Does Wisconsin have a coaching problem?

54 Comments

For the second time in three years, Wisconsin is looking for a new head coach after losing its head coach to another power conference program stuck in the bottom half of its division. Three years ago Bret Bielema left Wisconsin following three straight Big Ten championships to take over Arkansas, a program in the dumps following the bizarre ending to the Bobby Petrino era. Now, the Badgers look for a replacement to take over the program after Gary Andersen surprisingly packed his bags and left to accept a job offer from Oregon State, a program typically happy just to finish above .500 while playing in the multi-uniformed shadows of Oregon.

Wisconsin has been a solid program in the Big Ten over the course of the last five or six years. Perhaps to a certain extent Wisconsin has taken advantage of some down years by Michigan and a temporary setback for Ohio State, but credit the Badgers for seizing the opportunity to claim a spot among the top teams in the Big Ten. Now, in the expanded 14-team conference, Wisconsin is in a favorable spot in the West Division. A good coach can win in this division more often than not for years to come, keeping Wisconsin among the top teams in the Big Ten. So why is Wisconsin all of a sudden a program not capable of keeping quality coaches in Madison?

This is the question former Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez, now the school’s athletics director and a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee is left pondering. During a press conference Wednesday evening Alvarez was asked why Wisconsin was no longer a destination school. He was left without an explanation. Maybe the question is if Wisconsin was ever a true destination school in the first place. It was for Alvarez, who took the job in 1990 after serving as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator, and perhaps it was for a few of his predecessors, but then we start diving into a different age of football.

For a moment, let’s toss aside the idea that recruiting is becoming harder and harder for Big Ten programs, with recruiting trends moving away from the Big Ten’s region. If that is the case, then every school is having that problem without the issue of losing coaches to other programs. That would not make this a Wisconsin problem, but a collective Big Ten problem.

Is it the leadership at Wisconsin that is an issue? The idea Wisconsin has been unable to afford to provide comparable salaries for a coaching staff is a fair point. The Badgers ranked 40th in the nation in coaching staff salary with a total staff salary of $2,368,600 according to a coaching salary database compiled by USA Today. If Andersen left for a program with a higher financial commitment to its coaching staff, he may be going to the wrong place. Oregon State ranked 41st in coaching staff salary ($2,347,200). Of course, maybe Oregon State will change that with Andersen coming to the program. The lack of ability to provide a secure financial commitment to a coaching staff was believed to be a factor in Bielema leaving for the SEC, where coaching salaries tend to be higher. For a point of reference, Wisconsin’s coaching staff salary was ranked eighth in the Big Ten and it is possible it might even be lower. Salary information for Penn State and Northwestern is not on record.

But every school has to spend money the best way they see fit. Sometimes the payroll for the football staff has to take a backseat in order to cover other expenses in an athletics department, or the university as a whole. There is no question Wisconsin receives a healthy amount of money from the Big Ten through revenue shares in the conference, but that does not always mean the money will be spent on the staff.

Or maybe sometimes a coach just needs a new challenge (Bielema) or wants to go back closer to home (Andersen). And maybe there’s nothing wrong with Wisconsin at all. The Badgers have proven to be capable of competing for the Big Ten title (I say this fully acknowledging that 59-0 against Ohio State does not support this statement). As with any coaching search, if Wisconsin hires the right man for the job, the Badgers should be fine.

Florida State names James Blackman starting QB over Wisconsin transfer Alex Hornibrook

Getty Images
Leave a comment

In this case, the transfer pastures weren’t any greener for a signal-caller — two, actually — who moved on from his first college football home.

Alex Hornibrook left Wisconsin this offseason and ultimately landed at Florida State as a graduate transfer.  Jordan Travis took his leave of Louisville earlier this year and ended up transferring to FSU; Travis was ultimately granted an immediate-eligibility waiver.

With those twin under-center developments, Willie Taggart and the Seminoles navigated a three-headed quarterback competition during the spring and on into summer camp: Hornibrook, Travis and one-time starter James Blackman.  Sunday night, FSU announced that Blackman is its QB1 heading into the opener against Boise State this coming Saturday night.

The naming of Blackman as the starter continues what’s been a roller coaster ride for the redshirt sophomore.

Blackman, who himself placed his name into the transfer portal earlier this year before undergoing a change of heart, started most of the 2017 season due to an injury to starter Deondre Francois, who regained the job in 2018 only to be dismissed from the football program in February of this year.

Blackman was a three-star member of FSU’s 2017 recruiting class. After Francois went down with what turned out to be a season-ending injury in the opener that year, Blackman started the remaining 12 games as a true freshman.  Francois returned as the starter for the vast majority of the 2018 season, missing one game in early November because of a concussion.  Blackman started the lone game Francois didn’t, throwing for 421 yards and four touchdowns in a loss to NC State.

In that initial season in 2017, Blackman completed almost 60 percent of his 297 passes for 2,230 yards, 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.  He was able to take a redshirt for this past season despite playing in four games.

Hornibrook, who battled concussion issues the latter half of the 2018 season but was cleared for winter workouts in January, spent the past three seasons as the Badgers’ starting quarterback.  In games in which Hornibrook started during that span, Wisconsin went 26-6.

In 35 career games played with the Badgers, Hornibrook passed for 5,438 yards, 47 touchdowns and 33 interceptions.

This coming season is Hornibrook’s final year of eligibility.

Travis, whose older brother played baseball at FSU a few years ago, was a three-star member of the Cardinals’ 2018 recruiting class, rated as the No. 25 dual-threat quarterback in the country.  As a true freshman this past season, Jackson completed four-of-nine passes for 71 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Because he played in four or fewer games this past year, he took a redshirt for the 2018 season.

Calamity averted: Washington State flag’s College GameDay streak reaches 225 straight

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Courtesy of some expected common sense, a potential national nightmare was averted earlier this weekend.

Along with Lee Corso, one of the constants you can count on seeing when you turn on ESPN‘s College GameDay Saturday mornings during the football season is the Washington State flag flying somewhere in the crowd, regardless of from where the show originates.  Ol’ Crimson first appeared around the GameDay set in Austin on Oct. 4, 2003, and has made it to every show since, a streak of 224 straight appearances.

Unfortunately, there was some serious concern earlier this month that the streak wouldn’t make it to 225.

ESPN announced Aug. 13 that College GameDay would set up camp and televise its popular pregame show from Walt Disney World ahead of the Week 0 Florida-Miami matchup at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium Aug. 24.  In a cruel and potentially streak-ending twist, the Magic Kingdom’s rules prohibit, among other things, flags from being flown on the Walt Disney World Resort Property.

All was right with the world in the end, though, as Ol’ Crimson was indeed front and center ahead of what would turn out to be a Gators win over the Hurricanes as, not surprisingly, Disney bent its rules regarding not only flags but signs as well.

From the Spokesman-Review:

Hey, look at this,” ESPN’s Rece Davis said as the flag was shown. “Look who made it into the Magic Kingdom.”

“The streak’s alive,” Kirk Herbstreit said.

“I want to point out, too, the streak is legit and authentic,” Davis added. “Now, we’ll cooperate with our friends, but Washington State has to do its part and they have.”

Herbstreit chimed in: “They’ve made big efforts throughout this streak and they made another one today.”

“Congrats to the Cougs,” ESPN’s Desmond Howard said.

Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick doesn’t sense momentum for CFB Playoff expansion

Getty Images
3 Comments

We’re at the dawn of a new season in college football but for a lot of folks, the upcoming campaign is a lot more about the ending than the beginning. We’re talking of course about the thing that dominates the debate in the sport for much of the fall: the College Football Playoff.

Though it seems like we’re stuck at four teams in the postseason event for the foreseeable future, expansion of the playoff is a topic that seems like a never ending well. Most want it, but few in power seem to be pushing for it.

That point was reiterated this week by Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick. The leader of a program who made last year’s edition of the final four and one of the more powerful people in college athletics recently told the South Bend Tribune that he doesn’t see a move to six or eight teams in the event anytime soon.

I don’t want to speculate on that. I don’t sense a lot of momentum,” Swarbrick said. “But again, this is a group of individuals who cares about college football and think about it all the time. And so that’s all you want, a process where people are always talking about how to make the game better. But I don’t sense any particular momentum for change right now.”

If anybody would have some insight into the thought process regarding expansion, it’s bound to be Swarbrick — who sits on the CFP Management Committee and has his school president on the overarching CFP Board of Managers.

Perhaps something will change by 2025 when the postseason contract comes up with ESPN but until then, get used to four teams.

Missouri AD Jim Sterk is even more mad about NCAA penalties after Mississippi State case

Getty Images
5 Comments

At some point in the distant future, Missouri fans, coaches, players and administrators will forget about the sanctions that the NCAA handed out to their football program.

That day is not today however.

Hot on the heels of Friday’s decision by the NCAA to slap the wrist of Mississippi State over a somewhat similar academic fraud case, Tigers AD Jim Sterk is telling anybody who will listen just how wronged his school was in the wake of what happened at his SEC rival.

“We believe that the penalties imposed in the recently decided and factually similar case (at Mississippi State) further illustrate that the penalties imposed on Mizzou were excessive and inconsistent with previous case precedent,” Sterk told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. We have never wavered from our stance or the merits of our appeal and remain hopeful it will be successful.”

The Tigers are hopeful that an appeal will be decided in the fairly near future and, obviously, that it will be a favorable ruling.

There are a handful of differences between Mizzou’s and the Bulldogs’ cases and enough to make comparing them apples to oranges despite being under the broad umbrella of academic fraud. We’ll see what ultimately ends up happening but something says that short of a complete reversal, Tigers fans and others sporting the gold and black won’t be happy with the NCAA for a long, long time.