Head coaches can make all the difference

Published 3:46 pm Wednesday, September 12, 2012

This weekend, the importance of the head coach in football couldn’t have been any clearer.

Earlier this year, the NBA playoffs predictably saw the Miami Heat win the championship. Prior to the playoffs, I had predicted the Spurs to defeat the Celtics in the championship. I was close, but quickly realized my mistake: I picked the best coaches and not the best superstars. The fact is LeBron James is the best player in the NBA, followed closely by Kevin Durant. Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers are two of the league’s best coaches but neither one could answer to Durant or LeBron.

I mention basketball to highlight why I love college football, NFL and MLB. Yes, I love basketball, too—both college and NBA. But what I love about football and baseball is the importance of the coach. The slow pace of baseball has started to wear on me as I’ve gotten older, but that’s a column for another day.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Obviously, the two big sports stories of the weekend were the start of the NFL season and Arkansas being upset by the University of Louisiana-Monroe. The head coach played a prominent role in both.

Arkansas sorely missed their star quarterback Tyler Wilson when he left with an injury and the game unraveled thereafter. Arkansas also missed the play calling of offensive wizard and former head coach Bobby Petrino. Yes, Petrino has proven to be morally bankrupt off the field, but helped Arkansas go from marginal bowl team to a perennial Cotton Bowl team on the field.

Now, the Razorbacks are stuck with the only coach in college football willing to accept a 10-month contract. Earlier this week, we realized why John L. Smith was willing to become a lame duck coach: he filed a chapter seven bankruptcy petition. I won’t be surprised if Gus Malzahn winds up as the new Arkansas head coach at the end of the season. I will be surprised if John L. Smith remains head coach at Arkansas. Weber State probably wouldn’t want Smith at this point.

In the NFL, the Saints, who were in the playoffs last year, were stunned by the Redskins. Robert Griffin III showed why he won the Heisman Trophy and why the Redskins gave up a bounty so they could move up in the NFL draft to select him. Give credit to Drew Brees; he’s the only reason the Saints were able to stay in the game and make things close. However, it was clear they missed head coach Sean Payton. They simply didn’t have the same passion they’ve played with while under Payton’s direction.

Dan Mullen showed this weekend what a head coach can do to charge up a college football program. The fans in Starkville are excited about their Bulldogs and with good reason. Mullen made it over the hump in beating Auburn for the first time as head coach after coming close the last few years. Tyler Russell had a chance to display his cannon arm, which he didn’t get a chance to do last year as the tightly reigned backup to Chris Relf. He’s still growing as a quarterback, but there’s reason to be excited by the potential. It remains to be seen just how good their defense is, but they looked strong against the young Kiehl Frazier-led Auburn defense. What was most impressive is they contained Auburn’s best offensive senior leaders Philip Lutzenkirchen and Emory Blake. Now that they’ve beaten Auburn, they probably have their sights on Arkansas. They’re not quite at the level of LSU or Alabama yet, but they are definitely on the rise. Then again, you just never know in college football. A coach with the right game plan can make all the difference.