AP Photo/The Orange County Register, Bill Alkofer

BCS Championship coaches took different routes to Pasadena

1 Comment

Jimbo Fisher and Gus Malzahn were each hired to do one thing; restore the pride in their respective programs. Each wasted little time in building a national championship contender, although they took different paths to getting to Pasadena, California for the chance to bring their programs t the top of the college football world.

Fisher is a branch off of the Nick Saban coaching tree. He served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at LSU under the current Alabama head coach, but he remained in Baton Rouge when Saban decided to answer a call from the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. Now under Les Miles, Fisher made a name for himself as LSU’s offensive guru and helping to make quarterback JaMarcus Russell a top NFL draft pick (kindly forget how that all played out). As Fisher built up his resume at LSU, it was becoming clear Fisher was going to be given a chance to serve as head coach one day.

That path to becoming a head coach hit a road block in 2006. Fisher interviewed for an opening at the UAB, but his contract offer was vetoed by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees. Saban, now back in the SEC after flaking out with the Dolphins, wanted to bring Fisher back on to his staff at Alabama. Fisher instead took an offer from Florida State to perform the same coaching duties, but this was more than a simple lateral move. Florida State went the extra yard to name Fisher the coach-in-waiting under Bobby Bowden. Bowden announced his resignation at the end fo the 2009 season. Fisher got to work right away by re-energizing a sleeping giant of a program. Fisher’s leadership in recruiting efforts showed immediate results and Florida State started building the foundation for long-term dominance in the ACC that had long been absent in Tallahassee.

The results of that first recruiting class under Fisher will now get a chance to demonstrate how far the program has come. Six starters for the Seminoles on Monday night were a part of the first recruiting class under Fisher as head coach. that includes strong safety Terrence Brooks, linebackers Christian Jones and Telvin Smith as well as wide receiver Kenny Shaw and fullback Chad Abram.

In Fisher’s first year on the job at Florida State, Auburn was making a run for the first BCS championship in school history. Gene Chizik had surprised many by building a championship caliber program at Auburn, but the biggest asset on the sidelines was perceived to be offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who had served his time as a high school coach and college assistant coach at multiple stops. Malzahn quickly became a hot commodity as Cam Newton was playing his way to a Heisman Trophy in Malzahn’s offensive system. During that championship season for Auburn, Malzahn was named the top assistant coach in college football with the Broyles Award. Now a highly attractive option as a head coach, Auburn offered Malzahn a nice raise to keep him around.

Over time it was clear Malzahn was not going to be sticking around for long as an assistant coach. Whether it was a conflict of power or just a matter of getting out and giving head coaching a shot, Malzahn jumped at the opportunity to coach Arkansas State in 2012. It worked out extremely well for Malzahn, leading the Red Wolves to a  9-3 record and a Sun Belt Conference championship. As Auburn continued to falter the pressure was on Auburn to make a coaching change. That meant the end of the line for Chizik, leaving the door wide open for the assistant who was adored for his work within the program.

Malzahn was named the head coach of Auburn in December 2012, and he quickly went to work to put together a staff he felt comfortable working with. Although the optimism was high for the new Malzahn era at Auburn, few could have imagined how rapid the turnaround would be. Auburn was 3-9 in 2012 and immediately turned in a 13-1 season under Malzahn, knocking off rival and top-ranked Alabama in unbelievable fashion, running away with the sEC championship against Missouri and getting a chance to lay claim to one last BCS title on behalf of the time SEC.

On Monday night, the two paths will cross in what could easily be an epic showdown between two of college football’s top coaches today.

Auburn horticulture professor offers dire update on torched Toomer’s Corner oak

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 10: Fans of the Auburn Tigers roll trees at Toomer's Corner after defeating the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Jordan Hare Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Auburn, Alabama. The Auburn Tigers defeated the Arkansas State Red Wolves 51-14.(Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

It appears that, once again, one of the oaks at famed Toomer’s Corner in Auburn will likely need to be replaced because of the actions of a lone dolt.

Following the win over LSU in late September, students and fans, as they have done for decades, rolled the oaks with toilet paper, only to watch as one of the trees go up in flames. A 29-year-old Auburn “man,” Jochen Weist, was identified on video using a lighter to set the toilet paper on fire and arrested.

Nearly four weeks later, it’s not looking good for the tree’s survival.

“Our message to the Auburn Family about the Magnolia Avenue tree remains the same as from the outset, that it is severely damaged from the Sept. 25 fire,” AU professor of horticulture Dr. Gary Keever said in a statement according to al.com. “We have conducted three assessments of its health, the most recent one showing 60-70 percent of the tree’s canopy is dead. A few new leaves have formed on some of the live branches, however, this does not indicate additional growth will occur or that those branches will be alive in the spring.

“Although the outlook is not promising, Auburn is doing everything possible to save the tree. We will continue to monitor the tree and provide updates as they become available.”

Weist was originally taken into custody on a charge of public intoxication. Additional charges of first-degree criminal mischief, a felony, and desecration of a venerable object were later added.

The case has been sent to a grand jury.

University officials have asked that the fire-damaged tree not be rolled. That tradition had just been revived this season following a three-year absence as a result of an Alabama fan poisoning the oaks.

Notre Dame AD: Brian Kelly ‘will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year’

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 01:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and his team wait to head on to the field for the start of the game against the Syracuse Orange at MetLife Stadium on October 1, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Getty Images

For those looking — or hoping — for Brian Kelly to be on the coaching hot seat, it appears you’ll have to wait another year or more.

Kelly’s Notre Dame squad, which began 2016 ranked 10th in the Associated Press Top 25, has had its fair share of issues on the field, stumbling to a 2-5 start that’s the program’s worst since 2007.  There have also been issues off the field related to those on-field struggles, with Kelly firing his defensive coordinator and throwing his players under the bus for good measure.  Former Irish football players have sounded off and taken aim as well.

Add it all up, and it had some thinking that Kelly might not be long for South Bend.  At least publicly, Kelly’s boss is emphatically putting the kibosh on such talk.

“Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told ESPN.com earlier today. “I can tell you I continue to have complete confidence in Brian. … I get to see the program day in and day out and I continue to have great confidence in Brian and confidence in our future as a program.”

Kelly is in the midst of his seventh season at the school.  In the previous six, he’d led the Irish to a 55-23 mark.  Included in that total are a pair of 10-plus win seasons as well as an appearance in the BCS title game following the 2012 regular season.

In late January of this year, Kelly and the university reached an agreement on a six-year contract extension that runs through the 2021 season.

When did Nick Saban realize he missed college football? His ‘first press conference’ in Miami

Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban watches play   against the   Carolina Panthers   September 25, 2005 in Miami.  The Dolphins defeated the Panthers 27  to 24.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Yeah, he’s playing to, using the vernacular of the political season, his very fervent base, but it’s still not the least bit surprising.

When Nick Saban left LSU for the job with the Miami Dolphins in 2004, there were more than a couple of observers who were surprised the coach would leave the college game to get back into the NFL. When Saban, after infamously denying it, left the Dolphins to take the job at Alabama after just two seasons, there were more than a couple of observers who were not surprised the coach made such a decision.

Why? Because Saban just seemed like a coach who could relate better to — some would say control more — college players than those in the NFL. With Verne Lundquist serving as a guest on Saban’s weekly radio show Thursday night, the retiring college football broadcaster asked the Alabama head coach, al.com writes, “when in his Miami Dolphins tenure he realized he missed coaching college football?”

Saban’s answer was illuminating…

“Well, the day I landed in Miami and went to the first press conference,” Saban said. “I started to realize the difference between the NFL then and what the NFL was like before when I was in it with Bill Belichick from 1991-94 in Cleveland, before we had free agency, before the media had infiltrated sorta everything that was happening. I guess right then.”

… but not as illuminating as the coach, once again, addressing his version of the Drew Brees situation as it relates to the level control, or lack thereof, in the NFL compared to what he has in Tuscaloosa.

“When [the Brees situation] happened, I said I can’t control my destiny here,” Saban said. “I can’t control my destiny here. There’s too many things that, no matter how hard I work or no matter what I do, I can control my destiny better in college by working hard and making good choices and decisions and creating a good program for players. I think that happening made me lean back to coming back to college.”

Yes, Saban may have, in the eyes of some, unfinished business in the NFL. At 64 years old — he’ll be 65 Oct. 31 — don’t expect him, though, to at any point in the near or distant future to rectify that “hole” in his coaching résumé.

Long-time starting guard ruled out by Tar Heels for rest of season

CHAPEL HILL, NC - OCTOBER 17:  Quinshad Davis #14 and Caleb Peterson #70 of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrate after a touchdown against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during their game at Kenan Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

As it turns out, the short-term hit North Carolina took to its offensive line last weekend will turn into a long-turn one.

Caleb Peterson (pictured, being uplifted) suffered a back injury earlier this month that kept him out of both the Virginia Tech (Oct. 8) and Miami (Oct. 15) games. Thursday night, the school announced that the offensive lineman will undergo surgery Friday at the Carrell Clinic in Dallas.

As a result, the senior guard will miss the remainder of the 2016 season. Peterson used his redshirt in 2012 and isn’t eligible for any type of waiver, meaning the 6-5, 300-pound lineman has likely seen his collegiate playing career come to an end.

In his Tar Heel career, Peterson had started a total of 42 games. He had a streak of 30 straight starts snapped when he missed the Tech game.

Following the 2015 season, Peterson was named second-team All-ACC by the league’s coaches.

In addition to Peterson, the football program also announced that Jonathan Smith underwent season-ending surgery Thursday to repair a fracture in his right foot. The freshman linebacker initially suffered the injury during practice in the week leading up to the game against the Hokies.

A three-star member of UNC’s 2016 recruiting class, Smith was rated as the No. 21 inside linebacker in the country and the No. 25 player at any position in the state of North Carolina. He had appeared in six games as a true freshman this season, and was credited with one tackle.