- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2002

Here it is the holiday season, and another college football program has been Scrooged out of its coach. The University of Alabama, unable to go bowling because of NCAA probation, has decided to spoil Washington State's fun by hiring Mike Price to fill Bear Bryant's houndstooth hat. Price reportedly will be allowed to lead the Cougars against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl, but that's almost beside the point. His team has been effectively orphaned, just 15 days before playing in the Granddaddy of Them All for just the third time in school history.
It shouldn't be like this. Calvin Armstrong, Washington State's gargantuan offensive tackle, shouldn't be feeling "pretty hurt and crushed right now," as he told the Seattle Times. He should be feeling on top of the world. He made the All-Pac-10 team earlier this month, and now he's getting ready to pack for Pasadena. How much better can life get?
But Tuesday's announcement brought him and the rest of the Cougars crashing back to earth. And for no good reason either.
Some colleges are able to restrain themselves until after the bowls to fill their coaching vacancies. Washington, for instance, waited for Colorado to get home from the Aloha Bowl in 1998 before it began romancing Rick Neuheisel. The "delay" hardly hurt the Huskies; two years later, they went 11-1 and finished third in the AP rankings.
Increasingly, though, schools are showing one another little courtesy. Every December, it seems, some bowl-bound team loses its coach putting a damper on the whole Postseason Experience. One of these days, we're going to have a bowl game featuring two interim coaches (which will be dubbed, no doubt, the Coordinator Classic).
Consider some of the abrupt departures we've had in recent years:
2001 Notre Dame lures George O'Leary away from Seattle Bowl-bound Georgia Tech.
2000 Alabama kidnaps Dennis Franchione from Mobile Alabama Bowl-bound TCU.
1999 LSU entices Nick Saban to leave Florida Citrus Bowl-bound Michigan State.
1998 Clemson gets Tommy Bowden to forsake Liberty Bowl-bound Tulane.
1997 Texas talks Mack Brown into bolting Gator Bowl-bound North Carolina.
Have they no decency? At long last, have they left no sense of decency? The Tar Heels were in the midst of their best season in 49 years. The Green Wave was in the midst of its best season in 69 years. Couldn't Clemson, Texas and the others held off making their hires until the bowl games were over? How much, really, would it have hampered recruiting?
Once again, we're reminded of how totally out of control college athletics is and of how the focus isn't on the "student-athletes," but on the institutions and coaches. It's bad enough that colleges routinely pluck assistant coaches off other staffs before bowl games are played (as Maryland did with Ron Vanderlinden in '96). To take the head man, though, that's just over the line.
Sure, you could blame the coaches, but they didn't make the rules; they're just playing by them, trying to get the best deal they can for themselves. If a school says it wants to fill a position by such and such a date, and it has other candidates NFL assistants, college assistants, unemployed coaches who are available right away, what's the head coach of a bowl-bound team supposed to do? Especially if the job in question is his Dream Job, as Notre Dame was for O'Leary and Clemson supposedly was for Bowden.
Me, I'd declare all coaches, assistants included, off limits until their seasons are over. What happened in the Orange Bowl two years ago should never happen. You should never have an assistant in this case, Florida State's Mark Richt calling plays in the national championship game after already accepting the head coaching position at another school (Georgia). It just raises too many questions, particularly if his offense gets totally shut down and his team loses in an upset (13-2 to Oklahoma).
Occasionally, though, there's justice. Notre Dame's greedy grabbing of O'Leary turned into a public relations disaster when the coach was found to have embellished his resume. The Irish subsequently settled for Tyrone Willingham after Stanford had completed its season and, lo and behold, ND was one of the surprise teams in college football this year, winning 10 games and nearly landing a BCS berth.
See? What's the rush? These pre-bowl hirings are the height of vanity. (Unless, of course, they're the height of hysteria.) Let's just hope Mike Price looked over his curriculum vitae ver-r-r-y carefully before he said yes to Alabama.

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