- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 2, 2009

SIX INSTANT-IMPACT COACHES

Rich Ellerson, Army

Irrelevant since 1996, the Black Knights finally decided they had had enough of 3-9 seasons and meaningless football on the Hudson. In turn, they’ve followed the Navy model and hired a hugely successful coach from a lower division who typically maximizes what is at his disposal. The former Cal Poly boss might not win big initially, but he’s a good bet to get Army to a bowl in the near future.

Chip Kelly, Oregon

An offensive whiz just a few years removed from serving as an assistant at New Hampshire, Kelly took over for Mike Bellotti on the eve of spring practice. One of two former coaches-in-waiting to take over top jobs this year (Purdue’s Danny Hope is the other), Kelly’s potent spread offense will continue to confound the Pac-10. What remains to be seen is whether he can steady a team like Bellotti did for 14 years.

Mike Locksley, New Mexico

The longtime recruiting ace — from his days at Maryland, Florida and Illinois — finally receives his first head coaching chance. Unsurprisingly, he quickly established a D.C.-to-Albuquerque pipeline. It’s an interesting situation to land in: a school with occasional bad years but only rarely in contention for a Mountain West title. If Locksley can win early, his services will be in great demand.

Lane Kiffin, Tennessee

It rarely pays to be the guy after The Guy, and for all of Phil Fulmer’s foibles, he did win a national championship. Kiffin fired arrows throughout the SEC, either verbally or by poaching valued assistant coaches from other programs. What remains to be seen is whether he can succeed. His tenure with the Oakland Raiders shouldn’t be held against him, but he’s far from a can’t-miss-thing in Knoxville.

Steve Sarkisian, Washington

The Pete Carroll coaching tree branches into Seattle, where the Huskies went 0-for-2008 and decided that losing with class (Tyrone Willingham-style) wasn’t any better than winning in sleazy fashion. Sarkisian is the young, energetic sort, and he takes over a program with nowhere to go but up. That could play well in the Pac-10, where a quick climb to the middle of the pack is possible. Just ask Stanford.

Frank Spaziani, Boston College

Passed over after the 2006 season, Spaziani was elevated from defensive coordinator after Jeff Jagodzinski’s bizarre departure in January. Not much has gone right for the Eagles since then, from Mark Herzlich’s cancer diagnosis to the departure of quarterback Dominique Davis. But Spaziani knows the program well and could be the calm hand needed to help BC reach its 11th consecutive bowl.

SIX ON THE HOT SEAT

Al Groh, Virginia

Sure, Groh is locked up through the 2011 season, but a surefire sign there is at least some pressure to right the ship is the jettisoning of family. And since offensive coordinator Mike Groh “resigned” after last season, it’s safe to assume his dad must produce better end-of-season circumstances this fall. The Cavaliers installed a spread offense and are always tough defensively, so a turnaround is possible.

Bill Lynch, Indiana

One of the bittersweet storylines of 2007 was the Hoosiers’ rise from perennial doormat to bowl-bound after the offseason death of upbeat coach Terry Hoeppner. Lynch, a former Hoeppner assistant, got Indiana to “Play 13,” but the Hoosiers reverted to 3-9 last year. If Indiana fulfills the consensus preseason predictions of residing in the Big Ten basement, a change could come.

Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville

Kragthorpe had a whole lot of answers as he was turning around Tulsa, but he hasn’t thrived the past two years while trying to maintain the Cardinals’ success. Louisville was coming off an Orange Bowl victory when Kragthorpe arrived, yet he’s still looking for his first bowl appearance. The Big East has a plethora of good teams but no great ones, meaning the Cardinals must (and can) earn their turnaround this fall.

Randy Shannon, Miami

The U is a fairly unusual job, a school with five national titles since 1983 ensconced in a shaky sports town that barely cares about its pro teams unless they’re winning big. Shannon’s recruiting prowess is starting to pay off, and his ability to keep the Hurricanes out of the police blotter is admirable. Still, a brutal opening stretch could ratchet up impatience and lead to someone else thriving with Shannon’s well-constructed foundation.

Mike Sherman, Texas A&M;

Sherman really isn’t in serious danger unless the Aggies crater to 2-10 or worse. After all, the guy is only in his second season. But Year One was an unmitigated disaster for the former Green Bay coach: Sherman watched his team lose its opener to Arkansas State and then settle at the bottom of the Big 12 South. Even a 6-6 season would go a long way in alleviating pressure in the long term.

Charlie Weis, Notre Dame

Weis, he of the “decided schematic advantage,” managed to hold on in South Bend for another year after sneaking into the Hawaii Bowl. But the last two seasons were as forgettable as much of the tenures of predecessors Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham. Those guys, at least, managed not to make themselves reviled figures for their bravado and arrogance. The schedule sets up for a 9-3 season, and Weis would be wise to hit that target.

EIGHT HEISMAN CANDIDATES

S Eric Berry, Tennessee

If the point of the exercise is to identify the best player in the land (which it clearly is not), then Berry warrants a spot on the list. And he still has room to grow.

RB Jahvid Best, California

The former track star could hold the Golden Bears’ career rushing record by the end of the fall. The junior got a head start on his Heisman campaign with 186 yards in the Emerald Bowl.

QB Sam Bradford, Oklahoma

Could Bradford become the first back-to-back winner since Archie Griffin in the 1970s? If the Sooners maintain their half-a-hundred-a-game pace this season, it’s plausible.

WR Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State

Despite some reservations about the Cowboys, there is no question Bryant is an elite talent. He caught 19 TD passes in 2008, but his stock rises and falls with the Cowboys’.

S Taylor Mays, Southern Cal

Like Berry, Mays is an impressive talent at a position that won’t allow him to earn much consideration for major awards. But he’ll single-handedly make the Trojans’ defense a must-see.

QB Colt McCoy, Texas

McCoy might have won the award last year if not for Oklahoma’s pass-happy ways. Nonetheless, the Longhorns are in good hands with the senior under center.

QB Jevan Snead, Mississippi

Someone is going to get credit if the Rebels exploit a friendly schedule and remain undefeated deep into the season. That someone is Snead.

QB Tim Tebow, Florida

Lest we forget the Blessed Tebow, who has yet to walk on water but remains a talented quarterback. Florida’s status as consensus preseason No. 1 makes him the favorite.

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