There are three primary drivers of traffic for college football media outlets. One is recruiting, which is why there are three major subscription-based recruiting networks, and why ESPN will keep on trying to make recruiting coverage happen. Another is writing about the hot seat, or why a coach should be fired, which is why there were so many "Will Muschamp must go"-type pieces over the last 18 months — discontented fans want their discontent to end and their opinions validated, and they'll click and share those pieces in a heartbeat.
The third one, though, is a coaching search. And it's probably the biggest and most important of the three, and not just because it's the rarest. Coaches control recruiting, after all, and the search is always happening on message boards and blogs long before it ever officially commences. SB Nation's Matt Brown, one of the fearless leaders of our college football coverage, reminded us all of this in an email today:
Outside of the season and perhaps National Signing Day covering a coaching search is the single biggest story a blog will typically face, and can be a HUGE boost to a blog's long term audience.
There's one big problem with writing about coaching searches: Most of what we're writing about is bullshit.
Recruiting is a pain to write about — unless you're on the road, doing the boots-on-the-ground "journalism" of repeatedly asking 17-year-olds about where they want to
play college football for three years before going to the NFL go to college — because loyalties and motivations are rarely obvious to the general public, information is being deliberately withheld (by both subjects and reporters), and everyone's scrapping for every bit of traffic based on tidbits. Writing about firing (or needing to fire) a coach is a lot easier, but I personally find it pretty damn onerous, not least because I've come to realize I have a lot more patience with sports than most Florida fans.
But in a coaching search? You're constantly sifting wheat from chaff. And there's a hell of a lot more chaff than wheat. I haven't written a lot here this week about Florida's coaching search because nothing substantive is actually happening.
I don't think Florida's going to hire a coach who is currently unemployed, so a) we can disregard the sniffing around from unemployed names like Mike Shanahan, and b) Florida's targets all have two more games, at a minimum, to coach. And no sane coach is going to publicly say "Oh, yeah, I really want that Florida job" while his team is still trying to finish out the regular season.
I don't see any good reason for Florida to rush its search or hiring, either: There's no one at all that Florida is currently competing with, thanks to Michigan apparently being set on inexplicably keeping Brady Hoke formally employed through the end of the season, and Florida does at least have Will Muschamp around to perform the duties of coach through the end of the season. A coach doesn't need to be in place by next week, just by mid-December, and Jeremy Foley said that mid-December is a reasonable timetable on in his press conference on Monday.
I do think currently employed coaches are going to be interested in investigating the prospect of coaching at Florida once their regular seasons are done, though. The no comments and polite dismissals we're hearing now are almost worthless: If Florida comes calling, tunes might well change, and no one's going to care that, say, Bob Stoops said "I'm finished with that question" when asked about the job earlier this week.
So I could chase a bunch of rumors that will ultimately prove to be rumors and provide you with chaff. Or I could get to the gist — the grist, really — of the search, which I think going to boil down to these two things:
- Florida knows it has to repair the bond with its fan base, and is going to be looking for a coach with a name that can do that.
- Florida knows it can be choosy and take big cuts at big names, and will be patient and quiet about doing so.
Does my understanding of that, which I believe is sound, mean someone like Marshall's Doc Holliday isn't a candidate? No. Does that mean Florida's targeting Stoops, or Chip Kelly, or Don Coryell's ghost, and doesn't have a backup plan? No. Does that mean I can't write substantive pieces on what Florida might do? No, and I probably should've written more this week.
But one of my guiding principles when I write, here or anywhere, is the idea that a reader's time is valuable, and that there's nothing to be gained for me from writing something that wastes a reader's time. This can make my writing and my approach pedantic and didactic, sure, and means that I constantly challenge myself to provide insight instead of "content," but it also means that I spend a lot less time worrying about just regurgitating information — and, I think, produce work that y'all enjoy more than you would straight facts.
I'm going to cover this Florida coaching search as well as I can, and I welcome your feedback on how I go about doing it, but I'm going to be patient and provide insight, rather than being reactionary and providing "content."
Anything less would be shortchanging you.