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October 1, 2013

Coaching carousel off to early start

MORE: Numbers Crunch: USC looking for 24

The Sunday morning dismissal of Lane Kiffin at USC accelerated the transition from an early-season hot seat immediately into the annual college football coaching carousel.

The process continued Monday when Connecticut announced that it was terminating Paul Pasqualoni and using its bye week to reshuffle the organizational structure of the football program.

Kiffin and Pasqualoni, of course, were battling to be the odds-on favorites to be the first FBS-level coach fired after disappointing starts to the season. USC athletic director Pat Haden made the preemptive strike and got the search started before September was out. Grambling State fired Doug Williams on Sept. 11 after an 0-2 start to the season, and it is now 0-5.

Kiffin was just 25-18 at USC, and the team limped to a 4-7 record over his final 11 games. His time on campus was likely doomed from the start because he entered the program as it was hit with recruiting limitations and was not given a long enough leash to go into the next football season with a chance to recruit his first full class of players.

The final straw was a 62-41 loss at the hands of Arizona State in which the Trojans took the field with just 56 scholarship players -- well below the limit of 75 USC could field and the 85 that programs not saddled with sanctions can have.

Haden said he gave Kiffin every opportunity to succeed but that the time had come to make a change.

"It's never the perfect time, but I thought it was the right time," Haden said. "We weren't making the progress I thought we should be making.

"I personally have a great deal of respect for Lane. He did a lot of things well under some very difficult circumstances here."

Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler said he believes the team can rebound under interim head coach Ed Orgeron and newly promoted offensive coordinator Clay Helton.

"I think the guys on this team really do care and can turn this thing around," Kessler told The Associated Press. "It's going to be hard -- I'm not going to lie -- but with the character and leadership we have, we can do it."

[ USCFootball.com: Complete coverage of the Trojans coaching search ]

The immediate response from a recruiting standpoint was overwhelmingly positive.

The Trojans were built into a talent-attracting juggernaut under former coach Pete Carroll, and despite the on-field struggles the level of athlete did not drop as the team landed five players in the class of 2013 rated five-star prospects in the Rivals100 presented by Under Armour.

The most surprising move was made by Rivals250 presented by Under Armour four-star defensive end Dewayne Hendrix who told Rivals.com that USC was jumping back into the mix with the dismissal.

"At first, it was just Tennessee and Florida that I was looking hard at, but now that [Kiffin] got fired I am really going to look at USC harder," he said.

His point was emphatically underscored by class of 2015 receiver prospect Cordell Broadus -- son of rapper Calvin "Snoop Lion" Broadus -- who said that this will bolster recruiting.

"I personally think more kids are going to want to play for USC now that Kiffin is no longer there," he told Rivals.com. "I feel that he should have been fired a while ago, and USC is going to raise the bar now because of the new coaching staff next year."

Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said the job is still one of the most attractive in the nation.

"It is a rock-star job," Farrell said. "Pete Carroll built that program into the NFL franchise of Los Angeles, and it can still be that.

"The next coach will have to deal with the aftermath of sanctions -- and depth is limited -- but within a pretty quick time frame I would bet that USC gets turned around."

The current recruiting class has just seven verbal commitments and is ranked No. 63 in the nation -- just ahead of Florida International and 10 spots behind Temple.

Farrell said that the next hire doesn't need to be a carbon copy of Carroll but he does need to be a major upgrade over Kiffin.

"Kiffin could recruit and we saw that when he was an assistant, then at Tennessee and now at USC, but you have to be able to do more than just get a lot of five-stars," Farrell said. "Just having talent but not being able to coach it up is what was his undoing.

"Each job proved to be too big for him, and the next guy needs to be one who can handle the stage, handle the pressure, recruit and coach."

Haden historically has hired search firms to vet candidates, and that is expected to be process to fill a job that should have no shortage of interested parties.

During the press conference, Haden said it was not the right time to comment on candidates and that it was not fair to the team.

Several names that have been speculated as possible replacements are former USC player and current Denver Broncos assistant Jack Del Rio -- who turned down the position before Kiffin was hired, Boise State coach Chris Petersen, Vanderbilt coach James Franklin and Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald.

There are likely to be rumors and speculation about former assistant Steve Sarkisian returning from Washington, David Shaw leaving Stanford and Jon Gruden leaving his television job, but each seems unlikely.

Pasqualoni had success at Syracuse but went his final three years without a winning record with the Orange. He was 10-18 with UConn, and following losses to Towson and Buffalo the nails were in the coffin.

The 64-year-old coach said he was not discouraged by fans calling for him to be fired, but athletic director Wade Manuel dismissed Pasqualoni and offensive line coach George DeLeone.

Manuel said on the American Athletic Conference media call Monday that he expected the team to show heart with the opening of league play.

"I am disappointed with the record of our team thus far," Manuel said, "but I am confident that our coaching staff and student-athletes will continue to work hard to improve and that will be reflected on the field of play."

Farrell said that finding a new coach at Connecticut will certainly be more difficult than at USC, but it is not impossible.

"This is a job for an energetic coordinator to cut his teeth," he said. "Being in conference purgatory doesn't help the recruiting aspect, but if Al Golden was able to get it done at Temple there is plenty of hope for Connecticut if it makes the right hire."

While Kiffin and Pasqualoni may have been the first to be fired, there are other coaches would could be concerned for the future.

OTHERS ON THE HOT SEAT
Writing on the wall: With a 4-0 start to the season, it may look silly to have Pinkel on the hot seat, but there is a chance that Missouri finishes 2-6 within the conference again and 6-6 overall. Playing games versus Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Ole Miss and Texas A&M point to five losses, with toss-up contests against Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Kentucky to round out the final record. Recruiting did not get an SEC boost as expected and could take a step back if the team doesn't respond. The stretch of six years finishing either second or first in the division feels like decades ago, and a change may be needed.
Mike Farrell says: "I think Missouri fans are realizing that everything changes in the SEC and guys do not get a long leash to make things happen. This is a conference that chews up and spits out coaches with regularity, and I think Pinkel will fall victim to that. Recruiting to Missouri is tough because of its geographic limitations and a pretty thin crop of players within the state every year. This would be an interesting job to hire to and I don't know who would be better than Pinkel, but I don't think that will matter because it feels like a change needs to happen."

Writing on the wall: Dismissing Cornhuskers legend Tommy Frazier's opinion, combined with a profanity-laced tirade from two seasons ago, was not enough to warrant an immediate dismissal, but it gives the program a solid out if Pelini doesn't get to some magical win number that may be a finish line he cannot reach. Pelini has a good win-loss record in Nebraska and with a soft schedule he is likely to hit nine wins again, but that doesn't guarantee job security. Frank Solich had fewer losses over the same period as Pelini, and he was shown the exit after 77 games. Pelini is at 73 games coached but has yet to win a conference title and hasn't jump-started recruiting as expected.
Mike Farrell says: "I think Pelini will learn a valuable lesson here. You do not ever, never, ever defame the fans. He will get his wins, but I don't know if he survives the winter with Nebraska. Unless something dramatic happens to close the season, he will not have gotten the team a conference title and he didn't get the team recruiting Ohio as hard as many expected him to. This is a job that many people will want, and I would expect an upgraded hire and that guy will know better than to disparage a fan base as proud as this one."

Writing on the wall: The good news is that the Longhorns didn't lose this weekend -- because they didn't play. Texas is 2-2 with victories over winless/lifeless New Mexico State and a Kansas State program that also has a loss to North Dakota State on the resume. Brown is a relative coaching legend and may have earned enough clout to call his parting shot, but then again he may not have. If Texas falls by 40 again to Oklahoma and loses out against TCU, Texas Tech and Baylor, it may be enough for the fan base to fully turn on him. The recruiting game has passed Brown by, and the results on the field are starting to show as much. Like Pelini, Brown is experiencing backlash from legendary former players such as Earl Campbell, who said it may be time for a change.
Mike Farrell says: "The Big 12 may be just bad enough for Mack Brown to keep his job, and that is saying something. Personally, I do not think he should be brought back no matter what he does to close the year. I don't think he is quite into the category of Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno that just didn't recruit -- or know what was going on -- but he has been passed in recruiting by many, many programs. It would be smart of Texas to look elsewhere because this job would attract a lot of top coaches."

Dallas Jackson is the national columnist for Rivals.com. You can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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