CU fumbles coach play
The competition for head coaches in the top ranks of collegiate football is fierce this year.
USA Today last week listed a total of 22 head coaching jobs in Division I schools that have come open since Nov. 17, nearly a fifth of top coaching jobs available in the division.
And because competition is so stiff, experienced head coaches with winning records can basically write their own tickets when they go job hunting — loyalty and integrity be damned.
University of Colorado officials became well aware of that last week when they thought they had landed former Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones to replace Jon Embree, who was fired last month after two dismal seasons. CU had reportedly offered Jones a five-year, $13.5 million contract and a promise to upgrade athletic facilities.
But, after someone at CU allowed word to leak out prematurely that the Buffs and Jones had reached agreement, Jones issued a statement emphatically denying the report. A day later, he accepted the head coaching job at Tennessee.
Jones’ behavior appeared less than stellar, as he shopped his reputation around to CU, Purdue, Tennesse and his own school to see which would offer him the most advantageous deal.
But CU administrators, led by Athletic Director Mike Bohn, clearly fumbled this effort. They apparently thought all they needed to do was offer a hefty salary — which was not outlandish in today’s world — promises to upgrade certain athletic facilities and a great view of the mountains to land a top coach.
That won’t cut it in the current college environment. As others have noted, the process of hiring head coaches has become more difficult because of agents, conference shake-ups and the number of schools seeking coaches.
University of Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez knows something about that. He lost his hand-picked head coach of the past seven years, Bret Bielema, who abandoned Wisconsin as it prepares for the Rose Bowl to take the head coaching job in Arkansas and didn’t notify Alvarez until the day he accepted the job.
But Wisconsin, like many other schools, has several advantages over CU in its coaching search. First, the school’s football program — developed by Alvarez and nurtured by Bielema — has been a Big 10 powerhouse for two decades. CU’s program has been on the decline since Bill McCartney left in 1994.
Then there is the way CU is going about hiring a new coach. According to press reports last week, CU will interview prospective head coaches using a committee that includes Bohn, a CU professor, a major CU donor and the vice chancellor of diversity. Diversity?
At Wisconsin, Alvarez plans to interview and hire a new coach himself. “I don’t use search committees,” he declared.
Wisconsin is just one example of a school with a leg up on CU in the coaching scramble. Tennessee proved it is another.
We hope CU quickly finds a new coach with the skills to turn the school’s football program around without compromising its integrity. But to do so, Bohn and other CU officials must develop a game plan that amounts to more than throwing a high-dollar Hail Mary.