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VOL. 130 | NO. 236 | Friday, December 4, 2015

College Football’s Coaching Carousel Is Still Spinning

By Don Wade

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In an ideal world, a kid climbs aboard a carousel and it’s all fun and good times. But the reality is, sometimes the experience is dizzying – even nauseating.

And so it goes with the current college football coaching carousel.

JUSTIN FUENTE (Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

For former University of Memphis coach Justin Fuente, the ride was smooth. Wasn’t even a merry-go-round. He simply went from leading the Tigers to a 19-6 record over the last two seasons to becoming a head coach at a Power Five school – Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

But at press time, the Memphis administration was still going round and round trying to hire his replacement. Perhaps before you read these words, the new coach will have been hired and even introduced at a formal press conference.

And perhaps not.

From the get-go, Memphis targeted Missouri defensive coordinator Barry Odom, who held the same position for the first three seasons of Fuente’s four-year tenure here. He apparently has strong and widespread support among Memphis boosters.

And if Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel had not fallen ill and decided to retire, the transition from Fuente to Odom would have been easy and immediate. But Missouri, which from various media reports appears to have interviewed everyone this side of Lee Corso, has dragged the process out.

Then, negotiations between Odom – he’s represented by Memphis-based agent Jimmy Sexton – and the U of M broke down. Whether things could be resolved or not became an open question.

If Memphis gets – or has gotten – Odom, hopefully the dizzying ride can be put aside and Odom and athletic director Tom Bowen will work well together. If someone else is the new coach, hopefully that relationship gets off to a strong start and Memphis will have found, as Bowen said at the start of the process, the “right fit.”

DARRELL DICKEY (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

Assistant Darrell Dickey was serving as interim coach after Fuente left for Virginia Tech and there were several other names floating about as candidates, including both sitting head coaches and rising young coordinators.

Meantime, let’s remember the craziness has not been limited to Memphis. First Les Miles was out at LSU and then he wasn’t. Miles led LSU to a national title in 2007 and his 111 victories at LSU rank 16th all-time among SEC coaches.

But unmet expectations carry a heavy cost. And Miles hasn’t kept up with former LSU coach Nick Saban’s run of success at Alabama.

Georgia fired Mark Richt after 15 years. No, he never delivered a national title. But he had just one losing season (6-7 in 2010) and his 145 victories with the Bulldogs rank ninth all-time among SEC coaches.

“I don’t know what the world’s coming to in our profession,” Saban said when he heard the news of Richt’s firing.

Now, of course, it appears Richt will land at his alma mater, Miami, and try to restore the Hurricanes to prominence – albeit without all the shady dealings that have defined Miami football for at least a generation.

KIRBY SMART (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

LES MILES (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)

MARK RICHT (AP Photo/John Amis, File)

Georgia, meanwhile, is plucking Saban’s defensive coordinator, Kirby Smart, for its coaching job. South Carolina was still searching for Steve Spurrier’s replacement, meaning three of the seven SEC East teams will have new coaches for the 2016 season.

Also worth noting: Tennessee coach Butch Jones was on the hot seat – or more accurately, the lukewarm seat – for a minute, but an 8-4 season has him safe. You know, for now.

Ditto for Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, whose Razorbacks rebounded to finish 7-5. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen’s apparent flirtation with Miami could lead to trouble in Starkville and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is sitting on a very disappointing 6-6 record after being the preseason pick to win the SEC.

The carousel will never remain idle for long.

Elsewhere, former Memphis assistant Clay Helton was elevated from interim coach to full-time status at USC; Iowa State hired former Toledo coach Matt Campbell; Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost took the head-coaching job at UCF; and Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin is bound for Maryland.

Several other jobs remained open as of this writing, including Louisiana-Monroe, North Texas, Rutgers, Syracuse, Tulane and Virginia.

And then there’s the Illinois situation. Interim coach Bill Cubit ultimately was retained and given a two-year contract, which in the modern world of college coaching is like being told to leave your car running.

Interim Illinois athletic director Paul Kowalczyk summed up the hire this way: “It’s not ideal, but for now I don’t think it’ll put a dagger in the heart of the program.”

Nice vote of no-confidence, that was. No doubt, the carousel will be spinning back toward the Illini sooner rather than later.

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