Saturday Football: Vol coaching search update, Nebraska's big 2021 looms and Pac-12 needs a new commish
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Good morning and happy Monday! The coaching hiring/firing season is still going on, but elsewhere in the college football world, things are quiet. Teams are starting to make their plans for the 2021 spring season while also focusing on landing some final recruits for their 2021 recruiting classes.
In today’s newsletter, we’ll discuss the latest from the Tennessee coaching search. Then, we’ll head to Lincoln to check in on the Nebraska Cornhuskers ahead of a very important year for coach Scott Frost. Then, we’ll go out west, where the Pac-12 is in search of a new commissioner. Let’s get started, shall we?
TENNESSEE COACHING SEARCH
Tennessee has found a new AD. What does this mean for the search for a new head football coach?
The Tennessee Volunteers recently fired head coach Jeremy Pruitt and parted ways with AD Phillip Fulmer. While they still don’t have a football coach in place, they have made a hire at athletic director, bringing Danny White over from UCF in a move that has been praised by many. He’ll reportedly be the highest-paid AD in the SEC.
A huge decision still looms, though — who will replace Pruitt and lead the Vols into the 2021 season and beyond? Here’s a look at what White has said since taking the job and what the latest rumors are about the coaching search:
- Excitement is building around the hiring of White on Rocky Top. University system president Randy Boyd boldly proclaimed that “the greatest decade in UT Athletics begins now.” Despite maintaining that his old school, UCF, was the national champion in 2017, White has said all the right things for Vol fans. He started with explaining why the job was attractive to him. Then, he discussed how he’d approach the coaching search, starting with talking to the players.
- So, that begs the question about who the coach should be. Many Vol fans want Liberty coach Hugh Freeze, who has an inauspicious past when it comes to NCAA penalties. But, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said simply, “Our schools make their own hiring decisions.” However, Freeze wasn’t on the list of three candidates reportedly vetted by the Vols recently. Nor was he on the list of three candidates Saturday Down South’s Mark Nagi said the Vols should consider. (Side note: You’re going to want to watch this hilarious video comparing Vol coaching candidates to scenes from The Office.)
White is no stranger to the world of college athletics. His brother, Mike, is the Florida men’s basketball coach. His father, Kevin, is the AD at Duke. Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger dove into just how deep the White family’s ties are in the world of college coaching and administration. Still, though, he inherits quite a mess at Tennessee. Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara says expectations need to be lowered heading into 2021. We’ll see if White can put the program in position to exceed those low expectations.
- The SEC figures to be loaded again during the 2021 campaign. From reigning champion Alabama to other top contenders, there are plenty of talented teams, but none of them are perfect. Saturday Down South’s Joe Cox names one weakness each SEC team must address this offseason.
- Jim Harbaugh just signed an extension to stay at Michigan. Now, he has to try to beat Ohio State and reach the Big Ten title game, at the very least. Bleacher Report’s Kerry Miller writes that the extension doesn’t mean Harbaugh’s job is safe, though. He says Harbaugh is on the hottest seat in the country.
- DeVonta Smith suffered a hand injury during the title game. He spent quite a bit of time in the sideline injury tent while the world speculated what could have happened to the Heisman winner. Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger wrote about those tense few minutes and what went on behind the scenes.
- There were some big-name hires in the coaching world this year. Some have fan bases more excited than others. So, which schools did the best job of hiring new coaches? Bleacher Report’s David Kenyon ranked the best coaching hires of this offseason.
The 2021 season feels like a make-or-break year for Scott Frost. How is Nebraska planning to change its fortunes?
Once praised as the savior of Nebraska football, Scott Frost is entering a critical juncture in his Nebraska tenure. Embarking on his fourth season as the leader of the Huskers, Frost has never had a winning record, appeared in a bowl game or notched a signature victory in his first three years in Lincoln. Obviously, that’s a problem.
Nebraska’s on-field struggles have translated to offseason issues, too. Top receiver Wan’Dale Robinson is leaving the program and is heading back to his home state to play for Kentucky. A number of highly-ranked prospects who committed to the 2020 class have already departed from the Huskers program. None of these things are good signs for a team that is supposed to be on the rise, and it’s what makes the 2021 season a make-or-break situation for Frost. So, what’s the offseason plan for the Huskers?
- Having a plan is Step 1. Not having much spring practice last season due to the pandemic and the elimination of nonconference games for the 2020 season was probably as costly to Nebraska as anyone in the B1G. This year, Frost hopes his team will be able to follow a plan to prepare for the 2021 campaign. The goal is to likely start spring practice in late March and host a spring game on May 1. Having spring football is important for this Huskers program, especially since it (oddly) opted out of playing a bowl game at the end of year, a decision Frost explained in a recent interview. Those extra practices and competition could’ve proved beneficial for the Huskers, but the team will make up that ground during the spring.
- After a 3-5 season, surely there will be some staff changes, right? Wrong. Although Nebraska did part ways with special teams analyst Jonathan Rutledge, Frost intends to return all 10 on-field assistant coaches for the upcoming season. That’s rare for any team in college football these days, but it’s even more interesting with the Cornhuskers ending the year with a losing record. Maybe having that chemistry will help in Frost’s fourth season in Lincoln. There is one change that could prove to be beneficial next season, with Matt Lubick taking on more offensive play-calling responsibilities in 2021.
- Don’t ignore the transfer portal. You may not know it by the results on the field, but Nebraska has actually recruited pretty well in the Frost era. That’s no different with the 2021 class, as the team ranks 5th in the B1G and 20th nationally, per 247Sports’ Composite rankings. But adding high school talent isn’t the only path for Frost. The head coach made it clear that if there’s a player in the transfer portal who fits well into the program, Nebraska is going to try to land him. Already, the Huskers have added USC running back Markese Stepp and Montana receiver Samori Toure, and both are expected to make big impacts immediately. We’ll see if Nebraska continues to poach from the portal over the course of the coming months to add talent to the roster.
It’s hard to know what to expect from Nebraska next season. The Huskers will return a ton of defensive talent for the 2021 season, but are losing key offensive playmakers and highly-rated recruits. Saturday Tradition’s Steve Marik paints an early picture of what the Huskers may look like, projecting the starting lineup for the 2021 season.
JUST FOR FUN
Now that the Super Bowl is two weeks away, let’s test your knowledge of Heisman winners who went on to become Super Bowl MVPs. A total of four Heisman Trophy winners have also won the Super Bowl MVP award. For today’s quiz, can you name them?
Scroll down for the answers to today’s quiz.
PAC-12 SEARCHES FOR RELEVANCE
The Pac-12 and commissioner Larry Scott are parting ways. Can the conference regain football relevance?
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has been criticized heavily the past few years as the conference has become largely irrelevant in the revenue sports of football and men’s basketball. Also, the Pac-12 Network has had trouble landing on major carriers, so it can’t be seen in many homes around the country.
Now, Scott and the Pac-12 have officially parted ways. Now, the hunt begins for someone to help bring relevance back to the maligned conference. Here’s the latest from the Pac-12:
- Naturally, some names are already being mentioned to replace Scott. ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg has heard a few names, including Ohio State AD Gene Smith and Alabama AD Greg Byrne, among others. Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde also broke down how the Pac-12 got here and where the conference should look for a new hire.
- So, what will the new commissioner face right off the bat? ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura broke down the three major issues that will shape the Pac-12’s future. Is there reason for hope? The Oregonian’s John Canzaro, who is very plugged in on all things Pac-12, says the university presidents seem to know what they’re doing so far.
The Pac-12 hasn’t sent a team to the College Football Playoff since Washington following the 2016 season. The Huskies lost 24-7 to Alabama in the Peach Bowl that year. Can the new commissioner turn things around out west? They’ll have an uphill battle ahead of them.
Here are the four players who have won both the Heisman Trophy and a Super Bowl MVP award:
- Roger Staubach, QB, Navy/Dallas Cowboys (Heisman 1963, Super Bowl VI MVP)
- Jim Plunkett, QB, Stanford/Oakland Raiders (Heisman 1970, Super Bowl XV MVP)
- Marcus Allen, RB, USC/Los Angeles Raiders (Heisman 1981, Super Bowl XVIII MVP)
- Desmond Howard, WR/KR, Michigan/Green Bay Packers (Heisman 1991, Super Bowl XXXI MVP)
No Heisman Trophy winners currently playing in the NFL will appear in the Super Bowl, so this exclusive club will remain at four for at least one more year.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Look, I feel good and I feel hopeful. He obviously did great work as an OC at Alabama. He’s now stepping into the HC, which is the same but more and a different job than he had then. Look, at the University of Texas, you’ve got to understand how to embrace the awesome scrutiny that comes with the stage here — as players and as coaches. The stage at the University of Texas is like no other.
“So in that way, because it’s like no other, you actually are an underdog at UT. Now, who can shine on that stage? I want him to bring — he’s got an underdog mentality. He’s got his retribution story. He’s got his own redemption story. Well, let’s parlay and parcel that into our becoming of who our football program is right now. We want badass with character. Let’s see.
“I’ve yet to meet him. I’m going to give him a call here, maybe this afternoon to catch up to him, because I want to explain about some things. But you get handed the keys to the Ferrari at the University of Texas. So you’ve got to remember that, when you were driving to get to this position, you were grinding. You were braking late turns. Don’t start braking early now. Let’s get it on. Let’s roll.”
– Oscar-winning actor and Texas superfan Matthew McConaughey weighed in on the Longhorns hiring Steve Sarkisian in the way only he can. Sounds like he thinks the hire was alright, alright, alright (sorry).
TWEET OF THE DAY
The Northwestern Wildcats had a surprising 2020 season. Now, they’re reloading at the QB position with former South Carolina QB Ryan Hilinski. He’ll be an interesting name to watch if he earns the starting job heading into the 2021 season.