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November-29-2006,
Lovely Parting Gifts for College Football Coaches - and 'Players'...By Nelson Lardner

And so they tumble . . . because they couldn't get 'er done. Many were victims of insane expectations and/or current bad situations, but the fact remains that as I type this, ten Division 1-A college football coaches have been separated from their 2006 positions.

Mike Shula and Larry Coker are parting ways with the most historically-fabled programs, with young Shula the latest disappointment in Alabama's endless attempts to nurture a successful homegrown successor to the rapidly-receding legacy of Bear Bryant. Shula had burdens to bear - the program has been gradually recovering from the wound inflicted by the NCAA's 2002 imposition of five years probation . . . this, on the heels of 1995's three-year "pro". The oldest story - boosters, jocks and money - led to this latest brouhaha, one which might have earned 'Bama the death penalty, if, well . . . it hadn't been 'Bama.

Off 15 years as an NFL assistant, Shula's best run in the pros came as OC for the -96 - '99 Bucs, from which he was fired after failing to pull Tampa Bay up beyond 22nd in the league in total offense. Generally haughty in his press dealings at -Bama, Shula went 8-20 against winning teams, managed ZERO successful fourth quarter rallies in 19 opportunities, and went 0-4 against LSU and Auburn (losing to the farmer school four times running, unique in Tide annals). The offense was stodgy - and unproductive. So, away you go.

Coker's a much sadder story, since he's a better coach, and enjoyed considerable success at the "U" . . . not the least of which was his 2001 national championship (as a rookie HC!), culminating in the rout of Nebraska in the Rose Bowl. And he should have had two in a row, but for some of the most bizarre officiating extant in the 'Canes double-OT loss to the Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl. Over his first five seasons as Miami's head man, he merely went 53-9. But things came a cropper this season, as burdened with the broad belief that he'd need a huge year to be retained off a pair of 9-3s, Coker dropped out of the rankings with a Week 3 loss to Louisville, and the team never fully recovered. Rich Olsen's return for a second tour of duty as the 'Canes' offensive coordinator failed to light any fires - or raise hopes. Throw in the third-quarter bench-clearing brawl with Florida International (against another dear-departed member of the fraternity, Don Strock), the murder of DL Bryan Pata on Election Day night, and the loss to Virginia which essentially sealed Coker's fate, and Thanksgiving night's upset win over Boston College was too little - and far, far too late.

Yes . . . the vultures were circling . . . .and after the Louisville game, when you could smell death in the air . . . had you faded the 'Canes ATS in every one of their subsequent games . . . you'd have gone 5-3-1 (had you waited for that closing +20 on North Carolina). Going against them only when FAVORED (a tightener which frequently makes considerable sense), you'd have gone 3-1-1-. Nice going. Similar rewards awaited those who could see the beginning of the end for Shula, and were willing to consistently look to stem the Tide. After a fortunate short-dog cover against Arkansas in OT, and a slim ATS win by the hook at Florida, Alabama proceeded to finish 1-4 ATS when not in their best historical role is a double-digit dog -- including a straight-up loss to 'Bama alum Syl Croom and Mississippi State, and the aforementioned season-ender to Auburn. Not at all good . . . unless you were fading!

We've mentioned Don Strock, who resigned midmonth as The Only Head Football Coach Florida International's Ever Had. This was Strock's first college head job, and he gave it his best shot, but in this, the fifth year of the original five-year plan, you could see the writing on the wall early, and if you did, you could have gone 8-3 ATS fading the Golden Panthers - and that's after they covered three of their first four, including a narrow road loss to Maryland, before the Terps started to "get good". They're at home against Troy this Saturday, catching +11 from the Trojans, who themselves are looking to clinch the Sun Belt's championship bowl bid with a win. Troy figures to play this tight, figuring (justifiably) that so long as they can keep Florida International bottled up, they can't lose . . . and the kids may put it all on the line Saturday for coach Strock, but discretion is probably the better part of valor in this spot.

Then there's the absolute, prototypical case . . . John L. Smith, already replaced by ex-Cincinnati coach Mark Dantonio at Michigan State. Off their 2-1 ATS start, Smith (18-18 straight-up in his first three seasons at State, leading into '06) failed to hold the fort in the Spartans' come-from-ahead loss to the Irish (a consensus and closing-line push). Look out below.SEVEN consecutive non-covers followed, with their good first half in the finale against Penn State leaving them 3-8-1 ATS for the year . . . . and 1-7-1 after what was the glaring, obvious, pivotal seasonal moment, against Notre Dame.

Iowa State, North Carolina, North Carolina State . . . it goes on and on. Iowa State, 3-9 ATS this season (farewell, Dan McCarney, and God help whomever follows you . . . ); North Carolina, 4-7 ATS, with one off-the-boarder (John Bunting was in way over his head; Butch Davis should be an improvement, though it'll take a couple of years of reconstruction); N. C. State, 3-9 ATS (Chuck Amato's multiseason failure to consistently defend his home field was disgraceful, given the talent at hand). Arizona State actually went 7-4-1 ATS this year under Dirk Koetter, but the early-season QB brouhaha diffused the seasonal focus, badly, and even with Koetter's records, the Faders of the Doomed clearly had a seasonal field day.

File and don't forget. In late summer, try to isolate the head guys who have had their chances, are clearly headed in the wrong direction, and whose material looks just a little bit "down". Watch developments closely. Bad team morale? Good. Tough losses? Better. Injuries? Pile on. Bad situations frequently lead directly into something far, far worse. Someone's going to take advantage. Why not you?



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