Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Take 2: Doug Marrone or Butch Jones
By Andrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna
The Big East Coach of the Year Award, along with the rest of the conference's hardware, will be announced Wednesday. Charlie Strong is the favorite to walk away with the honor after leading Louisville to a 10-2 season and a Sugar Bowl berth in his third campaign with the Cardinals. Here, we make our cases for two other coaches who impressed during the 2012 campaign.
Andrea: Syracuse coach Doug Marrone Charlie Strong and Butch Jones have done fantastic jobs with their respective teams this season.
Doug Marrone saw his Syracuse team turn a 2-4 start into a 7-5 regular season, winning five of six to finish.
But neither of them was saddled with a team coming off a losing season.
A team that closed 2011 with five consecutive defeats.
A team picked to finish seventh in the Big East preseason media poll.
A team that faced a nonconference schedule with four games against teams from the Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12.
A team that started the season 2-4.
Syracuse coach Doug Marrone stared down another season that had disappointment written all over it. And yet, he pulled off the shocker of the Big East season -- getting Syracuse into the New Era Pinstripe Bowl and winning a share of the league title.
That makes him every bit as deserving as Strong and Jones when it comes to consideration for Big East Coach of the Year honors.
Let’s go back to Week 8. The Orange were 2-4, ranked No. 7 in the Big East in scoring offense; No. 7 in rushing offense; and tied for last in turnover margin. They were an undisciplined football team, a group that had no consistent rushing attack, and no consistent pass rush. Marrone called himself out when asked pointed questions about why his football team kept stumbling around, repeatedly saying it was his job to get his team better prepared.
Whatever he did worked.
Syracuse ended the season with wins in five of its final six game. That includes a decisive throttling of then-No. 9 Louisville at home, and a huge come-from-behind road victory at Missouri. Most everybody penciled both games in as losses.
But the way the Orange played in both games showed the resiliency that has defined this team during the second half of the season. The Orange reinvented themselves: They stopped turning the ball over. They figured out how to run the ball. And they played much better on the defensive line.
As a result, Syracuse ended the season No. 3 in the league in scoring offense, averaging a touchdown more per game in its final six games. It ended No. 3 in rushing offense, averaging 44 more yards per game on the ground in the final six games. And after going minus-10 in turnover margin through six games, Syracuse finished at minus-1, losing the ball just five times in its final six contests.
Syracuse can call itself Big East champion because of its remarkable turnaround. If that is not worthy of recognition, I am not sure what is.
Should he stay at Cincinnati, Butch Jones has a shot at a second consecutive 10-win season.
Matt: Cincinnati coach Butch Jones There is a reason Jones' name -- and face -- keeps popping up in places from West Lafayette, Ind., to Boulder, Colo. The man is a hot commodity in coaching circles right now, and deservedly so.
His Bearcats have won a share of their fourth Big East title in the past five years. They will face Duke in the Belk Bowl, where they will go for their second consecutive 10-win season.
Yes, Brian Kelly was responsible for two of those conference titles. And yes, Mark Dantonio deserves credit for lifting this program before Kelly.
But look what Jones was faced with after last season, a 10-3 campaign that saw him take home Big East Coach of the Year honors:
No more Isaiah Pead, the 2011 conference offensive player of the year.
No more Derek Wolfe, the 2011 conference defensive player of the year.
No more Zach Collaros, a two-time All-Big East selection and a three-year starter at quarterbaack.
So Jones took a player who rushed for 219 yards last season and turned him into the Big East's leading rusher (George Winn, 1,204 yards).
He dealt with the possibly career-ending injury to end Walter Stewart, whom he had called the best leader he ever coached, and watched the defense rise to No. 2 in the Big East in scoring, allowing 17.2 points per game. (The offense tied for the conference lead in the scoring, at 31 points per game.)
He weathered a potential quarterback controversy delicately, replacing Munchie Legaux with Brendon Kay when the time was right and watching the fifth-year senior lead Cincinnati to a 3-1 mark down the stretch.
Jones had big shoes to fill when taking this job three years ago, evidenced by his predecessor's future date in the national title game with Notre Dame. And that predecessor, Kelly, had big shoes to fill in replacing Dantonio, evidenced by Michigan State's rise as a Big Ten power. (This year's 6-6 campaign notwithstanding.)
Together all three coaches have turned around the culture of a program that just completed its eighth Big East season, having finished in third place or better in five of those years. In the 50 years prior to Dantonio's eight-win 2006 season, Cincinnati had exactly four eight-win campaigns. It has had five since, with Jones responsible for the past two.
Cincinnati fans better hope that Jones has the chance to make this another 10-win season come the Dec. 27 Belk Bowl, and to keep the run going beyond that. Plenty of other schools seem to hope he can do the same for them, as sure a sign as any of the job he has done with the Bearcats.