When predicting the 2009 NCAA Coach of the Year, I believe one must think outside the box. In 2007, Ron Zook’s revival of the hapless Fighting Illini earned him NCAA Coach of the Year honors. If you recall in 2008, Nick Saban was considered one year away from fielding a championship contender. The progress he made with the Crimson Tide from 2007 earned him the 2008 NCAA Coach of the Year honors. Essentially, you are not picking which coach has done the best job, but which coach has made the most noticeable improvement.
A coach that started the year in the top 10 would not likely win the 2009 NCAA Coach of the Year award as they are expected to compete for the National Championship. Mid-major head coaches Chris Petersen, Kyle Whittingham, Gary Patterson, and Bronco Mendenhall would need to go undefeated while qualifying for the National Championship in order to earn more than a nomination. The 2009 NCAA Coach of the Year is likely going to be from a power-six conference that brings his team back to respectability.
Rich Rodriguez? He needs to figure out who his starting quarterback is before worrying about NCAA Coach of the Year. Charlie Weis? This could be a do-or-die year for Weis and Notre Dame’s schedule looks easier than in previous years. Butch Davis? He has done a fine job at getting North Carolina back to contending for bowl games, but with only 14 seniors on their 2009 roster, I feel it will be one more year for the Tar Heels. Bobby Petrino? Knowing him, he will be back in the NFL halfway through the college season.
Personally, I like the Tennessee Volunteers and Coach Lane Kiffin as the 2009 NCAA Coach of the Year.
After week 1, Lane Kiffin and the Tennessee Volunteers have already shown improvements after throttling Western Kentucky 63-7. While it was just Western Kentucky, the Tennessee Volunteers still put up 63 points. In 2008, the Tennessee Volunteers put up 20 points combined against Northern Illinois and Wyoming. The Tennessee Volunteers had a four game stretch toward the end of last season where they only scored 42 points. Lane Kiffin was considered one of the brightest offensive minds in college football when he was at USC, and if he can bring any of that to the Tennessee Volunteers in his first season, the Tennessee Volunteers will be dangerous.
While Lane Kiffin should ignite the Volunteers offense, you can not forget about the Volunteers defense. The Volunteers have always had one of the premier defenses in college football, and that is with an offense that can not get off the field. Monte Kiffin comes in as the new defensive coordinator this season and will bring his years of expertise to the Tennessee Volunteers defense.
The Tennessee Volunteers have always had one of the most talented rosters in college football. To judge their roster based on their dismal performance against Northern Illinois and Wyoming is misleading. Lane Kiffin will not bring the bubblegum offense to Knoxville. Lane Kiffin will not run bubblegum screens and draws on 3rd and 12. Lane Kiffin is going to call passing plays when the Tennessee Volunteers are up by 40. Lane Kiffin is going to run the score up just for fun. Just like Urban Meyer.
The Tennessee Volunteers schedule can be found here. Currently 1-1, eight of the Volunteers twelve games will be at Neyland Stadium, one of the elite home field advantages in the NCAA. There three toughest games will be at Ole Miss, Florida, and Alabama. The other nine games are more than winnable. The Volunteers should win eight to nine games this season, doubling there win total from last season. Doubling the win total for one of the most prestigious programs in college football is the perfect criteria for a 2009 NCAA Coach of the Year winner.
The one negative with Lane Kiffin may be his maturity. These questions have risen from his dispute with the Oakland Raiders and his comments about Urban Meyer in the off-season. It is probably not a great idea to mouth off about Urban Meyer.
One of the best defensive minds in all of football in Monte Kiffin, one of the brightest offensive minds in college football in Lane Kiffin, and a talented roster that is out to redeem themselves from an embarrassing 2008, and the Volunteers will be the biggest challenge to the Florida Gators for the SEC East this season. Now, I do not have the gumption to say that the Tennessee Volunteers will overthrow Florida; I think Lane Kiffin is at least one year away from this. But I do not expect the Tennessee Volunteers to serve as the Florida Gators puppet, especially when Lane Kiffin gets his own players for his system.
One final thought: Lane Kiffin may be too young to know what he is getting into. Sometimes that is a good thing. Alas, my 2009 NCAA Coach of the Year, Lane Kiffin of the Tennessee Volunteers
ESPN, “North Carolina Tar Heels Roster 2009.” ESPN.Com
Vol Nation, “Tennessee Volunteers 2009 Football Schedule.” Volnation.com.