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January 28, 2011

Mailbag: Who are the top character coaches?

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Influencing young men, representing the university and graduating players is nice, but in the age of seven-figure contracts, winning is really all that matters for college football coaches.

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That's why about 20 or so FBS coaching jobs come open each year.

Still, there remain coaches who feel that there is more to the job than winning. They're counselors, mentors, role models and, in some cases, even father figures.

Actually, most of college football coaches believe their jobs extend beyond winning on Saturdays, who try to give their players direction in other areas, too.

Who are they? That's a topic for this week's mailbag.

Coaching character

I know people only look at coaches' X's and O's abilities these days, but if you were making a list of the five guys who still care and teach the old standbys like character and academics, who would you pick as the best in the business? I'm looking for guys who make kids not better young players but better young men for having played for them.
Richmond, Va

That's a tough question.

Over the years, I have talked to a few players who said they thought their coach didn't care about them personally, that their only value was to help the coach win games.

But the vast majority of players I've known and spoken with truly respect their coach and some even have great affection for them.

Indeed, I believe the vast majority of coaches care about their players and want them to be successful in all areas, not just football, and be good men of character.

A coach can only do so much, though. He can teach, lecture and advise his players on the right and wrong way to conduct themselves on and off the field, but some players still will have issues.

For example, many people say Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is a great role model who truly cares about his players. Yet in the past few years, Iowa has had a number of players get in trouble for various reasons. Urban Meyer seemed like a good role model, but more than 22 Florida players were arrested while he was the Gators' coach. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel is a man of good character, but detractors would point to the five Buckeyes players who violated NCAA rules by selling memorabilia and question Tressel's influence.

I guess the best way for me to answer your question is to list coaches that I think would take care of my son and show interest in him beyond the playing field if he played for them.

My list would include - but would not be limited to - Tressel, Mark Richt of Georgia, Mack Brown of Texas, Mike Riley of Oregon State and Tommy Tuberville of Texas Tech.

Of course, someone else could list another five. A colleague's list included Ferentz, Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern, Randy Edsall of Maryland, Tom O'Brien of North Carolina State and Jim Grobe of Wake Forest.

Huge opener

Who do you think will be hurt more by a loss in the opening game next season between Oregon and LSU? I think if Oregon loses, it would be hard for the Ducks to make it back to the BCS championship game after back-to-back losses to SEC teams. If LSU loses, since it will the first game with a new offensive coordinator and possibly a new quarterback, if they then go on to win the SEC, I think they would still have a shot at the BCS championship game.

Well, if you believe in history repeating itself, LSU wouldn't be hurt by losing the opener.

The Tigers have won two BCS national championships. Both times, the championship game was played in New Orleans, and both times, the Tigers had a loss - or two. The BCS national championship game is in New Orleans next season, so beware of LSU even if the Tigers stumble once (and maybe even twice).

It's generally accepted that in the national championship race, an early-season loss is more forgivable than a late-season loss. Yet of the four BCS national championship teams that did not go undefeated, only one lost in September - '08 champion Florida fell to Ole Miss 31-30 on Sept. 27 - and the other three lost in mid-October. In '07, LSU also lost to Arkansas in late November, but that was the weird season in which there was a rash of November upsets across the country. Ohio State, which lost to Illinois in November, faced LSU for the national title that season.

LSU-Oregon, which will be played at Dallas Cowboys Stadium, might be the best non-conference matchup next season (although Oklahoma at Florida State certainly would be considered). The loser of the opener obviously will take a step back and must keep its fingers crossed that there won't be two unbeaten teams from Big Six conferences at the end of the regular season.

But a one-loss LSU, with its only loss in the opener, would have victories over Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee and West Virginia, as well as in the SEC championship game.

That would likely be more than enough to vault the Tigers into the national championship game. Of course, that's provided there aren't two undefeated teams from major conferences - say, Oregon of the Pac-12 and Ohio State of the Big Ten.

If Oregon fell in the opener, the Ducks might have a little more trouble climbing into the national championship picture because Stanford, Arizona State, USC and maybe Arizona are the only teams on their schedule with a chance to open the season ranked in the top 25. Of course, Oregon's appearance in this past season's national championship game would help.

Bottom line is that the loser of that season opener won't be out of the national championship race, especially if the score is close.

Rutgers hopes

When will Rutgers ever win a Big East title? It's not like all the pieces aren't there every year.
Clinton, N.J

All the pieces are there? I don't agree.

Rutgers went 4-8 in a conference that did not have a team ranked in the final top 25 and all the pieces are there to win a conference championship?

Tom Savage, who began last season as the starting quarterback, has left the team. Chas Dodd, who took the starting job away from Savage, played OK but was inconsistent, which was to be expected of a true freshman. So, there's some potential there.

But the Scarlet Knights' leading rusher gained fewer than 500 yards in '10. If coach Greg Schiano can sign four-star running back Savon Huggins, the No. 1 rated prospect in New Jersey, that position will be improved immediately. Rutgers coaches also have to bolster a defense that ranked 65th in the nation last season and allowed 144 points in the last three games.

There is no crystal ball, so I can't say that Rutgers will win (or won't win) the Big East next season or in 2012 or 2013. But it's hard to be optimistic.

Syracuse and Louisville are clearly improving. West Virginia and Pittsburgh have brought in coaches who typically field high-scoring offenses. Look for USF to continue to improve under Skip Holtz. And, of course, TCU will join the Big East in 2012.

Rutgers will return 16 starters from the season-ending 35-14 loss to West Virginia, so that alone is reason to anticipate the Scarlet Knights will improve on their 4-8 finish in 2010. Still, Rutgers has a long climb to win a conference championship. The Big East is getting better, so winning the conference title will be harder.

On the line

Could you please weigh in on who the candidates may be for the offensive line coaching vacancy for Georgia? I'm surprised there haven't been many names thrown out.
Leesburg, Ga

There doesn't appear much to report yet.

Hugh Nall, the former Auburn offensive line coach under Tommy Tuberville and a former Georgia player, has been mentioned as a possible successor to Stacy Searels, who accepted the same job at Texas. Nall told a Georgia newspaper that the Bulldogs' new offensive line coach would not be hired until after national signing day. Of course, that makes one wonder how he knows that.

Nall said he's happy in his current job as a CEO of a trucking company in Albany, Ga. But coaches often say they're happy in one job just before they leave. We'll see how that turns out.

Former Vanderbilt interim coach Robbie Caldwell reportedly had expressed interest in the position, but he was hired as the line coach at Clemson last weekend. UGAsports.com of the Rivals.com network has listed Syracuse's Jim Adkins, Duke's Matt Luke, UCF's Brent Key and two former line coaches - Brad Scott at Clemson and Dave Johnson at West Virginia - as possible candidates. In addition, there have been some reports that Mac McWhorter, the man Searels replaced at Texas, could surface as a candidate. McWhorter played at Georgia and coached at Georgia Tech before going to Texas.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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