Michigan, Arkansas fans anxious over prolonged coaching searches
Welcome to this meeting of Coaching Codependents Anonymous. As you know, this is a support group for fans whose sanity is slipping while they watch their universities fumble through searches for new football coaches.
We know what it's like watching something you love go through a process so destructive to self-esteem. We understand the painful cycle. We're here to help.
You've been dealing with all the classic symptoms: the flurry of rumors about real estate transactions, the "done deal" message board posts from someone with an "impeccable source," the sting of rejection, the gibes from opposing fans. This is a place where you can let all the frustration out. Cry through your face paint if you need to, it's OK.
Seems the crowd is thinning out from recent weeks. Nebraska Nate is no longer with us. Neither is Georgia Tech Jim or Baylor Bill. We barely had time to get to know Texas A&M Tom or Mississippi Mark before they moved on. Go ahead, guys.
MICHIGAN MIKE: I'm now entering my fourth week of coming to these meetings, and I honestly don't know how much more I can take. We were the first big-time school with a vacancy, when Lloyd Carr announced his retirement Nov. 19 -- and everyone saw it coming months before that. We had forever to be ready for this, and now we look helpless. How can the winningest program in college football history still be without a coach?
ARKANSAS ALEX: I know you feel bad, Mike, but what about us? We've had one-fourth of the ACC run away from us -- first Butch Davis of North Carolina got a contract extension, then Tommy Bowden of Clemson got one, then Jim Grobe of Wake Forest nearly walked to the altar before going runaway bride on us. It's hard to maintain our smug aura of SEC superiority when we can't even get a guy from a basketball league to come be our coach.
MICHIGAN MIKE: Sure, Alex, but we're Michigan.
COUNSELOR: Don't you think that "we're Michigan" attitude is part of the problem? Just because you have the biggest stadium and the biggest victory total and cool helmets and a great fight song, that doesn't automatically entitle you to the coach of your choosing.
People suspected Michigan thought it was too good to sully itself with the brass-knuckles reality of a modern coaching search. After watching Les Miles re-up with LSU and Greg Schiano wave his New Jersey flag one more time, that suspicion is gaining credence. If the coach at Rutgers -- three bowl games in program history -- walks away from the table with Michigan -- 38 bowl games -- there's your reality check.
MICHIGAN MIKE: Reality becomes less enjoyable with each coach-less day, thanks. I still can't understand why Les Miles wouldn't come home.
COUNSELOR: Perhaps because he didn't want to share the house with a guy who clearly hates his guts. Lloyd Carr pulled the pin on a PR hand grenade, stuck it in Miles' hands and walked away. Carr will still be around, and he still seems to have a lot of supporters at Michigan -- starting with Bill Martin, the athletic director who went AWOL at a critical point in the pursuit of Miles.
According to multiple Michigan papers, nobody could find Martin the night before the SEC championship game, when LSU was working to pre-emptively lock up Miles before he could meet with Michigan. Either Martin is spectacularly clueless or he really didn't want Miles to begin with. You decide which is worse.
ARKANSAS ALEX: I'll tell you what's worse than all of that: going through a second reject-a-thon in the same calendar year. After we fired our basketball coach, Stan Heath, last spring, we were turned down by half of America before we lucked into John Pelphrey. Even the Creighton coach csame in, called the Hogs and then called a cab to the airport. Didn't stay more than a day.
Now we're back in the same cycle -- Tommy Tuberville and all those ACC guys just using us for their own gain. And just like Michigan Mike said about his program, we knew for a long time that Houston Nutt was a goner. It would have taken a miraculous year to cleanse the toxic air after the offseason from hell, and as soon as we lost two straight to Alabama and Kentucky in September, you knew that wasn't going to happen.
But we're still flailing around, looking for someone to love us. We hired a new athletic director, Jeff Long, and put him in charge of the search -- and now the papers are saying that we've hired Chuck Neinas' search firm to help us out? Why didn't we do that back on Nov. 26?
COUNSELOR: Have a tissue, Alex. Perhaps it's time to look deeper -- why did you all run off Houston Nutt, a man who won three SEC West titles and compiled a 75-48 record? Is Razorback Nation trying to be something it's not?
I say this firmly, but without condemnation: You are not Florida, not LSU, not Tennessee, not Alabama, not Georgia, not Auburn. Arkansas is about the seventh-best program in a murderous league.
But that's just the on-field situation. Off the field, this place is the Ozarks version of "General Hospital." You've had more melodrama hovering over your school than anywhere in America over the past 12 months. You've had fans suing the school, and other fans firing back at those fans.
And now, what was supposed to be Jeff Long's show apparently has become a cast of thousands. Razorback Foundation members are promoting some candidates and panning others, and they keep whispering to the media whenever a deal gets close. Hiring Neinas might be the best thing to do -- he'll suck some of the silliness out of the process.
MICHIGAN MIKE: Hey, Alex, you guys aren't seriously considering Gus Malzahn, are you? I mean, the guy's been a college coordinator for all of two years.
ARKANSAS ALEX: Yeah, but look at what his offense did at Tulsa this year. The Golden Hurricane led the nation in total offense.
MICHIGAN MIKE: True. But Arkansas' offense also got better statistically without Malzahn this year. I think I could draw up plays that work when I have Darren McFadden my first year and I'm going against Conference USA defenses my second.
ARKANSAS ALEX: No doubt, genius. All you'd need to do is copy a few formations out of the Appalachian State playbook.
At least we're not talking to a MAC coach with a 22-36 career record. If you think Malzahn would be reach, what do you call Brady Hoke?
COUNSELOR: Fellas, keep it civil. We're here to support each other.
ARKANSAS ALEX: I know, I'm sorry. This is just wearing me down. We've just about reached the deejay-on-a-billboard stage in Fayetteville. One more rejection and some wacky morning guy will go roost on a billboard and declare that he's not coming down until the Hogs hire a coach.
COUNSELOR: Let's hope it doesn't come to that. We're out of time, guys. Feel free to come back tomorrow. We'll also set up chairs for UCLA Larry and Washington State Steve, just in case.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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