Coaches Come and Go, Except JoePa - New York Times story
Jan. 13, 2010
New York, NY: - Wow. Things sure do happen fast in academia. No sooner did Pete Carroll split from Southern California than Lane Kiffin walked away from Tennessee on Tuesday night.
Kiffin had barely settled in -- a 7-6 record in his first season -- before he was heading back to U.S.C. Did he have time to learn the lyrics to "Rocky Top"?
And what about all the red-hot Volunteers fans who loved Kiffin so much a month ago? Do they still love him this morning? But they'll love the new guy, whoever he turns out to be. That's the way it goes in college football.
By contrast, as coaching exits go, this was not a bad way for Carroll to leave Southern California -- with one outright national championship, a share of another one, and good memories, along with images of him earnestly working with gang members in the midnight hours. Almost all coaches leave, sooner rather than later. Except at Penn State, of course, where the man with the thick eyeglasses and the thick Brooklyn patois keeps going, without major scandal.
Penn State football fans should give thanks for Joe Paterno and the way the university does its football business. Not all of them will give thanks, of course, but that is the beast called college football. Every big-time fan wants to be No. 1 every year, by virtue of being the greatest little state in the world -- at least until the penalties drop. (There is virtually no such thing as disgrace in college football, although there are penalties.) Pete Carroll charmed the beast better than almost anybody -- big smile, lots of energy. Now maybe he gets to install a basketball court at the Seahawks' bunker in Seattle, a nice touch that brought him some ridicule in 1994, the one year the Jets allowed him. He showed them.
Other coaches have moved on recently under more dire circumstances -- Mike Leach dismissed by Texas Tech for insensitivity toward an annoying player with a concussion, Charlie Weis by Notre Dame for failing, Urban Meyer going on his strange little sabbatical from Florida because of health issues, Bobby Bowden being retired from Florida State and on his way out the door being penalized as many as 14 victories for major infractions.
A lot of coaches leave just ahead of the posse, their own university's or the N.C.A.A.'s. Now there may be investigations of U.S.C. in recent years that, if fruitful, will lead to penalties, by which time Carroll will already be judged on 97 victories and 19 losses, not the small stuff, like players walking around looking quite rich.
Some U.S.C. recruits are said to be disillusioned with Carroll's departure, which just means they were going to U.S.C. for the wrong reasons. Now some of Kiffin's guys will have to work things out with some new coach. Tough.
For coaches, it's always time to get restless and seek a new challenge when the N.C.A.A. comes nosing around. Whether it was played that way by Carroll, we will discover down the line.
Meantime, there is always Paterno, the last of the lifers. The old Brooklyn Dodgers fan turned 83 recently, with two years left on his contract and a crusty determination to keep going beyond that. Ya wanna make something of it?
Carroll put in nine years at U.S.C., which is long by the standard of his flighty profession, but Paterno has been the coach in Happy Valley for 44 years, since the regime of Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Paterno has won two national titles, and the worst thing that could be said about his operation was that if some of his lads got into a fracas away from the field, he might dismiss the fringe players and administer tough love toward the talent. But academic scandals? Recruiting scandals? Money flying over the long Appalachian ridges toward a prospect? None of that.
By coincidence -- nobody at Penn State has that good timing or sense of humor -- on the day Carroll bade farewell to the troops at U.S.C., Penn State issued a release that its football players had the highest graduation success rate, known as G.S.R., 85 percent, and the highest federal graduation rate, 89 percent, among teams ranked in this season's final top 25.
These figures were in a report released by the N.C.A.A. in November. The same study said U.S.C. had rates of 58 and 57 percent. Figures like that do not necessarily have anything to do with coaches, but Penn State has generally been conducting football with integrity for decades.
If the Lions lost a game here or there, some fans would mutter that old JoePa was becoming senile and could no longer recruit. But he has now won 394 games, lost 129 and tied 3 in his 44 years, and nobody is taking away anything, much less the 14 victories that the N.C.A.A. is likely to penalize the beloved Bowden.
Carroll had a wonderful run. Seattle is a wonderful place, and they will love him up there, if he wins right away. It was time to move on. That's the way it works in the strange world of college football, where the good ones sometimes move on as fast as the bad ones.