Big Ten Playbook: Texas-sized coaching searches this season, with plenty of stuffing

Things to be thankful for, besides turkey and stuffing, on one of our most meaningful holidays:

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Health. . . Family. . . Friends. . .

. . . and not being a football beat writer in Texas, northwest Indiana or the Bayou.

All three of those regions are beset by the bane of those assigned to cover a particular team—the dreaded coaching search.

Try not to get any gravy on those mobile phones. Keep that cranberry sauce away from those laptops.

One of my most remarkable coaching searches came exactly 20 years ago this weekend, when Illinois was casting about for a successor to Lou Tepper.

It was very unusual because I was in the hospital with an excruciating sciatic-nerve back injury—and because I had never had back trouble before that, and I have never had back trouble since then. And because coaching searches are supposed to be a pain in another part of the anatomy.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

At any rate, I was passing the time on a morphine pump when my boss called and gingerly asked me if I'd be able to track down a rumor that Ron Turner would be Illinois’ next coach.

With tubes in one arm, I used my other hand to dial up a couple of good sources and confirm that Turner—who had been denying, which was what he needed to do—would be leaving the Bears offensive coordinator job to become Illinois coach.

I even managed to type it up because my wife had fetched the laptop from home.

The boss fondly recalled that incident for years. Which was good because I didn’t remember too much of it, owing to the morphine pump.

And so, hats off to the dedicated LSU and Purdue scribes who have been working the phones for weeks now, thanks to the early dismissals of Les Miles and Darrell Hazell.

Jimbo Fisher to Baton Rouge? Austin? Call me a skeptic on Fisher leaving Tallahassee. And call me old-fashioned for thinking Ed Orgeron might just stay put. And call me glad I don't have to make calls on this holiday, chasing rumors down.

I keep hearing that Miles is pondering Purdue, which would be a very splashy hire for the very-unsplashy Boilermakers, who are trying to pick themselves up off the canvas after a Rip Van Winkle-like long count. Other names there include Western Michigan’s hot coach, P.J. Fleck, and Illinois State coach Brock Spack, a Joe Tiller protege and former Boilers defensive coordinator. Spack, though, sounded better after the Redbirds won at Northwestern in September, and before they lost four of five.

Depending on how the coaching world turns, Fleck also might land at a more intriguing destination. I think Houston would be interesting, if Herman departs. Fleck also has been linked to the North Carolina job if Larry Fedora ends up hanging his hat elsewhere.

Purdue is said to be planning a $60 million facilities upgrade. And if Miles comes, he reportedly would bring in former USC coach Steve Sarkisian and former interim Maryland coach Mike Locksley in what would shape up as a Redemption Trio. Sarkisian and Locksley are both on the Alabama payroll as ``analysts.’’ Because—well, just because.

Sarkisian was fired at USC amid a serious alcohol problem. Locksley has had a rough go since I knew him as Illinois' offensive coordinator, mainly in a troubled stint as New Mexico's head coach.

But what a job he did under Ron Zook at Illinois. First, he brought in a great set of recruits from Washington, D.C. And then he helped coach the Illini past an unbeaten No. 1 Ohio State in Columbus and a trip to the Rose Bowl in 2007.

`Locks' also got off one of my all-time favorite lines. When Liz and I bumped into him and Zook at Chicago's best steakhouse, the Erie Cafe, he chatted with her a moment and said, ``Man, Herb, you really out-kicked your coverage. You're a helluva recruiter,'' and then added, ``You didn't cheat, did you?''

But nothing can touch Texas—home of the Texas Leaguer, Texas Wedge, Texas Toast and myriad other over-sized things—for sheer volume of impending coaching changes. Everything really is bigger down there.

It starts with the impending firing of Charlie Strong at Texas. And the expected departure of Tom Herman from Houston to Texas or LSU or Florida State, if Fisher leaves.

And then, of course, Baylor will be seeking to fill Art Briles’ large but soiled shoes after going with an interim coach this fall. An often-mentioned name for the Baylor job is SMU coach Chad Morris. That could mean coaching change No. 4 in the Longhorn State, if you’re keeping score at home.

A fifth major change could happen, although some insiders believe there are 9.4 million reasons why embattled Texas Tech coach Kliff Klingsbury will remain in Lubbock.

So that’s five possible changes in Texas. It may wind up being fewer. But keep the digits on the other hand warming up in the bullpen.

Given all of these changes, maybe it would make sense for the schools to consider just trading their coaches. How about Herman to Texas for Strong and a special-teams coach to be named later?

There is precedent. When I was a kid, the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians traded managers, Jimmy Dykes for Joe Gordon.

If football programs thought ahead, they could include trade clauses, cut down on some of these outrageous buyouts and keep America’s football coaches working. It would be a so much easier and efficient way to accommodate the fans and alumni who demand change.

That would be something to be thankful for.

Meanwhile, here’s a big shout-out to all those football writers who are gnawing on a turkey leg with a knot in their coaching-search-addled stomachs. I feel your pain.[/membership]

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