There’s not much similarity between beleaguered University of Texas football coach Mack Brown and now-former University of Southern California coach Lane Kiffin, who was fired early Sunday morning.
For one thing, whatever trouble Mack’s been having for the past three years, he’s already shown the world that he can coach, not just at UT—where he rebuilt the program, won a BCS championship, and played for another one—but also at the University of North Carolina.
Whereas Kiffin, while successful as the offensive coordinator of the Trojans’ 2005 team—yes, the one that lost to Texas in the BCS Championship Game—is a three-time head coach failure: with the Oakland Raiders, the University of Tennessee, and now the Trojans. Though it should be noted, as it was by USC athletic director Pat Haden, Kiffin’s efforts were obviously hampered by scholarship restrictions, a result of NCAA violations dating back to that same ’05 squad, and vacated Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush.
That said, because they played each other in that game and because both programs have been in a tailspin, the fate of the two schools this season had already been a topic of discussion. “Back then, it felt as if Pete Carroll’s Trojans might well ‘win forever,'” wrote Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel on September 8. And because they didn’t:
It felt like Texas, being Texas, would keep reloading and rolling for as long as Mack Brown visited recruits in their living rooms.
When Mandel wrote that, he was reacting to UT’s September 7 pasting at the hands of BYU, as well as Washington’s State’s 10-7 win over the Trojans. “This season, the BCS title game will return to the Rose Bowl on Jan. 6,” he noted. “It’s now a foregone conclusion that both [USC and UT] will either be looking for, or will have recently hired, new coaches by that date.”
One down, one to go.
The Kiffin news reverberated back to Austin in two ways, one expected, and one not.
First of all, as Mandel’s SI colleague Andy Staples pointed out, it means that if in fact UT wants to make a change, they may have lost their place in line, even if it’s just via “backchannel contact” with potential hires.
As Staples coolly put it:
USC will get a head start on that other old-money program that likely will need a new coach. Texas seems too dysfunctional at the top to realize what must be done eventually, so the Longhorns will have to play catch-up.
The news also led to unexpected friendly fire from a highly august source: Longhorns legend Earl Campbell, who told Marc Berman of Houston’s Fox affiliate that it was time for Brown to go:
“Nobody likes to get fired or leave a job, but things happen,” Campbell said. “I’d go on record and say ‘yes I think it’s time.’
“I’d just say this, I take my hat off for USC for what they’ve done. They didn’t mess around with it. They just said ‘let’s do it now.’ I think at some point our university’s people are going to have make a decision….”
Campbell said it is not easy for him to call for Brown to be replaced.
“Very hard because Coach Brown is a very good man,” Campbell said. “I just hope he doesn’t stay…he’s done some great things. The program, he brought it back, and we don’t need it to get run down where somebody has to start all over again…”
Campbell also suggested that the 62-year-old Brown may be “too old,” while proposing that fifty-year-old Jerry Gray, a former UT star and Brown assistant who is now defensive coordinator for the NFL Tennessee Titans, might be good as the next coach.
Gray has never been a head coach—or even coached the college game beyond his single season under Brown—so let’s just say it’s probably best that the Tyler Rose is not UT’s athletic director (he is totally qualified to be a regent, however).
Ironically, the USC vacancy may turn out to be a source of far more gossip in College Station than Austin: Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin, who some say jilted both the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and Auburn last off-season, immediately found his name on nearly every list of Trojan possiblities, with Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports citing a “source” who said Sumlin is “near the top of USC’s list.”
Why wouldn’t he be? Sumlin’s not from Texas, and he has already won big (relatively speaking) at an urban school in Houston. He’d be stellar in Los Angeles, especially with the ability to lure recruits from both Texas and California. And, as Travis Haney of ESPN wrote, it might be easier to win a national title coaching in a different conference (and division!) than Alabama and LSU.
Which doesn’t mean that this is ever gonna happen, something Haney also acknowledged in a tweet:
You’re going to hear Sumlin’s name come up for the USC job. My thought: If A&M will pay $450 mill for a stadium redux, it’ll pay its coach.
— Travis Haney (@TravHaneyESPN) September 29, 2013
As Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram wrote, Sumlin “would be foolish to take the ‘SC job right now,” but also, he “would be an idiot not to take the interview.” Engel continued:
Sumlin needs to take this call if for no other reason than to scare the hell out of every single Aggie booster, as well as Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman. You don’t pass on leverage like this. These are the interviews where your salary goes up as well as your assistants, and you secure in writing every single facility toy you want.
As Mandel wrote last night, this is just the new college football (and, let’s face it, Internet journalism, HI!) reality: the hot stove (to use baseball’s term) stays hot even while the schools are playing games:
Combined with the seemingly inevitable forthcoming opening at Texas, virtually every successful coach in the country — Chris Petersen, Kevin Sumlin, David Shaw, Pat Fitzgerald — is now part of the coaching carousel whether they want to be or not.
Seemingly inevitable”—file that one away. Also inevitable, and really, no more or less ridiculous a notion than Alabama coach Nick Saban packing up for Austin: stories that suggest Kevin Sumlin should be the next coach at UT.
(AP Photo/Kim D. Johnson)