Loran Smith: High salaries bring high risks in coaching

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Loran Smith: High salaries bring high risks in coaching

Loran Smith
Loran Smith

Already, we are seeing, graphically, the effect that money is having on the coaching profession today.  It is nothing new, but the intensity and the pressure have been ramped up dramatically.  

You win, praise is over the top although there will always be carping and griping.  Lose and mean-spirited alumni put out “For Sale,” signs in your yard.  Not only do passionate alumni and fans want results, but they also want immediate results.





It’s elementary.  Some have it and some don’t, so finding the right coach who can bring about a championship is a monumental challenge.  Think for a minute and spit out the names of Vince Lombardi assistants who made it big when they became head coaches.

The most notable, most would agree, would be Forrest Gregg, who coached the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl in 1981, but lost to San Francisco in Super Bowl XVI.  That was the highlight of his 75-85 won-loss record as an NFL head coach.  Lombardi assistants didn’t blaze any trails.

Bear Bryant had four assistants to become head coaches—Paul Dietzel (LSU), Pat Dye (Auburn), Danny Ford (Clemson and Arkansas) and David Cutcliffe (Ole Miss and Duke).   He had eight former players to get head jobs, the most notable were Charlie McClendon (LSU) Howard Schnellenberger (Miami and Oklahoma) and Gene Stallings (Alabama and Texas A&M).





You could say that by hiring a Bryant disciple, you should have a pretty good chance of success although Schnellenberger and Stallings, who won national championships, were also fired during their careers.

After Harry Mehre upset Yale in the dedicatory game of Sanford Stadium in 1929, there was a hue and cry for him to be given a lifetime contract.  He would then deadpan, “They did and a few years later, they declared me, ‘legally dead.’”

One of those proud proponents that he be given a “forever” contract, was out front eight years later, demanding that he “had to go.”  

Sometimes a coach does not fit a certain situation.  There is nothing wrong about being native to a different section of the country.  While I am an unwavering supporter of Kirby Smart, I am not sure he would be as successful at Wisconsin or Northwestern—except for one thing—he is so competitive and driven that there is the notion that he would succeed anywhere he were to land.

It is easy to conclude that one of the challenges Auburn has is whether or not its football coach fits.   Already, I am hearing that is a question that is being brought up in Baton Rouge.  Does Brian Kelly fit? While I don’t have the answer, the question could be one of concern for the LSU constituency.   

In the old days—dating back to the late thirties—Georgia hired Joel Hunt for the 1938 season.   He almost didn’t make it through the year.  Although he came this way, holding a degree from Texas A&M, he had a peculiar personality, ole timers say, with an ability to offend most everyone he encountered.  

Already, there have been three firings of college coaches and the season is only one quarter finished:  Scott Frost at Nebraska and Geoff Collins at Georgia Tech.  Arizona State got it started by firing Herm Edwards after two games.

How did it not work for Scott Frost?    Born in Lincoln, played at Nebraska, leading his team to a national championship, made several coaching stops, had an undefeated season in 2017 at Central Florida before taking over at his alma mater.

Don’t know what the scuttlebutt purveyors are saying, but I can tell you what went wrong.   He didn’t recruit well enough, and he did not win games in the Bob Devaney, Tom Osborne tradition.   That’s all Nebraska wants.

I’ll always remember the Dan Magill theory for winning: First, he said, you must have the hosses—you can’t win without the hosses.  Secondly, it helps if you have injury good luck.  Next it helps if your key opponents have injury bad luck.  Lastly, he added, you must have coaches who do more good than harm.

It is obvious that there are going to be more in-season firings in the future.  High salaries bring about high risks in coaching, and it will only get worse.





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