Increased scrutiny speeds up timetable
Asked about the new-age pressures of succeeding in Year 2, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley suggested that he has not yet qualified to answer the question.
"As far as I'm concerned, last year was Year 0," Dooley said.
Dooley isn't saying that because the Volunteers finished 6-7. He is saying that because he took over as the Vols' third head coach in as many seasons and knows his team isn't ready for the spotlight that now focuses on a prominent program's Year 2.
"Maybe 1½ is a fair compromise," Dooley continued, a twinkle in his eye. "The media wants [Year] 2. Fans want 2. I want 1, so we'll settle with Year 1½. That's good."
In the past decade, coaches began producing success faster and fans began demanding it just as fast. Patience, these days, isn't anything more than the name of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.
Four coaches since 2000 have won a national championship in their second season. A year ago, Auburn, coached by Gene Chizik, won the BCS title by defeating Oregon, coached by Chip Kelly, 22-19. Either way, a second-year coach would have held the crystal football high.
Chizik is just the latest coach to join the patron saints of the quick turnaround, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. They won BCS championships as second-year coaches in 2000 and 2002, respectively. Urban Meyer soon followed, leading Florida to the title in 2006, his second season in Gainesville.
If the trend continues this season, the outsized expectations are stacked on the shoulders of Jimbo Fisher at No. 5 Florida State and Brian Kelly at No. 18 Notre Dame. The Seminoles and the Irish already are being discussed as BCS bowl contenders. With those rankings, a team that catches the right breaks won't stop at a BCS bowl until it's the BCS bowl. You know, the one played in New Orleans on Jan. 9.
Anyone with a long memory will recall when coaches got five years to turn around a program. These days, you get three years to show that the team is progressing. Michigan's dismissal of Rich Rodriguez is the latest example of missing that deadline.
By the second year, the coach has had time to put his stamp on the program. He might be playing with the previous coach's talent. But that talent -- now his -- knows his system. As second-year coach Skip Holtz of South Florida put it, "It's much more how to do it than what to do." Coaches don't have to install offenses and teach techniques. More importantly, the players know the coach's expectations; he knows their abilities.
The second year "allows you to get to football," Brian Kelly said last week before the Irish began their August work. "It allows you to get to the fundamentals of the game. It allows you to start to look at your scheme, particularly situationally. Those are things I couldn't talk about at this time last year. I was talking about learning the names of our players, knowing their strengths and weaknesses."
Fisher and Notre Dame's Kelly also have the good fortune of sharing the unspoken secret component held by the four coaches who won the national championship in their second season. Both took over established programs that had fallen to mere mediocrity. Stoops, Tressel, Meyer and Chizik didn't have to rebuild as much as they had to remodel.
Although Auburn had fallen to 5-7 in 2008, the Tigers had gone 50-14 in the previous five seasons under coach Tommy Tuberville. Twelve fifth-year seniors, the guts of last year's national championship team, committed to Auburn in 2005, the year after the Tigers went 13-0 and finished No. 2 to USC.
Tressel had even better fortune. When he took over the Buckeyes in 2001, they had gone 8-4 the previous season. As recently as the period from 1995 to '98, Tressel's predecessor, John Cooper, had led Ohio State to a cumulative record of 43-7.
For coaches who take over programs that fell way below mediocre, the standard of success is different. Syracuse coach Doug Marrone took over a program before the 2009 season that had won a total of 10 games in the previous four years. Syracuse surely covered more ground to get from there to an 8-5 record in 2010 than any of the aforementioned national champions did.
In fact, Marrone is one of only three AQ-conference coaches in the past 25 years to end a streak of at least five consecutive losing seasons in his second year on the job. The others are Tom Coughlin of Boston College in 1992 and Hal Mumme of Kentucky in 1998.
"I believe I can do this job," said Marrone, a former Syracuse offensive lineman. "I don't know if I can say that about other jobs. There has to be a fit. There has to be a fit for the staff."
Marrone added that taking over a program that had lost its fans and its morale put a premium on trust and consistency. He revamped a staff with a premium on ties to Syracuse (three former Orange players are coaches) and to the high schools in Syracuse's traditional recruiting grounds. And yes, he believed he had to show progress in his second season.
"The way the media is, there's so much exposure, and there's finance -- 'We're paying this guy X amount of money,'" he said.
Dooley, like Marrone, is convinced that the increased media attention has sped up the clock on all coaches. The 12-month drumbeat of news about college football has made fans unwilling to wait for progress. That's not what Dooley recalled from growing up as the son of former Georgia coach Vince Dooley, who won 201 games in his College Football Hall of Fame career (1964-88).
"I think it's because we talk about it [college football] every day of the year," Derek Dooley said. "I just remember when I was growing up. Of course, you had the season. And then my father wasn't in the paper until signing day. And then you have signing day. You hear the coach. You talk about that. And then you don't hear from him again for another month. And then you start spring practice. And you hear the coach talk about the team. And then you don't hear from him again until August."
So everything goes faster these days. The coverage that his father received in three years, Derek Dooley might receive in one. That might be why he's attempting to slow down the clock on his tenure at Tennessee. Welcome to Year 1½.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.
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