Mailbag: Not everything on Spurrier's résumé is worth crowing about

BY Stewart Mandel • October 14, 2015

So ... anything we need to talk about this week?

My goodness.

In your tenure as a college football writer, was this one of the most interesting Mondays in terms of news (Florida, South Carolina, USC)? And how do you feel about a storied coach (Steve Spurrier) who appears to be in good health leaving midseason? Is it fair to the players?

—Ed Ryan, Santa Clara, Calif.

It was without question the newsiest in-season weekday I can recall. Bruce and I recorded our podcast with Matt Leinart on Monday morning thinking it would be super timely given his former coach's indefinite leave of absence the day before. Then Florida announced Will Grier's suspension while we were recording, so we got to touch on that, too. But then, seemingly the minute we finished and moved on with our days, USC went ahead and fired Sark, requiring me to re-record a clunky intro. The Spurrier announcement came too late to even get to it.

I've been struggling since Monday with what exactly to say about Spurrier that's both respectful of his distinguished career but honest in my feelings. There's no debating his Florida legacy. The guy won four straight SEC titles, which is absolutely insane. To put that in perspective, Nick Saban, the current gold standard, has five total (one fewer than Spurrier) but has never won two in a row. Along the way, Spurrier revolutionized the modern passing game, infused the sport full of color and galvanized rivalries with Florida State and Tennessee. As someone who first caught the college football bug in the '90s, he'll forever be part of my formative memories of the sport.

The South Carolina part is trickier. While he deserves ample credit for orchestrating the Gamecocks' unprecedented success from 2011-13, I'm not sure his larger tenure merits quite the feting he's receiving. His crowning accomplishment was winning a couple of Citrus Bowls (technically Capital One Bowls), the same game he mocked while at Florida. He went a modest 44-40 in the SEC. By comparison, Georgia's Mark Richt — widely viewed as an underachiever — is 80-36. If that seems like an unfair comparison because of Georgia's historical advantages, how about this one? Art Briles has won two conference titles at Baylor — two more than Spurrier at South Carolina.

As for the way he left ... let's put it this way. If Oregon coach Mark Helfrich decided today that he's not the right guy to rescue this year's floundering Ducks, that the players need to hear from a fresh voice, so there's no point delaying the inevitable, he's going to go ahead and resign immediately ... he would get crushed and be labeled a quitter. But because Spurrier is a Hall of Fame coach with a legion of admirers among my media colleagues, he seems to be getting a pass.

I wish him nothing but the best in his not-retirement. He's given far more to college football than we could ever deservedly ask. I just wish he'd stuck it out another six games, at which point they could throw him a parade if so inclined. Quitting midseason, no matter one's accomplishments, doesn't sit right with me.

USC might be the best open job right now. Who would be the second-best current opening? Illinois, Maryland, South Carolina, North Texas, or is there another school I am missing? Maybe Miami if things do not go well the rest of the season?

—Jeff Hostetler, Gainesville, Fla.

First of all, how crazy is it that there are five schools (including four Power 5 programs) with head-coaching openings before Oct. 15? I think we can safely assume that Virginia and Rutgers will eventually join that list. Miami also seems likely, but I'm not ready to go there just yet. For all the heat Al Golden is taking, the 'Canes did almost beat Florida State in Tallahassee last week.

Call me crazy, but not only do I think Maryland is second best among those, but in fact, a highly attractive job now that it's in the Big Ten. The school is in a major media market in an area with a lot of talent. The Terps have the founder of Under Armour actively trying to position the program as that company's own Oregon. Some might counter that Maryland is stuck in the same division as Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State, but if the Big Ten's current alignment had existed in 2007, people would have said, "Oh, poor Mark Dantonio, he's going to get his brains beat in at Michigan State."

Like with Michigan State under Dantonio, almost any Power 5 school with administrative and financial support can win consistently if it hires the right coach. And if Maryland can do that, the fans will follow.

How big of an advantage is it to fire the coach so early? Don't USC and Maryland need to make home run hires? Which job does Todd Graham take?

—Dan Klobucar, Minneapolis

It's not the advantage it used to be since everybody else is doing it, too.

Once upon a time, Florida beat out Notre Dame for then-Utah coach Urban Meyer in part because AD Jeremy Foley began that process before Notre Dame even decided to fire Tyrone Willingham. Obviously there were unfortunate circumstances involved with the Steve Sarkisian decision, so it's not like AD Pat Haden pulled the plug to get a leg up in the coaching carousel, but even if he did, I'm not sure it would matter. Two years ago he fired Lane Kiffin in late September and ended up hiring a guy for whom he had no competition. And Michigan last year got its dream coach despite waiting until Dec. 2 to fire Brady Hoke.

As for Graham ... woo, there could be a whole lot of dream jobs open by December. Let's hold off handicapping that one until we know all the options.

Hey Stewart: Do you think this is the year a head coach is fired at halftime? If so, name the coach and the game.

—Jeff Pretzel, Houston

It sure seems headed that way, doesn't it? Now that George O'Leary has stepped down as UCF's interim AD, maybe his replacement will fire him at halftime of Saturday's Temple game.

It shouldn't be hard to flag him down. The 0-6 Knights run only about 1.9 yards at a time.

As a Gator, looking up your Forward Pass column Monday afternoon, but instead discovering that Will Grier is out for a year, was a bit of a buzzkill. For the season, I'm sure this means we're toast. For this week, though, does it matter, given that beating LSU was always going to be about our D vs. that manchild named Leo?

—James, Asheville, N.C.

You know what I love about writing this column? My readers are damn clever. That last line was so good I'm willing to temporarily forgive my longstanding pet peeve about using "we" and "our" in that context.

First of all, unless you'd already elevated your expectations for these Gators to national championship-or-bust, then by no means is the season shot. In fact, the SEC East is still Florida's to lose, regardless of this week's outcome. If Treon Harris can beat Georgia — which recently suffered its own devastating personnel loss in Nick Chubb — then the Gators, already 4-0 in the SEC and holding tiebreaking wins over Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky, will likely be on their way to Atlanta. And even if they lose to both LSU and Georgia, if they handle Vanderbilt and South Carolina, then all they need is for Kentucky and Georgia to each lose one more SEC game. That's an enviable position.

But I do think Grier's loss hurts Florida big time this week. Before that I actually thought the Gators had a decent shot because their defense is good enough to force Brandon Harris to throw, and Grier and the offense have progressed to the point I felt confident in them in big games. But we've seen Treon Harris plenty, and he's not nearly the passing threat as Grier. Which means Florida may now be in much the same boat as LSU, only the Tigers have Leonard Fournette, and the Gators do not.

Ultimately this is a bigger blow for coach Jim McElwain because Grier, pending appeal, will have to sit out the first half of next season as well. He had been quickly emerging as the face of Florida's resurgence, and a guy whom McElwain could build around for the next three years. Now, that plan's out the window. McElwain is such a great quarterback mentor that I expect we'll see Treon Harris improve, but that still might not be enough to avoid the offense taking a couple of steps back and dampening enthusiasm just a bit for 2016.

I'm a purple-and-gold-bleeding Tiger, but Trevone Boykin as a Heisman candidate over Leonard Fournette? You made the argument about LSU's competition but TCU? Stephen F. Austin? SMU? Texas Tech? Kansas State? Texas? Where's the defense there? And what has happened to college football where we define "powerhouse" teams because they win 52-45?

—Chris Short, Hilton Head, S.C.

Easy there. I put up a new set of rankings every Saturday night. Fournette had been on top for several weeks, but I felt like Boykin deserved the top spot after that comeback win at Kansas State (which, sorry, is a much tougher game than Syracuse, Eastern Michigan or South Carolina.) Fournette is playing a top-10 Florida team this week, while TCU faces Iowa State. If your guy puts up 160 yards on the Gators, he's probably returning to No. 1 next week.

As for the second part of that comment ... I assume you consider Alabama a powerhouse team. Last year the Tide won their game against Auburn 55-44. The year before that, it was 49-42 over Texas A&M. That's college football in 2015. If you can pull off what Michigan's done the past three weeks, all power to you, but personally, I no longer view shootouts against good teams as an indictment of the winner. On the contrary, Boykin so far is doing for TCU much what Mariota did in leading Oregon to last year's national title game. As such, the Horned Frogs remain a playoff contender.

A friend passed this stat on to me: Under Dave Clawson Wake Forest is 0-8 in ACC games when they SCORE a touchdown, and 2-1 when they DON'T. What??? Where does this rank in your file of crazy CFB stats?

—Dan McDermott, Davidson, N.C.

It ranks right alongside the fact that Boston College is 0-3 in the ACC despite allowing one offensive touchdown. #GoACC

As a Texas fan, I know what it's like to play for the national title one season and then completely suck the next. But I don't know if I've ever seen it as bad as Oregon. Losing to the Utes is one thing (they're good), but losing to Wazzu at home? When does the bleeding stop for Oregon? Do they get back to the level that they were playing at the last few years or do they go the way of other programs and struggle for a while.

—David Perry, Belton, Texas

It's interesting you come from the Texas perspective, because I was thinking about that same comparison just the other day. Much like Oregon, the 'Horns lost in the 2009 national title game, lost a Heisman-finalist quarterback (Colt McCoy) and sunk to 5-7 the next season. But also go back a year before that. Oklahoma, after its appearance in the 2008 BCS title game, lost a Heisman-winning quarterback (Sam Bradford) in the '09 season opener and fell to 8-5.

In the former example, coach Mack Brown panicked, immediately cleaned house (replacing both coordinators) and Texas was never the same. With Oklahoma, though, that '09 season felt more like a case of bad luck and one down year. Sure enough, the Sooners got back to 12 wins and a Big 12 title the next season. (coach Bob Stoops' current decline did not begin until a few years later.) Obviously we don't know how the rest of this thus-far 3-3 Ducks season will play out, but if it ends as badly as it started, will we look at it as a 2010 Texas-type crisis or a '09 Oklahoma-type blip?

Ultimately I think it will be a combination of both. One thing to keep in mind: If QB Vernon Adams did not break his finger, Oregon's season might look a lot different. The Ducks probably would have beaten Washington State and possibly even Michigan State. But the fact there wasn't a capable backup on hand is troubling, and the defense's problems are more deeply rooted than that. So Mark Helfrich will likely be forced to make staff changes this offseason, and maybe Oregon doesn't go back to winning 11-12 games immediately, but it's also possible this mediocre season will end up being a blip that comes with losing the greatest player in school history.

Hey Stewart. I may be looking a little far ahead but would you agree that from here, Iowa has the best chance of any team to run the table during the regular season and quietly make a run toward the playoff? Who knows what Northwestern team will show up this week, but otherwise their toughest games (I'd say Pitt and Wisconsin) are already behind them. Maybe we could finally get the Big Ten title game that Iowa fans wanted so badly in 2002.

—Jared Stechschulte, Columbus, Ohio

Crazy as it sounds, yes, Iowa has the best path by far to get to 12-0. The Hawkeyes do not face Michigan State or Michigan, like Ohio State does. They do not have a potential undefeated-vs.-undefeated showdown like Florida State and Clemson (Nov. 7) or TCU and Baylor (Nov. 27). They don't have to play both the Bears and Horned Frogs like Oklahoma State does. They don't have a set of back-to-back tricky games like Utah does the next two weeks against Arizona State and USC. And they do not play four of their last six games against current Top 25 teams like LSU does.

In fact, No. 17 Iowa plays only one currently ranked foe, and that's this week at No. 20 Northwestern, which, despite last week's 38-0 loss at Michigan, remains only a slight underdog to the Hawkeyes. And Pat Fitzgerald's NU teams have ruined the party for Kirk Ferentz's squads before, knocking off a 9-0 Hawkeyes team in 2009 and a then-top 15 team the following year. This isn't necessarily a make-or-break week for quarterback C.J. Beathard and Co., but it's likely their toughest obstacle until their Thanksgiving weekend visit to Nebraska — currently 2-4.

Who will the media fawn over now that the Ol' Ball Coach has hung up his visor?

—Ryan Naessen, Saginaw, Mich.

Well, I did call Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh a genius two days ago, so ...

Stewart, longtime Mailbag readers like me are mourning the loss of a dear old friend. The term "Clemsoning" has been a part of our lexicon for several years. It has brought joy to fans of hopeless programs through blatant and unapologetic Schadenfreude. But alas, "Clemsoning" seems to have met its end. If not I'm sure Dabo is hunting it down as we speak ... with a whip (watch him whip / now watch him Nae Nae). Is there hope for the bitter fans out there that want to feel taller by standing on the backs of other programs' misery?

—Charlie, Atlanta

My colleague Clay Travis has been tossing around the term "Georgia'd" this season, but I don't think it means the same thing. Georgia getting blown out by Alabama in its biggest home game in years ... again ... is not the type of result that made circa-2011 Clemson infamous. On the contrary, it's more for teams that win big games, generate a big bubble of inflated hype, then promptly stick a pincushion in it by losing to a two-touchdown underdog. As coach Dabo so emphatically noted, Clemson has not lost to an unranked opponent in four years.

That's why I contend the proper term today is UCLA'ing. No team in the country right now is better at thwarting its own momentum like the Bruins, who, two weeks ago, rose to No. 7 in the country only to lose 38-23 to 2-2 Arizona State. Or, last season, needing only to beat 6-5 Stanford to clinch the Pac-12 South, instead getting blown out 31-10. Unfortunately, though, this movement is not likely to explode to the same extent as Clemsoning, both because UCLA'ing is less catchy, and because it's yet another West Coast thing for the rest of the county to ignore.

Would the Eagles trade some Chip to USC for some guacamole?

—Irwin Chen, Los Angeles

Again — my readers are wittier than your readers.

share story