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WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2006
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Coaches in BCS title game came from smaller programs

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com 340-2460

Steve Spurrier or who? Nick Saban or what guy?

That was the talk on the Internet message boards when Alabama fired head football coach Mike Shula on Nov. 26.

With all the chatter about a well-known pedigreed coach coming to Tuscaloosa, it appears that Alabama is on the verge of bringing someone who is mostly unknown to the Southeastern Conference.

While it could be easy to feel sorry for fans of West Virginia, the Naval Academy or Wake Forest, recent history shows that Alabama is going the right direction by going after UWV's Rich Rodriguez.

This year, the national championship game between Florida and Ohio State will have the indelible print of a Youngstown Penguin and a Utah Ute.

Before Jim Tressel took over the Ohio State football program as head coach in 2001, he coached at Youngstown State, where he won four Division I-AA championships.

Florida coach Urban Meyer led the Utah football program for two years, going an undefeated 12-0 in 2004 before bolting to the SEC.

While both Youngstown State and Utah could fret over losing their coaches, they view themselves more as proud parents. The coaches learn, they grow and then they move on to bigger and better things.

"I'm a realist," Utah athletics director Chris Moore said. "Part of everybody would like it to stay the way it is.

As a university, we made a good effort to keep Urban. We did everything possibly could. At end of the day we were not the match he wanted. There are no hard feelings."

Tressel faced a different situation. It is an Ohioan's dream to coach the Ohio State Buckeyes, and when Tressel left, Youngstown State faithful felt a bit of pride.

"We were both proud and happy for Coach Tressel," said Youngstown State athletics director Ron Strollo, who succeeded Tressel in that position. "We also knew it would help us, too."

According to Strollo, whose school plays Appalachian State this weekend in the Division I-AA semifinals, there are few Ohio State broadcasts on television without a reference to Youngstown State.

Also, Youngstown State will play Ohio State during the next two seasons, which brings a $650,000 bonus to the school that is 75 miles southeast of Cleveland.

While Utah and Youngstown might have taken the path of little resistance when it comes to understanding the coaching chain, some fight for their favorite coaches.

Take the University of Tulsa, for example. Tulsa booster Michael Case recently started the Keep Kragthorpe campaign. The group's goal is to raise $500,000 annually to keep Tulsa coach Steve Kragthorpe and his assistants.

"As long as it's just about finance, we'll be able to keep him," Case told The New York Times. "If there becomes an opportunity where he thinks he can go win a national championship, I don't know if we can keep him then."

And such is the case for the several Alabama coaching candidates. While it's nice to believe that West Virginia, Navy and Wake Forest have a chance to win a national title, the opportunity appears greater at a school with a history of 12.

"We plan on being good and keeping our coaches as best we can," Utah's Moore said

"But there are not a million jobs in the world like the Florida job."

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