Not to be a wet blanket (emphasis on WET, I swear it’s rained for a month straight around here), but with all the bowl activity the last few days and BCS bowls firing up, I decided to start out the 2006 year with a look around at the have’s and have-not’s, and try to figure out what our Cougs are doing. I had a good chat with UW royalty over the holidays, and I have a fresh, “outsiders” perspective on our program and really, how far we have fallen behind.
This chat bore a new theory in my mind. I never thought Doba was a bad hire, and like a lot of people, in fact I thought he was perfect at the time to keep things going as they were, to more or less mind the store until the next guy is ready. But, the last week or so, my thoughts are different.
Bottom line? LONG-TIME assistant coaches just don’t win! At least they don’t win once their recruits are fully in the program and it becomes their show. And, I’m not talking some hot-shot, up and coming assistant like a Tedford or someone of that ilk. I’m talking long-time, 15-20 years of carrying someone else’s luggage before taking over the helm. Want some proof?
The chat I had mainly highlighted one thing – they (UW) had made head coach mistakes by taking the easy answer at a difficult time. Lambo and Gilby were in the right place at the right time to keep the beat going and not rock the boat too much. They were decent ideas at the time, but things soured fast once a few years passed and their true, assistant-only stripes were shown.
See, being a head coach, especially today, is a hell of a lot different than it used to be. The coaches today are more rock-star than they ever were, with agents constantly looking for the next big gig. The demands on their time is unprecedented. And, the competition is bigger than ever, and you are criticized more than at any other time in this sport for everything you do, on and off the field.
Check out some prominent programs that took the easy way out, and are paying for it now:
1) Miami – look at what has happened to them since Butch Davis left. Larry Coker was a long-time assistant and won initially when Davis left, but what has happened since? Anyone that witnessed their embarrassing blowout to LSU the other night would agree that they are nothing like they used to be. Sure, they fired 4 assistants today, but the assistants aren’t the problem. Larry Coker is the problem.
2) UW – Their current state can be blamed at the feet of the guitar-playing hippee who loved to cheat, but it’s really not all his fault. One thing that clown could do was recruit, and he brought in big-name players from the day he showed up. Same thing at Colorado. But, look back at how horrible UW became when long-time assistant Lambright took over. Serious NFL talent was still in the pipeline as they were living off their early-90’s success, but they fell apart to barely winning seasons. It was obviously worse with Gilby (who was a FAILURE as a head coach, only won anything his first year with Snyder’s leftovers). Hard as it is to write, but UW is going to come back eventually because they have a real head coach. A head coach that has some personality, and is a long-time head coach. They won’t be winning the Rose Bowl any time soon, but they will return to a winning, solid, 7-4 program.
3) Florida – Steve Superior won huge at Florida for many years, even getting a national title and another title game appearance. Long-time assistant Ron Zook takes over, and they sink to levels they haven’t seen. Florida will be back now that they have Urban Meyer, you KNOW it’s a matter of time. They have a real head coach.
4) Nebraska – Tom Osbourne steps down, the long-time assistant Frank Solich takes over, team experiences moderate success but not good enough, and is fired after 3 years. Bill Callahan is OK, but he’s also a super bowl head coach.
5) Notre Dame – Long-time assistant Bob Davie takes over for Lou Holtz. Doesn’t get the job done, and by 2001, Notre Dame hires the hottest candidate on the planet at the time, Willingham. Only now are they recovering, and while yes, Weis was a long-time NFL assistant, he was never able to get a head NFL job for a large part because of his, well, gross appearance. Image has a lot to do with it. He always wanted to be a head coach, always interviewed for head jobs, but never won the gig. The man is brilliant, and a great coach that a lot of teams flat-out missed the boat with, and Notre Dame is going to be at the top for years to come.
6) WSU – like it or not, Mike Price is a very good (not great) head coach. Before him, Erickson was known as a very good coach. Think about this though – where did the Cougs find Price and Erickson? They were head coaches of lesser programs, looking to move up the ladder. They also had age on their side, both in their early 40’s and dying for a shot. They were young, hungry and driven.
We know what Erickson could do, looking at all the success he has had at the NCAA level. But Price? It took a while and he was inconsistent at WSU, but now? He has proven that he is an excellent football coach by taking a HORRIBLE, lost, who-cares program like UTEP to consecutive bowls. This is a team that won 1 game the season before he showed up, now they are a bowl team. That would be the same thing as taking over IDaho and going 8-3 and going bowling. Pretty much impossible, right?
Meanwhile, Doba’s first year saw a 10-win season, but truth be told, that was with a ton of seniors that were used to winning with a dynamic Mike Price in control. Now we’ve had consecutive losing seasons, and certainly no guarantee we’ll even be back to a bowl game next year. I’m hopeful because I think we’ll have a lot of talent in place, but nothing is for sure.
I look around the Pac-10, and teams like OSU did it the right way. They are in the same neighborhood as we are, they are a legit comparison. It’s a deal where they weren’t afraid to hire real head coaches, just like WSU did back in the late 80’s. I know, I mean every NCAA head coach has to start somewhere, and Mike Riley was an assistant for a while, but he’s a guy who always asipred to be a head coach. They weren’t afraid to go out and hire Dennis Erickson, and then got Riley back. They resisted the urge to reach down and promote a long-time loyal to the program guy, the “easy” hire.
Arizona has a guy in Stoops that yes, was an assistant, but has wanted to be a head coach all along. Fiery, yes, but a dynamic personality with youth and energy and they are recruiting like gang-busters down there right now. They are on their way.
ASU has underachieved, but they were able to get the “hot name” at the time, Koetter, and they have a solid, winning foundation in place to win for a long time.
Cal has Tedford, who was the hottest coach in America a year ago and while he was an assistant, he always aspired to be a head man. They are going to contend for a LONG time, at least until the NFL calls.
Stanford with Walt Harris has a ways to go, but again, they got a real head coach.
UCLA went with Dorrell, a young assistant with the burning desire to be a head man, and that is really starting to work out.
We know Belotti is the dean of Pac-10 coaches and has a monster team on his hands for next year and beyond.
I won’t even waste space mentioning Pete Carroll. We know how that’s working out.
Where does that leave Doba and the Cougs? In my mind, we are lightyears behind our competition. Rank the Pac-10 head coaches, and is there any doubt why we are 9-13 the last two years, and HOPEFULLY 7-4 next year?
Ask yourself this – how many times have we heard that Doba never even wanted to be a head coach? That his last head job was back in the 70’s in high school? There were stories that in the recent past, teams like Indiana and Ball State had called Doba to interview for the head coaching position, but he said no. He was content with being a d-coordinator. He was the right hire at the time, but I don’t believe in it anymore.
I also don’t believe Levy is the answer either. Too long an assistant that hasn’t even interviewed for head jobs. He’s got offensive lifer written all over him.
There is something to be said in hiring a dynamic, successful, driven head coach. These are guys with huge ego’s that never wanted to take the back seat to anyone. They don’t care about having to be the bad guy. Doba is a great guy, so many positive things you hear about him, you just know he’s a wonderful man. But is he a good head coach? No. Isn’t it time to admit that there really is something to the saying of “once a long time assistant, always a long time assistant?”
So what is the answer? I think it’s obvious given our location, budget, etc, that we aren’t 1) in a position to replace Doba until the contract runs out, OR he retires; and ) we aren’t in a position to swoop in and steal anyone of quality from a BCS conference. I think it’s got to be either a hot-shit assitant from a BCS conference, someone like Stoops, just full of energy and desire to be a head coach and build something. Or, a successful head man from a D-2 school, or a 1-AA like Paul Wulff from Eastern, someone like that.
OR, finally, maybe what TT said. Maybe Rosie really is the answer. Former NFL QB, a cocky a-hole with a huge ego that would love to be head coach. Maybe the answer is already known in Rosie, and maybe Sterk is just waiting out the Doba era?
Anyway, unless a huge sack of cash shows up at Sterk’s doorstep, we’re stuck for the next 3 seasons. I just hope we don’t plummet to UW-levels, because if we don’t score a TD with 1 minute to go vs. UW?? Well guess what. We WOULD be UW junior.