Can low-cost coaches win? 

March, 27, 2015
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Nick Saban makes a little more than $7 million a year, and most everyone associated with college football agrees that’s still a relatively practical deal for Alabama. Saban has enough trophies and rings to justify that he’s worth every penny, if not more. Alas, there are only so many Sabans and only so much money to go around. What if you are the athletic director at a Power 5 school that has less than half that to spend on a coach? Is it still possible to win? That’s certainly the hope at Kansas, where first-year coach David Beaty is set to make a base of $800,000 a year as he takes over a program that is 12-48 and on its third head coach since 2010. Incentives for Big 12 wins ($25,000 per victory) and bowl eligibility ($100,000) would push Beaty’s total toward or above $1 million, but the point is the same. Can a major-conference program progress and be competitive without hiring the next big-name, high-dollar coaching free agent? ADs and coaches agree
video On Monday, we ranked the best bang-for-the-buck coaching values in college football. Today we look at the opposite end of the spectrum and discuss coaches who are overpaid, based on bloated salaries and a lack of results. Note that some of the coaches below are still relatively new, but the money they’re making will rapidly increase expectations, which will lead to angst if those expectations aren’t met. The estimated salary figures come from a combination of documents obtained by ESPN.com and the USA Today coaches’ salary database. 1. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa Estimated 2015 salary: $4 million Iowa fans are already rolling their eyes. They’ve heard all this before because they’ve seen their school handcuffed for years by the worst contract in college football. If not for a buyout that at one point would have pushed $20 million, Ferentz likely would have been out. No, he definitely would have been out. Instead, because of an unheard of 10-year deal he signed after the 2009 season, Iowa continues to pay top-10 money for a program that isn’t sniffing the top 10 in the polls. Coaches agree that Iowa isn’t the easiest place to win, but the resources and facilities are well above average and the division is the most winnable in the country. For $4 million per season, the Hawkeyes should get something more -- far more -- than Ferentz’s 6.8 victories a year since he signed the extension. As the buyout becomes more reasonable as the contract nears its 2020 completion, it’ll be interesting to see at what point the administration is willing to pull the trigger.

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It’s getting increasingly difficult to find a bargain in major college coaching -- or at least, the concept of value is being redefined because of continually climbing salaries. Even with an evolving marketplace, a handful of programs are still getting solid deals. Here are the best examples, culled from contract files obtained by ESPN.com and USA Today’s salary database. Themes among the choices include Pac-12 coaches, veterans and private school employees. 1. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona Estimated 2015 salary: $3 million Rodriguez’s failed run at Michigan worked out fantastically for Arizona and AD Greg Byrne. Not only did it make Rodriguez available but it dropped the price tag for a proven coach who is again proving himself. The Wildcats, even with a freshman quarterback and a number of young skill players, broke through to win the Pac-12 South and reach the Fiesta Bowl in 2014. Michigan is looking more and more like an aberration for Rodriguez. Maybe it was more program than coach in Ann Arbor, huh? “That guy can coach,” one peer of Rodriguez’s texted last week. “I know that.”

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Spring ball is in session throughout the country, and it’s a vitally important time for new coordinators.

They were brought on board to help teams where they were lagging, or possibly to sustain what those before them had established. In either case, the spring represents the first time to get on the field with their new personnel.

The coordinators will learn by seeing what they have (or do not have). And the players will learn both a new language and new scheme.

Both sides get only one crack at a first impression.

The following is the top priority that needs to be addressed this spring by each of the country's top 10 new coordinator hires:


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Let the thaw begin: Spring ball has arrived. (Heck, Duke is already done!)

So, for which coaches and programs is this particular spring most important? Who is looking to shake off poor finishes in 2014, or which schools are integrating new coordinators? The top two, South Carolina and Oklahoma, qualify for both.

A caveat for this post is that I did not include first-year coaches. It's obviously a big spring for all of those who just arrived in their new offices. These are returning coaches, many of them veterans, who need solid springs.

1. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

It put a scare into every Gamecock fan -- and recruits, too, as it turned out -- when Spurrier indicated late last year that he might be nearing retirement. He tried to walk it back, but some internal damage was already done. In addition to assistants starting to poke around for other jobs, not feeling secure in their positions, South Carolina has seen double-digit decommitments and transfers since the end of the regular season.


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College football is a game driven by offense, seemingly as much as it ever has been. And yet, in our review of the best Power 5 coordinator hires in this cycle, eight of the top 10 coaches in new places are defensive coordinators.

Maybe that's because when offensive coordinators move, they become head coaches? Or maybe it's because the balance of the sport could eventually swing back toward defense? Or both?


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Teams trending down post-signing day 

February, 10, 2015
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On Monday, I highlighted teams that are trending up because of the way they were playing at the end of the season and what has transpired since. Today, we look at programs heading in the opposite direction.

In many cases, as with the No. 1 choice here, it’s a matter of a coach who has been successful finding a way to turn things around and win big again.

1. Oklahoma
Coaches I talked to in the fall genuinely believed that it might be in coach Bob Stoops’ best interest to start over somewhere else. Florida, because his friend Jeremy Foley runs the athletic department, made a lot of sense.

In the next breath, though, most of those coaches also said they figured Stoops was too stubborn to walk away from Oklahoma. They were right.

Those comments came before the Sooners were flattened by Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl, but that didn’t really change the climate much in Norman; it was already bad. It’s a frustrated fan base that was spoiled by Stoops’ second-season national title.

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Teams trending up post-signing day 

February, 9, 2015
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Who needs the NFL, Los Angeles? With the way USC and UCLA are going, the city is just fine when it comes to football.

The Trojans and Bruins lead our look at programs trending up following the end of the season, the coaching carousel and signing day.


1. USC
The Trojans just signed their first full recruiting class since 2011, when they were hit by NCAA penalties. Finishing behind only Alabama and Florida State in ESPN RecruitingNation's rankings, it wasn’t just a matter of quantity for USC. Among the 16 ESPN 300 prospects signed, it added the country’s No. 1 cornerback, running back and inside linebacker. The Trojans are stockpiling at this point.

Beyond recruiting, quarterback Cody Kessler -- the country’s most underrated passer -- is back. So are sophomore stars-in-the-making cornerback Adoree' Jackson and wide receiver JuJu Smith.

Pac-12 coaches always believed the Trojans had as much talent as anyone in the country, not just the league. With the numbers bouncing back, now they have the depth to counter any rash of injuries.

Given all that, and the Holiday Bowl win against Nebraska, this is why a number of people -- myself, included -- see USC as a playoff-type team in 2015. The talent is there. Can Steve Sarkisian coach the Trojans to that level?


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videoCOLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Kevin Sumlin didn’t shy away from the notion that the next two or three seasons will likely define his time at Texas A&M.

“Yeah,” he said Wednesday, fiddling with a pen and a highlighter on his desk before looking up. “I think that’s fair.”

The honeymoon phase is most certainly over. Sumlin, entering his fourth season, is no longer new at Texas A&M. And Texas A&M isn’t new to the SEC.

Instead of everyone finding their footing, there is angst following an 8-5 season -- and a strange sensation that the Aggies are not all that close to the top of the SEC West. Difficult as the division is, they are entering a window in which they must perform. Now.

“Here’s where we are,” Sumlin said. “What do we need to do better?”

The offense has needed depth, he said. The defense has needed talent.

The coaching staff believes -- or at least hopes -- those needs have been addressed the past three signing days. Youth can no longer be a crutch for A&M -- not after signing ESPN RecruitingNation’s eighth-rated class in 2013, the No. 4 class in 2014 and the No. 12 class in 2015.

That sort of recruiting run means you either deliver soon and compete at a high level -- or risk being fired.


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National signing day, and the build up to it, is as close as Texas and Texas A&M get to actual football competition these days, to see who will in fact “run this state.”

Well, right now it’s neither school. The Lone Star State is run by Baylor and TCU, the Big 12 co-champs that narrowly missed the initial College Football Playoff field.

That’s why the 2015 recruiting class and the season are so vital to both the Longhorns and Aggies, with each power striving to re-establish itself -- not just regionally, but nationally.

Texas and Texas A&M lead off our look at programs and coaches that need the 2015 class to pay off, and the sooner the better.

(Note: The RecruitingNation ranking and number of commitments are updated as of Sunday evening.)

1. Texas
Ranking: 9
Commitments: 26

The Longhorns have secured a number of solid, team-building pieces in this class, and a few high-end targets -- DT Daylon Mack and RB Soso Jamabo, among them -- remain distinct possibilities to sign with Texas this week.

Still, Wednesday

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Looking ahead at potential playmakers in 2015, there should be two divisions: Ohio State, and everyone else.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesEzekiel Elliott is among Ohio State's many offensive weapons returning for the 2015 campaign.
Heaven help Big Ten defensive coordinators trying to plan for a team that will have the power element of Ezekiel Elliott’s running complemented by the ankle-breaking athleticism and versatility of utility types Jalin Marshall, Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson. Oh, and there’s that Braxton Miller fella, should he return to OSU.

Jokes about “Big Ten speed,” or lack thereof, are hereby declared dead. They have ceased because of Urban Meyer and his staff’s recruiting.

Miller, the Buckeyes' quarterback from 2011-13, will be one of the country’s top playmakers regardless of where he plays. Most people in college football believe returning is his best option, even if it means a new, varied role.

Miller’s size (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) compares well to NFL running backs such as Matt Forte, Darren McFadden and Arian Foster, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Miller, though, needs to prove to NFL teams that he can play the position without injury. Miller’s ability in space is uncanny, but I was surprised to learn that he rushed for 701 yards between the tackles in 2013 (508 outside). One more Stats & Info nugget: His 7.3 yards per carry since 2011 puts him behind only Melvin Gordon (minimum 320 carries).So, yeah, it would be highly intriguing to add Miller’s skill to the elite-level playmaking talent that’s already present.

As a redshirt freshman, Marshall was the team’s breakout playmaker in 2014. He scored eight touchdowns (six receiving, one rushing, one punt return). If something happened to Cardale Jones in the postseason, Marshall likely would have played QB, too.

Samuel, a freshman this past season, and Wilson, a sophomore, are similarly versatile. They’re the team’s primary kick returners, averaging 22.8 yards per return last season. They’re nowhere near their ceilings, either. You think new co-OC and QBs coach Tim Beck entered into a good situation?

Here are playmaker standouts from the non-Ohio State crop

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Malzahn leads list of best playcallers 

January, 28, 2015
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This week, I asked a few coaches what constituted a good playcaller. Balance was one consistent element, both in terms of run and pass calls as well as taking shots downfield. Creating and leveraging mismatches, finding space for playmakers, was another.

Another characteristic -- confidence -- was a bit more abstract. Coaches said a proper playcaller has to take control of a game rather than allowing a defensive coordinator to get the upper hand.

It’s a chess game in the gladiator arena, and one coach said “bravado” is required.

“Always be on the attack,” he said, “regardless of down, distance, score or time of the game.”

Here are 10 playcallers -- coordinators and head coaches -- who most embody those elements.

1. Gus Malzahn, Auburn head coach
Even though the Auburn offense is built on the same few basic run plays, Malzahn continues to frustrate defensive coordinators.

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More breakout players to watch in 2015 

January, 26, 2015
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On Friday, we rolled out the top 10 breakout players to watch in 2015. But we have 15 more, including two more Big 12 quarterbacks (for a total of four), the next great defender at Michigan State and, like our No. 1 breakout choice, USC’s Adoree Jackson, a return game ace.

Check out the first 10 players, then read about the next 15:

11. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma QB
Trevor Knight was a buzzy Heisman candidate last spring, yet rival coaches were talking about whether Mayfield, if he were eligible in 2014, would overtake him. It was made moot because the Texas Tech transfer didn’t get his waiver to play, but Knight’s up-and-down season has certainly opened the door for competition.

With an Air Raid-based offensive coordinator in Lincoln Riley coming in, Mayfield is perfectly suited to take over -- and flourish -- as QB1 in Norman.


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Breakout players to watch in 2015 

January, 23, 2015
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We're not far removed from the first College Football Playoff, but it's never too early for a look ahead at breakout players for 2015. This initial projection compiles input from coaches, recruiting evaluations and my ESPN.com college football colleagues.

There are five players from each of the Power 5 conferences, and then those players are ranked to create a top 25. I'm sure there will be some surprises -- there always are -- but last year's early breakout outlook included Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott and Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey.

Here are the first 10 players to watch for 2015, with 11-25 to follow early next week:


1. Adoree' Jackson, USC DB/WR
You'll notice a running theme in this post of jack-of-all-trades, two-way utility athletes, and Jackson is the best of the bunch.

The tug o' war will continue between the Trojans' offensive and defensive coaches, because he has the ability to change a game whichever side of the ball he is on. He mostly played corner, registering 50 tackles, but a 71-yard touchdown catch in the bowl win against Nebraska served as a reminder of the possibilities on offense.

And he will continue to impact a game in a third way, as he did when he returned a kick 98 yards for a score against the Huskers.

As valuable as he was as a freshman, relying often on instincts, Jackson could easily evolve into a Heisman-type player in the next year or two. This gen's Charles Woodson?

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Coaches pick out young players to watch 

January, 21, 2015
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A quarterback has won the Heisman Trophy each of the past five years and 13 of the past 14 seasons. However, judging by feedback from coaches during and after the 2014 season, 2015 could very well be the "Year of the Running Back."

Seven Power 5 freshmen running backs surpassed 1,000 yards in '14 -- Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine (1,713 yards), Georgia’s Nick Chubb (1,547), Arizona’s Nick Wilson (1,375), Oregon’s Royce Freeman (1,365), Northwestern’s Justin Jackson (1,187), LSU’s Leonard Fournette (1,034) and FSU’s Dalvin Cook (1,008).

Any one of those players could certainly find another gear and make a run at the 2015 Heisman. But the belief among coaches I’ve spoken with the past few weeks is that the best running back -- and player -- in 2015 will be Ohio State rising junior Ezekiel Elliott (1,878 yards this season).

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesOhio State running back Ezekiel Elliott racked up nearly 700 yards in three postseason games.
Coaches were raving about him at the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Convention, and that was before he bulldozed Oregon for 246 yards and four touchdowns in the College Football Playoff National Championship.


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