Only in college football can the words, “you’re fired!” actually mean, “don’t go just yet.” Three outgoing coaches are being allowed one last hurrah, not because school officials had a sudden burst of sentiment, but more to ease the shock of a regime change with their prized incoming recruits.
Curiously, while UCLA decided Rick Neuheisel can be on the sidelines for Friday’s Pac-12 Conference title game at Oregon, if they play in a bowl — likely the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Park on Dec. 31 — offensive coordinator Mike Johnson will be the acting coach and, mercifully, Neuheisel will be long gone.
Arizona State, which closed the regular season with four straight losses, is letting Dennis Erickson coach in likely the Sun or Las Vegas Bowl. Although Erickson never ran the most disciplined program, he’s a stand-up guy who at 64 is probably heading into retirement. No doubt the Sun Devils are playing nice as a thank you for his five respectable years of service, but they are also hedging their bets.
ASU’s 2012 recruiting class is ranked 20th in the nation. The situation at Ohio State is quite different. Interim coach Luke Fickell not only gets to lead the Buckeyes into a possible showdown with Florida at the Gator Bowl, aka “Urban Bowl,” Fickell will stay on as an assistant to newly hired Urban Meyer, whose stellar reputation should soften the blow of impending NCAA sanctions.
Of course, the greatest lame duck coaching story of all belongs to Joe Kapp. In 1986, the irrepressible Bears coach was fired after starting to drop his drawers in front of the Seattle media following a 50-18 loss to Washington. The next Saturday, Kapp’s (1-9) Cal team stunned No. 16 Stanford 17-11 in the infamous “win one for the zipper” Big Game. No one at Memorial Stadium will ever forget the sight of delirious Cal fans carrying Joe off the field like a conquering hero. Now that’s an exit strategy.
KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news. He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.