Attend enough coaching clinics and you’ll hear the same lines repeated through different lips, no matter the age, position, side of the ball or classification to whom those lips belong. Among them, paraphrased, “We won a bunch of games over the last few years and I was a real smart coach. Then our seniors graduated, our starting quarterback got hurt in camp, our nose guard blew out his knee halfway through the year, and all of a sudden I got real stupid.”
The implication being that while circumstances and results may change, taking perception with them, the person at their center does not.
It’s with that thought in mind I ponder the fates of a few successful coaches once thought to be on the fast track to something greater have seen their respective stocks flatlined when, in fact, the results of the past few years may have very well made them better coaches.
- Mark Hudspeth, 9-4 in his first four seasons and Louisiana-Lafayette and 97-42 as a head coach but 4-5 this fall. Is he a worse candidate because he lost five starters in August?
- Pete Lembo, a first-class program-builder and leader of men. Did he forget how to build a program after suffering through a couple down years in the boom-or-bust middle class of the MAC?
- Paul Johnson, suffering through his first true downturn in 19 seasons as a head coach. Does anyone truly believe he’s a worse head coach than he was 10 months ago?
- Chad Morris, 1-9 against a loaded schedule (Baylor, TCU, Houston, South Florida, Temple, Navy with Memphis still to go) one of the most barren rosters in college football. Isn’t he infinitely more prepared for his next head job than he was at this time last year?
- Charlie Strong, gutting it out in one of the most complicated rebuilds in recent memory. The man could probably write a book based on what he learned just from learning to deal with Steve Patterson alone.
Look back to your own life – both personally and professionally. Didn’t you learn more through trying times than easy? Don’t we all?
If you’re looking for someone to captain your ship across the North Atlantic in the dead of winter, don’t you want a guy whose been through some storms — sails torn to shreds and a ship taking on water — and lived to tell about it than a captain who’s experienced nothing but calm waters and a steady wind?
Most fans wouldn’t, and many athletics directors feel the same. Look no further than the white-hot candidacy of Tom Herman – yet to face a losing locker room in 10 games as a head coach – for evidence.
The point here isn’t to argue Herman or any hypothetical candidate against any of the above coaches. It’s to caution athletics directors against ruling out coaches going through tough times when, perhaps, they might be the right person for a given job precisely because of those tough times.