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Dayton Daily News (Ohio)


As the 2017 season winds to a conclusion, college football is facing a potential talent crisis.

It hasn't manifested itself on the field, where the product remains as compelling as ever. But in the coaching ranks and even on the administrative side, where the churn rate in the last few years has far surpassed the number of slam-dunk stars in the business, the college sports industry is preparing for the kind of December that it had never imagined until now.

As you can see with Florida making eyes at Chip Kelly, Tennessee frothing at the mouth to get into the Jon Gruden business and Texas A&M preparing to throw insane money at a 3-6 coach in Jimbo Fisher, the big takeaway is there is no such thing as a sure thing.

And in an environment where Arkansas is reportedly going to pay a largely successful athletics director in Jeff Long $4.6 million to go away as a likely precursor to paying football coach Bret Bielema somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million to do the same, college sports has become the equivalent of a drunken bachelor party attendee in Las Vegas who winds up doubling his bets on each losing blackjack hand, hoping to eventually get lucky and recoup his losses.

Here's how insane things have gotten: If the Kellys and Grudens don't work out, the marketplace essentially will force schools to pay $4 million and up for the likes of Memphis' Mike Norvell and Central Florida's Scott Frost, who have a combined four years of head coaching experience.

"I don't know if the pool has ever been this shallow," said one person intimately tied into the coaching search industry, who asked to remain anonymous so the opinion would not be misconstrued as a referendum on particular jobs or coaches.

The pool might be shallow, but the expectations are immense, which is particularly dangerous in the modern era where athletics directors are now judged almost exclusively on whether their football coaching hires work out.

Take the situation at Arkansas, where Long was let go Wednesday. Though Long had been a net positive over his decade-long run in Fayetteville, he lost his job for one reason: Bielema wasn't winning enough. And if Arkansas' boosters and power brokers wanted to make a coaching change, it was practically a given that Long - aka, the guy who messed up the last hire - wouldn't get the chance to make that call again.

Though there were other off-field issues surrounding Auburn and Jay Jacobs, including a softball scandal and the basketball program's involvement in an FBI investigation, the discontent with his tenure can be traced back to Auburn's on-again, off-again love affair with Gene Chizik and then Gus Malzahn, the two football coaches he hired. It was no accident that the public chatter about the end of Jacobs' tenure began to bubble this fall after Auburn's football team stumbled out of the gates.

It used to be schools hired athletics directors from the ranks of former football coaches. Now, schools treat them like football coaches, even though most of them are career administrators who spend 99% of their time doing wonky things such as budgets, rules compliance and fundraising and very little on football hires.

And while it's easy these days if you have enough money to get rid of a coach or an athletics director, replacing them has become harder than ever.

The early word in the industry on Arkansas was that the school might look outside the sphere of college athletics and into the business world for somebody with Arkansas ties who could run the athletics department, a strategy that has been hit-or-miss (mostly miss) when others have tried it. Either way, it's almost certain that the coach will be in place before the athletics director, historically a recipe for problems.

And at Auburn, there is no obvious candidate to take Jacobs' place who will wow that fan base, largely because fans largely don't (and shouldn't) know the difference between a good athletics director and a bad one.

While the mid-major ranks are filled with talented young administrators such as Central Florida's Danny White, Colorado State's Joe Parker, South Florida's Mark Harlan, North Texas' Wren Baker, Arkansas State's Terry Mohajir, Houston's Hunter Yurachek, Temple's Pat Kraft, Florida Atlantic's Pat Chun, Louisiana Tech's Tommy McClelland, Northern Illinois' Sean Frazier, Rice's Joe Karlgaard and New Mexico State's Mario Moccia, these are not household names. Thus, it is difficult for schools and their boosters to have a clear-eyed vision of what kind of person they will need to get them to the next level.

"It's not a deep bench," another industry insider said.

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November 19, 2017


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