahoma-Texas.)

The Border War: Kansas vs. Missouri
  Kansas Missouri
National championships Zip Zip
Big Eight/12 Conference championships Four Six
Last conference title 1968 1969
Last sole conference title 1930 1960
Last season-ending ranking 1995 (9th) 1998 (21st)
Last season-ending top 10 ranking 1995 (9th) 1969 (6th)
Last January bowl game 1969 Orange Bowl 1970 Orange Bowl
Last January bowl win None 1966 Sugar Bowl
Winning seasons 51 68
Ten-win seasons 4 2
Record against Nebraska 23-88-3 35-63-3
Record against Oklahoma 27-66-6 23-64-5
Series History According to KU media gude,
Kansas leads 54-52-9
According to Mizzou records
Series is tied, 53-53-9
Would rather brag about Basketball program Journalism school
Famous two-syllable alum Bob Dole (who left during World War II) Brad Pitt (who left just short of a Journalism degree)
Winningest coach Bert Kennedy (52-9-4)
1904-10
Don Faurot (101-79-10)
1935-42, '46-56
Coach who left too soon Fielding H. Yost (10-0 in 1899) Frank Broyles (5-4-1 in 1957)
Coach who stayed too long Gwinn Henry (9-27)
1939-42
Woody Widenhofer (12-31-1)
1985-88
Coach of the moment Mark Mangino (36-35) Gary Pinkel (47-36)
Biggest game This one This one

So you have some idea why alums of both schools are walking around in euphoric disbelief. Far more often, the season-ending game has matched teams with losing records going nowhere and simply hoping to inflict more pain on the other. The Dash's pal Paul Flemming (23), Florida Capital Bureau editor for Gannett News Service and a Missouri alum, went Biblical for a description of this phenomenon:

Kristanna Loken
Jeffrey Mayer/Getty ImagesEven Dashette Kristanna Loken wouldn't want to be interrupted during Kansas-Missouri.

"That the Tigers and Jayhawks should meet on the football field with a possible national championship on the line is nothing less than a sign of the End Times.

"From a Big 12 version of the Book of Revelations:

'And there came a pair of beasts, the one striped and fanged and the other winged and fierce, if cartoonish. And, lo, these beasts were ranked -- second and fourth -- and arrayed one against the 'And from this field of conflict one will emerge and go forth and vie for the greater praise of men and adoration of women. Woe unto the loser, for him awaits only pain, regret and recrimination. Beat KU!'"

The Dash is so pumped to see this rendition of the rivalry that even Dashette Kristanna Loken (24) has been served notice not to interrupt during the game. Unless, you know, it's important.

And Now For The Lesser Rivalries

There are a few puny rivalry games being played this week on the Border War undercard. The Dash's rundown of the top 10:

Virginia-Virginia Tech (25). At stake: Coastal Division title. Upper hand: Tech has won last three. Feeling heat: Virginia coach Al Groh has had a job-saving season, but he's still just 1-5 against the Hokies. Dash pick: Virginia Tech 23, Virginia 21.

Auburn-Alabama. At stake: Winning record for Crimson Tide, Tigers' place in SEC bowl pecking order. Upper hand: Auburn has won five straight. Feeling heat: Saban doesn't want to end the season with a four-game losing streak. Dash pick: Alabama 14, Auburn 12.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
AP Photo/Butch DillA win over Auburn would raise the spirits of Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.

Georgia-Georgia Tech (26). At stake: Bulldogs' long-shot national title hopes. Upper hand: Mark Richt is 6-0 against Tech. Feeling heat: Chan Gailey is 0-5 against Georgia, and his job could be on the line. Dash pick: Georgia 30, Georgia Tech 24.

Florida-Florida State (27). At stake: Braggin' rights and bowl positioning, and little else. Upper hand: Urban Meyer is 2-0 against FSU. Feeling heat: Bobby Bowden needs to remind people why he's still the coach in Tallahassee. Dash pick: Florida 33, Florida State 24.

Texas-Texas A&M (28). At stake: Longhorns' hopes for a backdoor Big 12 South title, Aggies' hopes for sending Dennis Franchione out a winner. Upper hand: A&M pulled a major upset last year. Feeling heat: Franchione has been feeling it for months, if not years. Dash pick: Texas A&M 28, Texas 27.

Oklahoma-Oklahoma State (29). At stake: Big 12 South title for Sooners, winning record for Cowboys. Upper hand: Bob Stoops is 6-2 against Oklahoma State. Feeling heat: Sooners backups who could be forced to carry the load after injuries to offensive stars Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray. Dash pick: Oklahoma State 24, Oklahoma 20.

Max Hall
AP Photo/Douglas C. PizacMax Hall and the Cougars are looking for a second straight win over the Utes.

BYU-Utah (30). At stake: Moral supremacy and the Cougars' unbeaten league record. Upper hand: BYU won last year, 33-31. Feeling heat: Cougars QB Max Hall, playing in his first Holy War. Dash pick: Utah 28, BYU 21. (Each team has won seven straight, so somebody has to remember what it feels like to lose.)

Mississippi-Mississippi State (31). At stake: State's bowl hopes, Ed Orgeron's peace of mind. Upper hand: Home team, which has won three straight and seven of the last eight (State is at home this time) in this series. Feeling heat: Orgeron is trying to avoid Ole Miss' first winless SEC season since 1982. Dash pick: Mississippi State 21, Mississippi 12.

Clemson-South Carolina (32). At stake: Tommy Bowden's job, both teams' bowl profiles. Upper hand: Gamecocks snapped a four-game losing streak to the Tigers last year. Feeling heat: Bowden's backside is always toasty, but this is more immediate than usual. Dash pick: South Carolina 28, Clemson 25.

Washington-Washington State (33). At stake: Program momentum for the Huskies, a possible lovely parting gift for Cougars coach Bill Doba. Upper hand: Tough for either side to capture; last five meetings all decided by eight points or less. Feeling heat: This could be Doba's last game. Dash pick: Washington 24, Washington State 20.

Is This The Same Team?

Five most surprising in-season 180s, for good or bad:

California (34). Bears were 5-0 heading into October. Now they're 6-5 heading into rivalry game against Stanford on Dec. 1.

Memphis (35). Has won four of its past five -- three of them on the road -- after starting 2-4.

Kentucky (36). Was 6-1 after shocking LSU on Oct. 13. Now 7-4 and facing Tennessee -- and the Wildcats haven't beaten the Volunteers since 1984.

NC State (37). Wolfpack started the year 1-5, with the only victory over Wofford. Now they're 5-6, with wins at Miami and over a ranked Virginia team. Tom O'Brien reaffirms his coaching ability in the process.

Oregon State (38). Beavers started 2-3 but have won four of their last five, with the only loss in that time at USC.

Putting Out An APB For …

… Former Washington defensive tackle Steve Emtman (39), leader of the Huskies' 1991 national championship defense. Emtman was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1992 NFL draft but never lived up to it. Anyone with information on the extremely wide lineman, please apprise The Dash.

Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former Georgia quarterback Eric Zeier, is alive and well doing radio analyst work for his alma mater, helping fill the large void left by legendary voice Larry Munson's decision not to call games on the road this year. The Dash appreciates the record number of responses from Dawg fans.

Point After

When hungry in Cincinnati, The Dash recommends a slice of LaRosa's Pizza (40). The local favorite can be found about everywhere, and Cincinnatians will rhapsodize about the sauce. You won't find a leafy idyllic look on campus at the University of Cincinnati, but The Dash is impressed by the modernization efforts around the school's very cool, middle-of-campus football facility, Nippert Stadium.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.