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February 4, 2011

Mailbag: Next great coaching rivalry?

Once, rivalries between coaches were almost as celebrated as the rivalries between teams.

Tom Osborne vs. Barry Switzer was just as compelling as Nebraska vs. Oklahoma in the old Big Eight.

For five years in the late '70s and early '80s, the rivalry between Penn State coach Joe Paterno and Pittsburgh's Jackie Sherrill was as intense as any. In fact, it was so hostile that the usually mild-mannered Paterno said he could not retire and leave college football in the hands of coaches like Sherrill and Barry Switzer. Then, he apologized ... to Switzer.

Arkansas' Frank Broyles and Texas' Darrell Royal had an intense but friendly rivalry in the '60s and early '70s in the old Southwest Conference. In the '60s, there also was a rivalry between Notre Dame's Ara Parseghian and Michigan State's Duffy Daugherty.

Army's Earl "Red" Blaik and Notre Dame's Frank Leahy had a great rivalry in the '40s. And perhaps the best coaching rivalry in later years was between Bobby Bowden at Florida State and Steve Spurrier when he was at Florida.

Yet, easily the most famous college football coaching rivalry was between Ohio State's Woody Hayes and Michigan's Bo Schembechler, whose teams dominated the Big Ten throughout the '70s.

Could there be a coaching rivalry emerging now that could be as intense as Hayes vs. Schembechler? That's up for discussion in this week's mailbag.

Got a question? Click here to send it to Olin's Mailbag

Clash of the titans

When I look at the top recruiting classes over the past four years, Alabama and LSU are always close to the top. Do you think we are in the early days of a Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler-type rivalry between Nick Saban and Les Miles?
Pat in Baku, Azerbaijan

You're right about Alabama and LSU locking horns in recruiting. Neither team has ranked lower than 11th in any of the past five recruiting classes.

In '09, Alabama's recruiting class was ranked No. 1 in the nation and LSU's was ranked No. 2. This year, Alabama's is first and LSU's fourth. That all suggests the Crimson Tide and Tigers should have some thrilling games over the next few seasons.

Still, for a couple of reasons, I doubt the competition between Saban and Miles will escalate into the historic tug-of-war that developed between Hayes and Schembechler.

First of all, when the Hayes-Schembechler rivalry was earning its place in college football lore, Ohio State and Michigan dominated the Big Ten. No team other than Ohio State or Michigan represented the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl during that decade. They were far and away the best programs in the conference and were each other's primary rival.

Conversely, Alabama and LSU aren't dominating the SEC. Florida has been and will be a major force. The same goes for Auburn. Georgia, Tennessee and Arkansas can never be overlooked, either.

And though Alabama and LSU are rivals, especially since Saban took over in Tuscaloosa four years ago, Auburn remains the Crimson Tide's arch-enemy. Indeed, a rivalry between Saban and Auburn coach Gene Chizik may be developing that could be greater than any in college football today.

In addition, the Hayes-Schembechler rivalry was boosted in that Michigan and Ohio are bordering states. Legend has it that on a recruiting trip into Michigan, Hayes' car once ran out of gasoline as he drove south toward Ohio. Supposedly, Hayes pushed his car over the state line rather than buy gas in the state of Michigan.

There may be some animosity between Alabama and LSU, but I can't see either Saban or Miles pushing a car across Mississippi to purchase gas in their home state.

TV breakdown

I can't seem to find a table detailing the TV ratings for the 2010-11 bowl games. I know overall viewership was down for the entire postseason, but no one seems to have posted a game-by-game ratings breakdown. Can you help?
Nick in Columbus, Ohio

The Birmingham (Ala.) News published a chart showing that 23 of the 33 "returning" bowls had a decreased audience. Click here for the information you were seeking.

Don't forget JoePa

While I appreciate your acknowledgement of coaches who care about their athletes (Coaching character, Jan. 28), I find it offensive that Joe Paterno wasn't mentioned. Coach Paterno is legendary in his concern for his students. He boasts one of the best graduation rates and lowest NCAA violation rates.
Eric in New York City

Yours was one of about 100 responses I received from Penn State fans on that subject and one of the few that didn't include profanity or insults.

I was surprised that what was written could in any way be interpreted as a slight at Joe Paterno.

To review: The question was asked what coaches cared most about their players beyond X's and O's. My response is that I believe the vast majority of college coaches do. But the writer asked me for a top five. I wrote: "I guess the best way for me to answer your question is to list coaches that I think would take care of my son and show interest in him beyond the playing field if he played for them. My list would include -- but would not be limited to -- Jim Tressel of Ohio State, Mark Richt of Georgia, Mack Brown of Texas, Mike Riley of Oregon State and Tommy Tuberville of Texas Tech."

Apparently, that part about "not being limited to" wasn't taken into account. I also could have listed Baylor's Art Briles, Kansas State's Bill Snyder, Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, Texas A&M's Mike Sherman, Louisville's Charlie Strong or any number of others. I did not feel obligated to list 60 or 70 coaches that I think truly care about their players as individuals.

Some readers objected to including Brown (Oklahoma fans, of course). Some objected to Tuberville (LSU fan). Nobody objected to Richt or Riley.

Dozens questioned how I could consider Tressel, especially after five key players were allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl despite a story surfacing a few weeks before that they had broken NCAA rules. Personally, I thought the NCAA should have suspended Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey, Dan Herron, Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas for the Sugar Bowl. Instead, they were all allowed to play in that game, but face a five-game suspension beginning next season.

Again, I disagreed with that, but that's how the NCAA ruled. Surely, that opened up Ohio State and Tressel for criticism.

Yet, I think it's noteworthy that Tressel said he allowed all five to play in the Sugar Bowl only if they vowed to return next season and serve their suspensions. All made the promise and none of them declared for the NFL draft.

Doesn't that say something about how Ohio State players respond to Tressel?

I also wrote that coaches can try to teach and lecture players about how to conduct themselves, but ultimately he cannot make decisions for the individual.

In fact, just a few years ago, Penn State had several issues with players being involved in fights and having issues with law enforcement. I don't think the misguided actions of a few should tarnish Paterno's image.

Anyone who even remotely follows college football knows that Paterno is man of impeccable character. It's common knowledge that he's given large sums of money to the university and there is a library on campus bearing his name.

But to be honest, if my son were being recruited now, I would not want him to play for Paterno. The reason has nothing to do with character and everything to do with Paterno being 84 and there being a good chance he won't be coaching in 2012.

Instant impact?

After a couple of down years, Georgia coach Mark Richt is feeling the heat heading into 2011. Georgia recruited well this season, stockpiling a boatload of in-state talent. Do you feel these guys will contribute immediately and turn things around for Georgia in 2011?
Jay in Smyrna, Ga.

Georgia is coming off a 6-7 finish in 2010 and pressure is building on Richt. In a scenario like that, the best players are going to play, regardless of whether they're freshmen or seniors.

Georgia's 2011 recruiting class was ranked fifth by Rivals.com, so obviously there will be a major influx of talent in Athens next season. But no matter how talented they may be, freshmen aren't necessarily ready to play on the college level.

Most that do play will see action on special teams or as backups.

Still, there are a few members of Georgia's class who could come in and make a significant impact.

Outside linebacker Justin Houston, who posted 10 of Georgia's 24 sacks, has declared for the NFL draft and left a huge vacancy. Perhaps it will be filled by Ray Drew, a five-star prospect. Five-star running back Isaiah Crowell could be a starter against Boise State in the season opener. Georgia lost its top two receivers from last season when Kris Durham completed his eligibility and A.J. Green opted for early entry into the NFL draft. That should open some opportunities for incoming freshmen such as four-star prospect Justin Scott-Wesley.

My contacts in Athens also said four-star tight end Jay Rome is likely to see significant action, as well as touted defensive backs Malcolm Mitchell and Damian Swann.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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