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Friday mailbag: Coaching chaos

College football returns this weekend, and the Big East is back in action Tuesday with the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl (Beef fever! It's like e coli, but with far less nausea). Maybe the league will get back to normal after a wild week of coaching moves.

John from McKinney, Texas writes: I knew Pitt was not going to get a big-name coach. I figured a top assistant from a major program or a head coach from the MAC, Sun Belt or Conference USA. Nobody knows how good of a coach Mike Haywood will be at Pitt. He may be great or could be a total bust. (the next few years we will find out). FYI, Jackie Sherrill was 3-8 at Washington State before taking the Pitt job, Johnny Majors was 24-30-1 at Iowa State before taking over at Pitt in 1972. Johnny Majors II was very successful at Tennessee, but was a complete failure his second time around at Pitt. So nobody really knows, even the self-proclaimed ESPN experts.

Brian Bennett: That's very true. Nobody knows how these things will play out. Good coaches sometimes are bad fits. Gene Chizik was 5-19 at Iowa State and is now in the BCS title game in his second year at Auburn. Everyone I talked to when Steve Kragthorpe was hired at Louisville thought he was a can't-miss winner. So we really have no idea what's going to happen.


A.J. from Pittsburgh writes: If I'm not mistaken, weren't Haywood's playcalling duties taken away only because he had missed time due to a death in the family? I think it's worth pointing out, as opposed to simply saying Charlie Weis took over, as it makes it seem Haywood was incompetent.

Brian Bennett: The way I understand it, Weis took over playcalling the week Haywood missed a game to attend a funeral, but Weis was going to do it anyway and kept the playcalling duties the rest of the year. I don't think, however, that's necessarily a strike against Haywood, as Weis always had a hard time letting go of the offense to anyone else and went back and forth as his own offensive coordinator. The thing that would worry me is that Haywood's Miami offenses were very unimpressive, though to his credit he found a way to win without piling up many points or yards.


Charlie from Morgantown writes: I was once a person that wanted Bill Stewart out; that quickly changed when I took a look at his numbers. Please correct me if I'm wrong but Stew has had a better record his first three years than Rich Rod, Don Nehlen, and the great Bobby Bowden. In addition to having a better record he has brought in better recruiting classes. ... If those numbers are not good enough, let's take a second to reflect on a principle that our state prides its self on. LOYALTY. Bill Stewart would have stayed beside this university NO MATTER WHAT. Dana Holgorsen is going to simply use this job as a stepping stone and like Rich Rod will be gone when he gets the chance at an SEC or Big 10 job. Oliver Luck is just an AD trying to do something so people know his name.

Brian Bennett: Well, that's definitely a valid opinion. I believe history will be kinder to Stewart than the present. As for Holgorsen, we don't know if he will use this job as a stepping stone, but it doesn't really matter. The only way he catapults himself is by winning big for West Virginia, and I think most Mountaineers fans would take that tradeoff. I also doubt Luck is trying to make a name for himself; he's already got a pretty secure legacy and simply wants what he thinks is best for his school.


Patrick from Motown writes: I'm sorry, but I think you're looking at this Bill Stewart thing too emotionally. Yes he is an awesome guy, but this is a business. The NCAA has turned college sports into a business. Luck, being in his first year, needs to make a move to put his "stamp" on the program, especially with boosters talking and getting mad and not being able to fill the stadium. It is a business move. Give the fans something to be excited about. Also, nine wins every year in the Big East as well as losing to teams like Colorado, ECU, Syracuse and UConn, just to name a few, isn't good.

Brian Bennett: I can't help but like Bill Stewart, as I'm sure anyone who's ever met the guy would also feel. If Luck wants to change directions for the programs, he has every right to do so. I appreciated his honesty on Thursday when he said Stewart wasn't the guy to win a national title. But if that's true, why sacrifice 2011 with a guy who you think can't win a championship? Why put Stewart in this awkward position of being a lame duck for a year while his successor sits in the next office? And if winning nine games per year, graduating 90 percent of your players and doing nothing to embarrass the university is a fireable offense, that's tough to swallow in college athletics, no matter how big a business it is.


Matt from Washington, D.C., writes: If this story is true, does Stewart stay on as head coach next year?If he does, does the fact that he apparently knew about, and was okay with, the new coaching hire make it more likely that the head coach in waiting experiment will work out? This would also explain why PITT backed off so fast ... by the time they contacted Holgorsen the move was practically a done deal. There's going to be some drama in Morgantown over the next few weeks.

Brian Bennett: The news that Stewart not only knew he was gone the day after the Cincinnati game and later helped recruit Holgorsen is one of the most bizarre stories I've ever heard. Even weirder is the fact that Stewart continued to insist publicly he wasn't going anywhere while touting his own accomplishments well after signing a contract guaranteeing the end of his tenure. That's so strange that I can barely wrap my mind around it. And if it's true that Stewart failed to inform his own assistants that they weren't returning when he knew it for weeks, that would be very disappointing and out of character for him.


Jon Michael from Charleston, W. Va., writes: As a diehard WVU fan I'm very excited to get an offensive guru like Holgorsen. But do you know what the best part of this hire is for me, and for a lot of other WVU fans? It's not that we only have one more year with Stewart and Jeff Mullen's gone. It's not that Holgorsen is bringing his exciting offense that can very easily average 500ypg. It's not that with the transitional year we get to keep our great defensive staff and Jeff Casteel.

Brian Bennett: That's a key point. We've seen a lot of offensive gurus fail or not win big as head coaches because they ignored defense. With Casteel and the other defensive assistants on board, West Virginia should have a potent combination. Of course, the defense will lose a lot of valuable seniors this year, and it will probably be on the field a whole lot more with the way Holgorsen's offense will attack.


Evan from Evansville, Ind., writes: I am a student at WVU and thus an avid Mountaineer fan. I wish I could speak on behalf of the enitre fan base in saying that I will never again speak poorly of Rich Rodriguez. By not honoring Coach Stewart's full contract despite promising results, we have left a compassionate and successful man in a pain that is surely much worse than anything Rich Rod left in his wake. The bottom line is, we as Mountaineers no longer have the right to complain about his untimely departure for Michigan because we have now sinned just as badly in disregarding the conventions of a contract. We are a stepping stone for Holgorsen, by the way. Be sure to save my comments here and post them when he leaves for a better program in two years. No royalties, please. Unless they involve Natalie Portman.

Brian Bennett: I always thought the hatred toward Rodriguez went way overboard, and we're probably over-sympathizing with Stewart. These are men who are highly paid regardless of what happens. And though we put a lot of emotion into our sports teams, ultimately coaching positions are just jobs, and people lose jobs or find new ones all the time. (By the way, I'm going to see Ms. Portman in "Black Swan" tonight. Can. Not. Wait.).


David E. from Richmond, Va., writes: Since RichRod & Petrino left the BE, the teams seem to focus on DEFENSE with very little offense.With TCU coming in and Dana Holgorsen @ WVU, it would seem other schools will need to pick up their scoring rate as well. Maybe the BE can say goodbye to game with scores like: 19-14, 16-13, 17-10.

Brian Bennett: Dave, you're conveniently forgetting the Brian Kelly years, or that 45-44 game to end the 2009 season. The league has had plenty of offense over the years, but as I've written and said before, this was a down year for Big East offenses for a variety of reasons.


Todd from Tampa, Fla., writes: Why would the addition of a school from a state that is not currently represented in a conference open up recruiting for all the other schools in the conference (i.e. why does the addition of TCU open up Big East recruiting in Texas?). I figure most players from Texas would be just as likely to attend a Texas school before 2012 as they would be after 2012... Syracuse and Florida are so far from Texas...

Brian Bennett: The thought is that the more those schools play in Texas and are mentioned with TCU, they get more exposure and recognition among recruits in that area. Plus, schools can sell them on the fact that they will play in their home state twice in their four-year career. As I've said, this isn't going to open up any floodgates, and the majority of Texas recruits will stay in-state or go to Big 12 schools. But Big East schools can possibly get in on a couple of Lone Star State recruits per year, and there's a ridiculous amount of talent there to go around.


Jason from Beckley, W Va., writes: Here is a scenario to mull over: The Big East waits on Villanova to see if it has the money to move up and join the conference in football. April finally comes around, and after all that waiting, they say "Sorry, we finally figured out that we can't afford to move up, just like everyone thought back in December, but we wanted the free publicity that comes with all the will-they-or-won't-they talk." Now the Big East has waited six months for nothing. Whereas, if they insisted on an answer by the end of December, they would be in a position to move forward four months earlier. Your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: I guarantee the Big East isn't going to be left with no backup plan if Villanova says no in April. In fact, John Marinatto told me after the TCU move was announced that the league was prepared to go in another direction if it felt that Villanova was taking too long. Also remember that the school and the league aren't exactly strangers since the Wildcats are Big East members in all other sports; there is a close communication going on, and the conference will have a good idea of which way Villanova is heading long before that April board meeting. The Big East has Central Florida on deck and knows the Knights will say yes in a millisecond; UCF would have to spend one more year in C-USA anyway, so whether they come on board now or in April doesn't matter that much.


Marc from Wilmington, Delaware, writes: If Villanova has to do a study to determine if it can get 15,000 fans to show up for each game, doesn't that really answer the question and is just one of the reasons why they should not join the Big East? The Northeast really does not have the talent to be able to add another [FBS] football team. It is just going to hurt the other Big East teams like Pitt, Rutgers, UConn and Syracuse. Central Florida or Houston just make so much more sense as a 10th football team I can't believe it is really even a discussion.

Brian Bennett: That's a good point about attendance, and remember Villanova doesn't even have a place to play at the FBS level yet. Here's something else to consider: Temple, a bigger school that had a winning season for the second straight year, averaged just over 20,000 fans at Lincoln Financial Field this season (and observers would say that's an inflated figure). That sure seems to suggest that the appetite for college football just isn't there in Philadelphia. More and more, it seems to me that the Big East just needs to get Central Florida and let Villanova join later if it ever irons all its issues out.