There was a general consensus that Oklahoma was going to win the Fiesta Bowl. That being said, it wasn’t like UCONN rolled over. The Huskies rallied late in the season, winning four straight and entering their first BCS bowl in school history. They were playing in honor of the late Jasper Howard, who dreamed of making it to a BCS game.
Obviously, the loss left UCONN heavy hearted. They were simply outclassed by a bigger, faster, and significantly more talented Oklahoma team. One would think a loss of that magnitude would give Head Coach Randy Edsall a lot to think about. But apparently, he digested all the facts pretty quickly; leaving the Huskies for the University of Maryland literally 24 hours after losing in the Fiesta Bowl.
Edsall described the Terps’ opening as a “Dream Job.” But that doesn’t change the fact that the move surprised college football fans on every end of the spectrum. First, Maryland spent more than two million dollars just to terminate the contract of Ralph Friedgen. With that kind of money spent on the firing of a coach that went 8-4; the overwhelming assumption was that Maryland was getting a major coach. Names tossed around included Chris Petersen and Mike Leach.
But perhaps more interesting is where Maryland stands in the ACC. Maryland does not make nearly as much money from their football program as the rest of the ACC (sans Duke and Wake Forest). If anything, Edsall made a lateral move, to a strikingly similar modern program. The only real difference is the conference. And this is something the Big East has had a lot of trouble getting used to.
In 2006, Bobby Petrino led the Louisville Cardinals to a BCS game for the first time in the school’s history, and then unceremoniously left to coach the Atlanta Falcons (who he also departed from in controversial fashion). The next year, Rich Rodriguez led West Virginia, an offensive juggernaut with White and Slaton into the BCS, before ditching his alma mater for another maize and blue team. Last year, Brian Kelly literally left the Bearcats coach-less for their BCS game, in order to fill the void at Notre Dame.
So let’s add this up. In the last five years, four teams have won the Big East. All four of those teams’ coaches left, resulting in absolute chaos throughout the conference. And even though all of these coaches are doing it to seek greener pastures, there are two things that are worth mentioning. First, with the exception of Bobby Petrino, who somehow landed on his feet in Arkansas, the departed Big East coaches have had significant problems in their new environments, both on and off the field. Second, and more important, is the rate of exchange.
Since the 2005 departure of football powerhouses Miami, Boston College, and Virginia Tech, there is no other conference that has experienced coaching turnover quite like the Big East. In a country where football is the money sport, the Big East is literally the only major conference that has built itself around basketball success. Interestingly enough, the ACC’s decision to acquire BC, Virginia Tech, and Miami, were part of initiative to make the ACC a football conference again.
Try as they may, the Big East is not in a position to do that. Notre Dame has flat out refused to join the conference, so the Big East instead reached out to TCU, a school more than halfway across the country. TCU’s departure officially spells doom for the Mountain West, but also doesn’t do anything for the Big East. Because instead of moving to a conference where you can be a BCS team at-large with such a successful season, TCU has put themselves in a position where they can lose five regular season games, and still make the BCS. Hell, if an undefeated Cincinnati couldn’t get National championship consideration, you can be certain that TCU won’t either. And it’s simply because the focus is not on football.
Now, the truth is, that’s not always a huge problem. Football is literally six times more expensive to operate than the next most expensive college sport. So if you are the Big East, and basketball is the big ticket, it’s probably not a terrible idea to ride the basketball wave. The only problem is, coaches know that too.
Yesterday, I spoke to a former National Champion Football player at Boston College about the series of Big East exits, and his response was simple. “If you put every Head Football Coach from the Big East in a room and asked them to air grievances, the first thing they’d all say is, ‘we can’t get top talent here because we are a basketball conference.”
But if the understanding is that they aren’t a football conference, why is there an illusion that these are real football coaches? UCONN football was literally the only head coaching position that Edsall ever knew. And unlike Jim Harbaugh, who literally need one recruiting class to turn a 1-11 team into a national powerhouse in the Pac 10, Edsall needed 12 years, a lost of losing seasons, and three of the most significant athletic defections of the new millennium.
Perhaps coaches are doing what anyone else would do. They are striking while the iron is hot.