Mauren: College football goes haywire

Columnist Jacob Mauren discusses the recent whirlwind of college football coaching news and rumors. 

Jacob Mauren

The college football world has been moving at lightning speed the last few days. So much so that I can hardly trust that anything I write on Monday night will be relevant on Wednesday morning. But the importance, speed and unexpected nature of the recent happenings are just too much to ignore. So let’s look at what has happened so far and ponder how they will affect the realm of football. 

Jump back to Saturday night: the unofficial hunt for college coaches begins as the final week of regular season football finishes. There is an unusual number of notable programs searching for their man, such as Florida, LSU, Washington and Virginia Tech. But every Ames sports junkie was tracking one thing, and that was the Matt Campbell to USC whispers. At one point, a rumor spread that he was offered $10 million a year, and a quick panic set in. Florida took a gamble on Louisiana coach Billy Napier sealing up one spot, but the night ends with many loose ends. 

Sunday started with Matt Campbell’s name being tossed around by Virginia Tech, Washington and USC fans who were all convinced they had locked him up. Around midday, earth-shattering news broke. Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley, who just the night before ensured the OU faithful that he would not leave for LSU, left for USC. This move was so shocking because Riley’s name was not in any conversation at this point, as he had one of the most desirable jobs in the country locked down. Suddenly Oklahoma had to begin their first true coaching search since 1947 as they made the move to the SEC. By the next morning, multiple Oklahoma commits had jumped ship and OU was in a death spin.

But Matt Campbell was safe. The next day, the LA Times would report that Campbell was USC’s next move if Riley declined. Considering the leaked details of Riley’s contract, I think we should be very grateful that he took the job. Some floated Campbell’s name for the OU job, but I do not believe anyone bought into it.

Monday! Matt Campbell to Virginia Tech rumors fizzled, but he emerged as a top-two candidate for the Washington Huskies. But by 5 p.m., it was widely reported that the Cyclone’s coach turned down a Washington offer of $7 million a year for five years. A great sign that money alone was not enough to pull Campbell from Ames and that our trust in his loyalty was not misplaced. The Iowa State faithful were essentially in victory formation. What could go wrong?

There was no reason to think Brian Kelly was even a factor in this year’s coaching carousel. He was at a great job, he had a great team and he had just expressed his commitment to Notre Dame a few days earlier. So when the news broke that he was leaving for LSU (for a massive paycheck) just a couple of hours after the first Twitter murmurings began, it was a giant shift in the landscape. Now LSU was filled, but a Midwest blue blood was blindsided and searching for a replacement, notably a dream school for the likes of Matt Campbell and Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell.

So we are now left with two blindsided giants in Notre Dame and OU and the threat of two of football’s up-and-coming coaches leaving their rising programs. Some point to Notre Dame promoting from within by hiring DC Marcus Freeman to take the head coaching mantle, but this brings little comfort to Iowa State and Cincy fans. All I can do at this point is speculate.

While this has all been very exciting, it does bother me a bit. It feels wrong to see multiple big-time head coaches completely pull the rug out from underneath their players. It feels wrong to see coaches leave their programs purely for a bigger paycheck.

I think this bothers me because while we all know cash is king, it kills some of the magic of the sport. I, maybe foolishly, like to think that some coaches truly buy into some programs. I like to believe that Campbell really cares that Jack Trice’s letter is read before football games and that he gets goosebumps from the sirens the same way I do. But Kelly wasn’t at Notre Dame to “Play like a champion,” he was there to get paid. If the traditions that define programs, the fans that fuel them and the kids that play for them don’t matter, why are we even playing college football? 

It’s quite possible that I still have a childlike view of the sport, but it is still more than a business to me. 

Time will pass, positions will get filled, and I will begin to forget about this coaching cycle. But for now, I will try to balance the excitement of the carousel with the concern for the integrity of the sports.