As I indicated previously, we are shelving "Don’t Bet On It!" this week and focusing instead on the topic occupying everyone’s thoughts. I wish to repeat for the record that I believe Mark Richt should be and will be the head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs in 2011; I believe Mike Bobo, like Willie Martinez before him, was and is a capable position coach who was promoted past his level of competence; I believe Coach Bobo should be retained as the Bulldogs’ quarterbacks coach, and, even if he keeps the title of offensive coordinator (a post Neil Callaway also nominally held), Coach Richt should take over the play calling duties again. In short, no one should mistake the postings in this series as an indication that this is the sports weblog equivalent of Lyndon Johnson losing Walter Cronkite on Vietnam.
This is what Bulldog Nation is discussing, though, so let’s have the discussion. If the time has come to bring in a new head coach, which candidate is the best choice for the job? We’ve heard from rbarnes and Afghan Dawg, but, before we get to my suggestions, it is important to rule out a few purported contenders who ought not to be on the list. In alphabetical order, these are they:
Derek Dooley (Head Coach, Tennessee). Yes, this idea is completely crazy, but that doesn’t mean some folks aren’t taking it seriously. All right, I get it: his father is a former Bulldog coach and athletic director, and he earned a law degree in Athens. While I believe Coach Dooley fils is a good man and a good coach who will be successful in Knoxville, his family ties to Georgia aren’t reason enough for us to hire him or for him to move. The Tereshinskis have longstanding ties to the program, too, but that shouldn’t have earned Joe T. the starting quarterback job. Besides, there’s no chance Tennessee hired two consecutive coaches so sleazy as to bolt Neyland Stadium after a single season. I wish Derek well in eleven out of twelve games a year, but that’s farther than I’m prepared to go to get everyone’s favorite Kennesaw State Fighting Owl to root for the ‘Dawgs again. Besides, does anyone think Michael Adams would hire Vince Dooley’s son, or that Vince Dooley’s son would work for Michael Adams?
Jon Gruden (ESPN Analyst). Honestly, I think the job description listed in the parentheses ought to be reason enough for disqualifying him, but I suppose it’s obligatory that Coach Gruden be mentioned for any vacancies, in the college ranks or in the NFL, so let’s get on with the business of dispensing with Chucky. First of all, he has no ties to Georgia, there’s no reason to think he’d be interested, and there’s no reason to think he’d be any good at recruiting. (His last college job was in 1991, the year before this year’s entering freshman class was born. His last college job in the SEC was in 1987, the year before Vince Dooley retired from coaching.) Beyond that, no rational person who believes Mark Richt is the problem could possibly believe that Jon Gruden is the solution without engaging in a level of cognitive dissonance akin to that exhibited by flat earthers, Holocaust deniers, and people who think the moon landing was faked. The knock on Coach Richt is that the Bulldogs have experienced diminishing returns under his guidance since the 2002 season produced an SEC championship, but how could anyone who thinks that not see that Coach Gruden produced much more marginal results after a 2002 season that saw him lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl victory? Since that 2002 campaign, Mark Richt has gone 70-26 and Jon Gruden has gone 45-53. Since that 2002 campaign, Mark Richt’s Bulldogs have finished no worse than tied for first in the SEC East three times and Jon Gruden’s Buccaneers have finished first in the NFC South twice. Since that 2002 campaign, Mark Richt has gone 6-1 in postseason play and Jon Gruden has gone 0-2 in postseason play. Since that 2002 campaign, Mark Richt has had no losing seasons and Jon Gruden has had three losing seasons. Yes, Mark Richt has gone 9-9 in the last season and a half . . . but that gives him nine more victories than Jon Gruden has notched during that same span. Jon Gruden wouldn’t be interested, Jon Gruden wouldn’t be a good fit, Jon Gruden wouldn’t be a good hire, and the suggestion that Jon Gruden has shown himself to be superior to Mark Richt as a head coach is, quite frankly, stupid. If anyone tells you we should fire Mark Richt so we can hire Jon Gruden, you should laugh in that person’s face, subject that person relentlessly to massive amounts of public ridicule, and never listen to anything that person says ever again, because that person is an idiot who knows nothing about anything. Of all the moronic ideas that bubble to the surface whenever fan discontent reaches dangerous levels, this is by far the dumbest, until and unless someone suggests hiring Lane Kiffin.
Jim Harbaugh (Head Coach, Stanford). There is no denying that Coach Harbaugh has done an amazing job of turning around the Cardinal program. He would be a fine candidate who would field a winning and exciting football team. However, his tendency to run his mouth and run up scores makes Coach Harbaugh a tad too Spurrieresque for my tastes, and I can’t come up with a reason for believing he would want to coach in the Classic City. He was born in Ohio, he played his college ball at Michigan, the closest he came to a Southern state as an active player in a peripatetic NFL career was a single-season stint with the Baltimore Ravens, and his coaching career has been set entirely in the Golden State except for his days as an assistant at Western Kentucky. Jim Harbaugh is a good coach, but I don’t see him as a good fit for Georgia. Besides, do we really want to be checking box scores every Sunday morning to see whether Rich Rodriguez is on the verge of being fired, for fear that Coach Harbaugh is preparing to bolt Athens for Ann Arbor?
Mike Leach (CBS Analyst). Once again, look at the job description. Even if the Georgia program was in a position to absorb the public relations hit that would come from hiring a head coach who was fired from his previous job in such a controversial fashion (and it isn’t), we haven’t fallen so far that we’re forced to settle for the Red Raiders’ table leavings. It’s no secret that I’m no fan of Mike Leach, who ran his mouth every chance he got but never won a thing. This guy is toxic, and he’s massively overrated as a football coach.
Gus Malzahn (Offensive Coordinator, Auburn). Georgia has had some success hiring Auburn assistants as head coaches, and there’s no arguing with the guy’s resume as a play caller. The Tigers currently rank third in the league in scoring offense, first in the league in total offense, and first in the league in rushing offense. Coach Malzahn is a quality coordinator, but nothing about him says to me "future head coach," at least not at this level. Remember, at this point in his Auburn career, Al Borges looked like a genius, too.
Dan Mullen (Head Coach, Mississippi State). I wouldn’t even have mentioned him if I hadn’t seen him mentioned, but his name is out there, so I have to address it. Coach Mullen has done a good job of reinvigorating the program in Starkville, and he is 1-0 against Mark Richt, but there’s a tad too much hucksterism in his sales pitch. Something about him causes him to come across as an intelligible Ed Orgeron. I don’t see him as a good fit in Athens, and he has a bit of the Jim Harbaugh problem. If we hired him, wouldn’t we be worried about losing him to Florida every time Urban Meyer had to take a Tagamet? I want a guy we know considers Georgia a destination job: Ray Goff did, and Mark Richt does, but Jim Donnan’s wandering eye was irritating and off-putting. I don’t want to go there again, and we certainly don’t need a coach who might adopt an "if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em" attitude toward our biggest division rival.
Will Muschamp (Defensive Coordinator, Texas). If we needed to hire a new head coach and Coach Muschamp was available, he would be my first choice, but we don’t and he isn’t. He’s the head coach in waiting at Texas. The Peach State is an upper-echelon state for high school football talent, and the Bulldogs will get their share of it, but the Lone Star State leads the nation in high school football talent, and the Longhorns enjoy a ridiculous amount of hegemony in local recruiting. Few athletic departments in the country could win a bidding war with Georgia for the services of a coach, but Texas most certainly is one of them. Coach Muschamp, whose coaching career has carried him to Auburn and to Baton Rouge since the end of his playing days in Athens, has found a home in Austin, leading him to joke in interviews that, if he took a job elsewhere, his wife would stay behind. Coach Muschamp is a great candidate, but he ain’t going anywhere. A phone call to Austin would produce only embarrassment and long-distance charges.
Chris Petersen (Head Coach, Boise State). I like Chris Petersen, and I believe he is a good football coach. However, Boise State has not been a launching pad for successful careers at BCS conference schools, as evidenced by Dirk Koetter’s tenure at Arizona State and Dan Hawkins’s tenure at Colorado (at least prior to last Saturday night). Washington and Washington State passed over Coach Petersen, who appears entrenched in Boise. He has no ties to the SEC, unless you count his having won the Bear Bryant Award. Coach Petersen is compensated quite handsomely by the Broncos, and he shows no outward signs of wanting to use BSU as a stepping stone. I’m not sure he’d come, and I’m not sure he’d succeed if he did, so I’m content to wish him well and leave him be.
Tommy Tuberville (Head Coach, Texas Tech). I have to admit that, of the guys on this list who might come if called, Coach Tuberville is the one with whom I would have the least problem. We know he can win in the SEC, and, despite the fact that he was the head coach of our oldest rival, I never had a problem with him, the occasional dig about how Mark Richt needed to learn to run the ball notwithstanding. His association with Auburn doesn’t trouble me in the slightest, given the long history of cross-pollination between our two programs; if anything, the dude deserves credit for (a) being successful in the so-called Loveliest Village and (b) not getting busted by the NCAA for cheating, which is a pretty rare combination for that program. We obviously could outspend Texas Tech, he’d probably like to get back to the SEC, and, given the circumstances under which he parted ways with the Plainsmen, he’d probably have a special incentive to want to beat Auburn, which is a quality I greatly admire in a Georgia head coach. In short, while I don’t think Mark Richt should be let go, I wouldn’t squawk too loudly if Tommy Tuberville succeeded him at the helm. My one quibble with Coach Tuberville is his age; he turned 56 last month, so we’d be lucky to get a decade’s worth of service out of him. Personally, I’d prefer to hire a coach who can be here for the long term. His age, however, is the only knock against Tommy Tuberville, and, if we had to go with a legitimate candidate who’s on this list, he’d definitely be the one.
Kyle Whittingham (Head Coach, Utah). I guess I understand the thought process here; after all, hiring the Utes’ head coach worked out well for Florida, and Coach Whittingham is a former assistant to Urban Meyer who speaks to the Gators’ head coach on a regular basis and has beaten Nick Saban in a BCS bowl game, so the guy’s resume is impressive. However, as Block U’s JazzyUte pointed out to me when I asked him, Coach Whittingham’s ties to Utah run much deeper than Coach Meyer’s did: he’s been on the staff in Salt Lake City since 1994, when he coached under his father, and he twice turned down job offers from BYU, his alma mater, to remain where he is. Coach Whittingham already declined a head coaching post at an SEC school, and the Utes’ upcoming entry into the Pac-12 gives him even less incentive to want to bolt Salt Lake City for another AQ conference. In short, I’m not sure we could get him, and, although he has compiled a resume of success, a part of me just can’t shake the feeling that, as a prospective transplant from a mid-major program to a BCS gig, Kyle Whittingham is a Steve Kragthorpe in waiting. He’s where he needs to be, and we need to leave him where he is.
To repeat, I think Mike Bobo should stick to coaching quarterbacks and Mark Richt should go back to calling plays. If, however, we find ourselves in the position of needing to hire a new head coach, I want to make it clear that none of the above names ought to be on the list. Your thoughts, of course, are welcome in the comments below.
Coming soon: Actual head coaching candidates, in case we have to replace Mark Richt.