Now that the College Football Playoff Committee has released its first poll we can move on to the bigger story, who’s going to head perennial powers—Michigan and Florida?
Most insiders now assume Michigan will dump Brady Hoke. Barring a major turnaround, it appears to be more a matter of when – not if – a change will be made. We continue to hear the same names.
This week’s scoop…Can Brady Hoke survive at Michigan? David Shaw to the Raiders? And, NFL scouts don’t trust Jimbo Fisher.
[dropcap]G[/dropcap]eorgia has only had one spring practice, but the Bulldogs have already gotten their first victory of 2013.
Bulldogs wide receivers coach Tony Ball interviewed for the running backs opening at Tennessee last week and was offered the job, but turned down the offer to remain in Athens.
Mark Richt said he was “thrilled” with the decision.
“Tony’s one of the best coaches I’ve been around,” Richt told reporters following the Bulldogs’ first spring practice on Saturday. “He’s just so meticulous in his work. He’s not taking anything for granted with these kids. He’s going to teach them the fundamentals of how to play that position from the very grassroots. Every little detail you would think of, he’s going to cover it. If you’re coachable and teachable, you’re going to get better because of Coach Ball.”
Tennessee came calling after Jay Graham left for the same position at Florida State. Butch Jones also interviewed former Chicago Bears assistant Tim Spencer and West Virginia’s Robert Gillespie. When Ball said no, Jones hired Gillespie.
Ball currently has a one-year contract and earns $210,000 a year. Graham’s salary at Tennessee was to be $225,000. Though Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity would not confirm that Ball will receive a salary increase, it seems likely that he will soon get a new contract and raise.
Ball came to Georgia in 2006 from Virginia Tech, where he was coaching receivers, but he coached running backs his first three years in Athens. He moved back to receivers when Richt promoted Bryan McClendon (a former Bulldog wide receiver) from graduate assistant coach to running backs coach in 2009 and moved Ball.
According to Richt, that flexibility is part of what makes him so valuable.
“I also see Tony as a guy who has a great understanding of the big picture,” he said. “I think Tony understands the running game, I think he understands the passing game and he’s got some really strong leadership qualities, too. I think he’s a guy that could be a coordinator one day somewhere. But I’m really glad he’s here.”
Ball is the third Georgia assistant coach who was seriously courted by other teams since the end of the season. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham interviewed for the same position with the New Orleans Saints and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo was offered the same job with Virginia Tech this year.
Defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner left to join Gus Malzahn’s Auburn staff in December.
While the other courtings created a stir on talk radio and message boards, Ball’s flirtation with Tennessee was much more low key.
“I don’t even know if the players knew what was going on,” Richt said. “Tony’s a very private guy. But I sure am glad he’s staying.”
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]ennessee head coach Butch Jones has hired Robert Gillespie as running backs coach.
Gillespie spent the past two seasons on Dana Holgorsen’s staff at West Virginia. He joined Holgorsen from Oklahoma State, where he coached two seasons (2009-10).
A Hattiesburg, Miss. native, Gillespie is very familiar with the SEC. He played at Florida and coached at South Carolina.
Gillespie joined Steve Spurrier’s staff as a graduate assistant in 2005 and was hired full time a year later. He served as the Gamecocks’ running backs coach through the 2008 season.
Gillespie earned awards from all three major recruiting services for his work on the 2012 recruiting class. He was named Scout.com’s Big East Recruiter of the Year, sharing the honor with fellow West Virginia assistant Daron Roberts; one of the Big East’s Top 10 recruiters by Rivals.com and a Top 50 recruiter by 247sports.com.
In that class alone, he played a key role in landing at least eight prospects from the state of Florida.
“Robert is a high-energy coach who will get the most out of his players, and he also has a great reputation in the coaching profession as a relentless recruiter,” Jones said in a statement.
He replaces Jay Graham, who left last week for the same position at Florida State.
Gillespie earned $301,000 last season. Graham’s salary at Tennessee was $225,000.
McKeethan named New Mexico State tight ends coach
New Mexico State head coach Doug Martin named Kevin McKeethan as the team’s tight ends coach. He will also serve as the program’s academic liaison. McKeethan begins his second year with the Aggies after serving as a graduate assistant coach on offense last season. He spent the 2011 season as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Greensboro College in North Carolina. Before that, McKeethan worked with Martin and NMSU offensive coordinator Jerry McManus for four years at Kent State. McKeethan served as a graduate assistant for the Golden Flashes from 2007-10. He played quarterback at Maryville (Tenn.) College.
Missouri S&T’s Brown to be named defensive backs coach at Fresno State
Missouri S&T head coach David Brown will be named defensive backs coach at Fresno State, according to media reports. Brown spent seasons at S&T, earning Great Lakes Football Conference Coach of the Year honors in 2011. Prior to Missouri S&T, Brown spent seasons as defensive backs coach at Ohio. Before that, he was on the staff at Cal Poly for five seasons, serving as the team’s defensive coordinator in the 2004 and 2005.
Pitt promotes Matt House, adds Palermo and Poteat
Pittsburgh head coach Paul Chryst has promoted Matt House to defensive coordinator and hired John Palermo as defensive ends and linebackers coach. Former Pitt defensive back Hank Poteat (1996-99), who spent a decade as a player in the National Football League, will join the staff as a graduate assistant and work with the cornerbacks.
House oversaw the Panthers secondary last season, and will focus on safeties this season. Prior to Pitt, House worked with the NFL’s St. Louis Rams (2009-11) and Carolina Panthers (2008). He previously held collegiate coaching posts at Michigan State, North Carolina, Gardner-Webb and Buffalo.
Palermo is a 38-year coaching veteran who coached at Tennessee last season. He previously spent 15 years at Wisconsin, two seasons with the Washington Redskins and two seasons at Notre Dame.
Poteat played for five NFL teams over 10 seasons and earned a Super Bowl ring as a member of the 2004 New England Patriots. He retired from the NFL following the 2009 season and spent the past two years as defensive backs coach at Kentucky Christian University.
Anthony Parker named offensive graduate assistant at Tennessee
Butch Jones has tabbed former Vol offensive lineman Anthony Parker as offensive graduate assistant. It fills the the final GA opening on Butch Jones’ staff. Parker played at Tennessee from 2004-08.
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s if the pressure of competing in the SEC isn’t great enough, new Tennessee coach Butch Jones will enter the college football equivalent of Thunderdome with the full weight of a financially-strapped athletic department on his back.
Sports Business Journal writer Michael Smith has written a startling expose of Volunteers’ dire financial straits. The article (which you can read here) explains that the Tennessee athletic department lost nearly $4 million last year and is nearly $200 million in debt. It has less than $2 million in reserves – down from nearly $30 million just five years ago – the lowest total in the SEC. (By comparison, most of the Vols’ SEC rivals have between $50 million to $100 million in reserves, UT athletic director Dave Hart said.)
A big chunk of the depleted reserves has gone out the door with former staff members. In recent years, Tennessee has paid out $11.4 million in buyouts to dismissed coaches in football, basketball and baseball, as well as administrators. That total does not include the $7 million owed to Derek Dooley and his staff.
“There’s a perception that we’re sitting on a ton of money,” Tennessee athletics Chief Financial Officer Bill Myers said, “and that’s just not the case.”
The primary cause of Tennessee’s those financial troubles is, of course, football.
The Vols have finished with a losing record in each of the past three seasons and five times since 2005. Average attendance has fallen from 107,595 in 2000 to 89,965 last season.
“We’ve got to get football healthy,” Hart said. “That’s our economic engine. When that program is successful, everybody wins.”
The burden for fixing the football program now falls on Jones, the Volunteers’ fourth head coach since Phillip Fulmer was fired in 2008. Jones will earn nearly $3 million per year over the course of a six-year contract. If Tennessee were to fire him before Feb. 14 2014, it would owe Jones $4 million, making his success a must.
Jones guided winners at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati, leading his teams to conference championships in two out of three seasons he was at both schools. However, Tennessee’s position in the SEC pecking order is nowhere near as strong as that of the Central Michigan in the MAC or Cincinnati in the Big East when Jones took over.
Still, there is a ray of hope.
Hart projects a balanced budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year and has taken bold steps to right the financial ship. Time will tell if his hiring of Jones – ultimately the most important of those moves – was the right one.
SBJ’s “At Tennessee, Big Orange battles red ink” Highlights:
Now, after staggering to losing football seasons in four of the last five years and seeing attendance drop to levels last seen in the 1970s, the Vols find themselves mired in more than $200 million of debt, the most in the SEC, with reserves of just $1.95 million, the least in the conference.
The athletic department spends a startling $21 million a year on debt payments, $13.5 million of which comes from the school’s stressed $99.5 million athletic budget and the rest from donations.
It’s an ugly financial picture for one of the nation’s strongest football brands, the kind of financial hole that SEC football giants aren’t supposed to be in, brought about by expensive coaching buyouts and costly improvements to Neyland Stadium and other athletic facilities, just as the losing seasons set in.
“The bottom line is that, for SEC schools with extraordinary revenues, the profit margin is still very thin,” said Bill Carr, a former AD at Florida who now consults with athletic departments on strategy and searches. “Whether it’s Tennessee or any other school, if you’re not selling tickets at full bore and getting contributions to go with them, and that revenue tapers, it becomes very hard to put away the dollars you need. And then you have some undesired expenses like buyouts, and you can wind up in a negative position. The margin is razor thin for most schools.”
With those savings, Tennessee projects a balanced budget in 2012-13, which is a necessity for a program with just $1.95 million in reserves. Building reserves into the $50 million range or more is a priority, said Hart, who added that most SEC schools have reserves ranging from $50 million to $100 million.
Tennessee’s reserves were close to $30 million about five years ago, but they’ve been depleted by those $21 million in transfers back to the university over the last three years, and $11.4 million in buyouts to fired coaches in football, basketball and baseball, as well as administrators. Hamilton walked away in 2011 with a $1.335 million buyout.
While no one in orange would ever call Neyland Stadium a giant albatross around the neck of the athletic department — that would be sacrilege here in the mountains of east Tennessee — it simply isn’t doing its job as one of the program’s chief sources of revenue.
Attendance dropped to an average of 89,965 in 2012, the lowest since 1979. A couple of late-season games against Troy and Kentucky reportedly drew about 60,000 actual fans in the stands, even though the announced attendance — or tickets sold — was a little more than 81,000.