published Thursday, December 12th, 2013

Wiedmer: Texas needs backup plan for Saban

  • photo
    Alabama head coach Nick Saban leads his team on to the field in this Oct. 26, 2013, file photo.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

For all those Texas Longhorn fans who believe a coaching change will automatically return them to college football's elite, two words: Rich Rodriguez.

Seven years ago, Rodriguez was on the lips of every Alabama supporter, word of his eminent hire burning up the Internet. But at the last minute, whatever was supposed to happen -- Nick Saban calling Tide athletic director Mal Moore from Saban's Miami Dolphins office and asking him to sit tight, perhaps? -- Rodriguez didn't get the job.

Instead, he left West Virginia for Michigan a year later, went 15-22 over three very controversial seasons in Ann Arbor and was mercifully (for the Maize and Blue, at least) shown the door.

Saban, of course, later took the Bama job he'd sworn he had no interest in, won three national championships in four years from 2009 through 2012, and has pretty much universally stamped himself as the best darn college football coach of his generation.

And if the strong rumors of Mack Brown's impending resignation at Texas are true, Saban should be Job 1, 2, 3 and 4 thru 21 for Longhorns AD Steve Patterson.

But is there also a backup plan should Saban stay put in Tuscaloosa? There better be because anytime you fire a coach of 16 years who won you one national championship and had you playing or another you better be certain that the man you replace him with is equal or better than the man you just fired.

For proof of what happens when you fail to have that plan in place, just look to the UT Orangebloods of the Southeastern Conference, the ones who Cloroxed Texas's burnt orange for their school color -- the Tennessee Vols.

Much like Mack Brown, Phillip Fulmer was a Tennessee native. He also spent 16 years at his UT as a head coach. And like Brown, he won a national championship. Unlike Brown, however, he never competed for another.

The Vols -- who played in 12 January bowl games under Fulmer -- haven't played in one since he was fired in 2008, posting four straight losing seasons in the process.

Brown has reached seven January bowls over his UT career, but he's also played in twice as many BCS bowls as Fulmer -- 4 to 2. And while Fulmer finished with two losing seasons in his final four years, Brown has suffered but one losing season in Austin, and that was back in 2010.

Yet whatever slender chance he had to keep his job almost assuredly died in Waco last week, when the Longhorns were de-horned 30-10 by Baylor and its offensive wizard of a coach Art Briles.

Maybe all that Burnt Orange money could buy Briles. Or Philadelphia Eagles and former Oregon Ducks coach Chip Kelly. Or Auburn's Gus Malzahn. Or everybody's favorite television coach -- Monday Night Football's Jon Gruden.

And maybe any of those guys would work out, especially Briles, who has spun gold at one of the traditionally weakest programs in the country.

But this is where Rodriguez must be remembered when considering a flavor-of-the-month such as Auburn's Malzahn. Much as Malzahn justifiably gets much credit while an Auburn assistant for the Tigers' 2010 national championship with Cam Newton at quarterback, Rodriguez was viewed as the mastermind behind Tommy Bowden's perfect regular season at Tulane in 1998, his spread offense all the rage.

Fast forward to 2006, Rodriguez the head coach at West Virginia, his spread attack having stunned Georgia a season earlier in the Georgia Dome Sugar Bowl following Hurricane Katrina, and it's easy to see Malzahn being viewed in a similar bright light, though at least Rodriguez's recruiting classes had built the Mountaineers.

Point is, Malzahn's a gifted uncertainty for long-term success. So is just about every other coach not named Saban, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops or Ohio State's Urban Meyer, and even Meyer has his critics when it comes to building a championship program without considerable help from that Tebow guy.

Yes, Brown is almost certainly gone, and perhaps it's for the best. You can stay too long, your work taken for granted, your present always judged against your past, and often not favorably.

A single quote along those lines to make Bama fans nervous that Saban might take the oil money and run?

Saban's wife Terry said this to the Wall Street Journal three weeks ago: "You come to a crossroads and the expectations get so great, people get spoiled by success and there gets to be a lack of appreciation. We're kind of there now."

Maybe Tide money can soothe that sense of being taken for granted. Maybe it's nothing more than a ploy to grab a bigger contract, which Bama is now offering. Or maybe Saban -- who's already stayed at Bama two years longer than any other job he's had -- really believes he has one more move in him, a chance to escape Bear Bryant's endless shadow, a chance to become the first coach to win a title at three different schools, though he's already the only guy to win one at two different locales.

And if Saban's long courtship with Alabama is any indication, this might take awhile.

But assuming they eventually get their man, the Longhorns should hang in there. Saban may not be the only guy who can deliver Texas its first national championship since 2005, but he's clearly the only coach you can expect to reach the top.

Which is why Patterson better already have a Plan B should Saban say no, because almost everyone else could prove as risky as Rodriguez.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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tnprogrammer said...

We at the REALUT didn't clorox anyone's color you buffoon. Our university is almost 100 years older than the one in Texas and our official orange color (1889) is almost 40 years older than theirs(1928). Call me next time you need to get your facts straight.

December 12, 2013 at 4:26 p.m.
LoudRebecca said...

This article is baloney. Saban was on the lips of all alumni, we were praying for him to come to lead us to victory.... and he did!

December 12, 2013 at 9:45 p.m.
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