College Football 2011: Pairing 9 Head Coaches with the TV Show They Fit Best
The identity of a college football program is typically manifested through its head coach. While a student-athlete's experience may last only a few years, a football team’s head coach is typically the most iconic representation of the team, and, often times, the entire university.
Even if the coach of a program is successful, college football fans tend to paint a certain picture of these men, causing said coach to assume a new identity altogether. Whether these head coaches are loved, hated, respected or just misunderstood, our image of them isn’t always consistent with how they lead their team behind closed doors.
With spring football behind us and the 2011 season still months away, this slideshow takes a look at a new medium for how head coaches can be compared: to a television show.
The coaches featured aren’t necessarily indicative of one particular character on these shows, but collectively, the title and subject matter of the various TV programs mentioned lend some insight to these men’s images, personalities and legacies.
Les Miles (LSU Tigers)
Les Miles is known as one of the more eccentric head coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Although some of his recruitment methods have come into question, Miles is hardly the only coach to be accused of signing more players than NCAA scholarship rules will allow.
His sometimes-quizzical play-calling and decision-making sometimes cause Tiger fans and analysts to raise their eyebrows and scratch their heads, but Miles usually seems to land on his feet. This unusual combination reminds me of a notable television character from 40-50 years ago.
Maxwell Smart, star of the show Get Smart, was a bungling but ultimately effective secret agent whose unorthodox methods of detective work led him to the culprit du jour. Largely because of his impressive supporting cast, Smart was able to finish each episode looking, well, smart.
Joe Paterno (Penn State Nittany Lions)
After 401 career wins, Joe Pa has become the consummate patriarch of college football. At 84 years young, Paterno still runs a top-tier program in Penn State, and attracts a smattering of top recruits to play in Happy Valley. No football coach in the nation is more venerable or more respected, as his legacy hearkens back to a generation of yore.
Most of you are too young to know who Robert Young is, but the NBC show Father Knows Best was one of the most popular radio and television shows of its era. It featured a post-World War II Midwestern family headed by an all-knowing, respectable father.
Still quick with one-liners during press conferences, the ageless coach of the Nittany Lions is still effective, and has no plans to slow down. Although the TV program now looks dated compared to contemporary sitcoms, JoePa remains a timeless class act who still runs a successful program.
June Jones (SMU Mustangs)
From the death penalty in 1987 to a bowl game victory in 2009, Southern Methodist University has come a long way since dealing with the harshest sanctions ever handed down by the NCAA infractions committee, and June Jones is a big reason why.
Jones enjoyed a good run towards the end of his time coaching the Hawaii Warriors from the Western Athletic Conference to the Sugar Bowl in 2007 before he took the SMU job. Now, the Mustangs are back-to-back conference champs and have returned to being a respectable program in Conference USA.
As the show Extreme Makeover has proven time and again, it’s never too late to rescue an ugly duckling from a transformation to swanhood. Mustang Nation has reason to cheer for the first time in decades, and Jones has been the catalyst behind this monumental improvement.
Mike Gundy (Oklahoma State Cowboys)
The Cowboys owe a lot to Coach Gundy for his service as a four-year starting quarterback playing alongside Hall of Famers Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders in the late 1980s, and he has made a lot of progress as a head coach in leading Oklahoma State back to the top of the soon-to-be-defunct Big 12 South.
But one heated postgame conference highlight may prove to define Gundy’s career.
Since Gundy’s infamous YouTube moment, opinions of his tirade have ranged from justified to completely overblown. But nobody can say that Gundy doesn’t stick up for his players and defend his program with the utmost alacrity. Still, the OSU coach’s intense personality coupled with his ostensible short fuse brings an MTV prank show from half a decade ago to mind.
Boiling Points was a reality show that was a hybrid of Candid Camera meets Punk’d. Each unknowing contestant would be rewarded for not reaching their “boiling point” after being placed in an otherwise infuriating situation. After the 2007 Texas Tech postgame conference, one can tell that Coach Gundy reached his boiling point after one of his players was called out by a member of the media in a newspaper article.
Jim Tressel (Ohio State Buckeyes)
No college football coach had a tougher month of May than Ohio State’s now-former head coach, Jim Tressel, who just resigned his post at Columbus. When “The Sweater Vest” declined to report that some of his players had received improper benefits in the form of discounted tattoos, free cars and cash, he let his players play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl in January anyways, instead delaying their suspension for the start of the 2011 season.
Tressel signed a compliance form last September claiming he had no knowledge of any wrongdoing by players on his team, but it was discovered that he knew about the discounted tattoos as far back as April 2010. Furthermore, it was discovered he sent at least one email to people outside the university, namely a “mentor” of quarterback Terrelle Pryor, detailing wrongdoings. On a side note, Pryor, an amateur athlete, was recently spotted driving his fifth different car in three years as a Buckeye.
Regardless of whether you think Tressel covered up said transgressions for the right reasons, his actions are reminiscent of a Fox television show that also ended its three-season run in January.
Lie to Me was a crime procedural drama starring Tim Roth, who played a psychologist that was skilled at reading body language and microexpressions to determine whether a suspect or person of interest was lying during an investigation. Since Tressel has been in cover-up mode for over a year, he has to be at least a little bit relieved that he won’t have to deceive the media, Ohio State compliance officers, nor the NCAA on matters pertaining to Buckeye football any longer.
Chip Kelly (Oregon Ducks)
Oregon hadn’t traditionally been known as a hotbed for recruiting, but their rise to Pac-10 prominence can be attributed as much to the spread offense that head coach Chip Kelly implements as much as the personnel or the daunting home-field advantage that Autzen Stadium affords the program.
Given that none of the players who led the Ducks through a successful campaign in the competitive Pac-10 to January’s BCS Championship game against Auburn were 5-star recruits, Kelly deserves a lot of credit for assembling the conference’s most feared offense without a top-10 recruiting class since 2007. One could label Coach Kelly as the Richard Dean Anderson of college football.
MacGyver was a popular action show that ran seven seasons from 1985-1992 that featured Anderson as a secret agent who refused to carry a gun, instead opting for spare parts like duct tape, a Swiss Army knife and whatever other tools were available to solve a case or a particular predicament he found himself in.
LaMichael James was merely a 3-star recruit, but that didn’t prevent him from becoming one of the most feared tailbacks in the nation. Oregon hadn’t ranked any higher than 13th in national recruiting in four years, which makes the Ducks’ success in the last couple seasons all the more impressive.
Lane Kiffin (USC Trojans)
Coaches Lane and Monte Kiffin comprise one of the few father-son coaching tandems that work for the same college football program. Although Mike and Kyle Shanahan coach the NFL’s Washington Redskins together, the dynamic of Lane and Monte is a bit unusual in that the son is the head coach while Monte, Lane's father, is the defensive coordinator.
Not all has been well at Heritage Hall the last few years since the Matt Leinart/Reggie Bush salad days. NCAA sanctions from the investigation surrounding Bush have cost the Trojans dozens of scholarships as well as a two-year ban from playing in bowl games, which amounts to potentially tens of millions of dollars in BCS prize money for the school. Gone are the days when USC regularly skirted NCAA compliance and would play by its own rules.
Instead, Southern Cal, now on probation, is now heavily scrutinized by college football’s governing body and has to play by the book so as not to further soil the reputation of the program. Given that times at ‘SC have changed, as well as the unusual dynamic of the son/father coaching duo, the current situation has evolved into a sign of the times, similarly to the most popular sitcom on television today.
Modern Family is also a show that illustrates a “sign of the times” in that it features a traditional family juxtaposed to two families: one is a gay couple with an adopted baby from overseas, as well as a newlywed couple featuring an older man (Ed O’Neill) married to a younger trophy wife with a tweener son.
Nick Saban (Alabama Crimson Tide)
Coach Saban may not be able to run a mile a minute or have infrared capabilities like Lee Majors' character did in the 1970s action TV show The Six Million Dollar Man, but in light of ‘Bama’s success in recent years coupled with the money the university has earned in 2009-10 from BCS bowl games, Saban has earned his hefty salary.
The Crimson Tide have flourished as one of the top college football programs in the country, and Saban warrants credit for attracting top recruits to Tuscaloosa, and for also restoring the program to prominence after the Tide hit a rough patch under former coach Mike Shula.
Saban’s reputation took a hit half a decade ago when he vacated the head coaching position at LSU during a successful run with the Tigers for a shot at coaching in the NFL. After two seasons in which he mustered a 15-17 record coaching the Miami Dolphins, he returned to the college ranks to sign a record deal that made him the highest paid public employee in the state of Alabama.
Despite controversy surrounding his lofty contract, 'Bama fans are no longer complaining that Saban is overpaid since the program is once again a perennial top-10 contender in the BCS. Although he has taken some heat for oversigning prep athletes, Saban has, at least thus far, been able to effectively juggle medical hardships and outgoing transfers to maximize the 85 scholarships with which he is entrusted to not get sanctioned by the NCAA, at least not yet.
Chris Ault (Nevada Wolf Pack)
Chris Ault is considered one of the premier offensive innovators in college football. After implementing the option-style “Pistol” offense which has been copied by a variety of teams ranging from the UCLA Bruins to the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers, the 64-year-old head coach has taken the University of Nevada to either a first- or second-place finish in the Western Athletic Conference the last three years.
Now that perennial conference champ Boise State has left the WAC for the Mountain West Conference, the sledding figures to get easier for Ault and the Wolf Pack moving forward, although the graduation of quarterback Colin Kaepernick leaves a sizable hole under center.
Ault has been with the Nevada program since the mid-1960s, when he played quarterback for the Wolf Pack. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002 and has maintained a respectable program as a player, head coach and one-time athletic director. As Ault has experienced an unusual career through the college football ranks towards his Hall of Fame induction, his career can be compared to a groundbreaking show from the late 1970s/early 1980s.
Diff’rent Strokes may be best remembered for Gary Coleman’s catch phrases, as well as the cast’s penchant for getting into legal troubles. But the premise of the show, which featured two New York inner-city youths taken in by a Park Avenue tycoon to live as an interracial family, was unlike anything that had been broadcast on television prior, but its impressive eight-season run across two different broadcast networks suggested that audiences had progressed with the changing times.