By Sam Burnham
The coaching carousel hasn't really started turning yet but the custodians have begun dusting off the horses.The scary thing is the number of those custodians - the multitude of disgruntled fans who have never worked on a college coaching staff for as much as an hour - get this carousel warmed up every year and once it starts spinning, you never know who all will wind up on the thing.
Let me start with a few disclaimers:
1) College football coaches are human beings. Discussing the carousel involves their livelihoods and the ways they provide for their families.
2) Coaches who enter into that profession understand how the carousel spins before they ever take that first job.
3) At ABG CFB, both Curator and Coach have been around that carousel. We know what it means both personally and professionally. Any perspectives we offer here will be offered with those experiences in mind.
My biggest points right now are surrounding the first two men to get in line this season - Tennessee's Butch Jones and Florida's Jim McElwain. For good or ill, both of these coaches might as well pick a horse and climb aboard. They're in their last seasons at their respective schools. Both of these coaches have seen success elsewhere. McElwain has even seen some success at Florida. But both of these coaches have also ha some rough seasons as well, especially this one. And both are in programs that do not tolerate mediocrity, much less disaster. Both were also sent in to lead teams out of disasters caused by previous carousel rotations.
These men are also good examples of the dangers posed by the carousel. Tennessee and Florida fired coaches Derek Dooley and Will Muschamp, respectively. Dooley and Muschamp seem to be talented assistant coaches Neither seems to be in the mold of a head coach. Big colleges have gotten into the habit of canning their losing coaches and replacing them with coaches having big seasons at smaller or at least less storied programs. The new coaches are paraded around, big promises are made. Huge contracts with ridiculous buyout are signed. The new guys are given 2-3 years to fix problems made over 5-19 years and then the buyouts are activated and the coach is sent spinning again. Sometimes, as appears to be the case with McElwain, the school finds a loophole to not hold up their end of the bargain.
Seeing a tweet of a video of Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell this morning reinforced this idea and led me to this post. The 37 year old is in his sixth season as a head coach, his second with the Cyclones, and is taking Iowa State to places few expected them to go - Including yesterday's upset of #4 TCU. In his speech I can hear his methodology. I can see how he is getting this done. But Iowa State lured him from Toledo and I know the Tennessees, Floridas, and Mississippis of the world are licking their chops. I can see some team luring him away from Ames with a big contract, a big buyout, and promises of Power 5 glory. And I can also see the "5 Star" prima donnas who frequent those schools not buying into his simple team concept and opting for personal glory instead. Then we see the coach's star fall from the heaven, his buy out paid off and his next carousel ride.
Again, a coach knows the job. He knows the risks and the rewards. He knows that his job security is small and dependent on factors beyond his control. I just wish the process was more authentic. I wish it wasn't so predatory. I wish coaches like Matt Campbell had the opportunity to educate young men in football and life and find success in both. Hopefully he will. But the carousel spins again and again. We'll talk much more about that in coming weeks.