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Wait and Retain

BY Eddie Zelek

Penn State head coach James Franklin watches from the sideline during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Michigan, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Wait and Retain

By Eddie Zelek
December 4, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has ravaged American lives and livelihoods, spreading its way into college athletics, notably football. Athletic conferences have made adjustments to their playing schedules to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Cancellation, postponements and contact tracing (identifying people who may have been infected), has led to more audibles being called off the field than on it. Due to the craziness of the 2020 college football season, underperforming coaches should not be fired for team outcomes this year.

Consider that some student-athletes opted out of 2020 season: Pennsylvania State University Junior Linebacker Micah Parsons decided to sit out this season to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft. The Nittany Lions have started 0-4 after beginning their season ranked eighth in the AP Poll.

Despite recently signing a contract, there have been calls to fire head coach James Franklin. Responding to Franklin’s poor clock-management decisions, Uproxx Media’s Andy Isaac tweeted, “James Franklin should be fired. I’m not joking. That was egregious coaching at the end of the game.”

Even if Franklin made poor decisions late in that October game against Indiana University, having a key player in can change the dynamic. If Parsons played, the Nittany Lions may not have even been in that position to start.

The season’s uncertainty has led to erratic on-field performance. A lack of regular preseason training camps has left schools adjusting during game play. Athletic conferences canceled their seasons then restarted in late October and early November, which has changed the dynamic of a traditional and full college football season.

After a 1-3 start, the future of University of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh was uncertain. ESPN college football analyst Paul Finebaum said, “This is a coach that was once respected. And now, sadly, Jim Harbaugh has become a punchline in college football. A lot of people up there are saying they want to keep him. For what reason? I don’t know.”

The late start hurt Harbaugh’s Wolverines in particular. New quarterback Junior Joe Milton did not have the proper offseason to develop. While Milton’s results may not be different if the season was normal, a later start did not help his chances this season.

Coaches also have to worry about their own and the health of their players. Most of them are older, making them more susceptible to coronavirus.

“When they go home to their families, I want to make sure their families are OK. I want to set the standard that we’re going to do everything that we can believe we can do to stay healthy,” according to Boston College Coach Jeff Hafley.

Although Hafley’s comments were about his staff, the same sentiment can be held for the student-athletes. Despite the roars they receive on Saturday, their lives and future off the field matter as well. College coaches play an important role in the lives of their players. All they want to do is keep them safe.

And no matter who they are, coaches are still college employees. With football being a major source of revenue (accounting for on average $31.9 million per year) for Division I college programs, for example, athletic departments want good on-field talent to draw attention to the normally packed stadiums.

Still, University of South Carolina fired its head coach Will Muschamp in November. The Gamecocks started this season 2-5, leaving Muschamp at 28-30 in five seasons.

Nothing about 2020 has been normal. Even though weekends with college football are a slight return to pre-pandemic life, the season has been far from perfect. If this year hasn’t gone well, just like everything in 2020, wait until next season when deciding to fire the head coach.