Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Todd Graham and wife on private plane on way to Arizona State

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why the age bias?

Gaddabout returns with a follow up to his earlier article Why ASU needs a young coach and staff, which generated an unusually high number of comments.

Many of you have responded to my previous post. I will do my best to address my point of view on salaries as a response in that thread when I have time later in the day. I felt I needed more space here to explain my perspective about my preference for a young coach.

It’s not an age bias as much as it’s a perspective bias. Established head coaches have their own staffs and their own systems. It’s very unlikely they’re going to take input into how they run the program, and that’s a problem unless you’re hiring someone who already understands the unique challenges at ASU.

It requires a lot of money to hire a coach of good reputation, and ASU needs something else besides reputation. It does ASU no good if they receive a positive press conference review in the media only to be in the same position five years down the road. In the 31 years since Kush was forced out, ASU’s had six coaches and average about six wins a year. It’s time ASU worry most about getting it right more than winning the press conference. Instant perception should not matter. Selling a few thousand more seasons tickets next year pales in comparison to how many more tens of thousands season tickets the right coach will sell over the course of 10 or 20 years.

Why is that important? Because ASU isn’t just any school. It’s not any program. It’s not plug-and-play Top 25 football here, but I believe that’s the presumption with which we’ve been hiring coaches since Kush left.

It’s not enough to say ASU has to establish itself in recruiting. You have to say where. There have been three head coaches post-Kush that understood how to recruit for this program – Darryl Rogers, Bruce Snyder and Dennis Erickson – and only one of them understood the extreme nature of the problem (Rogers). You have to own turf in SoCal and the best 6 or 7 recruits in Arizona to compete at the highest level. Rogers said USC could take the best 5 recruits in this region and he’d take the next 25. If there were one line to explain ASU’s mission, that would be it. In this age that requires a whole staff dedicated to acquiring the best talent. It’s not a burden that can be carried in the majority by two coaches. Not anymore.

We’ve already tried experimenting under Cooper and Marmie in Texas, the Midwest jucos, and specifically Chicago. Those staffs had some very good recruiters who did a great job finishing second and third on key recruits. Meanwhile, the local contacts withered and Washington and Oregon cashed in on ASU’s absence in SoCal and even in Arizona.

You also have to supplement with the strong Arizona and SoCal JCs, you just can’t afford to have such major deficiencies that you’re constantly counting on juco transfers to fill key positions such as left tackle or defensive tackle. The success rate of a juco player – even a mid-year transfer – is very low. They’re best served as depth chart fillers for the four-year players you’ve recruited and had in your system from the start. If you’re taking more than 5 a year, you’re putting ASU’s program in peril.

Are there exceptions? Absolutely. Pete Carroll was pure enthusiasm and positive energy when he took over USC at 50. He was a rare gem of a hire that people mocked until he had two years to really get the program moving forward. The common myth seems to be that Carroll wowed recruits with his NFL pedigree, but that’s just not reality. Carroll had two things working for him as a head coach: He had superstar SoCal recruiters on his staff like Ed Orgeron, and he himself was the rare head coach recruiter with charisma to spare. He also understood the culture and could speak the language, in the same way Bobby Bowden understood the South and could recruit the entire region at Florida State. Recruiting involves three important things: 1) Relationship, 2) relationship, and 3) relationship. Carroll understand that in an intuitive way. He never had to think about it. It’s hard-wired into his personality.

Show me someone like that, who’s pure charisma in a coach’s shirt, who gets the culture, and who understands the unique challenges at ASU, and I don’t care what the age of the coach is.

An age isn’t an issue if you have someone like Rogers or Snyder, who came with strong California pedigrees and had a rebuilding plan that matched ASU’s needs. Without any choices like those two on the list, the coaching search requires more vetting and an explicit explanation of what works and what doesn’t at ASU. It requires finding a coach who will listen and learn before hard-coding the program agenda, and hire a staff with the energy to pull it off.

Can you make a mistake on a young coach? Absolutely.

I maintain high respect for Dirk Koetter. I still think he was one of the best offensive minds in college football while he was here and the man knows how to run a staff and a program in a general sense. How he relates to his players was a separate issue, but that’s a much more difficult thing to judge from the outside looking in. And I maintain there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with his commitment to the 4-2-5 defense; it’s worked with phenomenal success at TCU for years.

Koetter’s teams were always so close, full of “if onlys.” If only they hadn’t missed three years straight on this position or that position. If only they had one more X or another Y. There was just enough talent and execution to tease you, but fall apart against the best teams – usually the California teams. It created the perception that Koetter’s X’s and O’s were only fit for mid-major football, but that defies the reality that Koetter’s offense was well-steeped in the NFL one-back tradition, and ASU did in fact switch to a conventional 4-3. No, the one major drawback was holes in the recruiting. Small holes that became big holes over several classes, and those same holes that became canyons on the depth chart in Erickson’s second and third years.

When Koetter left, he uttered his famous assessment of ASU: “It’s not what it looks like from the outside.” Or something to that affect. And he was right, to a degree. I suspect he came here with the same assumption most people make about ASU, that the facilities, the weather, the size of this market would make it easy to recruit. He found out the hard way that it’s much more complex than that: Arizona weather is not the easiest sell to kids in California and Dallas and Houston are MUCH farther away than they look on the map the moment you ask kids to move here. There is no natural deep well of recruiting for this school, and the margins for resources spent are thin. This is potentially a very good job, but it’s not an easy one, and the constant churn of head coaching turnover shows a history of coaches who simply don’t understand the program.

I’m not trying to sabotage the school or strong-arm administration by writing this. I’m merely speaking out now based on my 35 years of intense observation of what works at ASU and what doesn’t. I believe I had an epiphany during Koetter’s years about what makes this program tick, and only now do I see an advantage to shouting my point of view as loudly as possible. I’m wholesale convinced that ASU needs to do something radical, something different to change the culture.

But neither am I going to automatically indict any coach ASU hires. Once that guy gets to the podium, I’ll be everywhere returning to my evangelist role for the program. Every new hire gets the benefit of the doubt from me because every new hire deserves the chance to prove doubters wrong. And I will not hesitate to admit it if I’m wrong. I hope all of you feel the same way. This is not the NFL. College football is family, and you always support your family even when you disagree.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Why ASU needs a young coach and staff

Today's guest author is Gaddabout, a long-time friend of Wired Devils. This article was originally posted to the Sun Devil Message Board.

Reality check.

Howard Schnellenberger forever changed the game of college football, and he doesn't get his due credit. Before Schnellenberger (BS), the head coach was God of college football, and you could build a program pretty much anywhere. Even in the middle of the desert. Frank Kush would show up with a station wagon full of starving west Pennsylvania kids just trying to get away from bleak future in mining. Later in, he learned to steal kids out of LA and Dallas to supplement, along with making sure there was no stone unturned in places like Morenci and Ajo and Florence. A coach could do that back then because there were plenty of secrets to be kept, and could be kept.

After Schnellenberger (AS), we have an oligarchy of programs with the most money, centrally located near the best recruits, supported by recruiting staffs that are the envy of corporate headhunting culture. It's a science now. And there are no secrets that can be kept. If there's an athlete in some desolate Kansas town, he's in a database somewhere and he's going to be sent a letter from someone.

Miami was about to kill their football program when Schnellenberger stepped in. He noted that Alabama was winning national championships with Florida players, many of them right out of Miami's backyard. And Schnellenberger would know. He was Bear Bryant's offensive coordinator at Alabama in the early 60s and a big-time recruiter -- he recruited Joe Namath to Alabama. He also brought with him a pro-style passing game, honed as Bob Griese's offensive coordinator during Miami's undefeated season, but that's another story.

Schnellenberger's rapid turnaround because of keeping Miami recruits home in Miami forever changed college football culture. ESPN, a new thing, made sure of it. It's the kind of inside info they knew the fans wanted. Suddenly the average fan began to become aware of Dade County recruiting. Then they became aware of SoCal, east Texas, Ohio, etc. People everywhere started to learn about how Penn State thrived on recruiting New Jersey. Kids of Louisiana dockworkers were no longer looking for opportunity wherever they could get it -- every school in the country knew who they were and wanted them to come to their school.

This is a different game now than when I first started following. And ASU is much less of a sleeping giant. Why? Because:
  • They don't have a built-in home-state recruiting advantage, partially because it's still not big enough, and partially because you have to large athletic programs feeding on it. Compare that to, say, LSU, where they're the alpha dog in a state with comparable (or often better) talent, and you get a different picture.
  • That weather advantage I often hear about? It's an awesome sales pitch to a kid in Chicago, who would love nothing more than a free trip to Tempe while he makes his college plans for Notre Dame, where his family can still come see him play. It's actually a DISadvantage within the region ASU needs to make a pitch, like San Diego or LA County, where they see us as slightly crazy for wanting to live here.
  • The name ASU built in the 70s and 80s is completely washed away. Think about this: The kids ASU is recruiting right now were born in 1994. They were 3 years old when Jake Plummer was leading ASU to the Rose Bowl. They have no idea who Danny White or Frank Kush is. There are likely only three things they know about ASU football right now: They have cool new uniforms, the girls are unbelievably hot, and Dennis Erickson just got fired.

ASU has to start over. Right now, it's name is on-par with mid-majors. It's a secondary or tertiary thought on the minds of the kids they need to steal from SoCal to get the program even close to where we want it to be. There are no built-in advantages to ASU other than MAYBE facilities, where it enjoys some status for the next few years.

Here's something else to think about: ASU is offering what has become the middling price for a head coach, about $2.5. That's pretty much mid-major money for a head coach. Sure, it's still probably in better half of all salaries, but not if you consider what it would take, say, Washington to replace their coach right now. If they wanted Sarkisian right now, they would have shelled out about $3.5 million. We are not even in the same area code as the Top 20 programs. That's the cost of doing business, and we're not capitalized well enough to expand into that kind of competition.

ASU has to go young, even if it means hiring a coordinator. That's what ASU can afford, and it's what it really needs, because this program is starting over. We can pretend it's still 1984 and ASU really is a sleeping giant. Or we can really look long and hard at reality and accept the failure started about 30 years ago, and we've merely been repeating that failed history over and over ever since.

It's time to do something new and bold.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chris Karpman: History Lesson/Reminder

The best reporting of the coaching search has come from Well worth the price of a subscription. (And no, I don't get a cut!) Chris Karpman posted this to The Gold Rush message board on Tuesday 12/6 and kindly agreed to allow me to share it for all to read.

People here know that I've been around the Herb Sendek program for 5 years and what that means. It's with that knowledge that I'd like to pass along this story, which is absolutely true in its details according to multiple direct participants I have spoken with subsequent to the initial reporting those 5 years ago.

When ASU fired Rob Evans Lisa Love immediately targeted Pitt coach Jamie Dixon and did the hypothetical offer dance ('We'd probably consider an offer at X if you were willing to accept an offer at X, hypothetically'), Dixon played it for all it was worth, teased ASU badly with his expression of interest only to use the opportunity to renegotiate with Pitt.

Subsequent to that, Love made a strong play for Rick Majerus and even made a tentative offer subject to his passing a physical, which he did not pass and is the reason he didn't end up coaching at ASU (he was coming off leg surgery, travel was a major problem for recruiting etc., plus his weight/heart issues, which he fully admitted to after the fact).

These things were reported by us at the time, some conventional media scoffed at it, but they were very true and people who were here on the site remember this probably or do now after having their memory jogged by this re-telling.

At any rate, ASU was using a head hunter at the time (a different one, not the one being used in this search) and it was the head hunter who made contact with Sendek and only then did Sendek decide that he was willing to considering jumping ship. It was kind of a quick thing that happened and was an emotional type of thing. He was dramatically under-appreciated at NC State in his estimation and others who coached with him at the time. In his last season at the school they'd gone 22-10 and 10-6 in the ACC and there was a large segment of the community that wanted him fired. And this was upon his fifth straight NCAA post-season berth.

So Lisa Love did not target Sendek, far from it. She became alerted to his availability only after the search had begun and only after she'd struck out with Dixon and Majerus -- though Majerus wasn't her fault in one sense (health) even though someone could argue he shouldn't have been a target for that reason in the first place.

When Love was at the press conference announcing Sendek's hiring, she said that Sendek was the first coach she offered the job to -- among other things -- which may have been factually true, but didn't speak to the chaotic nature of the search. It was an effort -- and this of course is what an athletic director would do -- to make everything appear as if it had gone smoothly and been under control.

It really wasn't though.

The reason I tell this story is two-fold. One, it's to show that no matter what Love or the others might say at the end of this process, it doesn't necessarily mean that's the reality of how things actually transpired in a literal sense. Perhaps more importantly, two, it tells me that not enough was learned by Love via that experience given the way this coaching search has unfolded.

When you're doing this job extremely well as athletic director, you are constantly researching prospective candidates, keeping files on guys, talking to coaches around the country, asking them who the best coaches are, the best bright minds, the things it takes to succeed. You're talking to the assistant coaches that have been in your program and left and the reasons why, the past head coaches not just when you were the AD but even before that to understand the destabilizing dynamics involved and what needs to happen to address them in the future.

And most importantly, when you have all that knowledge in front of you in your files and you know all of the top candidates you'd like to target should you elect to make a move on your job, you know their buyout status, their willingness to leave their job for your and how you can achieve that aim through direct and indirect means. You have your target list clearly delineated, your goals well articulated and understood by yourself and those you're working with.

It's readily apparent to me that there is no such level of comprehension and diligence that has been made by her or in the athletic department on her behalf in this instance -- and this is clear in a multitude of ways -- and when that's the case, there is assurance that your job of finding the next coach will be less inclined to success than if the preparation is excellent.

Where we are at here is a guy ASU brought into the equation who is a true outsider -- headhunter Bob Beaudine -- in terms of real understanding of ASU's culture and what the program truly needs in the wake of Dennis Erickson's dismissal. Yes, he knows several people on high close to the athletic department well who also went to SMU, and maybe they can tell Beaudine their view of what's going on, but it's not the same. It is not nearly the same.

You can't know the smell of the air based on how someone describes it to be. You have to go and smell the air yourself.

Lisa Love seemingly does not understand that history must be learned from. Steve Patterson is not to blame. He's not been here long and isn't a football guy who should be responsible for knowing all these things and the culture of ASU. Michael Crow is responsible because he has to ensure that plan of attack has been in place in the event of this for not just days, not just weeks, not just months, but years.

Have the target list. Know whom you can get at a bare minimum and how that can be accomplished and make sure that it's someone who embodies the characteristics and traits that you profess to want -- June Jones is a person I've spoken with many coaches about in recent days and the positives are clear and the negatives are as well, and many of the negatives are the same things that would be in the Dennis Erickson category; the things that Love has professed to want to not worry about with the next coach -- and know your approach and order and how the candidates would be responded to by the community you're responsible for selling him to.

Smell the air around this community and you know that Jones isn't the hire that would in any way resonate with your booster support or strongly address your stated goals in terms of addressing the cultural issues that ultimately derailed Erickson's tenure.

In short, know the smell of the wind and the way that it blows or it just might catch you under your sails and sweep you right out of town.

This article ©2011 Reproduced by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Guest author: Defending June Jones

By @a_zone. The views expressed in this article don't match my own opinion, but I wanted to give the author a forum to express his point of view.

NOTE: ASU’s head coaching search is constantly in motion, so much so that I started writing this on Sunday night [December 4] and it is already probably irrelevant. Still, this is my defense if June Jones gets hired by ASU, which seems less likely to happen as of this morning.

I see you ASU fan, I see you on the ledge. I know what put you there, the thought of ASU hiring June Jones as their head coach. I'm here to talk you off the ledge. I understand why you are there, but I believe you are there for faulty reasons.

I know why you are down. You've had dreams of Kevin Sumlin dancing in your head this holiday season. You spent a week reading rumors that Sumlin was practically on his way to ASU, only to have the rug pulled out from under you by Texas A&M. ASU has turned their attention to other coaches, with June Jones leading in the clubhouse. To you he is a “retread” an “old guy” and “another Erickson.” But let me tell you what he really is . . . Kevin Sumlin 10 years form now.

In my opinion, the only argument for Sumlin over Jones is age. Jones is in his late 50s, Sumlin in his late 40s. Don't bring Houston's 12-1 record this year into play, because I'll just counter with Hawaii's 12-1 record and BCS bowl appearance in 2008. But Hawaii didn't play anyone, you say? Well, take a gander at Houston's schedule this year.

Let me tell you what June Jones has done: rebuilt awful programs. People point to his 23-28 record at SMU as “average,” I see it as a borderline miracle. Since its death penalty in the late 80s, SMU had gone 58-153 since Jones' arrival. Take out Jones' first year with an awful team (1-11) and his record at SMU is 22-17. Still not impressed? I give you the 1999 Hawaii Warriors, who were 0-12 when June Jones took over and went 9-4 with a bowl victory the very next year. He also led Hawaii to back-to-back 11 win seasons and a BCS appearance.

Jones is known for being a disciple of the Run & Shoot offense, which is sort of a pre-cursor to today’s spread offenses. His offense is QB friendly, just ask Timmy Chang and Colt Brennan. From his days at Hawaii and SMU, he has experience recruiting in California and Texas - which is vital for someone coaching at ASU.

June Jones’ isn’t a sexy hire, but people are confusing “not sexy” with “terrible,” which simply isn’t true. Jones is a hell of a coach, and I would love to see what he could do with a BCS school with an existing talent base. Jones has spent his entire college career turning terrible programs into above average ones, it’s time for him to turn an average program into a great one.

Also, when UofA fans make fun of the hire, you can just tell them that the last Pac-10(12) coach from Hawaii was their beloved Dick Tomey. What's their comeback to that?