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Big East suffering from exit wounds

If the Big East decided to change logos like the Big Ten, here is a suggestion: a big, flat rock that juts out of a narrow, shallow body of water. Nothing describes the Big East better right now than a stepping stone.

Since 2005, four coaches -- Rich Rodriguez, Bobby Petrino, Brian Kelly and Randy Edsall -- have led their teams to a BCS game. All four left for what they considered better jobs. Rodriguez and Kelly left before even coaching in their second BCS games, while Edsall and Petrino bolted within hours of coaching their first ones.

It's not just upward mobility that has created coaching turnover in the league. All three co-champions this year made changes at the top, if you include Bill Stewart having his legs cut out from under him. Seven of the eight Big East schools have undergone head coaching changes since 2008.

When 2011 begins, Rutgers' Greg Schiano will be the dean of Big East coaches as he enters his 11th year at the school. The next longest-tenured head coach will be Stewart, entering a lame-duck fourth year, followed by third-year Syracuse coach Doug Marrone.

If you want a reason why the league has gone through a power outage of late, look no further than here. The brain drain and lack of stability has taken its toll.

Firings are one thing. But why are so many successful coaches leaving? Money and prestige, of course.

As many strides as the Big East has made, its schools can't compete in those areas with bigger, tradition-laden programs like Michigan and Notre Dame. Just about every school in the country serves as a feeder system to a handful of the largest programs in the country.

The Edsall-to-Maryland move is more alarming, as it's the first time a Big East coach with a BCS bid to his name fled to either a school that's not a blue blood or to the NFL (I don't count Walt Harris in 2004, as Pittsburgh gave him a giant shove toward Stanford). Yet because of its current TV contract and low attendance figures throughout, the Big East is ripe for coach-plucking from the other five AQ leagues.

Once a coach leads his team to a BCS game, he becomes a hot property. Yet it doesn't always mean he has to leave for greener pastures. Jim Grobe is still at Wake Forest after going to the 2007 Orange Bowl. Boise State's Chris Peterson, Utah's Kyle Whittingham and TCU's Gary Patterson have turned down several opportunities to leave (and the Big East hopes Patterson keeps saying no until at least 2012).

There's little the league can do to prevent all the departures. Most coaches always have one eye on other opportunities, and there will always be hungry schools -- or pro teams -- offering more money. It would be a mistake for league teams to look for coaches they think will stay for a long time when searching for new coaches. Louisville and West Virginia fell into that trap, and both schools were ready to dump those new hires after three years. Hiring someone you're sure will stick around usually means employing someone no one else wants.

If you can hire a coach who can give you four or five great years and get to a BCS game along the way before leaving, that's all you can really ask for. Coaching tenures are becoming shorter and shorter everywhere around the country because of the pressure to win. Occasionally a school can find the right guy who can both win and want to stay around. Marrone, a Syracuse alumnus whose lifelong goal was to coach the Orange, may prove to be a perfect example of this. Schiano, a New Jersey native, turned down some opportunities a few years, though his star has dimmed since the 2006 heyday. Dave Wannstedt could have been that kind of guy at his alma mater had he won more at Pitt.

The league has some bright coaches who have recently come into the league, including Louisville's Charlie Strong and South Florida's Skip Holtz. Both fan bases would like to believe those guys will stay a long time, but the reality is they're far more likely to end up in the SEC or some huge program in a few years if they continue to win.

That's just how it is right now in the Big East, a true stepping stone league for coaches.