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Policing the college coaching carousel

Ascher Robbins
Vail, CO Colorado
Ascher Robbins
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Across the country, from the West Coast to the Deep South, the last few weeks have found multitudes of young athletes with knives stuck in their backs.

Athletic directors who look after these young men have been struck too; betrayed and left hurriedly to attend to their bleeding wounds. The culprits behind these senseless acts of treason?

High-profile college football coaches such as Lane Kiffin and Brian Kelly.

Loving Rocky Top?

Lane Kiffin, at the ripe old age of 34, has had quite an interesting career within the coaching ranks thus far. Praised as an offensive mastermind after spearheading the USC Trojans’ explosive attack for two years, Kiffin was shockingly named head coach of the Oakland Raiders for the start of the 2007 season.

Many detractors thought Kiffin’s lack of coaching experience would ensure his failure in the NFL and they were proven correct; in his brief tenure with the Raiders, Kiffin compiled a 5-15 record, prompting owner Al Davis to fire him only four games into the 2008 season.

Despite failing in Oakland, the Tennessee Volunteers soon took a chance on Kiffin, hiring him as their new head coach last year; a deal that averaged $2.3 million per year for six years. He excited Volunteers fans and players alike with talk of how much he loved the state and the heights to which he would lead the team.

However, Kiffin rewarded Tennessee by compiling a mediocre 7-6 record and losing a bowl game. The worst was yet to come, however, as on Jan. 12, Kiffin resigned to take the head-coaching position at the only school where he’d succeeded: USC.

Suddenly Tennessee football was in shambles; mere weeks before national signing day, Tennessee didn’t have a head coach. Players being recruited bailed. Much of Kiffin’s coaching staff bailed. Players on the team felt betrayed. Lane Kiffin had sucker-punched everyone in Knoxville in one greedy, selfish move.

The lure of the Dome

Rewind about a month. The undefeated, highly-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats were in the locker room at Heinz Field, about to take the field to play the Pitt Panthers for what was essentially the Big East title game. As he rallied his team before the game, coach Brian Kelly – whose name had been floated around as a possible candidate for the Notre Dame coaching vacancy – reassured his players that he was happy in Cincinnati and wasn’t going anywhere.

Yet one week later, Kelly was smiling for the cameras at a press conference, getting introduced as the new head coach of the Fighting Irish. Kelly was so eager to earn a bigger salary and coach the Irish that he declined to coach the Bearcats in the Sugar Bowl, arguably the most important football game in Cincinnati history.

But Kelly’s treason should come as no surprise; after all, when Cincinnati hired him to head their program, Kelly spurned his former school – Central Michigan – abandoning that team before a bowl game as well.

While Kiffin and Kelly are the most recent examples of coaches who have unceremoniously dumped their team, the list goes on and on: Rich Rodriguez, Pete Carroll, Butch Jones, Derek Dooley, and many more have also unexpectedly left their teams to pursue higher-paying jobs.

Yes, some of these moves are more understandable, such as Pete Carroll’s move to the NFL, or Dooley leaving Louisiana Tech for Tennessee, there are a fair share of slaps in the face too, like Kiffin spurning Tennessee and Kelly leaving an undefeated BCS team for a 6-6 independent program. With big-name coaches changing schools seemingly every year, NCAA football has found itself involved in lots of unnecessary drama and ugly breakups.

New rules

Coaches leaving right before major bowl games or national signing day is a significant issue; one that can change the outcome of an entire season, or ruin a team’s chances of competing in the future.

The actions of Lane Kiffin and Brian Kelly are unfair to players, administrators, and fans alike. Cincinatti got demolished in its bowl game without Kelly, and Tennessee has already lost several big-time recruits due to Kiffin’s resignation. To prevent these situations in the future, the NCAA could take several routes.

One would be to disallow the hiring of new coaches until after the new recruits have signed. This would allow teams to remain competitive, even if their coach were to leave. Another possibility would be implementing contractual provisions that prohibit coaches from quitting before a certain time, period.

Instead of messy contract buyouts, teams could use strict, unambiguous language to disallow coaches from signing with another team before, say, at least three years. In this way, teams could at least feel like their immediate future is not in jeopardy.

In the real world, treason and breach of contract are punishable offenses. It’s about time they were treated equally in college football.

Ascher Robbins is a sophomore at UC-Santa Barbara, having graduated from Battle Mountain 2008. When not tracking the world of sports, he is majoring in communications. Robbins will be writing a weekly column for the Vail Daily.

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