Coaching’s Chaos Theory
By Paul Myerberg // Jan 12, 2011
Allow me to introduce you to college football’s chaos theory: a butterfly — or a coach, rather — makes a decision in Baton Rouge, with the ramifications of that choice echoing in decisions made in Ann Arbor, Lincoln, San Diego and elsewhere. We don’t know the true circumstances of the conversations between Les Miles and Michigan, whether an offer was made or no, how close Miles came to pulling the trigger on returning to his alma mater, but it’s clear that when Miles opted to return to L.S.U., the Wolverines fell back on a reserve option in San Diego State’s Brady Hoke.
What Hoke’s decision does at S.D.S.U.: looking for continuity, the Aztecs tabbed Rocky Long, Hoke’s defensive coordinator, as the man best suited to keep the program trending upwards. Long’s a good choice, not merely due to his two seasons spent under Hoke; he’s also an accomplished coach in his own right, one who led New Mexico to five bowl trips over a six-year span from 2002-7 — yes, New Mexico has been successful, just not since Long was jettisoned in favor of Mike Locksley.
The underlying ramifications of Michigan’s move were also felt in Lincoln, where it was widely expected that Nebraska’s Bo Pelini would be a leading candidate for the open L.S.U. job should Miles have left for Ann Arbor. It’s now a virtual certainty that Pelini remains with the program for the relatively long haul, as the job with the Tigers was one of two positions where one could have viewed the third-year coach departing what he has built with the Cornhuskers — the other is Ohio State, though the N.F.L. might someday hold appeal.
Gus Malzahn is another coach — and the lone assistant, more than likely — who would have been considered at L.S.U.; he’s now staying at Auburn for at least one more season, aiding in the Tigers’ attempt to repeat.
This is a familiar tale: to illustrate, look at how Maryland’s decision to force Ralph Friedgen’s resignation has affected coaching moves up and down the Atlantic seaboard. Randy Edsall accepts the open position mere days after a Fiesta Bowl loss; in turn, Connecticut interviews several candidates at Big East and Big Ten stops, such as Penn State’s Tom Bradley and the former Miami (Fla.) offensive coordinator Mark Whipple.
Should the job fall to Bradley, Penn State will be in the market for a new defensive coordinator — perhaps they hire a well-regarded B.C.S. conference assistant away from elsewhere, which starts this whole dance anew.
There remains one more job that might echo similarly along the West Coast: Stanford is still looking for Jim Harbaugh’s replacement, though it seems as if the Cardinal will promote from within, choosing from among associate head coach Greg Roman, offensive coordinator David Shaw and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
What if Stanford makes a call to Oregon State’s Mike Riley? It’s almost a cliche to include Riley’s name in any Pac-10 coaching search, of course, and it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Riley would leave O.S.U., a program that fully appreciates the effort he has put in building a consistent winner.
If Stanford succeeds where others have failed, however, the dominoes will fall once again. Oregon State will hire a coach with experience in the Pac-10, more than likely, perhaps one with Oregon ties, perhaps one with ties to the program itself.
A move to Stanford wouldn’t create Michigan-like ripples, but it would alter the landscape of football in the Pac-10. The move at Michigan — and the move that wasn’t, Miles’s decision to remain at L.S.U. — altered the scenarios at several programs in several conferences, on the other hand.
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Tags: L.S.U., Michigan, Nebraska, San Diego State, Stanford
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