Thoughts of the day: December 29, 2013

A few thoughts to jump start your Sunday morning:


For the past month the names we’ve been hearing prominently are Stacy Searels, who coaches the offensive line at Texas, and Neil Callaway, who is Bobby Petrino’s offensive line coach at Western Kentucky. It is my belief that Searels will get the job and will be announced on Tuesday, the day after the Longhorns face Oregon in the Mack Brown farewell game in the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. I believe this is a done deal but I don’t think Muschamp would dare announce it out of respect for Mack Brown. I think the connections between Searels and Muschamp run deep. Not only did they serve on the same Nick Saban staff that guided LSU to the 2003 national championship but there are Auburn, Georgia and Jimbo Fisher connections as well. Muschamp worked as a grad assistant at Auburn, is a Georgia grad and one of Jimbo Fisher’s best buds. Searels is a former Auburn All-American who coached at LSU with Muschamp, continued working with Fisher at LSU after Saban and Mushcamp left for the Miami Dolphins and he spent four years coaching the O-line at Georgia.


I believe Searels meets with the full approval of new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who has spent a rather hefty portion of his adult life coaching in the Southeastern Conference at Tennessee and Ole Miss. He knows Searels and is quite familiar with the body of work. The two of them know what it takes to succeed in the SEC. As for Neil Callaway, I think he has never been anything more than the backup plan. I have no doubt Callaway would take the job if offered and since Western Kentucky didn’t go to a bowl game there would have been nothing to stop Callaway from being named the O-line coach at Florida within hours after the announcement of Roper.


The Austin American-Statesman is reporting that Texas has researched a list of six to eight candidates to take over for Mack Brown and the four leading candidates are Art Briles (Baylor), Jimbo Fisher (Florida State), Charlie Strong (Louisville) and James Franklin (Vanderbilt).  It is interesting that all four have recently signed contract extensions that make them the highest paid coaches in their school’s history. When you sign a contract extension and take a big pay raise, it obviously means there is a sense of loyalty going two ways so I have to wonder is Texas setting itself up for a bigger embarrassment than the last three coaching searches at Tennessee? Vol fans wanted Phil Fulmer gone and they got their wish. Neither Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley nor Butch Jones was on the A-list and with each new hire, Tennessee has become more irrelevant in the SEC. Is Texas about to do the same thing?


Art Briles just signed a 10-year contract that starts at $4.5 million a year and escalates yearly. He’s moving into a state-of-the-art new stadium next year that was paid for by Houston Dis-Astros owner Drayton McClain. He is a devout Christian and coaching at the largest Baptist university. Does that sound like a guy who will leave? The Austin American-Statesman says two sources say Briles would take the Texas job if offered. Maybe it happens, but I just don’t see him going anywhere.


Charlie Strong is 23-3 in his last two years at Louisville, which makes him a very hot ticket item right now, but he signed an eight-year extension that will average out at $3.75 million a year. Obviously, Texas would up that ante considerably but Louisville doesn’t lack for money and athletic director Tom Jurich wants to keep Strong at Louisville for years to come. The only job I think Charlie would leave Louisville for is Florida. I believe there is a clause in his contract, which would allow him to leave for UF if that job opened up. Charlie is an intensely loyal man and he’s particularly loyal to Jurich, who gave him a chance when at least four schools in the SEC turned him down because they were uncomfortable that he is married to a white woman. That’s fact, not speculation. My gut says Charlie won’t leave Louisville for Texas although if the offer is $6 million or higher all bets are off.


I have friends who served on coaching staffs with Jimbo Fisher. They tell me he is very much interested in the Texas job and is likely to take it if it’s offered, which may have already happened. The number that’s being attached to the Jimbo to Texas rumors is $7 million, which is approximately $3 million more than the 3-5 year contract extension he just signed at FSU calls for. That is a lot of money and would be extremely tempting for anyone. On one hand, it’s Texas with its recruiting base and facilities and $7 million. On the other hand, he could win the national championship on January 6 and with the Heisman Trophy quarterback and 35 others from the two-deep scheduled to come back next year, he could go back-to-back. I see this one coming down to a coin flip.


James Franklin has taken Vanderbilt to three consecutive bowl games and if he beats Houston in something called the BBVA Compass Bowl in scenic Birmingham, he will have won nine games two straight years, which, like the three straight bowls has never been done at Vanderbilt. Now, if Franklin were to get Vanderbilt to the SEC Championship Game someday they would erect statues of him on the campus in Nashville, but it’s one thing to win eight or nine games. It’s something altogether different to attract the kind of personnel you need to make it to Atlanta to compete for the SEC title. I think the challenge of Vanderbilt is nice motivation for Franklin. I think the potential to compete for national championships – which he can do at Texas – would be far too tempting. He will be 42 years old in February. He could be at Texas a long, long time. I think he is the right fit and if I were a gambling man, he’s who I would put my money on.


Penn State went 61 years with the same head football coach but could be looking for a new coach for the second time in three years if Bill O’Brien does what is expected and takes the Houston Texans NFL job. Although some of the NCAAA sanctions have been eased on Penn State, they are still significant and they could affect the next hire. Al Golden’s name is mentioned prominently as a possibility, but would he leave Miami for another program with NCAA sanctions? He just went through two years of hell waiting for the NCAA to act at Miami. Would he be willing to spend two more years without going to a bowl? Another name that is likely to be heard in regards to Penn State is Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, who played quarterback at East Stroudsburg State, just a 2.5 hour drive from the Penn State campus.


Every time I hear “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” I’m reminded of a couple of Rolling Stones concerts I attended. One was in 1978 when they played the Lakeland Civic Center and the other was 1981 when they played Orlando on a Sunday in show that also featured Van Halen. When they were still in their prime, the Stones put on a tremendous concert and there was no better front man for a band than Mick Jagger. This is “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” in a 2006 version played at Copacabana Beach in Brazil with more than 1.5 million there to sing and dance along with the Stones.


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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.