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BCS Championship coaches took different routes to Pasadena

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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.

Big 12 reportedly prefers expansion to be settled before start of season

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Unlike most goings-on in the conference, it doesn’t appear the Big 12 is going to drag its feet on the biggest issue it’s currently facing.

The Big 12 announced earlier this month that the conference will expand, whether by two teams or four.  Regardless of the final number, CBSSports.com‘s Dennis Dodd, citing three individuals with knowledge of the ongoing process, reported Thursday, the conference “would prefer to wrap up the expansion process before the start of the 2016 football season.” The reasoning for an expedited timeline is simple: the powers-that-be in the league do not want expansion talk and speculation to overshadow actual football.

Such a timeline would also be beneficial for any incoming teams.

If the expansion teams are indeed announced before the season, that conceivably would give the new schools a chance to begin playing in the conference in 2017. For now, the league is in the process of contemplating how it will decide participants for its championship game that has been reinstated for 2017.

“I have not made any comment on time frame and do not plan any such statement,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told Dodd in a statement.

It’s believed that any new members for the Big 12 will come from a group that includes teams from both the AAC (Cincinnati, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulane, UCF, USF) and Mountain West (Boise State, Colorado State, San Diego State) as well as football-independent BYU.  More specifically, BYU, Houston, Memphis, UCF and UConn are considered by some/most observers as the front-runners, with some throwing Cincinnati in as well.

The AAC kicks off its Media Days Monday, and expansion will no doubt dominate the conversation during the two-day event.

FSU, Boise in talks to move 2019 opener to Jacksonville

10 Nov 2001:  The Florida State Seminoles mascot walks down the field during the game against the North Carolina Wolfpack at the Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida. The Wolfpack defeated the Seminoles 34-28.Mandatory Credit:  Andy Lyons /Allsport
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One thing is certain, Florida State loves themselves some neutral-site openers.

Florida State and Boise State are scheduled to open the 2019 season at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee.  However, FirstCoastNews.com first reported, the two football programs are actively engaged in ongoing negotiations about moving that game to Jacksonville’s EverBank Field.

“A deal has not been reached but ‘positive discussions continue,” an unnamed official told the website.

FSU has a return game to Boise scheduled for 2020; as of now, the Tallahassee Democrat reports in confirming the initial news, FSU has no intentions of canceling that game.

If the game is moved to Jacksonville, it would give FSU neutral-site openers in four of the next five seasons.  They are already scheduled to open the 2016 season against Ole Miss in Orlando and the 2017 season against Alabama in Atlanta.  Additionally, reports surfaced earlier this week that FSU is closing in on an agreement to open the 2020 season in Atlanta against West Virginia.

FSU would reportedly make in excess of $8 million combined for the 2016 and 2017 openers.  The financial particulars for the 2019 and 2020 openers are unknown at this point.

One potential benefit of this spate of neutral-field games, the Democrat writes, is that it would “give FSU the opportunity to continue renovation efforts of Doak Campbell Stadium while boosting its strength of schedule against non-conference opponents.”

Steve Spurrier named ambassador, consultant for Florida athletics

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Not surprisingly, the Ol’ Ball Coach is coming home again.

Last month, Florida announced that it would be naming the field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in honor of Steve Spurrier, something the coach considered “to be the biggest, most special honor I have ever received.”  Friday morning, UF announced that Spurrier’s name would continue on in another official capacity, revealing that Spurrier has been named “Ambassador and Consultant for the Florida Gators Athletic Department.”

There’s no official word on his specific duties, although I’m certain being shirtless and holding a Coors and cutting a rug are among them.

Spurrier played at Florida from 1963-66, becoming the first player in Gators history to win the Heisman Trophy. He returned to Gainesville as the Head Ball Coach in 1990, going 122-27-1 in his 12 seasons with eight SEC East titles, six SEC championships, 10 top-10 finishes and a national championship in 1996.

He abruptly retired as the head coach at South Carolina in early October of 2015, finishing his coaching career with a record of 228-89-2 (.718).  In February of this year, it was announced that Spurrier would serve as a special assistant for South Carolina president Harris Pastides and athletic director Ray Tanner.

Below are the pertinent quotes surrounding his latest appointment:

UF ATHLETIC DIRECTOR JEREMY FOLEY
“It’s a great day for the Gator Nation to be able to welcome Coach Spurrier back home. He has served as a tremendous ambassador to the University and the athletic department for 50-plus years and it’s only fitting that at this point in his career, he is back in Gainesville. Being a Gator has always meant so much to Coach Spurrier, but it means just as much to us have him come home.”

UF HEAD COACH JIM MCELWAIN
“I look forward to visiting with him on a lot of occasions and picking his brain on a number of issues. It’s a credit to Jeremy to get him back home where he belongs. More than anything I look forward to actually talking to him and being around him rather than just saying hello to his statue on my way to work every day.”

STEVE SPURRIER
“My wife, Jerri, and I are extremely thrilled to be returning home to our alma mater, and to Gainesville where we met on campus over 50 years ago. I’m very appreciative to Athletic Director Jeremy Foley, Head Coach Jim McElwain and Phil Pharr of Gator Boosters for their role in making this happen.

“I also want to say thanks to the University of South Carolina for allowing me to be their coach from 2005 to 2015. Also a special thanks to all of the Gamecock players, coaches and fans that allowed our teams to set so many school records. I will now pull for South Carolina to win every game but one, just as I did when I pulled for Florida to win every game but one as the Gamecock coach. I will try my best to promote and assist in any way I can to help the Gators to continue to be one of the very best athletic programs in America. I admire what Coach McElwain and his staff accomplished last year. I’m anxious to watch the Gator football team as they strive to be the best in the SEC and the nation in the years ahead.”

UPDATED 11:58 a.m. ET: Both USC and Spurrier have confirmed that the OBC will give up his position as special assistant at the school.

At least one poll ‘means more… maybe, than anything’ to Bob Stoops

STILLWATER, OK - NOVEMBER 28:  Head coach Bob Stoops of the Oklahoma Sooners is soaked with a water cooler by Nila Kasitati #54 of the Oklahoma Sooners after the Sooners beat the Oklahoma State Cowboys 58-23 at Boone Pickens Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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I don’t care where your allegiances lie, this is a pretty damn cool story.

Earlier this week, ESPN‘s Chris Low took a poll of Big 12 and SEC head coaches, 23 in all, and asked them the following question: If you had a son who was an elite football prospect and could play for any coach in America other than yourself, who would be your first choice?

The usual suspects were mentioned, among them: Alabama’s Nick Saban, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, Miami’s Mark Richt, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer. That venerable list received one vote apiece. Then there was Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald with two votes apiece, and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio and Stanford’s David Shaw with three each.

The top vote-getter? Bob Stoops of Oklahoma with five.

In an interview with Guerin Emig of Tulsa World in part regarding this poll specifically, Stoops relayed just how much it meant to him to be that respected by his counterparts.

It means more to me, maybe, than anything,” he said Thursday.

“That my peers, coaches, feel I treat kids the right way,” he said, “I don’t know, hopefully a good role model and mentor to them and coach, as well. It means a great deal to me.”

“I have such respect for all the coaches out there at all levels,” Stoops said. “So yeah, there’s no doubt that that’s very flattering. I’m honored they feel that way.

It’s one thing for a parent outside your profession to say they’d want you to coach/mentor/instruct/oversee/supervise your child. When it’s members of your own profession? As evidenced by the OU coach’s response, it doesn’t get any better or more humbling than that.