First and 10: Texas A&M has its man. But is Mike Elko the right man for the job?
1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …
So you want to fire a coach, huh? Nothing about it is easy.
Especially the next hire.
If you don’t have the stomach for it, just walk away.
If you’re not willing to take a stand and make a hire, or dive deep to try and make a statement, stay in the kiddie pool.
Case in point: Texas A&M.
Late Saturday night, Texas A&M was negotiating with Kentucky coach Mark Stoops. Until that is, the news got out, via AggieYell.com.
Then social media took control, and lunacy ensued with an Aggie “fan base” livid at the thought of Stoops in College Station. Not long after that, Stoops took to his Twitter account to confirm that yes, he was talking to another school about a job, but he’s going to stay at Kentucky, thank you all the same.
Texas A&M then moved to former Aggies assistant and Duke coach Mike Elko, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Have we not learned before from this stupidity? Are we really going down this incomprehensible road again?
It wasn’t that long ago that former Tennessee athletic director John Currie wanted to hire Greg Schiano. Had a memorandum of understanding, too.
Then the Big Orange “fan base” took over, flooding social media with patently false accusations of Schiano’s connection to former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State sexual abuse tragedy — a tragedy, people — because they didn’t want Schiano on the sidelines for their beloved Vols.
That hiring blew up, then Currie tried to hire Mike Leach, and that blew up, too, because former coach Phil Fulmer was in the middle of a coup of Currie — I’m not making this up — and then Fulmer, after the fait accompli, hired a P.E. coach to run a top-15 program.
And I know this is going to shock everyone, but ol’ Jeremy Pruitt was giving out bags of cash from Day 1 and eventually got Tennessee placed on probation. All that cost was an $8 million fine from the NCAA for more than 200 violations in 3 years.
Or about 13 NCAA violations per win.
I can’t believe I have state this again to the legion of administrators in college sports, but here we go:
Social. Media. Isn’t. Real.
This isn’t unique to Texas A&M. It happens all over college football, school after school, cowering in fear of what could be if they lose the “fan base.”
That wasn’t the Tennessee “fan base” that started the nonsense about Schiano, and it wasn’t the Texas A&M “fan base” that kneecapped Stoops’ candidacy.
Want to play with the bitter and imbalanced? Go jump in that cesspool and see how it unfolds.
Want to believe in who you are and what you’re about — and why you were hired to run a program in the first place? Ignore the noise, and make a decision that, in the long run, could be beneficial to your career, too.
Because the bitter and imbalanced on social media are the squeaky wheel in a multi-million dollar business. You can kowtow to them, but once you do, you will forever.
“I’ve never understood that concept of reacting to the fringe of our fans, or even you in the media, and adjusting your beliefs accordingly,” an SEC athletic director told me. “We can’t do this or that because we’ll get crushed in the media or from our fans? You have to have courage in your convictions.”
2. Too many tentacles
Let me be clear: I’m not saying Texas A&M AD Ross Bjork bent to the whims of the squeaky wheel.
Bjork isn’t alone in the search for a new football coach. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: University presidents make football coach hires. AD’s simply offer candidates, and why each would be successful.
And those university presidents have a close group of men and women whom they trust implicitly to help steer policy and other major university decisions.
In other words, it’s not as simple as Bjork — or any other AD — saying I want this coach, I will hire this coach.
Why didn’t the Stoops and Texas A&M marriage happen? More than likely, someone up the chain from Bjork got nervous about the “fan base” rejecting the idea of Stoops in College Station.
It’s not any different than any other business making a CEO hire, and then panicking after social media threats of boycotts or made up stories about public or personal lives of candidates. The safe move, every time, is to move on.
It’s pathetic pandering, and it has to stop.
Because at the end of the day, guess who the “fan base” is coming after next if it doesn’t work Elko?
3. Money matters
Elko has 2 solid seasons at Duke on his resume as a head coach, and now gets the behemoth that is Texas A&M. The program with everything any coach could ever want — and arguably the biggest underachiever in college football.
Essentially, the Aggies paid $80 million dollars of walkaway money to former coach Jimbo Fisher to hire a former Aggies assistant with 2 years of head coaching experience and a 16-9 record in the ACC.
And this is a better hire than Stoops, who has built Kentucky — a basketball school like Duke — into a legitimate program in the meatgrinder SEC?
Or is it a hire that the Aggies “fan base” knows and can wrap its mind around because Elko was the 1 good thing in the past 6 years under Fisher?
Texas A&M has a problem: You can’t fire a coach and pay him nearly $80 million in walkaway money — and not make a splash hire.
At the very least, you take serious runs at some of the game’s elite and make them say no to becoming the highest paid coach in college football.
Because that’s what it would cost to get Dabo Swinney from Clemson, or Ryan Day from Ohio State, or Lane Kiffin from Ole Miss, or Kyle Whittingham from Utah.
There was no reason for Texas A&M to rush into a decision until everything had played out in the regular season. Maybe Day’s representatives said he wasn’t interested before the Michigan game.
Is he now, after yet another debacle in The Game?
Maybe Swinney will spend the weekend thinking about all the good at Clemson, but how in the world could it ever get better?
Let the process breathe a bit. There’s always time for a Mark Stoops, or Jedd Fisch or Jeff Traylor. Or Elko.
The last thing any school in search of a coach needs is to be forced into a decision with so much on the line. Make the right hire, no matter how long it takes — and no matter how the squeaky wheel complains.
Courage in your convictions, or bend and capitulate.
4. The Milroe effect
We’ve seen it over and over this season with Jalen Milroe. A play is never out of reach.
He’s not Tua Tagovailoa, or Jalen Hurts, or Mac Jones or Bryce Young. But Milroe carved a unique spot in Alabama lore long before the 4th-and-31 against Auburn.
In fact, 1 SEC defensive coordinator believes Alabama is more dangerous this season with Milroe than last year with Young.
“They were limited on the outside (in 2022), and they were defensible because there was only so much they could do unless Bryce did something rare,” the defensive coordinator told SDS. “With (Milroe), there’s so much going on every single play. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not the thrower Young was, but he’s capable — and even more dangerous when he breaks contain and is off schedule. Because then you’ve got a guy that can throw it accurately on the run — and you’ve got a 230-pound, 4.4 (40) guy out in space.”
It’s that rare ability that can cause problems for Georgia in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game. Georgia predominantly plays 2 safeties high and man underneath — and no one accounting for the quarterback.
“You can use a spy (for Milroe), and we tried some of that,” the SEC DC said. “But you’re assuming your guy is going to bring (Milroe) down, or prevent a big play. Your best bet, and this is what Georgia does, is to get pressure with 4 or 5, and vary coverages with 6 or 7 — and contain any quarterback escape from the edge and push everything inside.”
5. The Weekly 5
Five picks against the spread, Championship Week edition.
- Georgia (-5.5) vs. Alabama, SEC
- Oregon (-8.5) vs. Washington, Pac-12
- Oklahoma State (+13.5) vs. Texas, Big 12
- Louisville (+4.5) vs. Florida State, ACC
- Michigan (-22.5) vs. Iowa, Big Ten
Last week: 4-5.
6. Your tape is your resume
An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible SEC player. This week: Missouri DE Darius Robinson.
“He has really grown the last couple of seasons, and has become more disruptive off the edge. He’s an anchor end out there producing in the pass rush. He’s an even front end, but I could certainly see him on the outside situationally in an odd (front). He has those aggressive, violent hands. Uses those hands ands length to his advantage to create separation. I’d like to see some variety in the way he attacks pass protection, but that can also develop in our league.”
7. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing.
1. Georgia: This isn’t your typical Alabama run defense (128 ypg.), and Dawgs RB Kendall Milton has rushed for 349 yards and 5 TDs in the past 3 wins over Ole Miss, Tennessee and Georgia Tech — and averaged 8.5 ypc.
2. Alabama: Get the ball to WR Jermaine Burton (22.7 ypc.). Good things happen when he’s on the field with the ball in his hands, and he’s playing against his former team in the biggest game of his career.
3. Missouri: No matter what happens in the SEC Championship Game, Missouri should have a spot in a New Year’s 6 bowl (most likely the Peach).
4. Ole Miss: Unless something crazy happens (see: 2 SEC teams in the Playoff), the Rebels are likely headed to the Citrus Bowl. Spending 7 days in Florida will help recruit the talent-rich state.
5. LSU: Now they wait. Has QB Jayden Daniels done enough in 12 games (4,946 total yards, 50 TDs) to prevent Oregon QB Bo Nix or Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. from winning the Heisman Trophy during the Pac-12 Championship Game?
6. Tennessee: There’s no sugarcoating it: A disappointing season for coach Josh Heupel, whose Blur Ball offense couldn’t get consistent 2nd- and 3rd-level throws from QB Joe Milton III — and became easier to defend.
7. Texas A&M: Elko better bring a legitimate and proven quarterback developer and play-caller with him. QB Conner Weigman is too talented to waste in a coaching transition.
8. Kentucky: Next up for Stoops: Find a quarterback for 2024. He has used the transfer portal for the last 2 (Will Levis, Devin Leary), and more than likely will do the same for 2024.
9. Auburn: It’s a quarterback game, and Payton Thorne is a tough competitor in the run game. He’s not a thrower. Coach Hugh Freeze has too much success as a developer of quarterbacks to not find something to work with in the portal.
10. Florida: What’s more important: Keeping together and closing on a potential top-5 recruiting class, or keeping young stars from transferring because of a win or walk coaching situation in 2024?
11. South Carolina: Can’t blame everything on the multitude of injuries along the offensive line. The Gamecocks were too inconsistent on both sides of the ball and need difference-makers on the defensive line.
12. Mississippi State: Jeff Lebby’s first task as the new head coach? He must find a quarterback. Unless, that is, Will Rogers can be convinced to return from the transfer portal.
13. Arkansas: If you thought last year’s exodus was extreme, wait until you see the roster makeover this offseason. Both players and coaching staff.
14. Vanderbilt: Coach Clark Lea isn’t going anywhere. He just signed a contract extension in July, and Vanderbilt doesn’t exactly have a history of quick triggers with football coaches.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: What has to happen for Alabama to reach the Playoff? — Patrick Newman, Atlanta.
It’s not as simple as beating Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. There’s an anchor holding the Alabama resume: the 10-point home loss to Texas in September.
Georgia, more than likely, can lose the SEC Championship Game — if it avoids a blowout — and still reach the Playoff. That automatically makes Alabama’s path to the Playoff more difficult.
The last thing the Playoff committee wants to do in the last season of the 4-team format is select 2 teams from the same conference. That means Georgia and Alabama, and Michigan and Ohio State — even though an argument could be made that those are the best 4 teams in the nation right now.
Best-case scenario for Alabama: beat Georgia, Louisville beats Florida State in the ACC Championship Game, and Oklahoma State beats Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game.
More than likely, Georgia and Michigan are in unless they’re blown out in their respective championship games. So, too, is the Pac-12 champion (Oregon or Washington). That leaves 1 spot — and the need for Texas and FSU to lose.
FSU would be unbeaten, and an unbeaten Power 5 conference champion has never missed the Playoff (even with the injury to star QB Jordan Travis). And Texas has the head-to-head win over Alabama.
85. As Florida apparently doubles down on coach Billy Napier, this ominous fact looms in the offing: The Gators haven’t had 4 consecutive losing seasons in 85 years.
If you’ve seen the 2024 Florida schedule — and understand how operationally deficient the program has performed in Napier’s 2 seasons — 4 straight losing seasons isn’t that difficult of a stretch.
The last time the Gators has 3 straight losing seasons was 1945-47, and the 1935-38 teams had a combined record of 15-26-1.
For future reference (see: 2025): Florida has never had 5 straight losing seasons.
10. Quote to note
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman on what he’s looking for in an offensive coordinator: “The No. 1 thing is we need somebody that understands how to run the football because we have to run the football, in my opinion, to win. Of all the problems that we’ve had this year, it all stemmed, a bunch of it, because we can’t run the football.”