Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Coach Watch Day 53

As far as I am concerned, there are only two opinions one can have on the SMU coaching search. The first is that the SMU coaching search is going badly. The second is that the SMU coaching search is not going badly. I don’t think you can rationally argue the search is actually going well as it reaches day 50. This post is to officially inform you that I have changed my position from the latter to the former. The coaching search is not going well and the evidence is all around us.

When I started blogging again, it was with the assumption that the coaching search would take around a month. And I also thought I would be blogging about, you know, news. So now we are in week eight and there is no coach in sight and there has been very little news.

I have been thinking about this for a week now. I have reread every article on the SMU coaching search. I then saw something in Kevin Sherrington's column that I had missed earlier and that crystallized things in my mind.

Orsini says he hasn't offered the job to anyone, not even Navy's Paul Johnson, who opted for Georgia Tech. Orsini says coordinators could be candidates, though he prefers head coaching experience.

We are considering coordinators now? I went and reviewed the Orsini press conference after Bennett was let go. When asked what he was looking for in a head coach, the first words out of his mouth were "head coaching experience." Orsini does hedge his comments later, but it was clear head coaching experience was key.

Unlike many at SMU, hiring an assistant suits me just fine. Hiring a lower division head coach suits me fine as well. But it seems to me that if Orsini is widening the net, it must be because he isn’t catching any fish.

I used to believe that if the SMU search was going badly, we would know it. There would be a lot more reports like the one that said Paul Johnson was going to Navy, Steve Kragthorpe had no interest in the job or Air Force’s Calhoun publicly declining to interview. I also used to believe that SMU and Orsini’s silence was a mistake. I have changed my mind on both counts. If not for Orsini’s lockdown on all information related to the search, SMU fans would know just how badly the search is going.

On November 30th, President Turner said he hoped a coach would be hired within a week. That was over two weeks ago. Turner, Orsini and everyone involved know the search has gone on too long.

When Orsini was on with Norm Hitzges last week, Orsini made a point to mention that a dead period for recruiting began today which extends through January 3rd. A full contact period does not begin until January 13th. This is true. However, it is also true that national signing day is February 6th. There are now just 21 full contact days between now and February 6th.

While it is easy to say SMU doesn’t need a coach for recruiting when a coach cannot meet with recruits personally, that ignores the bulk of the recruiting process. Coaches can write or telephone prospective student-athletes during the dead period. More importantly, coaches can assess needs, evaluate film, target players. It is important to note that none of this has been happening in any real or meaningful way since October 29th (and really, long before that). You simply cannot hire a coach in January and expect him to hit the recruiting trail running.

Furthermore, signing day for midyear junior college transfers is December 19th, which, for those of you keeping score at home, is Wednesday. You are blind if you don’t think SMU needs help on both sides of the ball immediately.

If you don’t think the search is going poorly, you have to have blind faith in Orsini, because Lord knows you can’t have faith in SMU. Some people assured everyone that SMU had a deal with a coach and it would be announced after SMU’s season was over out of respect for Bennett. When that time passed, some said SMU clearly had a deal with a coach and it would be announced after the coach had finished his season because he had another game to coach. When that time passed and Paul Johnson went to Georgia Tech and silence has since followed, some people now say SMU has a deal with a coach and it will be announced after the coach has coached his bowl game or maybe it is an NFL coach or assistant that has to finish his season.

At other schools, current NFL assistants (and even an NFL head coach) have been hired. Schools with bowl games to play have lost their coaches and assistants in the shuffle as recently as last week. It is possible that a particular coach that interests SMU has said they preferred to wait out the season, but that certainly isn’t likely. Any coach knows the value of recruiting and knows that they needed to be out on the recruiting trail for their new school if they were taking another job.

There are no deals in place and if there are deals, they are worth no more than any deal SMU ever had with Paul Johnson who is currently house shopping in Atlanta. While Orsini claims he never offered the job to Paul Johnson, that statement is only true in the technical sense. You can find Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech contract here. Reading the document, it is clear the contract is not technically “offered” until all the terms are agreed to. I am sure Johnson’s agent has a similar “memorandum of understanding” from SMU in a file in his office (or perhaps a trashcan).

Here is a list of the coaching changes last year. The longest search was Alabama’s, which you will recall lasted seemingly forever. It actually lasted 38 days. SMU is on day 50 with no indication that it will end soon. There has never been a search like this one that I recall. Never.

And then we found out that SMU interviewed Larry Coker. I have already said I think Coker would be a bad choice. For now, that is beside the point. Coker is exactly the kind of guy I thought SMU was not considering. Even more troubling, SMU could have hired Coker 51 days ago. If SMU had any real interest in Coker, it could have set up an interview with Coker for right after Thanksgiving and the SMU season ended.

It doesn't make any sense if things are fine. None of this makes any sense unless you take a step back and look at it for what it is. This is what a coaching search that is not going well looks like. The complete silence from the administration and boosters, who otherwise would be excited; the lack of public speculation; the length of time. Someone pointed out to me that Ohio State hired Jim Tressel in Mid-February; yes, but Ohio State didn't fire John Cooper until January 2, 2000, either. Coaching searches that are going well don't last this long. Did you know the longest coaching search in NHL history is 27 days? I believe the modern day NFL record is 39 days. Maybe it will end well, and I hope it does, but it isn't going well.

If SMU had hired somebody quickly, I woud have just shrugged my shoulders and said, "Hey, Orsini got his guy. What can you say? Let Orsini be judged by what the guy accomplishes." Now, things are different. Now, I have to judge Orsini's choice against the myriad of other coaches SMU could have/should have/would have/did consider. We are also going to have to examine Orsini's process and what went wrong.

I don't fault Orsini for aiming high and trying to get a coach that ESPN gave Georgia Tech an "A" for hiring. Personally, I still don't think Paul Johnson is what Georgia Tech needed and was surprised they pursued him. I do question why there was apparently no backup plan in motion as soon as Paul Johnson left for a second interview with Georgia Tech.

I have been languishing over posting this for a week (I am sure it doesn't show, but hey, any idiot can blog). I shared it with a couple of people before I posted it. Both agree. One was surprised it took me this long. The other just said it depressed him to see me write it because I have previously been positive.

Just because the search isn't going well, however, doesn't mean SMU can't still get a great coach. Maybe I am an ungrateful dolt and don't appreciate that Orsini is busting his tail every minute of the day to find SMU the perfect fit. Ultimately, it may come to pass that SMU hires a great coach. And if that happens, I will be wrong and rightfully and gladly so. God, I hope so.

Oh, well. Back to Guitar Hero III.


Anonymous said...

Think you hit the nail right on the head there blogger. This "mystery" candidate that will blow our socks off?? Keep dreaming people. There is absolutely NO reason we would have to wait for anyone currently coaching a bowl or an NFL playoff team. Coaches leave early all the time, and this year is no exception.

Texas Red said...

Unfortunately, this is very convincing. I've lost hope in the argument that SMU must have had somebody committed but waiting until . . . [insert some future event]. Now, we're just left twisting in the wind.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps waiting until the end will work out. (I sure hope so)

Let's look at the candidates that are still out there.

Norm Chow - not getting the UCLA gig and losing to slick Rick? What a break for SMU. Offensive genius.

Karl Dorrell - lost out on the Duke job and did a good job at UCLA. Without the injuries he had this year, coulda been a contenda. Offensive minded. Bonus points for being a minority.

Larry Coker - reminds me of when SMU decided that O.A. "Bum" Phillips was not deserving of the head coach's job in the late 70's because he was too country. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

Bowden - still out there pining for a coaching job. He was successful as a coach, whatever you think of his personality.

Bower - made a nothing school into a football something.

I think any of these men would be better than slick Rick, or some of the others who did get hired elsewhere this year. They all bring a lot of football knowledge. And they all want a head coaching job.

Anonymous said...

Just think: everybody thought the problem with the program was the players. The players are only half the equation. Without a competent administration, this program is going to flounder for many more years.

cs09viking said...

nice post SMU Football Blog!

Anonymous said...

Tressel was hired on January 17, 2001, not February. He was able to devote some time to recruiting, which salvaged OSU's 2001 class.

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