Life After College Football: Suffering From Offseason-Itis
If you’re like me, while watching a commercial for Prozac you’ll find that you’re experiencing most of the symptoms that they are describing.
Don’t worry, it’s just the offseason.
The first 75 days are behind us in the college football equivalent of mission control losing contact with a space shuttle as it drifts behind the moon, leaving a room full of scientists nervously waiting for their shuttle to emerge from the other side.
There’s only one thing that can take the edge off of a football fan who is suffering in the offseason: entertain yourself with whatever’s readily available.
If reports of stock market collapse and trillion dollar bailouts don’t provide you with the feeling of a college campus in the fall, take a seat beside me here at mission control; our shuttle is still a long 5 months away.
Now don’t confuse any of this with the idea that there’s nothing going on in the college football world right now, particularly the SEC.
Between battling for the signatures of 18-year-old high school recruits and the personality clashes that have come as a result of some controversial coaching changes, there hasn’t been much peace and quiet to speak of from around the SEC.
What was already a field of multi National Championship-winning coaches has become even tougher with the addition of future NFL Hall of Fame coordinator Monte Kiffin to the University of Tennessee and Gus Malzahn to Auburn University.
While looking at an updated list of the 12 SEC coaching staffs, it gives the feeling of being on the sidewalk of the college football version of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
I must admit that after looking at some of the salaries that a few of the coordinators were making I began to understand why everyone, outside the SEC, thinks we’ve lost complete control of our ability to establish healthy priorities.
Even though I think our priorities are perfectly fine, it will present an awkward situation when my daughter sits on my lap and tells me that she wants to grow up and marry a defensive coordinator.
The University of Tennessee and Auburn University find themselves in a similar situation in 2009. Each of the schools hired a new football coach that brought a lot of questions with them.
In both cases, it was the strength that was placed around the coaches that helped to ease the worries that some of the fans were having.
While Lane Kiffin may not have a proven name in the college football ranks, that is made up for by his determination to make one for himself at the expense of his competition.
He’s competitive, passionate and has developed the habit of using the media to confront his fellow coaches from 500 miles away.
This might be an unorthodox method of confrontation, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining.
With everything that Coach Kiffin has said, nothing has rung louder than how his Vols wrapped up their recruiting class on Feb. 4th.
The new staff, which had only been together for two months, was able to bring in one of the Top 10 recruiting classes in the country.
In a strange twist, on signing day, Kiffin was able to bring Janzen Jackson, a five-star defensive back and Louisiana native, from LSU to Tennessee.
Janzen had committed to LSU early in his senior year, but on signing day, he announced that he was going to wait until the next day before signing his paperwork and sending it in to LSU.
The paperwork never came.
The following day, Kiffin showed why every school in the SEC should take him seriously.
Janzen’s paperwork was signed and faxed to the University of Tennessee.
Kiffin had taken one of the best athletes in the state of Louisiana, and he did it right from under LSU's nose.
Kiffin repeated his performance earlier last week when he landed the No. 1 recruit in the country in Wichita, KS running back Brice Brown.
Brown chose not to make his decision on National Signing Day with the rest of the recruits, and instead took one last look at his remaining choices.
With the wait came much controversy.
Brown has a handler, Brian Butler, and some feel that a high school or college athlete who is involved with a handler is walking a thin line that when stepped over, brings the NCAA to your doorstep.
A “handler” isn’t an agent. An agent gets paid and, in return, makes sure his client gets paid. A collegiate athlete that gets paid is, in actuality, a professional athlete.
In the same way that Peyton Manning can’t bail out his alma mater by coming back to play college ball a high school player can’t play at any school, high school or college, if he's got an agent.
While the NCAA continued to look into the unique situation to make sure no violation have occurred, Brown made good on his promise to announce his decision by March 16th.
He chose to go to the University of Tennessee and become part of the message that Coach Kiffin is sending to all his critics from around the SEC: He can compete for the top talent in the country.
Brown ran for 1,873 yards his senior year, scoring 29 touchdowns, and will almost certainly make an immediate impact as a key player in Kiffin’s hopes of finding success at Tennessee this fall.
Kiffin’s ability to draw the best talent in the country to Tennessee isn’t limited to just high school athletes. He was successful in building a staff around him that was made up of the top coordinators and assistants from around the SEC.
He cherry picked his staff from almost all the other schools, taking whomever he wanted. One by one, he brought them to Knoxville, creating what appears to be one of the toughest staffs from top to bottom in the conference.
And then he began to talk about it.
Kiffin has shown he has no problem giving another team its "bulletin board material." As a matter of fact, it looks like the cork industry will struggle to keep up with production by the time fall gets here.
Kiffin decided to introduce himself to the SEC by openly accusing two-time and current National Champion coach Urban Myer of cheating at a televised breakfast for boosters.
Some coaches might be reluctant to pick a fight with a coach who has won two out of the last three National Championships while returning his Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback to play his senior year.
One thing’s for sure, Kiffin better be able to show something on the field that’s going to pay the debt for the money his mouth has already started spending. A coach like Urban Myer doesn’t appreciate being publicly accused of being a cheater, especially when it ends up being false, as was the case with Kiffin’s accusation.
Shortly after, reports from Alshon Jeffrey, South Carolina’s star wide receiver, surfaced about conversations he had with Kiffin the night before National Signing Day.
Kiffin not aware that he was on speaker phone said that Jeffrey’s would “end up pumping gas for the rest of his life like all the other players from the state who had gone to South Carolina”. Jeffrey was sitting with his coach and team mate when Kiffin made this final plea.
Jeffrey’s letter was faxed in to South Carolina early the following morning.
Though Auburn is in a similar situation, Gene Chizik has taken a slightly milder approach to establishing himself among the already-proven coaches of the SEC.
After a dysfunctional spread offense unraveled right before Tommy Tubberville’s eyes in 2008, athletic director Jay Jacobs was forced to make some changes with the coaching staff.
After firing “spread guru” Tony Franklin, Jacobs had hoped the bleeding would stop. When it didn’t, nobody’s job was safe, starting at the top.
The entire staff was fired in the offseason, except for linebackers coach James Willis.
Willis was let go, but fans breathed a sigh of relief when news began to spread that he would be asked to come back. He had played at Auburn in college and has had a successful coaching career down on the plains.
There was only one problem: Willis didn’t want to come back.
He would ultimately accept his job back but with two weeks left before National Signing Day, Willis took a position as a linebackers coach at another University, but not just any University.
He accepted a job with in-state rival, the University of Alabama.
Alabama travels to Auburn this year for the Iron bowl on Nov. 28. What was already a bitter meeting between the two teams will have a much more personal sting as Willis comes back home, dressed in crimson and white, choosing to stand on the opposite sideline as Auburns most hated opponent.
As for Chizik, this isn't his first time down on the plains. He spent the '02-'03 and '03-'04 seasons with the Tigers as their defensive coordinator.
But Chizik's welcome back was far from warm. Controversy almost immediately surrounded the University when it was announced that he was hired.
Fans were upset that Chizik, whose record at Iowa State was less than impressive, was hired while more qualified coaches were being passed up, namely Turner Gill.
Gill had taken the University of Buffalo from the doormat of NCAA football to the Mid-American Conference Champions in only three years and seemed very interested in taking the job at Auburn.
Chizik was 5-19 over his two seasons as head coach at Iowa State, but Auburn gave him the job.
Like Tennessee’s Kiffin, Chizik found success in pulling in a top ranked recruiting class with very little time to prepare.
He landed the Tigers a top 20 class and boosted the confidence of those who were feeling weary from the long year they had watched unravel.
When all of the dust has settled, out of the top five recruiting classes in the country, three of them will be playing SEC football this fall.
If that's not enough, one-third of America’s top 100 recruits chose the SEC to showcase their collegiate careers.
Only two schools in the SEC finished outside of the top 25 in the 2009 recruiting class and both of them, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, won their bowl games.
Trent Richardson will try to add to the reputation of that Alabama has established with their power running backs. Reuben Randle will attempt to live up to what everyone in Louisiana expects and hopes that he is. Chizik is looking to start fresh and hopes his reputation didn’t make the trip to Auburn with him.
Florida will go for its third National Championship in four years, and Lane Kiffin will begin the process of having to prove on the field what he promises off of it.
With 5 slow months ahead of me, the only hope I can cling to is a couple of televised spring games and the chance that spring practice will present a few opportunities for Coach Kiffin to get in front of a camera.
If not, then I’ll just take my seat back here at mission control, sitting with nerves that are shot, waiting for us to finally regain contact and wondering why it’s taking so long.
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