College football news moved faster this week than Oregon’s offense in Chip Kelly’s hey-day with the Ducks, and the blur started with Kelly himself deciding to return to the Pac-12.
In a span of a week, four Southeastern Conference teams hired new coaches, including Texas A&M, which pulled off the rare feat of luring a coach away from a school where he had won a national championship. Tennessee was the centerpiece of the surreal seven days, courting at least four coaches and then changing athletic directors. Texas A&M’s gain was Florida State’s loss as the Seminoles will put a help-wanted sign on the program for the first time in 42 years. There was so much going on that the culmination of Mississippi’s long and winding NCAA investigation barely caused a ripple.
And there was still a little matter of playing the most important games of the season.
Championship Saturday features five games that will set the College Football Playoff and New Year’s six bowls. There are four matchups of teams ranked in the AP top 10, something that has only happened one other time in the 81-year history of Associated Press poll. On Sunday, the final four will be set.
The games seem like an afterthought as coaching moves and missteps — mostly the latter by Tennessee — have dominated the headlines.
“Let me be clear: It has not overshadowed this event,” Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey said. “Do I wish these things had not happened? Absolutely.”
On the eve of the SEC championship game, the snarled Tennessee coaching search took another bizarre turn. The school moved to fire athletic director John Currie just hours after he met with Washington State coach Mike Leach in Los Angeles. In stepped, Phillip Fulmer, the Hall of Fame coach who led Tennessee to the national championship in 1998, to be named AD and reboot the search. This mess started in Knoxville last Sunday when Tennessee fans revolted over the impending hiring of Greg Schiano as coach. After Schiano, Tennessee tried Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, Purdue’s Jeff Brohm, North Carolina State’s Dave Doeren and then Leach.
Next? Maybe Fulmer’s former quarterback from that national title team, Tee Martin, who is offensive coordinator at Southern California. The Trojans played Stanford in the Pac-12 title game Friday night.
Jimbo Fisher was the other national championship-winning coach who made news Friday for taking a new job. But he did it at a new school. After eight seasons with Florida State, Fisher resigned to take over at Texas A&M for a reported 10-year, $75 million contract. It is only the fourth time a coach has left a school where he won an AP national title and gone directly to another college job. The last time it happened was 1977, with Johnny Majors leaving Pittsburgh right after winning a national title and returning home to Tennessee.
Fisher came to Florida State as coach in-waiting under Bobby Bowden, who the school hired in 1975. This will be the Seminoles first search since. Where will they turn? Oregon’s Willie Taggart, a Florida native, was already being tossed around as a leading candidate before Fisher left.
It was barely five days that Texas A&M AD Scott Woodward went from firing Kevin Sumlin, who was 51-26 in six seasons with the Aggies, to landing Fisher. Woodward’s record now includes hiring Chris Petersen at Washington and Fisher at A&M. Not bad.
The rest of the SEC hires were not quite so flashy: Florida wooed Dan Mullen away from Mississippi State, and Mississippi State responded in just a few days by hiring Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead to be its head coach. Rival Ole Miss promoted interim coach Matt Luke, riding the wave to an Egg Bowl victory against the Bulldogs in what turned out to be Mullen’s last game in Starkville.
“We’re seeing a compressed time frame on coaching hires, contributing to turbulence you have seen,” said Sankey, referring to the new early signing period of high school prospects in three weeks.
The mood dampened in Oxford, Mississippi, on Friday, when the Rebels were hit with a two-year bowl ban, including the one being served this season for numerous infractions committed under fired coach Hugh Freeze.
Meanwhile, all was mostly quiet concerning the other open job in the SEC at Arkansas, where speculation was the Razorbacks planned to wait for Auburn coach Gus Malzahn to get through the SEC championship game against Georgia on Saturday before moving forward.
It was also quiet in Nebraska, where Mike Riley was fired last Saturday about the same time UCLA made it official with Kelly, who picked the Bruins over Florida to make his return to college after five years away.
The Cornhuskers Plan A is UCF coach Scott Frost, a former Huskers quarterback. Frost’s unbeaten Knights play Memphis in the American Athletic Conference championship on Saturday. Don’t be surprised if he returns to Lincoln, Nebraska, as a hometown hero soon after.
In the middle of all this, Arizona State was considering hiring former NFL coach Herman Edwards, who has never been a college head coach and who has been working at ESPN since 2009.
During the week that was, it was barely worth a ‘What?’ before it was on to the next weird development.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP