Try looking for leaders in the unusual places

By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 16, 2000


Bobby Bowden may coach at FSU until he's 100. No way Steve Spurrier will dump Florida Gators for another school. Frankly, the long-running threat of S.O.S. taking a coaching leap to the NFL appears to be burning out, with the old Gators quarterback cutting a Gainesville deal that carries into his 60s.

Few college football programs are as successful/stable as 'Noles and Gators. Alabama, a historic power, is ravenous for a new coaching wizard with a chance to be more like a Bear, less like an SEC lamb.

BYU and West Virginia are shopping, with LaVell Edwards and Don Nehlen retiring. There'll be a new boss at Oklahoma State, Southern Cal and surely a gasping of other places.

There is a provincial, out-of-date mind-set across the continental breadth of this snorting sport. Forty, maybe 50, universities have devout boosters who continue to believe, while eager to back it with lots of their money, "Coaching for us has to be one of the most desirable jobs in America. We surely can attract pretty much anybody we want."

Oh, the semi-blindness.

Alabama people think that. Likewise the fans of Ohio State, Texas, Nebraska, Washington, Penn State, Auburn, Oklahoma, LSU, Colorado, Michigan and many other high-footballing institutions. Certainly at Notre Dame, where Bob Davie seems to have come back from the near-dead. Also at Florida and FSU, when the need eventually arises.

Oh, how the coaching business has changed. Salaries have wondrously escalated in hungrier, richer precincts, as with the Gators, who made an extended deal with Spurrier at $2.1-million annually. There are about 15 making seven-figure incomes, including Bowden.

Do I hear 20?

So quickly, a coach can sizzle. Bob Stoops of top-ranked Oklahoma is the newest meteor. Two years ago, he was defensive coordinator for Spurrier, getting maybe $300,000 a season. With the Sooners back to roaring prominence, Bobby is pushing a million.

Out of hand? Maybe. But the football shows of Bowden and Spurrier attract 80,000-plus to every home game. On a commercial barometer, they frankly are underpaid. Happy, winning backers are more likely to contribute to other parts of a university, even academic stuff.

It's sad that professors of chemistry, philosophy, law and medicine cannot get bigger paydays, but, truth is, they are not as financially and spiritually vital as a Bowden or Spurrier.

Above all, it's about ego. Georgia Bulldogs can't bear it if Georgia Tech is better on football Saturdays. Nebraskans are seething about getting chopped by Oklahoma. It's tough for outsiders to imagine the fire on the Alabama-Auburn rivalry.

Then there's FSU-UF.

Pursuit of heroic football coaches is understandable. Dennis Erickson's winning at Oregon State, which had been an eternal loser, has invigorated even bookworms and geeks in Corvallis. Alumni across the land are hungry for a coach who can do for their alma mater what Butch Davis is accomplishing at Miami.

Speaking of Butch, as his second-ranked Hurricanes strain to reach the national championship game, the Davis name is being more than whispered by Alabama zealots. Mike DuBose has flunked out. Crimson Tiders were intrigued by Tommy Bowden, but he's staying at Clemson. Frank Beamer looked good, but he's a lifer at Virginia Tech.

There was a Jimmy Johnson rumor in Tuscaloosa. A million 'Bama backers think they can sell almost anybody on taking a few million and trying to at least be 'Bama second-best to Paul Bryant. Now, while J.J. muffles his laughter, it's his former UM and Dallas Cowboys assistant, Davis, who has Tiders titillated.

Butch may get an NFL shot.

Let's get back to Stoops. Shouldn't he be a lesson for coach-seeking campuses that can't seem to think of anything more creative than trying to swipe some hot No. 1 guy from another campus? Stoops was a coordinator. His predecessor at Florida, Bobby Pruett, went to Marshall and is doing beautifully. Aren't we talking fertile ground for coach hunting?

Mickey Andrews has been a defensive fireball at FSU for more than half of Bowden's fruitful 25 seasons there. How could this coordinator have been bypassed for so many years? Would he, even in Mickey's late 50s, not be a quite solid choice for an Alabama?

Jimmy Johnson, indeed!

Do your homework, coach hunters. Find the identities of legitimate, gifted offensive or defensive coordinators. West Virginia is doing it and could well hire Clemson offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez.

How can Ralph Fridgen get such a job? Along with Spurrier, the Georgia Tech coordinator may be the college game's most creative offensive mind. He drew NFL plays for the San Diego Chargers. Okay, the man may not look the part. Ralph is frumpy, heavy and doesn't present a Harvard business school kind of presence. But his schemes are masterful.

Slow egos ... sharper minds.

Always, hot new worldly fellows bubble to the surface. Often, they are coaches with short-run glory, but a school with a downtrodden program can so easily fantasize and beyond.

You'll hear Dennis Franchione's name afloat, since he rekindled TCU moments of delight. Mike Belotti has Oregon in a frenzy, so he'll be tempted to gain membership in the Millionaire Coaches Club. Joe Tiller of Purdue probably is not out of reach.

Remember when Gary Barnett was the fresh-faced phenom, having taken a struggling Northwestern operation to a Rose Bowl? At first, bathed in romance, he opted to spurn fat offers, sticking around Evanston. Then sad Saturdays began to reappear. Barnett, with reconsideration, left for big cash at Colorado.

Now it's Randy Walker who is generating another swatch of hope at Northwestern. He and Tiller may be doing for the Big Ten what Spurrier accomplished in the SEC, triggering a new era of offensive creativity. Walker is among the golden prospects other schools may seek.

Better shopping techniques are advised.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.