The 2011 Locksley: Trophy Presentation
By Paul Myerberg // Dec 11, 2011
I think the axe has stopped falling, meaning there shouldn’t be another firing in the F.B.S. until 2012. But never say never: June Jones might have aggravated S.M.U. with his recent dalliance with Arizona State, and there may be an influential — and rich — booster in Maryland willing to pony up to pay for a buyout for Randy Edsall and his overpaid staff. Don’t wait on either event coming to pass. The end of firing season means it has now become Locksley award season, and it’s time to hand out the hardware. Please note that no actual hardware exists.
Last year’s selection was the coach behind the name: Mike Locksley, though not yet relieved of his duties, took home the 2010 Locksley — though it didn’t yet carry that title — in a landslide. He received the award for his mishandling of his duties on and off the field, losing games on Saturday and the hearts and minds of his players, supporters and fans from Sunday to Friday.
The qualifications are simple. To win the Locksley, a coach needs to have overcome all the odds by overcoming none of the odds. By underperforming between the white lines. By running a program into the ground. By failing where others have succeeded. By doing enough to be have placed his job in jeopardy.
But a coach doesn’t have to lose his job to qualify for the award. Unfortunately, there’s a long list of candidates. Among those who didn’t make the cut to the final five is Washington State’s Paul Wulff, whose four-win finish pushed his career record in Pullman to 9-40. Also missing the cut: Rick Neuheisel, Robb Akey, Steve Fairchild, Bob Toledo, Dan Enos and Rick Stockstill.
The five finalists share a losing record, a losing culture and the general sense that not one had an idea what he was doing in 2011. The record is the least important factor behind a coach’s Locksley candidacy, trailing the general idea that a program could have done far better with someone else in charge — that the coach, not the players, is at fault for a disappointing finish. And now, the five finalists, in order of finish:
5. Neil Callaway, U.A.B. (Last ranking: No. 1)
2011 record 3-9
Overall (since 2007) 18-42
Callaway was fired one day after his team lost to then-winless Florida Atlantic to finish 3-9, the program’s second-worst finish under his watch. There seemed as if there was a time, back in 2009, that the Blazers were on the right track. Then came last fall, a four-win finish, followed by this year’s disappointment. Callaway held the top spot for much of the year, but he’s bumped down to the back end of the finalists because of the undeniable fact that Callaway was never going to make it work.
U.A.B. was forced into hiring him in the first place, and the support from the university, university system and fan base was never there to help Callaway bring the Blazers into Conference USA contention. Nevertheless, in the fifth year of his tenure — when things are supposed to be working — Callaway and the Blazers lost six games by 17 or more points. The worst? A 49-10 home loss to Tulane.
4. Rob Ianello, Akron (Last ranking: No. 6)
2011 record 1-11
Overall (since 2010) 2-22
Ianello lasted two seasons, posted two wins and couldn’t have been fired fast enough. Really, Akron couldn’t wait: while he had been informed that the season finale would most likely be his last game with the program, the university called Ianello while he was en route to his mother’s funeral to make the move official. Blame Akron for poor timing, but don’t blame Akron’s decision. Well, blame Akron for hiring Ianello in the first place.
His team posted matching 1-11 records over the last two years; in 2011, that one win came over an F.C.S. opponent. And there you have it: Ianello proved that it is actually possible to regress from a one-win season. By all accounts, there was very little support for bringing Ianello back to the Zips in 2012. So why doesn’t he top the list? Because Akron should have known better. Ianello was in over his head on the day he was hired, and there was little reason to expect him to have the Zips battling for bowl play in only his second season.
3. Larry Porter, Memphis (Last ranking: No. 5)
2011 record 2-10
Overall (since 2010) 3-21
Second verse, same as the first. Like Ianello, Porter was hired because of his perceived dominance on the recruiting trail. Such a talent is all well and good when an assistant, such as Porter was at L.S.U., but being good in the living room matters for naught when trying to lead an F.B.S. program. Porter never had a chance. Neither did his team, which seemed permanently deflated after a 38-31 loss to Middle Tennessee State on Oct. 1. When all was said and done, Memphis lost at least 10 games for the third straight year.
But there were a few signs of competitiveness. A win, even. If the ball had bounced the Tigers’ way, this team might have won five games. Does that make Porter look better or worse? Not to say there weren’t bad losses: by 44 points to Arkansas State, 42 points to S.M.U. and 41 to U.C.F., all in 2011. Porter’s career record of one-sided losses looks even worse. And more than anything, Porter’s strategy of cleaning house, running off incumbent players in favor of his own recruits, backfired miserably.
2. Frank Spaziani, B.C. (Last ranking: No. 2)
2011 record 4-8
Overall (since 2009) 20-19
Spaziani’s problems started in 2009, when he compiled a debut staff of assistants woefully unqualified to maintain Boston College’s level of success over the previous decade. Attempts to rectify this situation have failed, most notably in the February hiring of former Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers, who lasted two games before taking a leave of absence. Injuries, failed coaching moves, failed coaching decisions and a poor job on the recruiting trail took their toll in 2011, as the Eagles suffered their worst finish in a generation.
Some of the blame falls on the B.C. athletic department; those in charge did opt for Spaziani in 2009 rather than look outside the program for a stronger candidate. But Spaziani has been incredibly unimpressive, from in-game decisions to general roster decisions, and the buck stops at his desk. Taking a program on a string of 11 straight bowl berths to four wins? That’s fairly deserving of a Locksley, no?
1. Houston Nutt, Mississippi (Last ranking: No. 5)
2011 record 2-10
Overall (since 2008) 24-26
It wasn’t that long ago that Nutt had the Rebels in the Cotton Bowl. Then he did it again, seemingly ushering in a new era of football in Oxford. Perhaps 2010 was an aberration, some thought, due to a failed transfer and injuries at some key spots. No one could have suspected 2011’s disaster, which is a hallmark of a coach’s Locksley push.
The Rebels lost 10 games for the first time in program history. Such a statement does suggest that it’s a feat not even Ed Orgeron was able to accomplish, which says quite a bit. The Rebels went winless in SEC play for the second time since 1983, joining Orgeron’s 2007 masterpiece. In all, the Rebels have lost 14 straight conference games, a new program record.
Nutt’s team lost to Vanderbilt by 23 points, the program’s largest margin of defeat in the series since 1930. They lost to Louisiana Tech by 20 points — at home. The Rebels scored two touchdowns in November. In all, Mississippi scored 11 touchdowns in eight SEC games.
The Rebels finished 11th in the SEC in passing, scoring and total offense; they finished 10th in rushing. The Rebels finished last in the SEC in rushing, scoring and total defense. This was not a vintage SEC: this was an average SEC when held against the league’s recent past.
And most of all, Nutt’s team was not supposed to crash and burn in such a fashion. Houston Nutt: 2011 Locksley winner.
There he is, your Locksley choice
There he is, your albatross.
The nightmare of any coach,
Whose record is less than pretty,
Can come true in Mississippi!
For he may turn out to be…
The true king of mediocrity!
Congratulations to all the nominees and the five finalists. For those who return in 2012, there’s always next year.
Week 10 list Neil Callaway, No. 1
Week 9 list Frank Spaziani, No. 1
Week 8 list Frank Spaziani, No. 1
Week 7 list Frank Spaziani, No. 1
Week 6 list Rick Neuheisel, No. 1
Week 5 list Rick Neuheisel, No. 1
2010 Mike Locksley, New Mexico
2011 Houston Nutt, Mississippi
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Tags: Frank Spaziani, Houston Nutt, Larry Porter, Neil Callaway, Paul Wulff, Rob Ianello, The Locksley
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