Coaching chaos at Sugar Bowl
NEW ORLEANS -- In vivid testament to the shenanigans that often ruin bowl games, there are six head coaches with their fingerprints on this Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Brian Kelly was the savior of Cincinnati. Right up until he left for Notre Dame. Finishing off the best season in the biggest game in school history was somebody else's business.
That somebody is Jeff Quinn, the interim coach of the Bearcats. But he's headed to Buffalo to be the coach there as soon as this game ends.
And Butch Jones is recently relocated from Central Michigan to Cincinnati to replace Kelly on a full-time basis. He's moved into his office on campus and is here to watch the game, but isn't coaching.
Despite all that, Cincinnati is now the stable program in this game.
Florida has been led by Urban Meyer, and allegedly will be again at some point. But he tried to resign last Saturday, then un-resigned Sunday, and after this game will drift off into a vaguely defined leave of absence.
In his place is interim coach Steve Addazio, who has no idea how long he'll sit in the big chair, and should enjoy trying to explain things to recruits in the coming month.
And this is the last Florida game for defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, who has been hired as the head coach at Louisville.
So good luck trying to figure out who will be prepared and who won't be. Everyone is saying the right things about circling the wagons and maintaining focus and finishing the season right -- but we won't know who is telling the truth until kickoff Friday night.
In the meantime, both programs are advised to take a page out of Bill Stewart's playbook at West Virginia. In a time of complete upheaval there, he pulled off the greatest interim coach victory of all time in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl.
After Rich Rodriguez fled the Mountaineers for Michigan, Stewart pulled West Virginia together to stunningly rout Oklahoma 48-28. In a sport that has seen some ugly in-transition bowl performances, that was an unexpected masterpiece.
Stewart said he did three things: remained himself, in terms of his coaching personality; whittled down the preparation schedule to short, crisp practices; and wasn't afraid to enforce discipline. He sent one player home from the desert for missing curfew.
"Just as importantly, the administration didn't handcuff me," Stewart said. "They told me at the beginning they weren't going to consider me for the head-coaching position. They said, 'Bill, you're not in it.'
"I said, 'OK, you've got to promise me you don't name a coach until this is over.' So the kids had to listen to me. They all bought into the plan. They said, 'We're not losing, coach.'"
After the win, of course, West Virginia changed course and named Stewart full-time head coach.
Here, everyone is scrambling to fill and redefine roles. Kelly and Meyer don't just have head-coaching titles; they have dominant personalities.
"When you lose General Patton and replace him with a sergeant, there can be a change of discipline among the troops," Cincinnati passing-game coordinator Charley Molnar said.
But the Bearcats say they're approaching this game with the same "next man in" mentality that Kelly fostered in his brilliant run. Cincinnati has had some famous examples the past two seasons of players stepping up when a starter was injured -- now we'll see whether the staff can do the same when the boss departs.
"Now it's next coach in," said center Chris Jurek.
That would be Quinn, the former offensive coordinator who had been with Kelly since his Grand Valley State days dating back to the late 1980s. When the Michigan native isn't coaching his linemen or calling plays, he's talking fishing.
"I've played under him three years," Jurek said. "I'm glad he gets a chance. He's the only coach on the staff that's undefeated."
Added Molnar: "A victory would demonstrate that even without Brian Kelly, we could still carry out the plan."
At Florida, the plan post-bowl falls to Addazio, whose interim appointment was greeted with a loud and sustained round of applause from the Gators players. For a guy who tried to get a head-coaching job at Syracuse (it went to Doug Marrone), this chance of undetermined length means something.
"You're going to get the absolute best from Steve Addazio," he said. "You're going to get it straight on. I've been prepared by the best. I'm very confident. There's a plan, and we're going to follow that plan."
The plan will include a liberal application of the same Meyer work ethic. Addazio remembers the first time he met Meyer, back in the 1990s. Addazio was an assistant at Syracuse, and Meyer was an assistant at Notre Dame. They were the only recruiters to show up at an early-morning workout to see a high school lineman in Bucks County, Pa.
"The only two idiots dumb enough to go to that," Addazio said. "In both our minds, we were getting in there to get a jump on that thing."
Addazio can't remember where the lineman ended up going, but the two coaches made an impression on each other that has remained. In describing their shared traits, Addazio used the words drive, intensity, energy and juice.
But Addazio may have a greater ability to pull off the throttle on occasion. The emotive Italian-American -- who personally cooks his family's traditional "feast of the seven fishes" Christmas Eve dinner -- took his family to Italy over the summer.
"I got away [from the job]," he said. "And I'm glad I did. That was a great time. I realized how much I needed that."
This week, both Cincinnati and Florida need some stability in the coaching ranks after a turbulent month. We'll see which team is best able to approximate business as usual.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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