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The great mystery of college football coaching staffs

Bobby McDuffie/Icon Sportswire

College football — with its 128 FBS programs, its new playoff, its many TV deals, and its recruiting industry — is a billion-dollar business.

The coaching community has benefited from the infusion of money into the sport. High-end coaches make off like bandits, and in recent years, coaches at non-prestige programs such as Baylor, Washington State, Iowa and Virginia (to name a few) can make large sums of money. Mike Leach and Bronco Mendenhall haven’t made BCS (now New Year’s Six) bowls, and yet they’re both making multiple millions of dollars per year. They can thank conference television networks and TV rights fees paid by ESPN.

A lot of money is flowing through the coaching business, part of the enormous expenditures that characterize modern big-ticket collegiate athletics. Moreover, this gold rush is hardly limited to head coaches.

Coordinators such as Bud Foster at Virginia Tech and Sterlin Gilbert at Texas do not come cheaply. Coordinators at any high-end program, especially in the SEC, are paid in the very high six figures, for the most part. Strength coaches and other added position coaches — sometimes for purposes of quality control — form an ever more specialized landscape in the coaching business.

Surely, with ALL this money, ALL this institutional support for football, and ALL the cultural importance placed on the sport from sea to shining sea, modern FBS coaching staffs would have a set-aside staff position for “game management assistant coach,” or something to that effect.

Surely, since the head coach of an NCAA (or NFL) team has to delegate so much authority these days, he has to delegate more responsibilities and should therefore feel empowered to hire a game-management coach.

Surely, it ought to matter if coaches can — or can’t — handle various situations in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter.

Surely, juggling timeouts, play calls, and pace of play — in relationship to down, distance, time and score — represents one of the central collections of duties for any head coach. The business of coaching is the business of winning games.

Surely, nearly 20 years into the 21st century, head coaches and the coaching industry at large would recognize this and act accordingly.

Surely, Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield should never have to worry about leaving a timeout in his pocket at the end of a huge game at No. 9 Tennessee, a game he very easily could have won in regulation.

Yet, the industry and head coaches stand paralyzed.

Coaches continue to botch endgame situations in noticeably simple ways.

Coaches continue to lack basic competence in what should be a core part of their gameday job description.

Coaches such as Satterfield — and Derek Mason of Vanderbilt — allow the clock to tick, tick, tick away when they have these poker chips called timeouts at their disposal.

To emphasize the point one last time, the problem is not that coaches make the mistakes; the problem is that they and the industry in which they work have not seen fit to carve out a game-management assistant coaching position.

Are they afraid of ceding control in this manner? Are they too wedded to their egos, thinking they can handle these situations (which they patently can’t)?

There’s certainly $250,000 at a Power Five program, and $100,000 at a Group of Five program (especially one with Appalachian State’s body of achievement), to hire and pay at game-management assistant coach. The money would be well spent.

The number of games it would win — or save from being lost, if you prefer that phrasing — would more than cover the initial expenditure.

Maybe one of these decades, the college football coaching industry will finally wake up and realize how necessary it is to hire a game-management assistant coach. It’s remarkable how this massive structural flaw in modern college football coaching staffs continues to remain unaddressed.

The great mystery of college football coaching staffs

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