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NCAA Super Conference Could Lead to NFL-Style Hiring System

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USA TODAY
September 4, 2013 Wednesday
First EDITION
SPORTS; Pg. 8C
749 words
NCAA REALIGNMENT COULD AFFECT COACHES;
Super conference scenario might lead to NFL-style hiring system
Dan Wolken, @DanWolken, USA TODAY Sports

In his third season as head coach at Central Michigan, Brian Kelly lost all three times his team played schools from power conferences. But two games were reasonably competitive: a seven-point loss at 10-win Boston College and a nine-point loss to a Kentucky team that finished 8-5.

Now in his fourth season at Notre Dame, Kelly said he believes the chance to play those teams helped persuade Cincinnati to hire him after the 2006 season, a leap allowing Kelly to prove he was among the best coaches in the country.

"Losing is losing regardless of what happened at the end of the day," he said. "But as it relates to people evaluating how you prepared your team, how you got your team to play above its (talent level), that means a lot."

A career arc such as Kelly's, however, could become almost impossible if some of the more extreme scenarios of an NCAA shake-up come to fruition.

Currently there are 65 schools in the so-called power conferences, and nearly all hired head coaches who previously were assistants at other power conference schools or head coaches at smaller conferences in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

But the traditional paradigm of how coaches are hired could change greatly if the top football schools break into a truly separate division or only play each other, cutting smaller conferences out of scheduling agreements. One agent for several high-profile coaches, who spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said such a hypothetical setup could force up-and-coming coaches to reconsider the attractiveness of jobs in leagues such as the Mid-American or Sun Belt.

"I don't think that'll happen," said Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville, who serves as the American Football Coaches Association's second vice president. "It's not feasible to have 40 or 50 just play each other."

Though there are no indications a move toward that model would happen any time soon, it has been theorized more and more as factors such as strength of schedule gain prominence in the thinking of athletics department officials with the new College Football Playoff. Some schools also are concerned about increasing costs for game guarantees. Ohio State, for instance, is paying San Diego State $1.2million to play at Ohio Stadium this weekend, according to an Associated Press report.

In May, Alabama coach Nick Saban told AL.com he was in favor of five conferences forming a separate division and playing only each other.

"Strength of schedule is important, but, also, how about the fans?" Saban said. "Don't they want to see good games and all that?"

But an unintended consequence of squeezing Toledo and Bowling Green from the highest level of college football -- schools where Saban and Urban Meyer, respectively, landed their first head coaching jobs -- could be a realignment of the coaching profession, so to speak.

Some coaches are concerned that if lower-level FBS conferences no longer compete at the highest level of college football, it would limit their chances to advance and make hiring more like an NFL-style system, where head coaches are recycled or promoted from the assistant ranks.

"It probably wouldn't have given me the opportunity I got," Kelly said.

Seeing how someone handles the lead chair at a lower level is still appealing to many athletics directors at big schools. Purdue's Morgan Burke said he placed significant value on the two years Darrell Hazell spent at Kent State as opposed to the seven years he was an Ohio State assistant.

"The hardest part of a coaching job at this level isn't the X and O stuff, it's all the stuff around it," Burke said. "And it takes on many aspects of the (general manager's) role, from coaching, recruiting, player recruitment, player discipline and the like. It's hard to simulate that if you're an assistant. It just is."

But without Kent State being able to play and beat power conference teams -- Hazell became a hot name after the Golden Flashes knocked off Rutgers last season -- would he have had the opportunity? Or, in other words, where would someone such as Brian Kelly come from?

"In the old days, the MAC was a great breeding ground for head coaches going into the Big Ten. The WAC and the Big Sky were great breeding grounds for the Pac-10," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "Instead of people learning their lessons in front of millions, they learn their lessons in front of hundreds. I want the same opportunities for the next guy that's 23 or 33 that I had starting out."

September 4, 2013

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