Mark Knudson’s Three Strikes Blog: Coaching searches Why UNC won, CSU didn’tand how to grade the Buffs and Broncos after Year One. –

Posted: December 18, 2019 at 2:48 am

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@Mark Knudson41

Strike One: Good self-awareness is a very valuable trait to have. Especially for a college football program.

Solets start by giving Northern Colorado Athletic Director Darren Dunn and his staff a ton of credit. They recognized not only where their struggling football program stood, but also exactly who they were and what they needed to do to change things for the better.

Did they set out to hire some guy who may or may not have ever heard of Northern Colorado, with mandatory previous head coaching experience that met some arbitrary standard theyd set for themselves to match an inflated idea of where they stood within the scope of college football?

Nope. They got real.

Very few college football programs would have the nerve to hire a new coach straight off a high school campus. Thats because it hasnt worked out very well in the past. From Gerry Faust at Notre Dame in the early 1980s, to recently fired Tony Sanchez at UNLV, the jump from the preps to college ball has proven to be too big a leap in nearly every case.

So why is the Bears hiring of former NFL standout Ed McCaffrey most recently the head coach at Valor Christian High School in suburban Denver any different?

For starters, UNC knows they arent Notre Dameand that they have nothing to lose. After going 28-72 over nine years with just two winning seasons, the program faced a metaphoric fourth-and-long-deep-in-their-own-territory-with-the-clock-ticking-down. It was time for a Hail Mary. After thinking things over (after announcing they were going to conduct the requisite national search for a new coach) they approached those long odds and came up with a brilliant play call.

While he has no college coaching experience, McCaffrey brings instant name recognition: Every football fan in the region knows him, plus hes well known nationally. He brings an unchallenged pedigree: Not only was he a Super Bowl Champion, but he has produced three sons Christian, a star at Stanford who should have won the Heisman Trophy before beginning a standout NFL career, Dylan, currently a quarterback at Michigan and Luke, currently a QB at Nebraska who are each already excelling at the next level.

All that plays well.

He also brings unquestioned football knowledge. If you listened to McCaffrey do Denver Broncos games on the radio, you understand that he not only knows what hes talking about, but he also has the critical communication skills needed to explain it to those who dont.

And just as importantly, McCaffrey brings tremendous recruiting connections in the region, and the ability to build a brand. Valor Christian alone has been producing dozens of college football prospects every season, and that wont change with his departure. Some of those kids whove gone out of state are going to now take a long hard look at staying closer to home and becoming a Bear.

All these are things UNC needs very badly. Could they have gotten ALL of them by hiring some other coach? The short answer is no. McCaffrey is unique in a lot of ways. Would it have been better if he had college coaching experience? Sure. But you cant have everything. And in this case, the good far outweighs the risk.

Whether or not Eddie Mac ultimately succeeds at UNC or not, the move to hire him was a bold shot well worth taking.

Strike Two: Meanwhile, 23 miles away in Fort Collins, self-awareness took a leave of absence.

Also in the market for a new coach after letting Mike Bobo walk after five nondescript seasons, Colorado State AD Joe Parker took the opposite approach. He conducted a clumsy and publicly awkward coaching search. He ultimately hired recently fired Boston College coach Steve Addazio after new CSU prez Joyce McConnell reportedly vetoed Parkers first two choices, former Tennessee HC Butch Jones and former Indiana HC Kevin Wilson, each because of previously well-publicized character issuesthat McConnell had just discovered.

Better late than never? I guess.

A few years ago, the department-wide slogan being used at CSU was A Bold New Era. There was nothing bold or new about the hire of Addazio a .500 coach whod made numerous enemies in Chestnut Hill before his unceremonious exit. He perfectly fits the description of a re-tread. It smacks of a just get this search over with hire. Its relatively safe in that Addazio doesnt have a Google past that will come back to bite him, but its uninspired and short-sighted.

This is a guy with ZERO recruiting connections in the region. Addazio has never coached west of South Bend, Indianaand the assistants he reportedly is bringing with him are equally new to the region.

Hello Siri? Please find Fort Collins Colorado for me

Being bold for Parker would have meant really interviewing (there was only a single token phone call, nothing face-to-face) CSU alum and Ohio State Assistant Head Coach Tony Alford. Parker ended up ignoring pleas from numerous alums to bring Alford back home, seemingly never taking the candidacy seriously. Alford is a 27-year veteran assistant coach, a great recruiter with a passion for his alma mater. Parker reportedly shied away because Alford has no previous head coaching experience. For the record, neither did Jim McElwain when CSU hired him, and that worked out pretty wellhappening during the schools Bold New Era.

Some supporters of the program think Alford should gain some HC experience at a smaller school first, before trying to get a job in the Mountain West conference. Breaking News: CSU IS a smaller school folks. Its the same as schools in the Mid-American, American Athletic or Sun Belt conferences.

A program thats seven games under .500 over the past five years, hasnt won a conference title in 17 years and has missed a bowl game the past two years isnt too big or two good for a first-time head coach with a great resume, especially one who really wants to be there.

The viewpoint that Alford was not good enough for CSU and that somehow Addazio was a better hire shows an amazing lack of self-awareness.

Strike Three: Were now about a year removed from similar coaching change situations in Boulder and Dove Valley. How have those graded out?

At the University of Colorado, Mel Tuckers first year, even though it resulted in a 5-7 bowl-less season, has been treated as a success by most in Buff Nation. CUs schedule was a killer, with losses to Air Force and Arizona offset by wins over Nebraska and Washington. It doesnt get a lot easier next season. Up and down Fresno State replaces Air Force, with Texas A&M instead of the Huskersfollowed by another gauntlet run through the Pac 12. Going 6-6 and reaching a bowl would be a very good season for the 2020 Buffs.

Tucker had only a brief fill-in stint in the NFL as a head coach (2-3 as an interim HC with Jacksonville at the end of a lost season) on his stellar resume as an assistant coach prior to getting hired by CU. This was basically his first head coaching gig, too.

Recruiting has been decent, and the reception by everyone around the program has been positive. If you had to give a letter grade to this first-time head coaching hire, youd land somewhere in the B or B+ range to this point. Get to a bowl game next season, and that could bump up.

Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos also hired a first-time head coach last year long time defensive assistant Vic Fangio. The Broncos were coming off two straight losing seasons and needed a jolt of old-fashioned discipline within their building.

Enter the man some call the Godfather.

After a bad start that included a really poor handling of the pre-season, the Broncos have finally gotten a little traction late under Uncle Vic. Its taken most of the season, but the new coaching staff appears to have gotten on the same pageand the results including an unexpected beat down of the Houston Texans two weeks ago have improved steadily. Exciting new young quarterback Drew Lock has emerged as a symbol of hope coming out of Broncos Country.

Denver will finish with a losing record for the third straight season, something which hasnt happened in five decades. And even though they could end up 6-10 under Fangio which is exactly the same record they had under Vance Joseph in 2018 this year feels different. Because of the decent finish, theres hope in Broncos Country. That didnt exist at this time last year.

So, after one season, both Tucker and Fangio grade out well as first time head coaching hires. Both searches were not rushed but measured. They werent clumsy and there was no what if fear involved.

Its easy to look at UNC in much the same way.

CSU? Not so much.

Continued here:
Mark Knudson's Three Strikes Blog: Coaching searches Why UNC won, CSU didn'tand how to grade the Buffs and Broncos after Year One. -

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December 18th, 2019 at 2:48 am

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