2 Stunning Moves May Not Bode Well for College Football

Notre Dame coach signs with a new team even as his old team is still in the championship hunt
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 30, 2021 8:33 AM CST
First Move Was a Stunner, Second May Have Topped It
Lincoln Riley, the new head football coach of the University of Southern California, poses for a photo after a ceremony in Los Angeles Monday, Nov. 29, 2021.   (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

It's already been quite a week for college football, or as Sports Illustrated writer Pat Forde puts it, "the wildest week in the history" of the game. Wilder still is that this has nothing to do with anything that happened on the field. Instead, it involves two blockbuster coaching changes that Forde and other sportswriters say signal a shift in the sport, and not necessarily for the better.

  • Move No. 1: On Sunday, USC poached Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley. Just how big of a deal was this? "Nothing like this hire has ever happened in the history of college football," is how Alex Kirshner put it at Slate. "By which I mean: No head coach has ever left a job like Riley’s at Oklahoma to be in charge of another college program." The 38-year-old is leaving "one of the most elite, consistent winners in the sport, where he enjoyed a big paycheck and as much job security as anyone in his position could hope to have" for an ever bigger paycheck.

  • Move No. 2: The USC move was a stunner, but on Monday, LSU "might have topped it," writes Ralph D. Russo of the AP. The school poached Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. Again, a big-name coach is moving from one powerhouse to another. Maybe the most surprising aspect of this one is that Notre Dame is currently in contention for this year's college championship. What's more, Kelly, 60, had been busy recruiting players—for Notre Dame, ostensibly—"but in fact was finalizing a deal to leave," writes Forde. "In a profession rife with weasel moves, this one ... ranks very high."
  • Warning signs: Yes, coaches change jobs all the time, writes Dan Wolken at USA Today. But these moves show that "alarm bells should now be fully blaring" for college football. Kelly's in particular. "How does anyone continue to pretend that this is amateur sports when a multi-million dollar coach leaves his players in the lurch while they could still end up playing for history? How does anyone take the sanctity of the College Football Playoff seriously when it means so little to Kelly that he high-tails it out of town before he even knows whether his team gets in?"
  • Context: In Forde's view, the sport has "been careening toward this place for a while now." The NCAA, for example, recently caved to pressure (including from the Supreme Court) and decided to let athletes take a financial cut of the business. "The confluence of events has knocked everything off its moorings," he writes. "And Lord knows, the leadership vacuum isn’t going to get it back on balance. The annual bloodsport of hiring and firing coaches has reached a point where none of it makes sense, and nobody is capable of holding the principal figures accountable."
(Read more college football stories.)

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