Big Ten (and beyond) Playbook: On firing coaches early. And speculating on Irish.

Les Miles, who won a lot but not lately, is gone from LSU. He follows Ron Turner, who never figured it out at good-luck-figuring-it-out Florida International.

Gould Headshot square

College coaches fired in September? With losing their only crime?

This is going to be quite a year for the coaching carousel.

Since we’re calling this space The Big Ten Playbook, here are jobs to keep an eye on, barring unforeseen success the rest of the way.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

Purdue: Darrell Hazell is a nice young man in a difficult job. But he’s 8-31 in his fourth year. There’s just no there there.

Penn State: James Franklin, who’s 16-14 in his third year, is probably a better coach than he’s showing. Blame the sanctions. Blame having the wrong style of quarterback for the first two years. Blame being in the Big Ten East. But this doesn't seem to be working out.

There are a couple of other Big Ten jobs that I wonder about. But it’s too soon to speculate. Even for me.

I understand impatience. But I don’t really think firing college football coaches at this point accomplishes anything.

It definitely works in the NHL. It can help in the NBA. Baseball, not so much.

Football, no way. College or pro, it’s about scheme and personnel, which can’t be changed mid-stream.

If you want to make a statement, fine. But booting the coach before Rosh Hashanah also makes other statements.

What are you going to wear for Halloween?


And let’s not forget Notre Dame throwing defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder under the bus, even if it was deserved. The move buys coach Brian Kelly a little time. Will it buy a little better defense? Time will tell.

I’m thinking about this because the world is so different these days.

I’m also thinking about it because this is going to be a tumultuous year. My sympathies to over-worked beat writers who hate coaching changes. Not everybody thrives on this stuff like my pal Blaudschun.

Let the Tom Herman Derby begin

" target="_blank">Speaking of Blau, he already is delving into intrigues with the hottest coach around, Houston’s Tom Herman.

So let me throw in another hot coach who looks like a lock to move up in the world: Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck.


Before we examine where Fleck might go, some Irish background that might or might not be relevant. . .

When I was on the Notre Dame beat in 1984, Gerry Faust was in his fourth year as ND coach. Wanting to prove they could hire a high school coach (from Cincinnati Moeller) and be successful, the Irish proved exactly the opposite.

When ND started 3-4 in 1984, everybody knew Gerry was gone. . . after the 1985 season. Because in those days, coaches got five years to sink or swim. And while Gerry had many qualities, swimming was not one of them.

Athletic director Gene Corrigan, who's No. 1 on my Mount Rushmore of athletic directors, dutifully sat at the back of the press box and tap-danced whenever we would bring up the subject. Which was often.

How convenient it was when, at the end of the 1985 season, Lou Holtz, who was working wonders at Minnesota, turned out to have an exit clause that allowed him to leave—if Notre Dame, his dream job, opened up.

Besides entertaining us with magic tricks, taking my calls and going off the record, Holtz had a dream-job exit clause?

All I’ll say is, I occasionally believe in conspiracy theories.


I bring this up because I wonder if the defensive coordinator isn’t the only change in the wind under the Golden Dome. What is the shelf life for the FB coach at ND?

" target="_blank">As the prescient Blaudschun pointed out before ND’s miserable 1-3 start, the Notre Dame job takes a toll on coaches.

You have to wonder if Kelly might be thinking by the end of this rocky season that he doesn’t need this grief. Notre Dame is a place that has worn out its best coaches. Frank Leahy and Ara Parseghian were physically spent. Holtz’ departure remains a bit murky, but the welcome mat seemed to be worn out on both sides.

ND also is a place where Kelly won’t be remembered as the coach who guided the Irish to the championship game. He’ll be remembered as the guy who got drilled by Alabama in the championship game.

That’s a really high bar.

And so, I wonder if ND will enter the Tom Herman derby.


I also wonder if ND would entertain making another reach—and taking a hard look at Fleck.

Of course, he’s too young, too unproven.

But being young can be good. You’re oblivious to pressure. And if you’re good, being unproven doesn’t matter. The Irish certainly knew about a young former assistant of theirs, a guy they weren’t able to connect on. . . Urban Meyer.

Some people at Northwestern are still gnashing their teeth at Fleck’s maneuvering in the Broncos’ 22-21 opening win. And even if Illinois is messy, destroying first-year coach Lovie Smith’s squad 34-10 is pretty impressive.

This could all blow over. Kelly could right the Irish ship. But if he and the Irish reach a point of no return, and if Herman and other obvious hot commodities aren’t on the Notre Dame radar, Fleck isn’t as bizarre a possibility as you might think.

If Irish officials think he’s a stud coach, he’s not that big a reach. This is a school that has hired not only Faust, but also Charlie Weis, an eccentric Xs-and-Os NFL assistant. And Bob Davie, who had no head-coaching experience. And Tyrone Willingham, whose resume didn’t make him an obvious choice for Notre Dame.

Scoff at Fleck, if you want. But he is a gifted young coach who knows the nearby Chicago and Michigan landscapes. If you believe he's the next great one, why wait?

Well. . . because he probably to go learn on the next rung of the coaching ladder before taking on a really big-time college football job. I don't expect Notre Dame to hire a Fleck at this point. I'm just saying that there are precedents. And winners are winners. That guy Harbaugh who annoys so many people went from tiny San Diego (not San Diego State) to Stanford, for instance.

If schools like LSU can fire their coach in September, and if Notre Dame can fire its defensive coordinator four games into the season, the Silly Season is going to start early here, too.[/membership]