Big 12: Cleveland Browns
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is well-known in the Big 12's area for instigating drama.
Whether he's calling out Stephen McGee, Texas A&M coaches or Big 12 referees or taking Cleveland Browns coach Eric Mangini to task, Leach's controversy-creating skills are legendary well past the borders of the Llano Estacado.
And it received a little national attention when Matt Humphrey of the Orlando Sentinel's College Gridiron 365 blog named him as the No. 7 coach nationally in creating controversy.
Here's what Humphrey had to say about Leach in his ranking:
"This pirate-loving coach gives crazy dating advice and has no trouble mouthing off from his perch in West Texas. One has to wonder if this guy is playing with a full deck."
Texas coach Mack Brown at No. 8 and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy at No. 9 are the only other Big 12 coaches ranked in the top 10 poll.
Here's what Humphrey had to say about Brown:
"Don't be fooled by the Texas coach's good-natured attitude - he's successfully outmaneuvered other teams for BCS bowl bids, has no shame always pushing his team for national championship game appearances even if they don't deserve it and completely changed the recruiting calendar by locking in all his classes by June."
And about Gundy, Humphrey said this:
"He's a man! He's 40! Or at least he was when he berated Oklahoman columnist Jenni Carlson in 2007. This video never gets old."
Considering the newspaper's circulation area, the list is heavily skewed with SEC coaches. But with the fun that Lane Kiffin has injected in that conference, it might be deserved.
I'm guessing that Bo Pelini is only a couple of big national victories or another sideline eruption away from making a list like this in the near future.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Texas Tech coach Mike Leach professed no interest in the NFL draft a couple of days before the proceedings. Instead, he claimed he would be riding his bike, watching movies and doing anything besides following how his players fared.
Interestingly, Leach had a couple of comments about the draft during the activities.
First, Leach blamed Cleveland Browns coach Eric Mangini for causing Michael Crabtree's draft stock to fall after reports that Crabtree had acted like a diva during his pre-draft visit with the Browns.
Crabtree went 10th in the first round after some early projections had him going as high as fourth or fifth. Oakland opted to draft Maryland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey instead of Crabtree with the seventh pick in the draft.
Leach told the Sacramento Bee that Mangini might not find himself too welcome on future trips to Tech's campus.
"Michael Crabtree has been more successful as a receiver than that guy as a coach at this point," Leach said of Mangini. "Part of the reason is he's (Crabtree) too shy to be like that."
Leach said that he didn't consider Crabtree as a diva.
"My definition of a diva is someone who's loud and self-absorbed," Leach told the Bee. "Michael Crabtree is the furthest thing from loud that I've seen. ... Let's see how all those non-divas do up in Cleveland this year."
And Leach had a zinger for Texas A&M after Aggie quarterback Stephen McGee was drafted by Dallas during the fourth round. McGee told reporters he viewed himself as a "first-round player" who would have ended up picked in the first round if he had played in the right system.
Leach had an opinion on McGee's draftability, too.
"I'm happy for Stephen McGee," Leach told the Dallas Morning News. "The Dallas Cowboys like him more than his coaches at A&M did."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Colorado offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich will interview later this week at Oregon, becoming the fourth member of Dan Hawkins' staff to interview with another school since the end of last season.
Helfrich, who has coached the Buffaloes' quarterbacks and served as coordinator at Colorado since 2006, would have a chance to return home by joining new Oregon coach Chip Kelly's staff. Helfrich was born in Medford, Ore., played college football at Southern Oregon and served as a graduate assistant for the Ducks in 1997.
Another reason for the attractiveness of the Oregon job would be the ability to receive a multiyear contract.
Colorado typically does not provide that kind of security as the school traditionally has not offered multiyear contracts to assistants -- which is becoming the rule for many coordinators. Oklahoma State coaches receive contracts of up to five years.
But Colorado interim chancellor Phil DiStefano told the Boulder Daily Camera he doubts the school will start offering those contracts -- even with the competition from other schools.
Hawkins has been a staunch proponent of trying to lobby the state legislature about the rule that limits each state institution to six multiyear contracts at one time. Those typically aren't offered to assistant coaches, making it difficult for the Buffaloes to compete to keep their best assistants.
"The problem that comes up, and I've talked to many people about it, is that the head coach has a contract, and if an assistant has a contract and a new head coach comes in, more than likely the new head coach might want to make some changes there," DiStefano told the Camera. "Then the athletic department has to pay two salaries, one of the assistant coach who may be leaving with a contract, and then to bring in another assistant coach.
"I think it's a good policy to make sure the head coaches have contracts, but I'm not convinced it's a good policy for the assistant coaches to have them. I think the athletic department could run into some budgetary problems by doing that."
That attitude might be fiscally responsible. But it isn't practical in modern college football.
Colorado's coaching staff has traditionally been marked with constant turnover compared to many opponents. The Buffaloes have lost at least one assistant coach every year since 1989 except for the offseason between the 2007 and 2008 seasons, the Camera reported. That trend continued earlier this year when former Colorado offensive line coach Jeff Grimes left Hawkins' staff to take the same job at Auburn -- a position that is more lucrative with better stability.
Compare that turnover with a school like North Division rival Missouri, which had no moves on Gary Pinkel's staff for the first seven seasons before offensive coordinator Dave Christensen accepted the Wyoming head coaching job and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus jumped to the financial windfall of an NFL assistant's job with the Cleveland Browns.
Other than that, Pinkel's staff was stable -- helping provide the continuity for the Tigers' back-to-back appearances in the Big 12 championship game the last two seasons.
Losing Helfrich, one of the most underrated coaches in the Big 12, would be a huge loss for the Buffaloes. It would be even worse for Hawkins, considering it would be a move that would come after spring practice is over while a raging battle for his starting quarterback job continues with Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen.
And it would be indicative that Colorado's legislature needs to step into the 21st century and realize that multiyear contracts are becoming the rule in modern athletics rather than the exception.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It wouldn't be a Friday without some letters from the readers. Here are some I got this week.
Brandon from Ames, Iowa, writes: Tim, I'll be a Cyclone fan until I die no matter how bad we get, but is there going to be any hope for a good season this year? Rhoads is making us hopeful, but what should we consider a successful season given our current condition?
Tim Griffin: Brandon, I've been impressed during the times I've talked with Paul Rhoads since he's taken the job. He seems very positive and upbeat and realizes how daunting the job will be. I see a lot of similarities between him and his coaching mentor, Dan McCarney, who hired Rhoads at Iowa State earlier in his coaching career.
I was also impressed by his two hires for coordinators. Both Tom Herman and Wally Burnham are both very respected in the business and will help him tremendously.
But the Cyclones' talent is at the bottom of the North Division and it will be a big challenge for them to escape the cellar in Rhoads' first season. I think a more realistic goal would be for them to win a game or two more than last season's 2-10 record that ended with 10 straight losses. Anything more than that, in my opinion, will be extremely difficult to accomplish.
Austin from Houston writes: Tim, I noticed in your March 13 mailbag that you mentioned Oklahoma hasn't lost at home since 2001. Did you forget that they lost to the mighty TCU Horned Frogs 17-10 on September 3, 2005? I know that all of the Sooner fans as well as Bob Stoops remember that day. On a different note, although we are roughly seven months away from the game, who is your "way too early" pick for the Texas/OU game?
Tim Griffin: Austin, thanks for the catch. I meant to say the Sooners hadn't lost a conference game since 2001. I do remember the TCU game -- I was there that day. The Horned Frogs were able to dominate the Sooners at Owen Field. I had never seen that happen before with Bob Stoops coaching. And I haven't seen it since, either.
As far as my Red River Rivalry pick, if you asked me today, I would have to go with the Longhorns, but just barely. I'll reserve the right to make my final pick the week before the game.
Texas obviously will be smarting after failing to make the Big 12 championship game despite beating the Sooners last season in the celebrated three-way tie for the South Division championship. They couldn't ask for more inspiration coming into the game than that whole scenario.
But one thing that struck me when talking with Oklahoma players last week in Norman was the defense's confidence. The Sooners have nine starters back on their defensive unit, missing only safeties Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes. The Sooners seem comfortable that their defense will be much improved from last season. I thought the Sooners had a great defensive effort against Missouri in the Big 12 game and a good one in the loss to Florida in the Bowl Championship Series title game. Oklahoma's defense wasn't to blame for the Sooners losing that game.
So I think the Sooners' defense will be a little better than most people think this season. It should make for a great matchup at the Cotton Bowl.
Can we play tomorrow?
Robert Holmes from Norman, Okla., writes: Tim, if you were starting a Big 12 team of all the players who are coming back for the 2009 season, who would you pick first?
Tim Griffin: Great question and one that bears a more detailed answer. I'm going to start a daily post on Tuesday where I will count down the 40 most valuable players in the Big 12. I'll have a player a day culminating on May 2, which also coincidentally is the day of the Kansas State spring game -- the last one in the conference.
So start watching for that next week.
Brandon from Poteet, Texas, writes: Tim, I saw where you were at Baylor yesterday. How do you gauge the Bears' mindset coming into the upcoming season? Is a bowl berth a real possibility? And where did you end up eating on your way home? I would have advised George's if I was you.
Tim Griffin: The Bears seem to be a confident bunch. From interviews with new defensive tackle Phil Taylor to safety Jordan Lake and defensive coordinator Brian Norwood and coach Art Briles, to newcomers like offensive tackle Danny Watkins, I could detect a different attitude from previous seasons. Those players and coaches flatly tell you they will be playing in a bowl game. And it appears that it will be a shock for them if they aren't bowling somewhere in December.
That being the case, the Bears will face a typically difficult South Division schedule. They absolutely must win three games in the nonconference schedule. And a key swing game at Texas A&M on Nov. 21 will be huge for them.
Baylor's 41-21 victory over the Aggies last season in Waco was a convincing one. But remember that the Bears have produced 10 losses and a tie in their last 11 trips to Kyle Field. The last time Baylor won in College Station was on Oct. 20, 1984, when Grant Teaff's team claimed a 20-16 triumph. As of today, that's a string of 8,917 days and counting.
That's a huge gap and won't be easily snapped.
And as far as my meal in Waco, I didn't really have much time after spending a couple of hours finishing my work and getting a late start back home. I hopped right in the car and made it back home in time to eat one of my wife's delicious leftover pulled-pork sandwiches while I switched between President Obama's appearance on Jay Leno and the final minutes of the Illinois-Western Kentucky game late last week.
Maybe next time for George's.
Steve Woodson from Garden City, Kan., writes: Hey Tim. Great blog. I wouldn't think of starting my day without reading it. I've got a quick question for you. Which team would you anticipate to be the "surprise team" in the Big 12 this season? And which team do you expect will take the biggest step backwards from last season.
Tim Griffin: Steve, thanks for the compliments. I think that Colorado is nicely situated with some diminished expectations outside the program after last season's struggles.
I know that coach Dan Hawkins predicted his team would go 10-2 this season, which would be a surprise to almost anybody outside the Colorado program. But I do think if the Buffaloes can stay healthy and have a quarterback to emerge that they've got a great shot to make it back to a bowl game and might even be able to climb into North Division title contention with a few breaks along the way.
And as far as the program I expect to take the biggest step back, I would nominate Texas Tech. Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree will be missed, obviously. But so will players like Brandon Williams, Louis Vasquez, Daniel Charbonnet, Darcel McBath, Shannon Woods and Rylan Reed. That's a big chunk of talent that had a huge p
art in the Red Raiders' South Division tri-championship team last season to replace at one time.
I still expect the Red Raiders to contend for a bowl appearance as I would peg them about fourth in the Big 12 South behind Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. But I think seven or eight wins is a more likely victory total for them this season rather than last year's 11-2 mark.
Jackson from Telluride, Colo., writes: Which off-season coaching moves to do you think will prove to be the most important in the Big 12 this season?
Tim Griffin: I'll actually nominate three. Obviously, the hiring of Bill Young as Oklahoma State's new defensive coordinator has huge ramifications. Mike Gundy is counting on him to be able to fashion together enough improvement to push the Cowboys into contention. That will be a tall order for him, even with all of his past success at previous stops.
I'm also very curious how the new staff of Bill Snyder works together at Kansas State. I think the hiring of Vic Koenning was a huge get for Snyder. I'm also intrigued to see how Dana Dimel and Del Miller will work together again as co-offensive coordinators. Both have worked with Snyder before. Are there any changes in their coaching since they lasted coached there? We'll see.
And I'm also very interested to see the work of new Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Yost and defensive coordinator Dave Steckel. Both have been with Gary Pinkel since the beginning at Missouri. But both also represent changes that have come to the program after former offensive coordinator Dave Christensen left for the head coaching job at Wyoming and former defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus left to become the Cleveland Browns' linebackers coach.
Pinkel had never had a change in his coaching staff in the first eight years at Missouri. I'm curious to see how the recent switches will alter the Tigers and Pinkel's schematics, if any.
That's all for this week. Check back next week for more correspondence and keep the questions and answers coming. I appreciate it.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Maybe new Cleveland linebackers coach Matt Eberflus, a former defensive coordinator at Missouri, has more pull with his new employers than I ever would have imagined.
That must be the explanation why the biography of former Missouri wide receiver/kick returner Jeremy Maclin was displayed earlier this week on the Browns' Web site, according to the Cleveland-based Web site waitingfornextyear.com.
Maclin is projected as one of the best offensive players in the draft. He would be just what the moribund Cleveland offense needs.
But don't the Browns have to draft him first?
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Several newspapers are reporting that Missouri defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus could be the next coach to leave Gary Pinkel's staff.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Friday that new Cleveland Browns coach Eric Mangini is close to hiring Eberflus as his new linebackers coach.
It would be a significant departure for Missouri for a couple of reasons. First, it would represent the second coordinator to leave the Tigers' program since the end of the regular season. Dave Christensen left for the head-coaching position at Wyoming.
These transitions are a little new for Gary Pinkel, who until this offseason had managed to keep his staff together during his entire eight-season tenure coaching the Tigers.
The timing also is bad for the Tigers, who begin spring practice on March 10.
But Dave Matter's blog for the Columbia Daily Tribune indicates that Pinkel has already mobilized in case the position in open.
Sources told Matter that Pinkel would promote linebackers coach Dave Steckel to replace Eberflus. And Missouri director of football operations Barry Odom would begin coaching the Tigers' safeties, a position that Eberflus currently coaches.
It will be a loss from a continuity standpoint. But I'm wondering if Pinkel might consider hiring a coordinator from outside his program to bring some fresh ideas to his program.
The Tigers have won back-to-back North Division titles, but have been overmatched against the Texas-Oklahoma power elite at the top of the conference. And whoever takes the job would be facing a challenge as he attempts to replace standouts like Stryker Sulak, William Moore, Tommy Chavis and Ziggy Hood.
But I'm thinking the defensive transition could be almost as daunting, particularly with a new coordinator.