Wild day of coaching moves with hirings, firings, protests
By RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Football Writer
Florida and its athletic director reached into their pasts to find a new coach, and two more schools fired coaches even though their teams are heading to bowl games.
Mississippi stayed in-house to fill its coaching vacancy. And, in the strangest part of a wild day of hirings and firings, Tennessee’s search hit a bizarre snag.
It’s still early in the silly season, but a lot has gone on.
The action began Sunday morning with Arizona State dismissing Todd Graham after six seasons and ended with Ole Miss promoting interim coach Matt Luke at night. In between, as reports popped up that Florida and Tennessee were getting close to making hires, Texas A&M announced it was letting go of Kevin Sumlin.
Soon after the Aggies acted Florida wrapped up its search by hiring Dan Mullen away from Mississippi State . Mullen was the Gators’ offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer before taking over in Starkville nine years ago. There he became the one of the most successful coaches in the history of the program and worked with current Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin, who was AD at Mississippi State before moving to Gainesville last year.
Now they will both try to raise the Gators back to the championship levels the program has been trying to get back since Mullen helped Meyer win national titles in 2006 and ’08 with Tim Tebow.
“I have such great memories of the championships we won during our time here and have a love for Florida,” Mullen said in a statement Sunday. “We are happy to be coming back to such a supportive administration, staff, student body and fan base, which is the premier football program in the country.”
Florida’s move on Mullen had to come as good news to Nebraska fans hoping their school will be able to hire UCF coach Scott Frost, a former Cornhuskers quarterback whose teams is undefeated and ranked No. 12.
At a news conference to discuss the firing of Mike Riley on Saturday, Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos mentioned Frost by name as someone he would consider for the job. Nebraska and anyone else interested in Frost will have to be patient though. UCF plays No. 16 Memphis in the American Athletic Conference championship game Saturday with a major bowl bid on the line.
Both Texas A&M and Arizona State fired coaches with winning records over six years. Sumlin was 51-26 with the Aggies and Graham went 46-31 with the Sun Devils . Both teams are 7-5 this season.
“Our expectations at A&M are very high,” Aggies AD Scot Woodward said. “We believe that we should compete for SEC championships on an annual basis and, at times, national championships. I believe that we need a new coach to take us there.”
Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson made a similar statement: “At the end of the day we’re still average, middle of the pack and going to a low bowl game. Frankly, that’s not what we aspire to be. I don’t think anyone on staff was satisfied with that.”
There was already speculation that Sumlin would be a candidate at Arizona State.
Luke, the former Ole Miss offensive lineman and assistant coach, was named interim when Hugh Freeze was fired during the summer. With the Rebels facing NCAA sanctions and ineligible for postseason because of a self-imposed ban, Luke guided Ole Miss to a 6-6 finish and a victory Thanksgiving night against rival Mississippi State. On Sunday night, the Ole Miss AD Ross Bjork decided to look no further and gave Luke his dream job.
All of that was perfectly normal compared to what happened with Tennessee. Reports surfaced that the Volunteers were interested in former Rutgers coach and current Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. Fans, Vols supporters and Tennessee politicians began protesting because of Schiano’s connection to Penn State during Jerry Sandusky’s time a defensive coordinator under Joe Paterno.
Sandusky is serving 30 to 60 years in prison for his conviction on 45 counts of sexual abuse. Court documents released last year of a deposition in a case related to the Sandusky scandal suggested Schiano might have been aware of Sandusky’s sexual abuse against children, though Schiano says he had no knowledge of what was happening at the time. The prosecutors involved in the case did not investigate the claim.
A deal that was close to being done between Schiano and Tennessee ended up falling apart because of the outcry.
So Tennessee remains one three Southeastern Conference jobs unfilled along with Mississippi State and Arkansas. All this and it’s not even December.
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