One loss can be enough to send fans, bloggers and assorted other opiners into frenzies. Jimbo Fisher and Mark Richt suffered conference defeats on Saturday significant enough to call into question their very compotence for the job.
Criticisms don’t stem from sample sizes as small as a single loss — their respective defeats to NC State and South Carolina on Saturday are indicative of bigger pictures, critics might argue. But let’s consider the entire big picture. Eleven head coaches (less than 10 percent of the Bowl Subdvisision population) coached 10-plus-game winners in both 2010 and 2011. Fisher was among them. He’s on pace for a third straight, which would put him among even more exclusive territory, as Bobby Petrino was among the aforementioned group, and Frank Beamer, Mike Gundy and Bret Bielema will all be hard pressed to reach 10 this season.
Richt had a trying 2010 campaign, but rallied last season to win the SEC East. His Bulldogs suffered a setback at South Carolina, but are hardly out of the divisional race this season and still on track to win at least 10. Hitting that milestone would mark the eighth time in his career at Georgia Richt has done so. His win percentage is higher than that of SEC counterparts Les Miles and Nick Saban, and the coach who just beat him, Steve Spurrier.
What those three have that Richt lacks is a BCS championship, which is fast becoming the sole measurer of a coach’s abilities.
We’ve all been in a department store, restaurant, zoo, what-have-you and had a nearby child’s temper tantrum pierce our eardrums. “I want that toy! I want ice cream! I want a churro!”
“I want a BCS championship!” is the petulant fan’s temper tantrum. Much like the misbehaving child, fans and pundits can moan and groan and plead their case until they get their way and a coach is forced out. But have you ever marveled at a tantrum-throwing child and wondered how much fulfillment he/she will actually get from that toy or ice cream cone? Odds are, not much.
Similarly, how long before assorted opiners tire of the shiny new toy that is a replacement coach? Since the new and sole determiner of a coach is doing what only eight active coaches have, the answer is not long.
Even reaching the pinnacle of the profession is not the life preserver it once was. Gene Chizik is learning just how much patience a BCS championship buys a coach. He’s one of the eight active coaches with a national championship but seated firmly on a toasty chair in Auburn.
Has the sports culture always been this way? Growing up in Arizona, I witnessed the adulation given Lute Olson before he ever won his sole national championship and tend to think fan base petulance is a new phenomenon. Of course, Arizona is hardly the pressure cooker of SEC football country. But this seems to be the prevailing attitude nationwide anymore. Mike Riley is among the great stories of the 2012 season, but only because he was Dead Coach Walking coming into the campaign. The Beavers had struggled through a combined 8-16 run in 2010 and 2011, basically erasing any goodwill Riley’s previous consistency had established.
Never mind that Riley is the only successful coach the program’s had since LBJ occupied the White House. Consistency is becoming increasingly meaningless in the desperate quest for national championships. Richt is example of that, and Fisher is becoming an example of the even more disturbing trend of coaches not even being afforded the opportunity to become consistent. Bear in mind that Fisher’s been head coach at FSU less than three years. How many coaches win a national chamionship so quickly after taking over? One is Larry Coker at Miami, who was fired and is now at fledgling UT-San Antonio. Another is Chizik.
Fisher is still in a period of growth, and despite losing some heartbreaking games, is still doing well. Remember, the Seminoles
finished went into the bowl game playing to avoid a finish below .500 the season before he assumed the reins. He defended his play calling against NC State during Monday’s press conference, which exacerbates critiques on his abilities. Perhaps missed is that Fisher did acknowledge coaching adjustments were needed, and alluded to the continued maturation process as a head coach to The Florida Times-Union:
That comes down to coaching, and we didn’t do a good job, and it starts with me. We have to do a better job.