Hey, thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points. I hope you all had a restful and meaningful Thanksgiving holiday, ideally with plenty of good food and good times with loved ones.
I certainly did, but then I followed it up by getting sicker than I’ve been in years. I’ve basically had nothing but yellow liquids (chicken soup, ramen noodles, Gatorade) for three days.
Did I get sick because I live with two small children? Because the weather here in Chicago is butt? Because my immune system has valiantly propped me up during football season and now months of staying up too late, eating bad food and living with high stress have finally caught up to me? I think the answer is yes.
It’s unfortunate that this happens right as, you know, everything feels like it’s happening. If an extra typo slips in here today, well, my sincere apologies. Blame my children. They don’t know how to type and can’t defend themselves.
Anyway, I’ve been trying to think of a way to put a few of these coaching changes into context…and what’s going on at Rutgers and Ole Miss reminds me a little bit of my industry.
One of the big challenges in digital media now is this tension between building traffic, and building an audience.
Traffic is awfully important. Despite the best efforts of many outlets to diversify their revenue streams, pageviews remain one of the most important metrics. More pageviews = more eyeballs, which (usually) means more money from display ads.
But lots of pageviews alone won’t save you. If that traffic is superficial, or shallow, the audience won’t build any loyalty to it, and will vanish the next time a platform tweaks an algorithm, or a competitor launches a hotter take. You ultimately still need an actual audience. These are the people who comment on your stuff, who bookmark your page, who buy your merch. Your hardcores. Your community.
Extra Points is very much an endeavor build on audience, rather than traffic. If I wanted to maximize views, I wouldn’t write 2,000 words on crappy northeastern football programs, or interview economists, or write about TV deals. I’d write about the Iron Bowl. But there’s a small audience that really wants to talk about UMass, and dammit, I’m here to serve that audience. In a related story….this newsletter doesn’t make any money! But nevertheless,,,
There’s a similar tension in college athletics, and one that I’ve written about quite a bit over the last few months. Does a school chase TV money, at the risk of alienating their actual campus community with Tuesday kickoff times? Does a school decide to triple down on the hardcores, no matter the cost? You have to be careful about that too, or else you end up like USC, and a leadership model more corrupt and incestuous than the Habsburgs.
Which audience do you prioritize? Which group is the most important? Who do you listen to? You can’t always please every possible demographic with every decision.
That leads us to Ole Miss
Where some folks are not at all happy about head coach Matt Luke getting fired. Specifically, the players. Via the Clarion Ledger:
The Ole Miss players aren't happy.
The University of Mississippi made the decision to move on from football coach Matt Luke on Sunday night after three years at the helm. Athletics director Keith Carter addressed the football team in the Manning Center on campus, explaining the direction he wants the program to go.
Carter's address didn't resonate with every player. A handful of players stormed out of Carter's meeting early.
After the meeting concluded, junior offensive lineman Chandler Tuitt said "half the team" is talking about leaving. Tuitt said if the entire coaching staff is dismissed along with Luke, he doesn't think many players will stay with the team.
Carter told the players the decision was for the program.
"But you realize, there's no program without players," Tuitt said. "You're basing stuff off the fans. But we don't care about the fans that much. I'm going to be honest. We're here for the coach. We love football. If you don't want to support us, that's just your fault.
Defensive tackle Patrick Lucas Jr., a freshman, said he doesn't think fans should have the power to determine who leads the players. If anything, Lucas said, the players should have some say in who they have to follow atop the program.
I don’t have a strong opinion about the firing of Matt Luke itself, to be honest. Ole Miss wasn’t very good with him in charge, but the program had just gotten nuked by the NCAA, and given the program’s history and schedule, it’s not like anybody else they could have hired then was likely to do that much better. It’s a tough gig. It’s probably a tough gig now too.
But the comments from these players really are interesting to me.
I doubt half the team actually ends up transferring. I think it’s normal for a 20 year old to lash out and suggest that after being faced with such a huge disappointment, but given how crowded that transfer portal is, there probably aren’t FBS homes for 40 Ole Miss players if they all want to bounce. Unless the school makes a really controversial hire, I imagine *most* of those players will stay, at least in the short term.
Remember, you can’t replace transferring players on a one to one basis. You’re (mostly) capped at 25 signees a recruiting class, so if your program deals with a sudden burst of attrition, and then maybe you get a little unlucky with injuries, you’re looking like Kansas…a 70 scholarship team facing a schedule of 85 scholarships. You’re almost an FCS team.
If there was an exodus similar to just the Coastal Carolina level at Ole Miss, even if they weren’t necessarily losing major starters, the new coach could be a little kneecapped before they start.
I’m not saying an athletic director should let the players on the roster pick the coach, or even have a say. Turns out, 20 year olds sometimes have bad takes, and that approach may not work out. But in an era of heightened player mobility, schools ought to do a better job communicating with players to try and prevent situations like this. Luke’s firing, this year, was a bit of a surprise to most national analysts. It was probably a surprise to the players, too. And if that hostility doesn’t get managed, the next person is going to have a rough first year.
But that question about fans being in charge of coaching decisions? Boy, that’s an interesting one. That reminds me.
Let’s check in on Rutgers!
So just last week, it looked like the Greg Schiano to Rutgers movement was dead. I went out and wrote a big ol’ newsletter defending the school, saying that Schiano wasn’t the only guy who could potentially win there, you had to hire somebody who was on the same page as your AD, and maybe not wasn’t the perfect time to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at Rutgers football.
One thing I didn’t fully appreciate, and it sounds like Rutgers leadership didn’t either, was just how badly Rutgers boosters and superfans disagreed with that premise. Many believed that Schiano was the only guy who could unite the waring factions of New Jersey high school athletics, the only guy who could get the fundraising done, the only guy you could hire that would allow them to continue to justify Rutgers fandom. So they mutinied.
And by God, it worked. And now Greg Schiano is the new head coach at Rutgers.
I still believe he’s not the only guy could make this work. If you hired Steve Addazio, or Chris Creighton, or Joe Moorhead, or a half-dozen other guys instead, I bet they’d have a similar W-L record as Schiano over the next four seasons. But nobody could galvanize this fanbase like the o’ Schiano-man, and after the last decade of Rutgers football, that sure means something.
It’s kinda ironic that it was a fan revolt that led to Schinao not getting the Tennessee job, and now a fan revolt lead to him getting the Rutgers job. Fans are not ambivalent about this guy, that’s for sure.
Now, is it wise to led your fan and booster base dictate who you hire as head coach? The whims of the crowd can be fickle, and you pay an athletic director (and they pay search firms) a lot of money to use their best judgement to find the right person. And reading between the lines here, it sure seems like Rutgers AD Pat Hobbs didn’t think that person was Schiano.
I don’t think there’s a one sized fits all answer, here. For Rutgers, a program starved for positive publicity and any, any sort of positive momentum, leaning on what your few remaining die-hards want may make more sense than at a blue blood. Of course, there’s always the risk of what happens if this hire doesn’t work out. What do the diehards do then?
Will this specific case work? I don’t know. I think it’s pretty weird that Rutgers is keeping Pat Hobbs, especially after lawmakers were calling for his job before any of this football business. The most popular, and thus powerful, guy in the athletic department now is Greg Schiano. Are you really going to double down on making the guy that didn’t want him as his boss?
There’s also the question of where the money for those new facilities will come from. Will Hobbs be an effective fundraiser? The school apparently wants Schiano to help, which makes sense. My guess is the school better try to lock down those donations ASAP, while good feelings are still in the air, and before a recession, or a few 54-7 losses, might make things more complicated.
Coaching searches are a messy business under the best of circumstances, and figuring out who to listen to, and whose needs to prioritize, is one of the most challenging parts of that search. Boosters? Fans? Current players? Other university presidents who might be hiring an AD in the future?
It’s a tough question. We struggle with similar questions here on our side of the table. If college football programs fail to figure out that balance, they’ll be back making another coaching (or AD) hire, but in front of less fans, and with less money.
And if we fail to figure out that balance, well, there won’t be anybody around to write about those searches.
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