Oct. 27, 2004
By Dennis Dodd
SportsLine.com Senior Writer
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National feature | Notebook
At least Florida had the power to fire its coach.

Penn State has no such option. The only person who can determine the future employment of Joe Paterno is Joe Paterno. And at last check the 77-year-old was armed with a four-year extension as a foundation for an increasingly obvious stubborn streak.

SportsLine.com odds
Florida coaching candidates
Coach, School Odds
Steve Spurrier EVEN
Bobby Petrino, Louisville 2-1
Butch Davis, Browns (NFL) 3-1
Urban Meyer, Utah 10-1
Jeff Tedford, Cal 100-1
Rick Neuheisel, H.S. $11,000-1
Bob Stoops, Oklahoma 1 million-1
The silly season kicked off early Monday with the firing of Ron Zook at Florida. The 2004-05 round of coaching changes apparently won't include the departure of Paterno. What was merely uncomfortable the past couple of seasons could get flat-out embarrassing in Happy Valley.

Those Coke bottles might help JoePa focus on his world, but they're still blocking his view. Saturday's 6-4 loss to Iowa proved that -- or rather reinforced it. The Nittany Lions have few Big Ten-quality athletes, even fewer playmakers.

They are 2-5 this season and 5-14 over the past two seasons. In the last four-plus seasons, Penn State has lost 31 games. That's not a blip on the radar, friends, that's a trend. The school lost a total of 22 games in the 1970s, 28 in the 1980s and 26 in the 1990s.

What little Big Ten talent Paterno does have, he doesn't seem to know what to do with. The coach lashed out at reporters last week after calling quarterback/receiver Michael Robinson "one of the best football players I have ever coached."


Steve Spurrier is getting in some golf in Florida before a widely anticipated return.(AP)
"Don't question me," Paterno added.

Robinson promptly went out and threw two interceptions and fumbled on plays that ended Penn State's final three possessions. Most troubling, and usually a sure sign a coach is in trouble, is thousands of empty seats at Beaver Stadium.

Apparently, not at Penn State where the school would be firing one of its biggest donors who has ties to bigger donors. That the final score was the same as the first college football game played in 1869, between Rutgers and Princeton, taints those first noble football warriors.

Back then, didn't each "touchdown" count for a point?

Considering the issues, jobs, coaches and schools this could be on the most interesting offseasons in recent history. Now that Florida has broken the seal, here the top potential openings in the country ...

Florida
He's coming folks. Let's not kid ourselves. TV foofs caught up to Steve Spurrier on the golf course (where else?) Monday in Orlando. That there was no denial of interest spoke volumes.

"I don't think anything I would say would be appropriate at this time," Spurrier told reporters, wearing his signature visor backwards. But you wouldn't rule it out, he was asked?

(Brief pause and chuckle) "There will be time to make those statements down the road here a little bit," Spurrier said.

The Gainesville Sun already has reported Spurrier is interested in coming back. Unless AD Jeremy Foley and president Bernie Machen screw this up, this could be the biggest comeback since Elvis in 1968.

Over/under on hiring date: Halftime of this week's Georgia-Florida game. Why wait?

Kentucky
The loss to Ohio on Oct. 2 was Rich Brooks' version of Ron Zook losing to Mississippi State. Even at a basketball school, you can't lose to a MAC school nicknamed the Bobcats.

Brooks is 5-14 in his second season at Kentucky and the talent has declined since Hal Mumme and Guy Morriss. The last four games against Mississippi State, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Tennessee are all losable.

"I'm not quitting," Brooks said denying a report he would at the end of the season.

Rich, you might not have to quit. Hint, hint.

Over/under on departure date: Somewhere around the junior-college signing date in early December. The Wildcats need help, now.

Washington
Keith Gilbertson was miscast as the guy to save this program that was facing NCAA probation. Pity him when he is fired, because what would you do if the floundering AD came to you three days before fall practice and asked you to take the team? Nah, that's OK, I'm fine with my assistant's salary.

Gilbertson will get a nice buyout and be on his way down the road to another Pac-10 program. Perhaps, Washington will even keep him as a coordinator. But he can't survive the Huskies first losing season since 1976.

Urban Meyer will get the first offer but he would be wise to sit tight, take Florida or a big-time Big Ten opening. Washington is going to be a tough rebuilding job.

Over/under on departure date: Nov. 22, the Monday after the final game against Washington State.

Syracuse
Thursday's 27-6 loss to West Virginia had to seal the deal for Paul Pasqualoni.

"When I hear Syracuse, I think Donovan McNabb first," said West Virginia's Rasheed Marshall, who broke McNabb's Big East quarterback rushing record.

Since McNabb left after the 1998 season, Syracuse is only 36-31 and has been to two bowls in five seasons.

Over/under on departure date: Dec. 1. Athletic director Jake Crouthamel won't ax his guy during the season, which could hurt recruiting if Syracuse doesn't send those recruits a message. Florida assistants, their jobs in jeopardy, were on the phones most of the night Monday to recruits.

Pittsburgh
Walt Harris' agent Bob LaMonte called out the administration a couple of weeks ago saying his client was being hung out to dry.

"If they're going to fire him," LaMonte was quoted as saying. "They should have fired him before the season."

The problem, if it is one, is Harris is teetering between a Big East title and the BCS bowl that goes with it and another Insight Bowl. An Insight might get Harris fired. If Pittsburgh wins the Big East, Harris ought to demand a raise and extension. He makes $600,000 per year through 2006.

Swing game date: Nov. 13 at Notre Dame. Harris has to win this one to set up the Nov. 25 clash with West Virginia.

North Carolina
John Bunting is Ron Zook-in-waiting. AD Dick Baddour would be wise to scribble down a short list right now. The new-look ACC is off the launching pad and the Tar Heels have been left behind. All the Spurrier talk pretty much has quieted down too for obvious reasons.

Over/under on firing date: Nov. 8 after a home loss to Virginia Tech. Bunting will then finish out the season against Wake and Duke.

California and Jeff Tedford
Cal's coach might be too hot for college already, especially if the Bears get to the Rose Bowl in his third season. Tedford's offensive abilities seem a perfect match for the NFL which, let's face it, could use a few less 16-10 games. Remember, the NF of L is a league that Spurrier couldn't conquer.

Tedford's buyout wouldn't be an issue for the pros. If ground is not broken by Dec. 31, contract language stipulates Tedford can be hired by any other Pac-10 school. He cannot go to another conference school if ground is broken before then.

His buyout goes from $1 million pre-Dec. 31 to $500,000 pre-Dec. 31, 2005.

New Cal AD Sandy Barbour all but told the Seattle Times recently the school is not going to meet those deadlines.

"We need to make sure we're being prudent," she said. "I'm not really worried about that (deadline). With the steps we're taking now, we're making it clear to everyone that we're serious and moving forward."

The school apparently is still looking for a major donor in the $20 million-$25 million range to jump-start Cal's dramatic upgrade.

Over/under date on jumping to the NFL: Jan. 1, 2005

Illinois
Ron Turner has been under fire because of an 8-24 record since Illinois won the Big Ten in 2001. Known as a developer of quarterbacks, Turner's only prodigy has been the long-departed Kurt Kittner. Oklahoma offensive coordinator Chuck Long, Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris and Boise State's Dan Hawkins have been mentioned.

Over/under on firing date: Dec. 2, the day after Pasqualoni gets it.

Rick Neuheisel
The wild card is just about every job that is going to open up. Early indications are The Slick One is itching to get back into the biz (his current high school doesn't count). Meanwhile, he's preparing for a lawsuit against Washington that goes to trial in January.

Odds of being employed next season: 2-5

UNLV
Almost lost in the shuffle is John Robinson stepping down after this season. UNLV has targeted Boise State's Dan Hawkins. Dream on, Fightin' Tarkanians.

Two years ago, Hawkins turned down Oregon State. If he leaves, it wouldn't be a mid-major where college football is about the 10th-best draw in town behind the nine newest gentlemen's clubs to open up.

Odds of getting a big-game coach to replace JR: Harrah's opened this week at 10-1.