There were a number of important moves on the college football coaching front last week, and they ranged from impressive to interesting to incomprehensible.
Impressive: Bravo to the University of California Golden Bears for moving quickly to re-do Coach Justin Wilcox’s contract and lock him in for the next five years. Wilcox had been the lowest paid coach in the Pac-12, at approximately $1.5 million per year, but will move into the $3.25 neighborhood with his new deal.
What Wilcox has accomplished in two years at Cal is, frankly, incredible. He inherited the worst defense in college football and an apathetic fan base amid national skepticism about the school’s commitment to football.
After a 5-7 season in which his defense improved markedly and the team lost a number of close games, Cal discovered how to win this season. The Bears upset Pac-12 champion Washington and ended a 15-year losing streak to USC en route to a 7-5 record and a berth in the Cheez-it Bowl.
Athletic Director Jim Knowlton and chancellor Carol Christ recognized that schools with bigger wallets might come calling for Wilcox—who had rebuffed an inquiry from Oregon last year—so they wisely showed him some love and showed him the money.
Memo to the rest of the Pac-12: Watch out. Cal is on the rise.
Interesting: Ohio State coach Urban Meyer’s “retirement” was no surprise. You’ll recall the pre-season scandal in which Meyer and Athletic Director Gene Smith were both suspended for their role in allegedly sweeping allegations of domestic violence by assistant coach Zach Smith under the rug. Throughout this season, Meyer hasn’t seemed himself, dealing with some serious medical issues as well as constant speculation about his future.
Urban says he’s “fairly certain” he won’t coach again, but I suspect he will be enticed back to the sidelines by some school with a big checkbook looking for credibility.
Incomprehensible: The same day Meyer retired, Smith hired offensive coordinator Ryan Day as head coach, handing him a $4.5 million salary plus a boatload of attainable incentives. This to a man who’d never been a head coach before and was making just $400,000 two years ago. Now he’s getting a $1200 a month car allowance and the use of a private jet for both recruiting and personal use.
Considering that Colorado hired a man with similar credentials—Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker—for $2.4 million, Day’s compensation seems way, way out of line.
If Smith was going to spend that much, he could’ve hired not only a head coach, but a proven winner. Only 17 coaches in the country made more than $4.5 this year and some pretty big names made less—Stanford's David Shaw, Washington's Chris Petersen, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, West Virginia's Dana Holgerson, WSU's Mike Leach, and UCLA's Chip Kelly, to name a few.
There are a number of excellent coaches in the $1.5 to 2.5 range who might've loved to jump to Ohio State for an extra 2-3 million. Among them: Memphis' Mike Norvell, Syracuse's Dino Babers, Fresno State's Jeff Tedford and North Texas' Seth Litrell.
Déjà Vu: You can go home again, after all. Gary Andersen, whose career has been a train wreck for the past six years, is going back to Utah State, where he produced a 11-2 team in 2016. Andersen left at the end of that season for Wisconsin, and handled it in a classy manner, calling every one of his players to give them the news. He lasted only two years at Wisconsin, uncomfortable with AD and former coach Barry Alvarez looking over his shoulder and finding the admissions requirements tougher than anticipated.
Andersen landed at Oregon State, but after two and half years, left his team in mid-season, publicly trashing his assistant coaches along the way. That apparently didn’t matter to Utah State, which proves you can quit on your players in mid-season, blame your assistants, and still get another job.
And finally, Liberty University, that bastion of Christian virtue, hired Hugh Freeze as head coach. The same Hugh Freeze best known for majoring in escort services and NCAA recruiting violations while at Mississippi.
Of course, one of the people who hired him was Liberty Athletic Director Ian McCaw, who was implicated in covering up sexual assaults by football players when he had the same job at Baylor.
At his press conference, Freeze was described as a "great family man." During his own remarks, he said Jesus is "the only one who can handle my junk."
You can't make this stuff up.