After Nebraska's defense bewildered even its coaches with the depth of its struggles early in a Sept. 21 win against South Dakota State, the Internet message-board world predictably buzzed with rumors regarding defensive coordinator John Papuchis' job security, or lack thereof.
Predictable rumors, but silly all the same.
Predictable in part because Texas head coach Mack Brown, in what appeared to be a panic move, fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz on Sept. 8 in the wake of a 40-21 loss at Brigham Young in which the Longhorns surrendered 550 rushing yards.
Don't look for Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini to ever make such a rash in-season move. OK, never say never. But this much is certain: He's philosophically opposed to such moves, he told me earlier this week.
"No. 1, I have tremendous confidence in my staff. I love my staff," Pelini said.
More importantly, he said, "At the end of the day, I believe it starts with the head coach, and ends with the head coach. I learned a long time ago, and I learned it from a lot of great coaches, your No. 1 job as a head coach is to coach the coaches.
"I'm not the one who's going to point the finger at somebody else. I point the thumb (at myself) first. We work together and when it's good, it's everybody. When it's bad, it's everybody."
Pelini's comments are interesting in the context of a society that routinely and casually calls for the firing of coaches in all sports, at basically all levels. Darnell Dickson, Journal Star sports editor, likes to say we live in what's become a "casually cruel" society. Civility typically takes a back seat on message boards and other forms of social media, especially ones in which people are emboldened by anonymity.
Social media is one of society's developments that perhaps has contributed to a rash of in-season firings, albeit indirectly. Scrutiny on coaches has escalated. Three head coaches already have been canned this season: Lane Kiffin, fired Sept. 29 by USC; Paul Pasqualoni, Sept. 30 by Connecticut; and Don Treadwell, Sunday by Miami (Ohio).
Pasqualoni's four games and Kiffin's five represent the fewest coached by someone dismissed in-season during the BCS era.
SMU head coach June Jones, in an interview with USA Today, traced the phenomena to the spread of sports radio and explosion of coaches' salaries. With a playoff looming, stakes and pressure will be greater than ever.
Even so, Pelini shakes his head.
"From an athletic director's standpoint, I don't know what somebody would be trying to accomplish by (firing a coach during the season)," he said. "What change is that going to make, other than take the attention off of them?
"I've never really quite understood it. But I guess everybody has different philosophies."
Athletic directors often give vague reasons for firing head coaches.
UConn athletic director Warde Manuel said Pasqualoni's firing sent "a statement that we expect more. Deep down, I thought the change was needed to make change happen."
As for Treadwell, "Don is a great man, nobody can disagree with that," said Miami (Ohio) athletic director David Sayler in a news release. "But I felt a change was needed immediately in the direction of the program."
Why wait? We live in an instant-gratification society. Give the people what they want. Hit the reset button, as if life were one big video game.
"Everything in our profession seems to be moved up, whether it's recruiting commitments, or panic buttons or coaches getting fired," Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads told USA Today. "I don't know the catalysts for all that, I just know it's very apparent."
These games are key
THE OBVIOUS: No. 19 Northwestern (4-1, 0-1 Big Ten) at Wisconsin (3-2, 1-1). Let's make this easy. Wisconsin is the better team both offensively and defensively. The Badgers have a nice home-field advantage. After a bruising loss to Ohio State — one of the most physical games I've seen in some time — Northwestern should prepare to fall to 0-2 in the league. And Nebraska should count its blessings that it plays neither Wisconsin nor Ohio State in the regular season.
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THE NOT-SO-OBVIOUS: No. 15 Baylor (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) vs. Kansas State (2-3, 0-2 Big 12). I'm sure K-State fans are just thrilled. The Wildcats come off back-to-back road losses, to Texas and Oklahoma State, and now prepare for the nation's No. 1 offense. The Bears are recording bizarre statistics. Exhibit A: Forty percent — 14 of 35 — of their scoring drives have been a minute or less. Yeah, long week for K-State defensive coordinator Tom Hayes.
QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon
QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson
QB Aaron Murray, Georgia
RB Lache Seastrunk, Baylor
Keep an eye on: Mariota. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound sophomore has emerged as the front-runner, according to Chris Huston, who operates the web site Heisman Pundit. His projections deserve notice. He correctly predicted the top five finishers last season, the top seven in 2011 and the top four in 2010 and 2009. Mariota obviously deserves notice. "He's the ultimate evolution of that Oregon system," Huston told The Oregonian. "They finally got a quarterback who is an elite talent running that system. Before then you had pretty decent guys who weren't at a high level of physical ability."
Excuse my budding Baylor fixation, but Bears junior quarterback Bryce Petty has put up some ridiculous numbers, including an average of 52.1 yards on his 10 touchdown passes. OK, one more (from Max Olson of ESPN.com): On third downs, Petty is 12-for-14 passing with an FBS-best 22.8 yards per attempt. Mercy.
To Ameer Abdullah, the hard-nosed Nebraska junior running back. He was a young man possessed against Illinois. Although he isn't one of NU's four team captains, make no mistake about his leadership. The kid has a hard edge. "Tremendous competitor," Bo Pelini says. "He wants to be the best, and he wants the team to be the best. That's where it starts."
To Paul Finebaum, ESPN talking head, for saying South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney "is clearly the biggest joke in college football right now." Perhaps Finebaum is feeling a bit lost among the 1,747 ESPN analysts and felt the need to say something ridiculously hyperbolic, at the expense of a student-athlete (I'm giving Clowney the benefit of the doubt on the "student" part).
Five to go ...
Five head coaches who received very little slack from bosses:
-- Tyrone Willingham, fired in 2004 after three seasons at Notre Dame. Yeah, just three seasons. The Irish program suddenly felt like a typical "football factory."
-- Turner Gill, fired in 2011 after two seasons at Kansas. Went just 5-19, including 10 losses by 30 points or more.
-- Gene Chizik, fired in 2012 after four years at Auburn. At time of termination, he was only two years removed from a national championship.
-- Rich Rodriguez, fired in 2011 after three seasons at Michigan. Was a bad fit. "I don't think Rich has had a peaceful night's sleep since he came to Ann Arbor," athletic director Dave Brandon said the day he pink-slipped RichRod.
-- Ellis Johnson, fired after last season, his first in charge at Southern Miss. Went 0-12 after the team was 12-2 in 2011. Enough said.