story by Chris Rushing
Follow me on Twitter: @rushicw
When Arkansas State athletic director Dean Lee introduced Gus Malzahn as the new ASU head coach last week, he informed Malzahn and the standing-room only audience that “he is my Cam Newton.”
So far, Malzahn’s job choice is one of the more intriguing on the coaching carousel following the 2011 regular season, one that started with scandal at Penn State and has yet to show any signs of slowing down as we approach the Christmas holiday. Malzahn says that Arkansas State was the “right place at the right time” but it’s hard to forget the offensive guru turning down overtures from Vanderbilt and interest from Maryland less than 12 months ago.
If you had told me in August that Malzahn would leave Auburn to become a first-time college head coach, I would not have been shocked at all. If you had told me in August that Garrick McGee would leave the University of Arkansas to become a first-time college head coach, I would have nodded and stated that I consider McGee to be one of the best assistant coaches in the game and he’s done everything to earn his shot.
The fact that these two landed at Arkansas State and UAB, though, is the strangest scenario that I don’t think anyone could have predicted three weeks ago. Something just doesn’t seem right about this.
Malzahn and McGee are tremendous coaches and, by all accounts, outstanding guys. I have no doubts in their abilities to build, maintain and lead programs to championships. I just thought they were going to be able to earn better (on-the-surface) landing spots than Arkansas State and UAB.
Consider this: of all the Bowl Championship Series head coaching positions to open this year, none have been filled with anyone lacking head coaching experience. In this mix are good jobs (Arizona, Texas A&M, Ohio State) and bad ones (Kansas, Washington State), but the fact that Malzahn nor McGee could obtain the automatic qualifier jobs is bizarre compared to what happened in the 2010 version of the coaching carousel.
The hot coordinator aura surrounding guys like Malzahn, McGee and Alabama’s Kirby Smart may have been deflated a bit due to the lack of success shown by former coordinator hot shots Jimbo Fisher and Will Muschamp.
I have every bit of confidence in Muschamp’s abilities as a head coach and think he will be fine after he learns the ins and outs of leading his own program for a little while. The problem is Florida’s a good place to be on a learning curve. The natives in Gainesville aren’t going to be forgiving if these five- and six-loss seasons aren’t avoided in 2012.
Fisher had every opportunity to set the college football world on fire in 2011 but fell way short of lofty preseason expectations. The fact that the Seminoles did not even fully contend for their own division title past the first week in October shows just how much Fisher still has to learn as the head honcho. Like UF, Florida State isn’t a very good learning ground, either.
Until guys like Muschamp and Fisher can gain traction by winning championships, I’m wondering if it will scare some of these athletic directors into taking more of a known commodity (even if it’s a lesser reward-based risk). If that’s the trend, it may also lead to more head-scratching moves like Malzahn-to-Arkansas State and McGee-to-UAB than we’ve grown accustomed to watching the past five years.
Pitt or Penn State could put my theories completely to bed and hire Smart or another big-time college assistant like Paul Chryst at Wisconsin. However, that appears to be turning towards the exception for the immediate future in college football – not the rule.