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COLLEGE COACHING AWARD

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By ARNE K. LANG Posted: 2005/11/09

The Maxwell Foundation recently announced the 12 nominees for the Munger Trophy, an award it bestows on the college football Coach of the Year. However, two brilliant innovators were left off the list.

To declare that some individual or entity isn’t getting enough respect is a tired sports cliché, but that’s certainly true with regard to Rich Rodriguez and Randy Walker. It seems that only their peers and some savvy gamblers appreciate their ingenuity.

Rodriguez was a savant. At the age of 24, he was the head coach at Salem College. He moved on to Glenville State, where he caught the eye of Tommy Bowden, who tabbed him to be his offensive coordinator at Tulane.

At Tulane, Rodriguez mentored Shaun King, who set an NCAA single-season mark for passing efficiency that still stands. The Green Wave was 19-4 during the Bowden/Rodriguez years, including an undefeated season in 1998.

Rodriguez campaigned for the Tulane vacancy when Bowden left for Clemson. Incredibly, he was bypassed in favor of Chris Scelfo. But that left him free to return to his native state when the West Virginia position opened in 2001.

Rodriguez doesn’t have great resources. West Virginia, 95 percent white, has fewer than two million people. The mill towns west of Pittsburgh are no longer fertile pipelines of WVU football talent. The numbers have dwindled as the communities have aged and been depleted by out-migration.

Despite the impediments, Rodriguez quickly fashioned his program into a Big East power. The 2005 campaign shaped up as a rebuilding year, but WVU sits atop the league standings. The highlight of the season was the humdinger anointed the “Miracle in Morgantown.” Down 17-0 at the break, the Mountaineers vanquished Louisville 46-44 after three overtimes.

Rodriguez is one of the originators of the no-huddle, spread offense. The name suggests an offense predicated on the pass, but Rodriguez has grafted a power running game to it. His 2002 team finished second in the nation in rushing.

No coach has done more with less than Randy Walker. Northwestern lost four starters before the season even started. The team’s fastest defensive back quit football after being accepted to medical school. This speaks reams about the obstacles that Walker must overcome. We doubt that Bobby Bowden ever lost a key player under similar circumstances.

Competing without a full deck, Walker has his gritty Wildcats in the hunt for a lucrative bowl assignment. Perhaps this should not surprise us. At Miami-Ohio, his teams repeatedly exceeded expectations. His record against the spread during his 10-year run at that school was 60-37-2!

Walker kept Northwestern from sinking into a Big-10 doormat because he was open to fresh ideas. He knew that he could not succeed running the same offense he ran at Miami. Another coach might have opted to go the wishbone route, but Walker wanted something more futuristic.

His quest took him to Clemson, among other places, where Rich Rodriguez was then hunkered down. Walker borrowed some of Rodriguez’s ideas and added a few wrinkles of his own.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. If Randy Walker could somehow boat a bunch of defensive stalwarts, he would run roughshod through the Big-10. He’s that clever.

Rodriguez and Walker are in demand at seminars. In Internet chat rooms where young high school coaches share ideas, their names bubble up frequently. This is refreshing. What it signifies is that the sport will continue to be mentally vibrant, at least at the levels below the hidebound NFL.

As for the Munger Award, two-time winner Joe Paterno and Charlie Weis will draw heavy consideration, but we make Mack Brown the favorite. The voters are biased toward undefeated teams and aren’t likely to choose Pete Carroll for the second time in three years.

We have no quibble with the much-maligned Brown. At last glance, his team was 8-1 ATS. However, we would submit that Rodriguez and Walker, both off the ballot, are more deserving.

Then again, perhaps it’s a good thing that they continue to fly under the radar screen. Rodriguez, in particular, has been good to our wallet. Those happy returns will likely piddle out when he gets his proper due.