NCF Nation: Kirby Smart

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's time to face facts, Alabama.

It's been a few days since the debacle on The Plains and nothing is going to take the sting away from watching Chris Davis outrun the field goal team for the game-winning touchdown as time expired. The shock is still wearing off. Auburn is moving on to the SEC Championship Game and you're probably still questioning whether Nick Saban should have tried that long field goal from Adam Griffith, or better yet, whether he should have kicked it on fourth-and-one a few drives earlier. Maybe you're still reeling over Amari Cooper's dropped touchdown or the false start that negated what would have been a made field goal from Cade Foster.

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
AP Photo/Butch DillNick Marshall had a big day for Auburn against the Alabama defense.
Agonize over the what-ifs all you want. That's what these times are for. It will be a while until we know what bowl game Alabama will go to, and even then we'll come back to Saturday's Iron Bowl as the turning point in the season. But recognize that the most disturbing thing about Alabama's 34-28 loss to Auburn wasn't the coaching decisions, missed field goals or dropped passes. Those can be remedied. Those lessons can be learned.

Instead, what's most troubling was how Saban and Kirby Smart's defense once again failed to stop a spread, uptempo offense. Tre Mason ran inside and outside the tackles at will and Nick Marshall was able to evade the pass rush too easily. After that and what we saw earlier this season from Texas A&M, isn't it time to come to grips with the fact that Alabama needs to do something to slow down these types of attacks?

Gus Malzahn might indeed be the best offensive play-caller in the country. And, yes, Johnny Manziel is a freak of nature and arguably worthy of a second straight Heisman Trophy. Sometimes these things can't be helped. But the body of evidence is growing to suggest that Alabama has a real problem on its hands.

It's not like Saban and Smart didn't know what they were getting into. We heard all during the offseason how they were working to slow down Johnny Football and adjust to the tempo of no-huddle schemes. Alabama is nothing if not familiar with the work of Malzahn. There was more than enough tape from his time at Auburn and Arkansas State to know the zone-read was going to be a focal point of the game. Nothing they saw from either Auburn or Texas A&M was unfamiliar, except maybe the remarkable production their offenses gained on what's supposedly the best defense in college football.

"Their running game has had a lot of success against everybody all year long," Saban said after the loss at Auburn. "They have a very difficult offense to defend. Like I said, it takes a lot of discipline."

But discipline is what Saban's defenses have been known for all along. They don't go for the sack or the big play. Players are told to maintain their gaps and let the scheme work its magic. More often than not it does. Not against Auburn, though, which rushed for 296 yards, the most Alabama has given up since 2011. Auburn averaged 4.2 yards before contact on designed rushes, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Alabama entered Saturday averaging an SEC-best 1.5 yards before contact per rush.

[+] EnlargeKirby Smart
Ned Dishman/Getty ImagesNick Saban and Kirby Smart have watched the Tide struggle with uptempo offenses.
"There were times when we did not defend the plays properly," Saban explained. "… We did not close and do the things we were supposed to do and they hit us for a couple of big runs.

"You certainly have to stop the run a little better than we did today to have a chance to beat a team like this."

Mason's 164 yards rushing was the third most of any player against Alabama in the last decade. Marshall's 99 yards on the ground was the most allowed by a quarterback in the Saban era. The zone-read Mason and Marshall ran accounted for 270 yards on 38 attempts. That 7.1 yards per carry average was nearly double what Alabama entered the game allowing on zone-read plays (3.4).

Said veteran linebacker C.J. Mosley: "On some plays we messed up on our technique and [Marshall] made us pay, and some plays he made on his own."

In short, Alabama didn't have an answer for Auburn, just as it didn't against Texas A&M earlier this season.

Lost in the Alabama's sprint toward an undefeated season was how the defense gave up a school-record 628 yards of offense that day in September. Manziel threw for 464 yards, many of which came on plays where he scrambled to buy time for his receivers. He ran for 98 more yards of his own. Mike Evans abused Alabama's cornerbacks to the tune of 279 yards receiving, the most in Texas A&M's history and the most the Tide had allowed since 2001. When the Aggies got on a roll, they couldn't be stopped.

Making sense of what Texas A&M and Auburn did to Alabama's defense won't be easy, but it's a job that must be done. If not, repeat performances will come next year and the year after that.

If Alabama wants to retain the mantle of the best defense in college football, it has work to do. Saban and Smart have shown they're some of the top minds in the game, but now maybe more than ever they have to prove it.

SEC predictions: Week 3

September, 12, 2013
After two weeks, we're all tied up. As we've learned by watching the SEC Eastern Division race in recent seasons, no lead is safe.

After Chris correctly picked Georgia to beat South Carolina and I decided to stay on the Jadeveon Clowney train, we enter the weekend with identical 22-3 (.880) records. We both missed on Florida losing to Miami (Fla.).

It's a new week, and Saturday will serve as a chance for one of us to take the outright lead. Chris has been so giddy since watching the Dawgs take care of business against South Carolina. Sources told me that he was even spotted hanging with Drake and shooting hoops with LeBron. It makes me wonder how serious he is about the season. He's impressed with the past, but has he learned anything new since Saturday?

His Twitter has been pretty active the past couple of weeks …

I won't let Chris' win get to me. Champions don't do that. Champions just make adjustments and worry about what they can control. I like to call it my own process.

Meeko (the famous SEC blog cat) and I will be in the war room for the rest of the season meticulously dissecting every game from here on out.

Chris can have his famous friends and twit pics. I'll stick to winning.

Let's get to the picks:


Edward Aschoff: The Razorbacks have run the ball better than anyone else in the SEC, and they have the league's leading rusher in freshman Alex Collins. Southern Miss ranks 82nd nationally in rushing defense, so expect another big game on the ground from the Hogs. … Arkansas 41, Southern Miss 14

Chris Low: Arkansas leads the SEC in rushing with an average of 312.5 yards per game. Southern Miss gave up 285 yards on the ground last week in a 56-13 loss to Nebraska. It all adds up to a 15th straight loss for the Golden Eagles. … Arkansas 37, Southern Miss 17


Aschoff: After notching his first win at Kentucky, Mark Stoops now has to play BCS title contender Louisville -- and Teddy Bridgewater. Being at home should make things interesting early, but the Cardinals just have too much talent across the board. … Louisville 35, Kentucky 14

Low: Kentucky was unable to slow down Western Kentucky in the opener. Now, the Wildcats have to deal with Bridgewater and the Cardinals. Bridgewater might not wave off the punt team this week, but he will lead Louisville to its third straight win in the series. … Louisville 41, Kentucky 24


Aschoff: The Vols are riding high as they head out West. But having to make a cross-country trip for what will feel like an early game against one of the nation's best teams will bring the Vols back down to earth before SEC play begins. … Oregon 45, Tennessee 17

Low: Butch Jones has them excited in Big Orange Country, and there’s a lot to like about what he’s done with that program. But reality sets in this week. The only drama in Eugene, Ore., will be whether or not the Vols can hold Oregon under 50. … Oregon 47, Tennessee 17


Aschoff: The Tigers enter as a team still taking a backseat to Alabama and Texas A&M. That will probably be the case coming out of the weekend, too, but at least LSU won't be as beat up as the other guys. … LSU 45, Kent State 10

Low: LSU’s offense looks as potent as it has in some time, particularly in the passing game. The Tigers will cruise for a second straight week at home over outmanned Kent State, and then it’s on to Auburn and Georgia in back-to-back weeks. … LSU 48, Kent State 10


Aschoff: We know how important conference openers are, and this game has been huge for both teams in recent seasons. A loss for either could serve as an emotional setback. Auburn's home field and it's entertaining running game will push the Tigers through in the fourth quarter. … Auburn 27, Mississippi State 20

Low: It’s hard to envision the loser of this game going on to have a successful season, which makes it a critical SEC opener for both teams. The Bulldogs have been solid on defense, but they don’t have enough juice on offense right now to go into Jordan-Hare Stadium and win. … Auburn 31, Mississippi State 20


Aschoff: With South Carolina's defense having struggled mightily last week and Vandy having some explosive elements to its offense, this one should be entertaining. There can't be excuses for Clowney, and I think he'll make sure of that Saturday. … South Carolina 30, Vanderbilt 21

Low: The Gamecocks can’t afford any more hiccups if they want to stay in the SEC championship hunt. They’ve had their struggles in recent seasons with Vanderbilt, too. The Commodores are painfully close to being unbeaten, but their drought against nationally ranked teams will extend to 14 straight games. … South Carolina 28, Vanderbilt 21


Aschoff: Last season, Texas ran the Rebels out of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. This season, Ole Miss heads to Austin, Texas, with a ton of confidence, while Texas players are licking their, uh, horns after an embarrassing loss to BYU. The Longhorns couldn't stop the run last week, and they won't do a very good job this week, either. … Ole Miss 35, Texas 31

Low: Texas would seem to be in disarray with Mack Brown having fired his defensive coordinator this week. Plus, Ole Miss has plenty of motivation after getting blown out at home last season by the Longhorns. But Texas is still Texas, and the Longhorns will find a way to salvage a little pride at home. … Texas 34, Ole Miss 30


Aschoff: It's the game of games. The contest to end all contests. Nick Saban versus Kevin Sumlin. Johnny Manziel versus AJ McCarron. The Aggies pulled the unthinkable last season, but Alabama has been steaming over that game for almost a year now. Johnny Football has shown improvement as a passer and he'll still be the slipperiest player on the field Saturday, but picking against Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart facing a team that bested them last season just sounds silly. … Alabama 31, Texas A&M 23

Low: Johnny Football ain’t talking this week. The Aggies prefer that he do all of his talking on the field (with his play). These two teams played a classic last November in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and it should again be a ball of fun. But the Tide will prevail thanks to keeping the ball away from Manziel and that Texas A&M offense and wearing down an Aggies defense that has been shaky. … Alabama 38, Texas A&M 28
Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who's destined to be a head coach some day, will see his salary surpass the $1 million mark in 2013.

The Alabama board of trustees on Tuesday approved a new deal for Smart, which will make him the highest paid defensive coordinator in college football next season. Smart, who earned $950,000 last season, will make $1.15 million in 2013 and then $1.35 million in 2014 and 2015.

The Crimson Tide have finished first nationally each of the last two seasons in total defense and scoring defense en route to winning back-to-back national championships. They pulled it off last season despite losing six starters from the 2011 team that were selected in the NFL draft -- four among the top 35 picks.

The only other defensive coordinator in the SEC making more than $1 million is LSU's John Chavis, who will make $1.1 million in 2013.

Smart interviewed for the Auburn head coaching job earlier this year and has been mentioned in connection with several head coaching jobs over the last couple of years.
The SEC will have six new defensive coordinators in 2013, which includes a couple of coaches who were promoted.

D.J. Durkin was promoted at Florida after serving as linebackers coach and special teams coordinator the past three years. Geoff Collins was promoted at Mississippi State to run the defense. He was co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach the past two years for the Bulldogs.

When you survey the lineup of defensive coordinators in the SEC, it’s a reminder of how important defense is in this league.

During the SEC’s streak of seven straight national championships, only once has the team winning the title finished outside the top 10 nationally in total defense (Auburn was 60th in 2010).

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that SEC schools pay top dollar for their defensive coordinators. In fact, 10 of the 14 are scheduled to make $500,000 or more next season.

Included in that group are three of the four newcomers, although Auburn’s Ellis Johnson is hardly new to the SEC. Johnson, who will earn $800,000 on the Plains, has made previous stops at Alabama, Mississippi State and South Carolina as defensive coordinator.

Arkansas’ Chris Ash is set to earn $550,000 and Kentucky’s D.J. Elliot $500,000.

Currently, the highest-paid defensive coordinator in the SEC is LSU’s John Chavis, who’s scheduled to make $1.1 million in 2013.

However, look for Alabama’s Kirby Smart to get a bump from the $950,000 he made last season and join Chavis in the $1 million-plus club.

South Carolina’s Lorenzo Ward was recently given a new three-year deal that will pay him $650,000 per year.

Also, Texas A&M’s Mark Snyder is in line to get a significant raise from the $500,000 he made last season. His name came up in a couple of head coaching searches this past December, including Kent State.

Below is a look at the reported salary figures for the SEC defensive coordinators. Vanderbilt’s Bob Shoop isn’t listed because Vanderbilt is a private institution and doesn’t release salary information:
  • LSU’s John Chavis $1.1 million
  • Alabama’s Kirby Smart $950,000
  • Georgia’s Todd Grantham $850,000
  • Auburn’s Ellis Johnson $800,000
  • South Carolina’s Lorenzo Ward $650,000
  • Arkansas’ Chris Ash $550,000
  • Missouri’s Dave Steckel $550,000
  • Ole Miss’ Dave Wommack $550,000
  • Texas A&M’s Mark Snyder $500,000
  • Kentucky’s D.J. Eliot $500,000
  • Florida’s D.J. Durkin $490,000
  • Tennessee’s John Jancek $470,000
  • Mississippi State’s Geoff Collins $325,000

Video: Alabama DC Kirby Smart

January, 8, 2013

Mark Schlabach speaks with Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart following the Crimson Tide's 42-14 rout of Notre Dame.

Focus hasn't shifted for Tide's Smart

January, 6, 2013

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Kirby Smart has coached two national-championship defenses at Alabama.

But there will always be a special place in his heart for the one he’s coaching right now and the one he will lead onto the Sun Life Stadium field Monday night in the Discover BCS National Championship.

“I’ll tell you, this group has probably been one of my most favorite to coach since I’ve been at Alabama,” said Smart, who's in his fifth season as Alabama’s defensive coordinator. “They didn’t have bad expectations, but a lot of the media, you guys, had bad expectations for this group.

“I never was worried about their competitive character. Sure, we lost some good players ... four or five [NFL] draft picks, whatever it was, we lost off that team. But we had a lot of good players behind those guys, and this group, to me, had a little chip on their shoulder and felt slighted that people didn’t think they’d be good.”

The actual number of draft picks Alabama lost off last season’s national championship defense was six, and there were more than a few people wondering whether Smart would be able to retool this group into the kind of unit that could get the Crimson Tide back onto this stage.

Well, here they are.

[+] EnlargeKirby Smart
Paul Abell/USA TODAY SportsAlabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart celebrates the nail-biting finish of the SEC title game.
“All we heard about was who we didn’t have on defense, and Coach Smart reminded us more than once what everybody was saying about us,” senior linebacker Nico Johnson said. “All that mattered was that he believed in us, and we believed in each other.

“We weren’t going to be that defense that didn’t live up to the standard here at Alabama.”

Whatever happens Monday night against Notre Dame, this won’t go down as Alabama’s most talented defense, nor will it be remembered as the Crimson Tide’s most dominant defense.

But Smart loves the way this group fights, the edge it plays with and its penchant for coming up with stops in key situations.

The Crimson Tide lead the country in total defense, allowing 246 yards per game. They also lead the country in limiting plays that have gained 10 or more yards (105), and one of the reasons they do is because they don’t miss many tackles. They’ve allowed 54.7 rushing yards after contact per game this season, the second-lowest average in the country.

“We haven’t played great all the time, but we’ve played with great competitive character,” Smart said. “I mean, they have competed hard. We’ve been behind at LSU. We’ve been behind against Georgia. We lost to Texas A&M, but we were behind in that game and fought back.

“So every time these defensive guys have been challenged, they’ve responded.”

The best news for Alabama fans is that Smart is still running the Crimson Tide defense.

For several years, he’s been one of the hottest commodities in college football among assistant coaches, and he interviewed for the Auburn head-coaching job last month. There have been other head-coaching opportunities Smart has passed on.

He absolutely wants to be a head coach, but he’s also in a position that allows him to be picky.

“I have the best non-head-coaching job in the country, period,” said 37-year-old Smart, who earns $950,000 per year.

It’s why he doesn’t worry about where’s he’s going to be in three years or even 10 years.

“If you win, that takes care of itself,” Smart said, “and I’m not in such a hurry to run off and do anything. If I was 47, I might feel differently. But the most important thing to me right now is winning championships and developing young men into better players and better people.”

And although previous head-coaching experience is always a plus when you’re up for a job, Smart said there’s no substitute for the time he has spent under head coach Nick Saban.

“To me, personally, my development to become a head coach will be much better working for Coach Saban than necessarily going somewhere else because you learn every day that you’re in there,” said Smart, who was named the AFCA Assistant Coach of the Year this season.

“The experience that I’ve been able to gain through being with [Saban] is, ‘Hey, this is how you run a major program. This is the way you do it, and this is the way you question every part of your organization, therefore making it better.’”

Smart's time will come to run his own program, probably sooner rather than later.

Right now, he's too busy winning championships to worry about when the right job will come along.

Video: Alabama's Kirby Smart

January, 5, 2013

Mark Schlabach discusses the BCS title game with Alabama's defensive coordinator.

3-point stance: Tough moment for Jones

December, 20, 2012
1. Cincinnati athletic director Whit Babcock explained two weeks ago how Butch Jones told him he had turned down Colorado to stay with the Bearcats, only to see Tennessee lure Jones away later that day. Jones told me Wednesday how gut-wrenching it was. Babcock asked him point-blank if he was going to Colorado or Tennessee. Jones assured Babcock he had turned down Colorado and that he hadn’t talked to the Vols. “Whit’s face dropped,” Jones said. “‘Butch,’ Whit said, ‘(Tennessee athletic director) Dave Hart just called.’ Trace (Armstrong), my agent, didn’t know about it. I didn’t know about it.”

2. In the end, Jeremy Pruitt took the bird in the hand. The Alabama secondary coach could have waited a year to see if defensive coordinator Kirby Smart got a head-coaching gig. Instead, Pruitt accepted an offer from Jimbo Fisher to become Florida State’s defensive coordinator. Pruitt knows it’s a gamble to leave the Nick Saban Coaching Academy. A year ago, Derek Dooley lured away Sal Sunseri to be defensive coordinator at Tennessee. After Dooley got fired, Fisher hired Sunseri to work for his young friend Pruitt.

3. As one of the leading mockers of athletic directors who buy opponents for home games, I have to admit it’s refreshing to see one of those games used for something more. If Wisconsin hadn’t brought in Utah State this past September, then athletic director Barry Alvarez might not understand how good a coach Gary Andersen is. The Aggies nearly upset the Badgers, losing 16-14, and now Alvarez has picked Andersen to replace Bret Bielema. Andersen becomes the third WAC coach to move to an AQ school this month.

Familiar names popping up in SEC searches

December, 4, 2012
As one athletic director noted weeks ago, the three SEC schools still in the market for a head coach are swimming in a lot of the same waters as they try to put a wrap on their searches.

Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee could all have their new head coaches named by the end of this week. Already, Kentucky has named former Florida defensive coordinator Mark Stoops to replace Joker Phillips.

It should get interesting over the next few days because guys like Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy and Louisville's Charlie Strong are prime targets at a couple of different schools.

At Tennessee, it appears that Gundy and Strong are at the top of the list, as Jimbo Fisher has decided to stay put at Florida State. Tennessee officials are also expected to talk with North Carolina's Larry Fedora on Tuesday in New York.

At Auburn, the name that's created the biggest buzz in that state is Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who according to, interviewed with the Tigers on Monday. The other names prominent in that search are Arkansas State coach Gus Malzahn and Strong. Malzahn was the offensive coordinator at Auburn for three years before taking the Arkansas State head job this season.

With Alabama heading to play in the Discover BCS National Championship Game in January, the timing would be anything but ideal for the Crimson Tide if Smart gets the job, especially if he hires away some of the Alabama assistants to go with him. Either way, Smart is easily the hottest commodity out there among assistant coaches in college football and has been selective the past few years. The Auburn gig may be too attractive to turn down if he gets an offer.

There have been reports that former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino is on Auburn's list, but multiple sources have told that Petrino is not a serious candidate. Auburn's president, Jay Gogue, simply isn't going to sign off on Petrino, and at this point, Petrino is going to have a hard time breaking back into the SEC.

At Arkansas, two of the top targets are former North Carolina coach Butch Davis and Gundy. Davis, an Arkansas alumnus, has a lot of support among several in the Hog Nation. He was fired at North Carolina following an NCAA investigation of the program that landed the Tar Heels on probation, although he was not mentioned in the 111-page report by the NCAA.

3-point stance: Top coaching candidates

November, 26, 2012
1. The two most intriguing names thus far to fill coaching vacancies are San Jose State head coach Mike MacIntyre and Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. MacIntyre has coached back east, and California, which fired Jeff Tedford, is less than an hour up I-880. Smart, as Tide head coach Nick Saban’s right-hand man, has learned defense and organization from the master and is a terrific recruiter. By the way, the man who built the modern-day Auburn program, Pat Dye, was a protégé of Bear Bryant at Alabama.

2. Colorado’s decision to fire Jon Embree after two seasons came as the biggest surprise of Black Sunday. The school took a flyer on Embree, a long-time NFL assistant and a former Buff star, because he provided a connection to the glory days of Bill McCartney. Embree began his tenure in the hole dug by his predecessor, Dan Hawkins, and found himself starting freshmen in the Pac-12. McCartney couldn’t have won with freshmen. Neither could Saban, Bryant or any other coach.

3. Recent Heisman winners have demanded the trophy with their play (Cam Newton in 2010, Troy Smith in 2006) or as the bellcow of the best regular-season team (Mark Ingram in 2009, Sam Bradford in 2008). This season, Notre Dame’s best player is linebacker Manti Te’o, whose skills aren’t entirely captured by numbers. Neither Alabama nor Georgia has a viable candidate. The fact that only one top candidate, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, is still playing only adds to the mystery.
Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart was named Tuesday as the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Assistant Coach of the Year.

Smart, in his sixth season on the Alabama staff, won the Broyles Award in 2009 as the top assistant coach in college football. His Alabama defense is ranked first nationally in scoring defense and second nationally in total defense.

His defenses have helped Alabama win two BCS national titles in the past four years, and five of his defenders earned All-America honors in 2011. Smart has had six players become first-round NFL draft picks in the past three years.

Off the field, Smart has been involved in various fundraising activities as a member of the Alabama coaching staff. He participates in Nick’s Kids, an organization in which head coach Nick Saban and his wife Terry have raised more than $2 million for area youth charities over the past five years. Smart participated in tornado relief efforts after the devastating storms in April of 2011. He helped set up a fund to help the son-in-law and grandchildren of former Alabama coach Joe Kines following a car accident that killed Kines’ daughter.

Each year, staff representatives from NCAA and NAIA football-playing schools are asked to nominate an assistant for consideration. From those nominations, a winner is selected by the AFCA Public Relations Committee. The winners of this award were selected from Football Bowl Subdivision, Football Championship Subdivision, Division II, Division III and the NAIA.

The Assistant Coach of the Year award was first presented in 1997 and was created to honor assistant coaches who excel in community service, commitment to the student-athlete, on-field coaching success and AFCA professional organization involvement.

The criteria for the award are not limited to on-field coaching ability or the success of the team and players that these assistant coaches work with. Service to the community through charitable work and other volunteer activities, participation in AFCA activities and events, participation in other professional organizations and impact on student-athletes are all taken into account in the selection process.

Jeff Tedford doomed by Cal's recent slide

November, 20, 2012

For much of the past two seasons, as Jeff Tedford sat firmly on the proverbial hot seat, the question was whether California could afford to fire its winningest coach. There was no buyout in Tedford's contract, so it would cost nearly $7 million to dispatch him, and that didn't include paying off his coaching staff.

And, of course, there were issues of loyalty. Tedford transformed a program that went 1-10 and played in a crumbling, half-empty stadium the season before he arrived, building it into a consistent winner that could afford massive facility upgrades.
On Tuesday, Cal administrators concluded that they couldn't afford not to fire Tedford, who completes the longest continuous, and current, tenure in the Pac-12 with an 82-57 record in 11 seasons in Berkeley.

The reasons for the not-unexpected firing are obvious. Tedford is 15-22 overall and 9-18 in Pac-12 play since going 8-5 in 2009. The Bears went 3-9 this year, the worst record of Tedford's tenure, including a five-game losing streak to end the season. Crowds at newly remodeled Memorial Stadium were dwindling, threatening Cal's Endowment Seating Program, which was supposed to play a central role for financing the stadium renovation.

Over the past four seasons, California lost 16 games by at least 17 points, and it is riding a three-game losing streak in the Big Game to Bay Area rival Stanford, which could end up in its third consecutive BCS bowl game this January.

[+] EnlargeJeff Tedford
Kelley L Cox/US PresswireJeff Tedford's Bears lost their final five games to finish 3-9 -- the head coach's worst season at Cal.
The program has been in a downward trend and showed no signs this season of reversing that negative momentum. Fans were turning away just when they -- and their money -- were needed most. So, it was decided, a coaching change was critical to reverse the tide.

“This was an extraordinarily difficult decision, one that required a thorough and thoughtful analysis of a complex set of factors,” Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour said in a statement. “Ultimately, I believed that we needed a change in direction to get our program back on the right track. Cal football is integral to our department and our university, and its influence can be felt well beyond the walls of Memorial Stadium."

So what's next? Well, Cal first has to decide how much it's willing to pay.

Tedford's 2012 salary is $2.3 million, which is a lot to most of us but not that much among elite coaches, particularly when you adjust for the Bay Area's cost of living. That's like making $1.6 million if you lived in Tuscaloosa, Ala. If Cal wants to pursue, say, Cincinnati's Butch Jones, they'd have to pay him $2.3 million just to match the value of Jones' current $1.6 million salary.

A front-line head coach likely will cost at least $2.5 million to $3 million. And then you have to hire his staff. Top coordinator salaries have risen to between $500,000 and $1 million. Washington is paying defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox $750,000 this year.
So this could get expensive.

Of course, the Bears also could do what they did when they hired Tedford away from Oregon: Find a hot coordinator.

Names you likely will hear: Wilcox, Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason.

Bears fans have been frustrated by Cal's QB play since Aaron Rodgers went to the NFL. Well, UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone rebuilt two offenses -- and two QBs -- in the past two seasons (at Arizona State and now with the Bruins).

Then you could trot out some other hot names in no particular order: Charlie Strong, Louisville; Art Briles, Baylor; Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech; Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky; and Gary Anderson, Utah State.

And coordinators: Kirby Smart, Alabama; Chad Morris, Clemson; Todd Monken, Oklahoma State; Brent Venables, Clemson; Lorenzo Ward, South Carolina; Kalani Sitake, Utah; Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State.

Or Cal could look to the NFL.

From the Cal statement: "Barbour said that a national search for a new head coach, which will be aided by the firm of DHR International, will begin immediately. She did not indicate a timetable for hiring a replacement, adding that Cal Athletics will have no further comment on the search until a new coach has been selected."

Tedford will land on his feet. He is plenty respected among other coaches. Don't be surprised if he lands another job in a major conference. Or the NFL.

He has proved he can build a program. As we've previously noted, in 24 seasons before he arrived in Berkeley -- 1978 to 2004 -- Cal won three or fewer games 10 times while winning seven or more games four times. Tedford suffered just two losing seasons in 11 years and has won 10 games twice and nine games once. Before he took over, Cal's last winning season came in 1993.

But football is a zero-sum game. You either win or you lose. Tedford set an early pattern of winning, but losing was the recent trend. The program seemed to plateau, then slide.

Further, Stanford's fortunes were rising, as were other Pac-12 teams with new coaches, such as UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State.

In the big business of college football, losing isn't accepted, particularly when rivals are winning.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 9

October, 28, 2012
Some people hand out game balls. We hand out helmet stickers.

A look at Saturday’s top performers in the SEC:

Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia: Jones obviously loves playing against Florida. He lit up the Gators for four sacks last season and was even more disruptive Saturday in the Bulldogs’ 17-9 victory over the Gators. His strip of a leaping Jordan Reed at the 5-yard line thwarted the Gators’ potentially game-tying drive. It was one of two forced fumbles by Jones, who led Georgia with 13 total tackles, including 4.5 for loss. Three of those were sacks, and he also recovered two fumbles. Not a bad day at the office.

Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina: This is a tribute to one of the classiest kids you’re ever going to meet. All of college football is keeping its collective fingers crossed that Lattimore will be able to recover from the awful-looking injury he suffered to his right knee Saturday in South Carolina’s 38-35 win over Tennessee. Lattimore has been a terrific player for the Gamecocks, but the thing that makes him so special is the way he carries himself, the way he treats people and the way he represents his family, his football team and his university. If there’s any way possible, he’ll be back.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: Johnny Football reappeared Saturday after looking more like Johnny Turnover last week. Manziel called it a night early in the third quarter of the Aggie's 63-21 romp at Auburn, but not before he'd accounted for five touchdowns. He finished with three touchdown runs, two touchdown passes and amassed 350 yards of total offense all in a little more than a half. Manziel retired to the bench after the opening possession of the second half. He now has 3,009 yards of total offense on the season. Cam Newton set the SEC record for total offense in 2010 with 4,327 yards in 14 games.

Bryson Rose, PK, Ole Miss: Rose provided all of the points Ole Miss needed in the second half Saturday, including a game-winning 31-yard field as time expired in the 30-27 victory over Arkansas. He was 3-for-3 on field goals, all of them coming after halftime. The Rebels’ senior place-kicker also booted field goals from 53 and 27 yards. The 53-yarder was a career-best for Rose and put Ole Miss ahead 27-20 in the fourth quarter.

Kirby Smart, Alabama’s defensive coordinator: Despite having to plug in so many new players, the Crimson Tide are playing as well as ever on defense. Nobody has scored more than 14 points against them this season, and they shut down Mississippi State on Saturday in a 38-7 win. The more you watch this defense play, the more impressed you are with how well-coached the players are and how few mental errors they make. They might not have a bunch of NFL first-rounders on this defense, but they’re sure playing like it.

SEC helmet stickers: Week 1

September, 2, 2012
It's time to take a look at the best in the SEC from Week 1:

Alabama's defense: Many wondered if Denard Robinson and Michigan's offense could give Alabama's younger defense some fits. That didn't happen. Alabama absolutely smothered Robinson and Michigan's offensive line early on in its 41-14 win. Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart game planned the Wolverines and Robinson perfectly, basically taking the potential Heisman candidate out of the game. Michigan got past Alabama's secondary on two deep plays, but the game was out of hand by that time. Senior cornerback Dee Milliner stepped up the way coach Nick Saban wanted him to. He showed tremendous coverage skills and grabbed one of Alabama's three interceptions.

Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina: No, he didn't have even close to spectacular numbers against Vanderbilt, but talk about heart and grit. After suffering a shoulder contusion in the second quarter, Shaw returned in the third with basically half of his right arm attached. He was the ultimate leader, throwing and running with immense pain shooting through his shoulder. He took some more hits along the way and even slammed into the ground at the end of a 12-yard run toward the end zone. He finished the game with 67 passing yards and 92 rushing yards and the Gamecocks won 17-13.

Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee: What a debut for Tennessee's junior college transfer receiver. He more than made up for the loss of Da'Rick Rogers in the home run department for the Vols. He absolutely burned NC State's All-American cornerback David Amerson on a 41-yard touchdown pass and sprinted right by him again on a 67-yard touchdown run on an end-around. He finished the night with 165 total yards and two touchdowns, and the Volunteers won 35-21.

Marcus Murphy, RB, Missouri: Welcome back to college football. After missing the 2011 season due to a shoulder injury, Murphy returned with a fury as the Tigers' punt returner. He returned five punts for 181 yards and two touchdowns in a 62-10 win over Southeast Louisiana. Those touchdowns came from 70 and 72 yards out. Quite the return.

Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: The rookie running back showed that he might have what it takes to be the Bulldogs' every-down back. He was Georgia's top rusher, carrying the ball eight times for 100 yards and two touchdowns, including a 55-yard run for a score. He also showed his explosion in the return game by taking a kickoff 100 yards back for a touchdown in the 45-23 win over Buffalo.

The bright lights and the big stage certainly didn't affect the focus of the defending champs, as No. 2 Alabama routed No. 8 Michigan 41-14 on Saturday inside Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Alabama's defense might be younger, but it didn't flinch against Michigan's flashy spread offense. The Tide's defense smothered the Wolverines, holding them to 268 total yards, forcing Michigan to go 3-of-12 on third downs and creating three turnovers.

Alabama's offense was equally impressive. The Tide showed tremendous balance, as quarterback AJ McCarron passed for 199 yards and two touchdowns, while true freshman running back T.J. Yeldon rushed for 111 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries.

It was over when: This one got away from Michigan early, but you could really feel this one was officially out of hand after Alabama running back Eddie Lacy bullied his way into the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown to make it 21-0 with 1:24 left in the first quarter.

Game ball goes to: Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart called a near-perfect game against an offense many thought would give the Tide issues. Smart and his players were more than prepared against Denard Robinson and that spread. Robinson was all over the place with some of his early passes, and was pressured and contained by Alabama's front seven for most of the night, basically taking him out of the game.

Stat of the game: Michigan didn't give up more than 40 points in any game last season. The Wolverines surrendered 41 points Saturday night and gave up 31 by halftime.

Unsung hero: There was a lot of talk about what Alabama's defense would do, especially the secondary. That put a lot on the shoulders of senior cornerback Dee Milliner. But he made quite the statement Saturday. He showed lockdown ability, knocked passes away and came away with his own interception. He's certainly the leader of this group.

What it means for Alabama: People wondered what the defending champs had in the tank with the pieces they lost on defense, and Alabama delivered a monstrous punch. It was only one game and SEC play hasn't started, but Alabama yet again looks very strong on both sides of the ball. That's a scary thought for the rest of the country ... and the SEC.

What it means for Michigan: This wasn't Robinson's best game, and there were a few plays in the first half that should have been made. But the Wolverines likely won't play a defense as dominating as Alabama's from here on out. The other good news is that suspended Fitzgerald Toussaint and defensive end Frank Clark will return. This team can still make a run in the Big Ten.