The Carousel: It’s a time machine for FBS coaches

“It’s not a spaceship. It’s a time machine.”

Don Draper’s description of “The Carousel” (not the wheel) in the Mad Men season one finale is not just the heart of one of the great moments and speeches in the history of television. It is an accurate depiction of how the college football coaching carousel will enable us to view a lot of different football lifers in five years.

The Carousel, Draper reminds us, goes backwards and forwards. It takes coaches to where they ache to go… knowing that only some of them will succeed.

Tracy Claeys has found safe harbor at Minnesota — that’s one vacancy filled in a permanent capacity. Yet, with Gary Pinkel stepping down at Missouri and Todd Berry out at Louisiana-Monroe, the Carousel began to spin faster over the past 100 hours. With more vacancies sure to come (Rutgers and Virginia most likely, with Syracuse as a possibility), the number of open jobs will approach 15. If a few surprise firings or resignations occur, the number could exceed 15.

What’s more is that of all the jobs that are open in this cycle, so many of them are genuinely intriguing to people who follow the sport. We’ve written about the comparative merits of the UCF and Miami jobs in the state of Florida. It’s a real debate as to which job is the better one at the present moment.

The people in the Palmetto State refer to the University of South Carolina as “USC.” Those of us who live in the West will tell you that there’s only one USC, the Men of Troy, but regardless of that annual debate — the college football equivalent of “Is the hot dog a sandwich?” — the merits of USC East and USC West are very much on the table as coaches plot their next moves in the coming weeks.

Is Rutgers (should it come open) or Illinois or Maryland the best mid-tier Big Ten job?

Is Missouri or South Carolina the better SEC East job? (Which Columbia is better to coach in, you could ask.)

Is Virginia Tech or Miami the better ACC Coastal job? Where would Virginia fit into the picture if Mike London is sent packing? Where would Syracuse fit in the larger ACC picture if the Orange say goodbye to Scott Shafer?

So many questions, and yet we’re only scratching the surface.

This leads to one fundamental point which demands quite a lot of thought in the coming days… and months… and the next five years.


Chip Kelly, to a certain extent, cannot be faulted for what’s going on with the Philadelphia Eagles. Sam Bradford’s injury is an unfortunate event, one which altered the complexion of Sunday’s loss to the Miami Dolphins.

However, Kelly made the conscious decision to bring Bradford to Philadelphia. He made the conscious choice to alter his roster to a considerable degree. To that extent, Kelly’s bad luck is a product of decisions he made. He invited circumstances which put his organization in position to lose. The coach might not be responsible for the Eagles’ fragile state, but the wheeler-dealer sure is. It’s a lot like Doc Rivers with the Los Angeles Clippers — “Coach Doc” might have done a decent job in the 2015 NBA Playoffs, but “General Manager Doc” did not equip his team with the resources needed to help Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

In college football, The Carousel — this time machine which can go forward into the future — will tell us so much in the coming years not just about the coaching acumen of the individuals who will take over at USC and South Carolina and Miami and Virginia Tech and Missouri; The Carousel will tell us how good these men are at choosing the right place to work.

That, in many ways, is the most fascinating emergent aspect of this larger drama.


Chip Kelly chose not just an organization and a place where he could ply his trade in the NFL; he chose a roster and a set of circumstances. In many ways, it’s not even Kelly’s X-and-O prowess which is at issue; it’s his ability to make more fundamental organizational decisions which is most under scrutiny (and rightly so). Kelly the in-game strategist is, in my opinion, a step ahead of most of his peers. Kelly the architect of a roster seems to have very little clue of how to make his chalkboard chops matter.

It’s going to be a similar story with the new coaches at various FBS programs of note. The Justin Fuentes and Tom Hermans of the world have so many options to choose from. They have their shopping cart and are looking at 59 varieties of cereal. Which is the best buy in terms of nutrition, taste, size of product, and cost per ounce? We’re going to learn about these new coaches — wherever they land — as organizers and shoppers.

When we contemplate The Carousel every autumn, it’s easy to focus solely on the athletic directors as the initiators of a process. However, coaches choose where they want to go; they’re not forced or obligated to accept certain jobs. Chris Petersen didn’t agree with Pat Haden’s vision for USC, after all. Washington was the better fit, in his eyes.

As coaches size up where they want to work and line up their resumes, their preferences will be just as big a story as the preferences of their employers in various AD chairs across the country.

Tom Herman chose School X over School Y? WOW!

Justin Fuente could have gone here, but he went THERE? WHOA!

Dino Babers stayed put at Bowling Green? HMMMMM.

Who knows where coaches will land… or if they will even leave their current schools?

The choices they make will tell us so much about them as consumers and shapers of their careers in the next five years.

The Carousel is an endlessly fascinating thing, as Don Draper could tell you.

About Matt Zemek

Editor, @TrojansWire | CFB writer since 2001 |