Coaching Changes for 2005
By Dave Hershorin Managing Editor

August 30, 2005

Let’s look at the major head coaching moves that will surely affect the national picture. A total of 23 head coaches were hired during this offseason, markedly more than the 14 from 2004. When kids are recruited by one coach (often going to a school specifically to work with/for that person) only to then/eventually play for another, they get their first real taste for what the NFL is like – constant personnel changes that have to be downplayed so the players can remain focused on winning, regardless of who is in charge. Moreover, since most never get to play on Sunday, a player needs to see the bigger picture and make sure any coaching change(s) don’t detract him from getting a degree, the ultimate goal for any student-athlete.

Remember, football isn’t the ends, but a means by which one can attain true human achievement through learning about one’s self and the world. Graduating is the ultimate goal. Anyone who doesn’t understand this has yet to learn about the scholastic standards set by the late, great Woody Hayes, and why he was a “man amongst men” whom many remember beyond his unfortunate demise as one who truly taught his players everything – personally and football-wise – that they needed to know in life.

But even though learning to lose may be more important in life than learning to win, never having to learn to lose is an achievement for which is, in itself, worth the strife. Coaches can teach that, too. Anyway, here are the major changes worth noting…


  • The shuffle that sent ex-Gator Ron Zook to Illinois and brought Urban Meyer to Florida seems to be of major interest there in Gainesville. All of the local clamor was for former-coach Steve Spurrier to return, for his ability to get their boys to those past glory days of the ‘90s is still fresh in most UF minds. Well, trust us - they made a much better move in acquiring Meyer. With Spurrier, it would have been more ‘give and take’, whereas with Meyer, UF fans and alumni are facilitating the meteoric rise of the nation’s hottest college coach. Steve Spurrier had something to prove his first time on University Avenue, but would be chasing his own tail/legacy upon any return. Spurrier lands appropriately in South Carolina, where he will have the wiggle room to make the Gamecocks into a contender. Spurrier likes rebuilding projects, and the Gamecock faithful deserve another quality big name after Holtz buoyed USC only to then fizzle the last three campaigns.


  • Meyer, of course, is surging and has been hoping to land at a major program with so many successes (at Bowling Green and Utah) in recruiting and overall program development. Meyer does what Spurrier never did – he stays on top of his entire team to make sure all off-field facets commune with what his football goals aim to accomplish, winning. And with a scheming mind just as intricate and viable football-wise as Spurrier’s, it will only be a matter of time until junior QB phenom Chris Leak is surging past BGU ‘s Omar Jacob’s (a Meyer recruit) and Alex Smith’s levels as Meyer’s greatest student yet.


  • Ron Zook just has to prove that Illinois can win after only finishing over .500 twice in the past decade. A defensive specialist, Zook has his work cut out with the Illini’s weak lines on both sides of the action. Zook never deserved the crap he took at UF, but suffice to say that the realistic expectations at Illinois are a much better fit for Ron – there won’t likely be a site popping back up anytime soon.


  • Kyle Whittingham takes over for Meyer out in Utah, and no one deserved the spot more. Whittingham was the “Dan Mullen” of the D, formulating tricky schemes that secured the Utes their place as the first BCS-buster. Whittingham will be challenged to put together an offense even close to one as efficient as what left. Meyer had the Utes ranked 4th by his departure, a superlative not likely to be repeated. But Kyle has the receivers and decently sized/disciplined lines to make a run at the MWC title. Whittingham, serving as co-head coach with Urban after Meyer had already been signed by Florida, dismantled Pittsburgh in their 35-7 Fiesta Bowl win to galvanize his pick as the 20th Utah head coach. With this being his first assignment as a team’s head coach, expect little (due to a new QB) and be surprised if/when Whittingham succeeds, for his team has the bulls-eye of revenge on its back after winning 16 in a row. The MWC pendulum of power swings, but will it just go right back to Salt Lake City?
  • Charlie Weis has his hands full as the next target for alums at Notre Dame. Nothing short of another national championship will satisfy their insatiable hunger in South Bend, and anticipation/impatience increases with each candidate they inspect-then-reject. But since Weis is the first ND graduate to earn their head coaching spot in 40-plus years, he is likely to be given a bit more wiggle room that Ty Willingham was never afforded. Well, four Super Bowl rings will get you some breaks. Many don’t realize that Weis was a defensive specialist before these last 14 years (of being an offensive coach/coordinator), which will come in handy with the marginal D the Irish seem to have. Our advice: Weis should patiently work with what he has and not let the “drama queen” alums take his focus off of the incremental steps needed to return ND to prominence. If Weis gets caught up in any hype and/or premature national title talk, he will reflect eerily similar results as his past few predecessors. Their schedule remains relentless, so any steps achieved (under Ty) were easily balanced out as the struggling Irish rarely gained consistency this decade. With fans like Regis Philbin (who believe the world stops when the Irish lose), genuine incremental steps made by ND’s student-athletes are too often lost behind the disappointment of fans who fail to understand that important growth can still come out of a loss. A deep breath and one step at a time for the nation’s largest independent…and, by the way, when will ND burst its “bubble of pride” and fill that 12th Big Ten spot which has been calling their name for over a decade now? $$$


  • Tyrone Willingham lands with the dismal Washington Huskies, a better fit for his disciplined approach - they need him and he needs them after both have struggled as of late. And yes, we have the “Ty Bowl” on September 24th circled – it’s a game the Irish (alums) expect to win, and since Ty has little to work with up there in Seattle, the Huskies have their work cut out. But, oh, those intangible motivating factors…get ‘em, Ty.


  • Dave Wannstedt is facing a similar plight as Weis with his return to Pittsburgh. A graduate student alum from their bicentennial national championship team, Wannstedt did a double-take before accepting, but, unlike with Weis, no one in the Steel City has second-guessed his intentions and/or integrity. Will Dave and another alum, former-QB Matt Cavanaugh (offensive coordinator), be able to return the Panthers to their old form? Instilling a solid, consistent, smash-mouth running attack is their first step, a good one to take with the ample size afforded to their RB unit, something ex-head coach Walt Harris could never quite utilize optimally. Pitt really cleaned house after not showing up in their Fiesta Bowl debacle, and has as much to prove to itself as it does to its embarrassed Big East partners. Under the sharp eye of Wannstedt, the performance of Pitt’s young-but-accomplished secondary, along with that of Tyler Palko, will go a long way toward redeeming the Panthers. Watch, too, for LB H.B. Blades to have an even better year than he did in 2004.


  • Syracuse also changed head coaches, but these moves seemingly flew under most national press/radar(s). Greg Robinson slides in after he led his Texas defense (as co-coordinator) to a stellar campaign (11-1) and a Rose Bowl win over a tough Michigan squad. Now-departed Paul Pasqualoni was a great leader of student-athletes, but could never get Syracuse to that next level in his 14 seasons as top Orangeman. A fine learning institution, Syracuse football was obviously sick of muddling around in the mundane mire that has become known as the Big East. An (almost) entirely new staff reboots expectations. There is no reason why Syracuse cannot challenge Louisville and Pitt as the league favorites, so don’t be surprised if/when college football in upstate New York begins to heat up come November.


  • LSU is another place where a head coaching shuffle has reshaped both the Baton Rouge landscape and fans’ expectations. Les Miles takes over for the former hottest coach, but with Nick Saban in the NFL now dealing with Ricky Williams and the Dolphins, Miles is handed the reigns. Miles was the only coach in Oklahoma State history to beat Oklahoma and Nebraska in the same campaign, and is the only coach in the last four years to beat the surging Sooners twice. Will Miles keep the run-heavy schemes he championed in Stillwater, or embrace the diverse receiver talent offered within the deep coffers of four- and five-star recruits Saban amassed? Look for passing to be prominently displayed as there are just too many NFL-level receivers on this ’05 squad. Lots of squads will get beaten by the Bayou Bengals, but with such unpredictable results prior to Saban’s tenure, keep an eye on Death Valley. Just ask Jerry DiNardo what happens when expectations are high way down yonder in “Red Stick”…