The Ole Miss Rebels head to Austin this weekend to go head to head with the University of Texas Longhorns, one of the most storied programs in the history of college football. What a week ago was considered to be a game that would be a massive upset should the Rebels prevail, is now a game that most people around the country are thinking will be an Ole Miss win.
After getting their tails whipped by BYU this past weekend, Texas is spiraling out of control and the tide has swung very much in Ole Miss’ favor. In what appeared to be a face saving move, Mack Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz just one day after his defense gave up over 500 rushing yards to an unheralded BYU squad. And to make matters worse starting QB David Ash (concussion) is questionable for the game against Ole Miss and playmaking WR Daje Johnson (ankle) is also out. All signs are pointing to an Ole Miss victory.
But that’s not the point of this article. (If you want my opinion on the game, here it is: Ole Miss goes to Austin and makes a big statement. Rebels 34 – Longhorns 17) The point of this article rests in what writers started tweeting, talking, and writing about mere minutes after BYU finished off Texas this past weekend. They were predicting that this week’s game in Austin would be an audition or an interview of sorts for Hugh Freeze as a potential replacement for Mack Brown, who many believe will be asked to “retire” at the end of this season.
Obviously, a lot remains to be seen for how the rest of the season unfolds for Mack Brown and Texas. He could reel off 10 straight wins and not one person would call for his head they way people were late Saturday night. Hugh Freeze could have a middling 7-5 season and not be on anybody’s list come December. But pretend that Texas is really already looking for its next head coach. Is it crazy to believe that Hugh Freeze might be a candidate? He’s taken 15 games to get Ole Miss from the laughingstock of the SEC to the top 25. He’s recruited with the big boys. He’s gotten a fan base fired up. Why wouldn’t Texas take a gander at Ole Miss’ leader? Or why not look at James Franklin or whoever the next hot young coach is at a middle to upper middle tier football program?
Texas can do that kind of thing. They can look at anyone they want as a potential next head coach because they can offer more than practically any other school in the country. Huge salary? Check. Incomparable facilities? Got em. Historic prestige? Oh yeah. Fertile recruiting ground? Only the best. Immediate national prominence? Absolutely. So when Texas comes calling after Mack Brown is gone, most sane coaches are at least going to hear them out. And likely, barring some crazy circumstance (Saban leaving Alabama, for instance.), the candidate who gets offered the job first is probably going to take it.
Now, let’s look at how this affects the national landscape of college football.
There are a handful of five-star, A+, historic powerhouse football programs in the country. They are the “dream jobs” young coaches drool over. They are the places people want to spend entire careers. Right now they are Alabama, Texas, USC, Notre Dame, Florida, and Ohio State and to a lesser degree LSU, Michigan, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Florida State. These are the teams that are almost always in contention for National Championships. And if you look at recent history, these are teams that have been responsible for 12 of the 14 BCS National Championships.
So what? Why should you care? Well as a fan of Ole Miss I care deeply because the sentence that ended the last paragraph means that in order to win a National Championship you almost always have to be one of the top 10 programs in the history of the sport. Or, in the one of the two exceptions, Auburn’s 2011 victory, you have to luck into a once in a lifetime type player like Cam Newton. It’s tough to stomach that as a fan of a decent program. Or even as the fan of a great program like Oregon, Stanford, or Georgia. It’s just the reality of the game though. Some teams are always good and those teams are the ones that tend to win the titles.
But what makes it even harder on the fan is knowing that the coaches of these powerhouses had to come from somewhere. They had to leave one place for the greener pastures of those dream jobs. I don’t think that Hugh Freeze or James Franklin is necessarily the key to a National Championship for their respective schools, but I do think that they have the potential to move them into the realm of taking that step to championship contender. The only problem is keeping those young, energetic, fired up coaches around long enough to do so. Whenever a young coach gets to that first nine or 10 win season, the offseason rumor mills start churning about him leaving to take the big open job. Brady Hoke did it to Sand Diego State. Brian Kelly did it to Cincinnati. Coaches want that prestige job. They want to be the next Bobby Bowden or Bear Bryant or now you can safely say Nick Saban. Why would they want to stay someplace where it’s going to be difficult, where they are going to have to work their butts off year after year to stay relevant? Why not go someplace where recruits are easy to get and winning comes naturally and fans are always revved up for football season?
In short, the best coaches always end up coaching the best teams and those teams always end up winning the championships. That’s not exactly the most thrilling news for the vast majority of schools and their fans, but it’s the way it is and the way it has been. It’s even more of a reason for the playoff system to be implemented soon, but that’s an argument for another day.
If I’m Hugh Freeze or whoever the next big thing is at the end of the season, of course I listen to Texas or USC or fill in the blank. I’d be an idiot not to. But I am a fan, and I sure as heck hope that some of these great young coaches decide to pave their own way at these smaller schools by sticking around and making a big name for themselves where they are.