Coaching Carousels, Performance Issues, and Expectations

October 19, 2016
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We’re exactly 7 weeks into the 2016 College Football Season and it has been a wild and wonderful ride. We’ve seen underdogs over-perform, favorites flounder, and the first signs of coaches crumbling.

Notre Dame has stumbled out of the gate to the tune of a 2-5 record. Ole Miss, once again thought to be an SEC West contender, now sits at 3-3. Auburn, once left for dead after a 1-2 start sits at 4-2 but with a difficult schedule on tap for the rest of the season. And LSU, after an inauspicious 2-2 start cost Les Miles his job, sits at 4-2, much to the chagrin of the fan base.

What do these teams all have in common? They all have coaches whose seat grows hotter every week as the season unfolds, “less Miles” of LSU who has already exited.

But then there’s the University of Georgia.

After a 2015 season that didn’t meet the expectations of many, Coach Mark Richt was shown the door and the new era of Coach Kirby Smart was ushered in, to great fanfare. The Saban disciple and Defensive Coordinator of many good Tide teams was touted as the savior who could give us the nudge we needed and push the Bulldogs over the top. No more 9 or 10 win also ran seasons for the Clark County faithful with this new hire. It would be peaches and cream and championships galore in Athens.

Admittedly this article should not have been written until the new coach had been on the job for at least a couple of years. But after reading the comments sections in articles that appeared in Bleacher Report, the AJC.com, and other media outlets, I think it is both timely and warranted considering how the season has progressed. And I think it bears noting that there are comparisons we can glean from looking and comparing Georgia and Florida State who have had similar circumstances of losing head coaches and replacing them with unproven talent.

Coach Bobby Bowden of Florida State was forced into retirement after the 2009 season.

From 2006 to 2009 he went 7-6, 7-6, 9-4, 7-6 for a 30-22 record. During this time his recruiting classes were number 6, 24, 13, and 13. There was angst in Tallahassee, and fans and alumni were clamoring for a change. On comes Jimbo Fisher. After going 10-4 and 9-4 in 2010 and 2011 with, essentially, Bowden’s players the former FSU assistant went on a 49-6 tear, including a National Championship after the 2013 season.

This unproven assistant coach, who had tenures at Auburn, LSU, and FSU as a coordinator, has proven himself to be a more than capable head coach.

Coach Richt was forced out at Georgia after last season. From 2012 to 2015 he compiled records of 12-2, 8-5, 10-3, 9-3 for a 39-17 record. During his last 4 years his recruiting classes ranked 8, 12, 8, and 5. In Athens, the rumblings grew deafening and Kirby Smart was hired away from Alabama after a push by South Carolina to get his services. The Bulldogs currently sit at 4-3, with SEC losses to Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Vandy and close calls against Nicholls State and Missouri. Did we need a coaching change after last season? That’s a topic that is as debatable as whether barbeque is best served naked or with sauce. But, clearly, we got one, whether needed or not.

So what does all this mean? First and foremost it means that nothing is a given when hiring a coach with no experience at the helm of a major collegiate program. Fisher started strong out of the gate with what, judging from the recruiting classes, would have been somewhat inferior talent at FSU.

Second, coming from a highly successful program doesn’t guarantee success for a first year head coach. It’s like the disclaimers at the end of an article regarding a company’s vision and performance with regard to their stocks: “Past performance doesn’t mean continued success.”

Third, as that age old saying goes, be careful what you wish for because you just may get it. We got what many asked for. We are reaping the results. Now, we have to live with whatever transpires on the field at Sanford Stadium.

And where do we go from here? Simply put, we endure the rest of this season and the next to see if Coach Smart can right the ship. Judging from the recruiting classes, we should not have a talent deficiency. We do have a first year quarterback, but he’s performing admirably considering he’s had only a handful of starts. There are shortcomings that need to be addressed and I’m sure they will be. But, rookie coaches, like rookie quarterbacks need to have time to season and mature so that the speed of the game slows down for them, too.

Lastly, we need to have patience. Like it or not, impatience is what got us here. We have a vocal portion of the fan base that is, to put it mildly, delusional. They look at other programs, see success (unprecedented in one case), and think “we DESERVE to win a championship. That’s simply immature and childish. 

And we need to always remember this. Football is a game. It’s a game played by 18-23 year old kids. These kids represent our university. Kids can perform in awe inspiring ways or they can struggle in difficult circumstances.

It’s one thing to rail against a head coach, a grown man, who is collecting a paycheck to not only coach our kids but to endure the slings and arrows of the fan base and the press.

It’s quite another to rail against kids, young men who go out on the football field, give their all, and entertain (or frustrate) us on those beautiful fall Saturdays. Let’s keep things in perspective. I mean, what does the Vandy loss really mean? That you may get a little ribbing from a Tech or Auburn fan? And maybe, just maybe, deep down, that’s where most of the angst you read about in the comments section of articles about our team really comes from. Isn’t it? For many, the spoiled children in our midst, they can dish it out but can’t take it.

Until Next Time
I’m Harley Hanesworth

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