College Football Nation: Messy coaching carousel

Eric Avidon

It should come as no surprise that in the messiest of seasons, what is supposed to be a relatively peaceful time in the college football season has also been messy.

The last regular season games were played on Dec. 1, and no bowl game will be played until next Thursday, but these three weeks of inaction have been far from quiet.

The coaching profession has taken center stage, and there's little that isn't unsettling about all the rumor, innuendo and possible lying that's gone on for close to a month, essentially beginning with Michigan coach Lloyd Carr's resignation the Monday after his team lost to Ohio State for the fourth straight year and the immediate ensuing speculation that LSU's Les Miles would be his replacement.

The problem is, all the seaminess is no one's fault.

It boils down to the calender, and everyone from athletic directors and college presidents through the coaches on down to players still in high school have their hands forced.

More specifically, it comes down to is recruiting. Colleges cannot recruit high school players whenever they want. Coaches can't roll out of bed on any given day during any given month and make a call or send an e-mail or text to a recruit to try and get the kid to come to that coach's school.

There are very specific times contact can be made, and if contact is made outside those specific times it's a major NCAA violation.

One of those specific times contact is allowed is right now, and national signing day - the day most high school seniors sign letters of intent to attend a specific school and play football there - is approaching fast, about seven weeks away. Beginning Nov. 25 and extending through Feb. 2 of next year, schools are allowed to contact prospective recruits, though there is a two-week dead period extending from Dec. 17 through Jan. 1 and certain other small windows in January when no contact is allowed.

Essentially, after more than a year of trying to recruit the best players available to put together the best team possible, Thanksgiving through Groundhog Day is the final stretch.

Now imagine if a school doesn't have a coach.

Well, you get what we have going on right now. You get a situation where no one looks good, where all involved are stuck in a bad situation.

An institution whose coach resigns or is fired naturally wants to fill the vacancy as soon as possible. If the school doesn't, it's left with no leader to recruit, no one to attract high school players, or keep the ones who have already said they're leaning toward that school. So unless the institution decides to promote from within or hire someone currently unemployed, it's forced to contact coaches who still have work to do at their current schools, since there's a bowl game still to be played.

That coach is suddenly put in an awkward spot, especially if that coach is someone like Miles, whose team is playing in the national championship game or another major bowl.

It becomes an impossible situation, and neither the school looking to fill its vacancy, which comes off as some sort of corporate raider, nor the coach who flirts with that school and comes off as some sort mercenary with no sense of loyalty, look good.

Take the case of Miles, who is apparently staying at LSU.

He played and was an assistant coach at Michigan, but had he decided to jump he'd be abandoning his players as they ready for the biggest game of their lives, as well as abandoning the kids still in high school he recruited to come to LSU. He'd also be walking away from the greatest professional moment of his lifetime. By staying, he comes off as honorable, but he leaves perhaps the job of his dreams sitting there for someone else to take.

Despite his proclamations, there remains the possibility he's trying to both coach his current team and then take the Michigan job, in which case he'll be seen as merely the next Nick Saban. He denies and denies, and then when the season is done finally jumps, exposing himself as a liar whose every word going forward must be questioned. He also screws two schools in their recruiting efforts, leaving LSU high and dry less than a month before signing day while not letting it be known to potential Michigan recruits that that's where he'll be until just over three weeks before they make

their decision.

The truth is, no matter what Miles, or someone in his awkward position decides, it's understandable. There's no easy right thing to do.

There's even some semblance of reason behind what Bobby Petrino did this week, though it's pretty hard to find in that circumstance. With three games left in the NFL season, Petrino, who signed a lengthy contract with Louisville before the 2006 season and jumped to the Atlanta Falcons less than a year later, now has quit his job with Atlanta after less than a year to take the head job at Arkansas.

You'd think the guy would have the decency to coach those final three games, and then step down, not abandon his team the way he did.

But here's the thing - he'd miss out on the key recruiting period between now and Dec. 18 when he wouldn't be able to talk to kids for two weeks. Other coaches, meanwhile, will have been talking to those kids since Thanksgiving, and perhaps in the two-week dead period they'll make up their mind. By the time Petrino - or any coach not hired in the next few days - finally makes contact the kid is off the market.

And make no mistake about it, essentially missing out on a year of recruiting is a bad thing.

Look no further than Notre Dame, which is paying the price for waiting until after the NFL playoffs to hire Charlie Weis, for an example.

The coaching searches have been pretty messy the past few weeks. Everybody has come off looking smarmy, and some may be. But all are not.

They're all just victims of the calendar.

What We Learned

Unlike Michigan and Arkansas and a bunch of other schools whose coaching searches haven't been the prettiest, Florida State, whenever it finally changes coaches, will apparently have a smooth transition.

The Seminoles will promote from within when the time comes for Bobby Bowden to head off into the sunset, thereby avoiding all the pitfalls of conducting a coaching search while simultaneously trying to have a successful recruiting year.

Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, it was announced, will take over for Bowden whenever the legendary coach decides it's time.

"The president and athletic director ... suggested to me that they would like to name a successor," said the 78-year-old Bowden, in an interview with ESPN. "I had always supported (defensive coordinator) Mickey Andrews, who has been here so long. But they were looking for a younger coach, so Jimbo Fisher was the one that we all agreed it should be. ... The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.

"You try and recruit at my age, you try and convince a kid I'm going to be here five years, and nobody's gonna believe that. So now if you have a guy that's going to follow you, and the prospects know that, and all the prospects we've talked to - they like it."

Beyond the smooth line of succession, the move is a positive step for a program that has stagnated. Florida Sate was, bar none, the best program for a 15-year stretch from 1987-2001 when it finished in the top four of the final AP poll every single year, winning two national championships. Since then, however, it hasn't been a top 10 team once, and last year was 7-6 and this year is 7-5 with a bowl game remaining.

Fisher, who was the offensive coordinator at LSU for seven years before coming to Florida State this season, will infuse new life at a school where talent still flocks but where it no longer flourishes.

Game of the Week

There is just one game that will be played between now and next Friday, just the Poinsettia Bowl on Thursday night in San Diego between Utah and Navy.

Um, if you're a fan of either school, enjoy.

If I Had a Ballot ...

I wouldn't have to vote this week because there are no polls until after the bowl season is complete.

(Eric Avidon is a Daily News staff writer. He can be reached at or 508-626-3809.)