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January 28, 2008

Coaching carousel still spinning in the SEC

Thank goodness the SEC assistant-coaching carousel is in full force to keep us entertained as we count down the days until football returns.

A few weeks ago, we had some fun with Brian VanGorder's penchant for changing jobs. He had just been hired as South Carolina's defensive coordinator, and it was pointed out that it was VanGorder's fifth job in five years.

Well, that needs to be updated: VanGorder now has had six jobs in five years.

Less than three weeks after being hired by the Gamecocks, VanGorder moved on again. Actually, he returned to his former employer. When South Carolina hired VanGorder, he was the Atlanta Falcons' linebacker coach; when he left South Carolina, VanGorder was the Falcons' defensive coordinator.

VanGorder had been working for Bobby Petrino with the Falcons. When Petrino left, VanGorder did, too. But when the Falcons hired Mike Smith to replace Petrino, VanGorder returned to the Falcons. Smith had been defensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars, and VanGorder knows Smith from when he was the Jags' linebacker coach in 2005 four jobs ago.

Let's review: In 2004, VanGorder was the defensive coordinator for Georgia (a job he had held since 2001). In '05, he was the Jags' linebacker coach. In '06, he was head coach at Division I-AA Georgia Southern. In '07, he was linebacker coach for the Falcons. In 2008 came his short-lived reign in South Carolina before he decided to return to Atlanta.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier didn't waste any time finding a replacement. About eight hours after VanGorder announced he was leaving, Spurrier announced that he was hiring Ellis Johnson as his coordinator. Spurrier had interviewed Johnson before deciding on VanGorder.

"You might have said, 'Why didn't you hire him the first time?' The answer is I should have," Spurrier said at the news conference announcing Johnson's hiring. "I really should have."

Not to be outdone by VanGorder is Johnson, who also is on his third employer this month. He began the year as Mississippi State's defensive coordinator, then was hired by Petrino to be Arkansas' new defensive coordinator, then was hired by Spurrier.

Don't forget that this all started when Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt Arkansas' former coach hired defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix away from South Carolina to do the same job with the Rebels.

And another way to look at this: In a weird (and small) way, Atlanta is simply getting back at Petrino.

Rebuilding at BC

Spring practice is important for everyone, but you can't blame Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski for being a little antsy for it to begin. After all, he has a lot of work to do on his backfield.

For starters, the Eagles are looking to replace star quarterback Matt Ryan. The likely replacement is Chris Crane, who is more mobile but not near the passer.

Actually, replacing Ryan may be easy compared to finding a new tailback. This season's starter was senior Andre Callender, who was both BC's leading rusher and receiver. His main backup was senior L.V. Whitworth. Junior A.J. Brooks' career seems over because of disciplinary issues, and sophomore Jeff Smith's concussions problems likely mean his career is finished.

That means true freshman Josh Haden, who already has enrolled, probably goes into spring practice as the starting tailback. Haden's brother, Joe, enrolled early at Florida last year and won the starting cornerback job in spring ball.

Remembering a legend

Bear Bryant died 25 years ago Saturday.

Perhaps his most famous quote was "I ain't never been nothing but a winner." The stats bear him out. He retired after the 1982 season as the winningest coach in Division I-A history (323-85-17, a .732 winning percentage). If you add in the records from his days as a player at Alabama and as an assistant at Alabama and Vanderbilt, that record goes to 384-100-25 (a .779 winning percentage).

The most telling statistic: Bryant was a college player (three seasons), assistant (six) or head coach (38) for 47 seasons and was associated with just two losing teams: as an assistant at Vanderbilt in 1940 (3-6-1) and as head coach at Texas A&M (1-9 in 1954, his first season with the Aggies).

He won five Associated Press national titles and mentored four others who won AP titles (LSU's Paul Dietzel was a Kentucky assistant, Clemson's Danny Ford was an Alabama player, Miami's Howard Schnellenberger was a Kentucky player and an Alabama assistant and Alabama's Gene Stallings was a Texas A&M player and an Alabama assistant).

Three of Bryant's former players are head coaches in Division I-A: Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State, Mike Riley at Oregon State and Schnellenberger at Florida Atlantic.

Grid bits

Louisiana Tech has been a full-fledged member of Division I-A since 1989. Incredibly, the 2008 season will be the first time since moving into I-A that the Bulldogs will have six home games. The Bulldogs have played 28 games against SEC teams since moving to Division I-A, but none have been at home. That changes this fall, too, when they play host to Mississippi State on Aug. 30.

One of the winningest college coaches of all time retired last week, but did anyone notice? Mike Kelly, 59, who coached at Dayton, a I-AA non-scholarship program, stepped down after 27 seasons with the Flyers. He was 246-54-1, a winning percentage of 81.9; that's fourth-best in NCAA history among coaches with at least 25 years of experience.

You think Kansas State coach Ron Prince isn't feeling the heat to win now? K-State has six junior college signees already enrolled this semester and oral commitments from 10 more JC transfers.

Two ACC programs lost good defensive coordinators in the past week. Virginia's Mike London left to become coach at Division I-AA Richmond and Wake Forest's Dean Hood left to become coach at I-AA Eastern Kentucky. Both did nice work this season, especially London. London replaces Dave Clawson, who became offensive coordinator at Tennessee. Hood replaces Danny Hope, who became offensive line coach at Purdue and has been named the "coach-in-waiting" behind Joe Tiller, who will retire after the 2008 season.

Speaking of ACC defensive coordinators, Jon Tenuta, who ran former Georgia Tech's defense for six seasons, still is searching for a job. Tenuta always is given high marks for defensive acumen, and he could end up at Arkansas (and if he does, he should send a "thank you" card to Brian VanGorder).

We're less than two weeks away from National Signing Day, and I have to admit I get numerous chuckles when I read various recruiting message boards. The reasons given for why Prospect A chooses School A over School B never cease to amaze me: "Our coaches cooled on him and didn't really want him," "We never offered him," "His grades are bad, and he can't get in here" and even "He wanted a 'handout,' and we don't do that. But they obviously do." Yep, it's never that an 18-year-old simply liked another school better.

Hoop talk

Cool stat from Rhode Island. Rams junior guard Jimmy Baron recently scored the 1,000th point of his career. He became the 19th Division I player in history to reach that plateau while playing at least two seasons for their dad. Among the others: Pete Maravich at LSU (for dad Press), Allan Houston at Tennessee (Wade), Bryce Drew at Valparaiso (Homer) and Mark and Jeff Acres at Oral Roberts (Dick).

Another job opened in a "Big Six" league when Oregon State fired Jay John last week. Kevin Mouton was named interim coach, and one of his first moves was to kick junior forward C.J. Giles, a touted transfer from Kansas, off the team. Giles, from Seattle, was considered one of the nation's top 10 centers when he signed with Kansas in 2004. He started 13 games in two seasons for KU before being dismissed from the team in November 2006 for what coach Bill Self called "a pattern of irresponsible behavior and disrespect for team rules." Mouton didn't elaborate when he booted Giles last week. Giles had played in 10 games this season, starting six. Perhaps his most noteworthy statistic with the Beavers was that he had fouled out of six games and had committed 40 fouls in 181 minutes of action or a foul every four minutes.

Memphis moved up to No. 1 in The Associated Press poll last week. While a No. 1 seed means far more than a No. 1 ranking, the news was interesting for a couple of reasons. First is that John Calipari became just the fifth coach in history to take different schools to the top spot in the poll; he also had Massachusetts at No. 1. (The others: Frank McGuire, with St. John's, North Carolina and South Carolina; Ralph Miller, with Wichita State and Oregon State; Eddie Sutton, with Arkansas and Kentucky; and Roy Williams, with Kansas and North Carolina). Second is that Memphis is just the fourth non-"Big Six" league school to get to No. 1 in the past two decades. UNLV, UMass (under Calipari) and Saint Joseph's are the others.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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