Saturday, November 23, 2013

Interim Coach Wright?

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTO BY CANDICE EBLING

There aren't too many things the USC Trojans and FAU Owls have in common, but there is one major similarity between both universities.

Each school made mid-season coaching changes and the early returns have been excellent.

USC fired Head Coach Lane Kiffin after a 62-41 loss on the road to the Arizona State Sun Devils which dropped the Trojans to 3-2 on Sept 29.

Kiffin was replaced by Ed Orgeron, who has made the most of his opportunity and the interim coach is 6-1 including a 20-17 upset victory over No. 4 Stanford.

If Orgeron continues to win, I wouldn't be surprised to see him buy a home overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Here in Boca Raton by the Atlantic Ocean, Brian Wright is making the most of his opportunity as well.

After taking over for Carl Pelini, who resigned because of drug use, Wright rallied the Owls to an impressive 34-17 Homecoming win over the Tulane Green Wave (6-4) on November 2 at FAU Stadium.

The Owls took advantage of the bye week and then returned to action to blast Southern Mississippi (0-10) on the road 41-7 and improved to 4-6 overall and 2-0 under Wright.

The inspired football continued Saturday, as FAU faced the Independent New Mexico State Aggies (1-10) and pounded them 55-10. This was the first meeting between these schools and New Mexico State will be playing in FAU's old conference in 2014 joining the Sun Belt.

FAU improved to 5-6 and the Owls are 3-0 under Wright.

Should the Owls defeat FIU (1-10) Friday and improve to 6-6, they'll become bowl eligible.

A win would give Wright a 4-0 mark and Owls Athletic Director Patrick Chun will have a tough decision if he decides to look for another coach or retain and keep the continuity with Wright.

Against New Mexico State, FAU cruised to a 21-0 lead by the beginning of the second quarter and took a 28-7 lead at halftime. Owls QB Jaquez Johnson threw for 200 yards and two touchdowns. One of Johnson's touchdown passes was a 64-yard strike to Lucky Whitehead.

Johnson ended the game with 321 yards, three touchdowns and had a career high in rushing yards with 60. This is the fourth consecutive week Johnson has led all rushing for FAU.

FAU amassed 585 yards in total offense.

FAU blocked a punt for a touchdown in the first quarter which gave the Owls a 14-0 lead. On September 1, 2001, FAU's first touchdown in school history was a punt return for a touchdown by Todd Poitier against Slippery Rock.

Detroit native Senior Wide Receiver Daniel McKinney led FAU with three receptions for 83 yards with a long of 48 yards in the opening half.

McKinney, 6-0, 205, finished the contest with five receptions for 138 yards. This was his game high for the season.

When the game was over, the FAU win was the largest margin of victory against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent in the program's history.

It's FAU's third straight win in double figures and after the game, Wright refused to take any credit and deflected all of the praise to his players.

"I told my players that we had to go 1-0 each week and that's our goal this week is to go 1-0, " Wright said. "We're on a mission. The players are enjoying playing football, they have fun preparing during the week, and they are having fun showing up on Saturday and playing, and it's fun to watch them. And I just feel a sense of togetherness out there as a unit. It feels like a football team out there and that's fun to watch.

"I told the guys that we're on a mission to purse excellence and I told them not to focus on the scoreboard as much, but to purse excellence and be the best men that they can be as people first, and as football players, as students and then score and the wins will take care of itself.

"You find out the character of men when they rally around adversity. These players and seniors deserve the best effort and this team is resilient. We don't care if we run or pass, we just want to win football games."

These late season runs used to occur when Howard Schnellenberger was coaching and leading the team to a pair of bowl wins.

The last time FAU finished 6-6, the Owls defeated FIU which led to a Motor City Bowl bid and a win over Central Michigan in Detroit.

Time will tell if this happens again.

But one thing is certain, Pelini must be going crazy that a young interim coach is reaping the benefits of the players he recruited and is winning with them.

This interim coach will either be the next permanent coach or certainly one of the hottest prospects out there for another program.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming weeks.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Good Riddance Carl Pelini

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING

On December 1, 2011., former FAU Head Football Coach Carl Pelini decided to hold an impromptu introductory press conference which excluded many media members.

On October 30, 2013., he resigned and was escorted off campus by police just a few days before the Owls Homecoming Game against the Tulane Green Wave. He took Defensive Coordinator Pete Rekstis with him.

If there was ever a coach that made a first and lasting impression for all of the wrong reasons, Pelini is that individual.

Both coaches were forced to resign because they were caught using drugs.

Pelini attended a recent social event at which Marijuana was used.

FAU officials released sworn affidavits from two people---including a member of Pelini's staff---alleging that the football coach was using Marijuana and Cocaine.

FAU Assistant Matt Edwards told officials that he witnessed Pelini smoking Marijuana during the Owls bye week on October 19, 2013 in Key West, Fla. This was also backed up by Allison Stewart.

Pelini's contract specified that if he used "Any Narcotics, Drugs or Other Controlled Substances, he could be subject to firing." Since he wasn't fired, FAU may be able to recover $500,000 because the coach terminated the contract himself.

According to FAU's Most Recently Released Payroll Data, Pelini's base salary was $472,500, Rekstis is $145,000 and Edwards is $90,272 annually.

Before FAU's 24-23 loss to Marshall on October 12, I was riding up the elevator with FAU Athletic Director Patrick Chun and was tempted to ask him how much time Pelini had to turn this program around. But I opted to save this question until after the season so Chun could make a complete evaluation.

Pelini made that decision easy as his tenure as Owls Coach ends with a 5-15 record. Judging by Pelini's salary, FAU paid a lot of money for a handful of wins. This drug exit could likely get him black balled from a future head coaching job.

FAU hired a man that's the worst ambassador to the program with bad accessibility and alienated the media which is a reason why there are a lot of empty seats in the press box. In the future, I'm sure winning will fill some of those seats, however, Pelini never gave himself a honeymoon period because he got things started on a bad note.

This may not be a good year for the Pelini family because it appears brother Bo is on the hot seat at Nebraska because he continues to have trouble controlling his temper.

These two remind me of a "Pothead and a Hothead." Carl served on Bo's staff at Nebraska before he accepted the head coaching position at FAU.

As I look at this coaching situation, Pelini did Chun a favor in the sense because the athletic director inherited this "Mysterious Moron" and can now look for his own coach.

This is the third homecoming game at FAU Stadium and there have been three different head coaches.

It began with Howard Schnellenberger, then Pelini and now Offensive Coordinator Brian Wright is roaming the sidelines for the final four games.

Wright is on House Money because he has a chance to show the Owls administration what he can do by trying to rally the program under difficult circumstances. Giving him a chance was the right move instead of asking Schnellenberger to come out of retirement and work with a staff he hasn't worked with before.

During halftime of the Owls contest against Tulane, Chun added, "Wright is definitely a candidate for the job with four games and five weeks left in the season." Chun wouldn't comment on the search beyond Wright.

But I have a feeling that in the background, Schnellenberger will have some input in the coaching search as he attempts to get this program back on track.

Schnellenberger built this program from scratch and I wonder what he's thinking now.

FAU is a good job because of the strong South Florida recruiting base, a nice stadium that can be expanded and the potential is unlimited. The Owls are seeing more of their players reach and play in the NFL.

FAU upgraded to Conference USA and I wouldn't be surprised if there is another conference change down the road. But first things first.

For what FAU paid Pelini, there is no reason to think that a big name wouldn't want to take this job. The potential is unlimited.

The Owls rallied around the Pelini controversy as the players took their last names off the back of their jerseys and put FAU instead as a sign of unity.

That unity carried over with the Owls performance on the field as FAU took advantage of four interceptions as they drilled Tulane 34-17 in the first ever meeting between the two schools. The Owls improved their records to 3-6, 2-4 while Tulane dropped to 6-3, 4-1.

Wright is now 1-0 as a head coach and his team celebrated with a Gatorade Drenching after the contest.

Watching Wright in his first post-game press conference was even more impressive. His answers were candid, his energy and enthusiasm was high.

He certainly seemed like a guy who plans to coach this program longer than four games and gave Chun and the rest of the FAU Administration plenty to think about.

Offensively, his team out gained Tulane 331-167 and the defensive pressure forced four interceptions.

He even used a trick play on offense that saw Detroit Wide Receiver Daniel McKinney throw a 30-yard touchdown pass to William Dukes.

Wright utilized the skills of QB Jaquez Johnson well as he gained 142 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns, one was a 49-yard scamper.

The Owls have a bye week to try to put this coaching controversy behind them as Wright has a chance to adjust to his interim that he hopes will be his permanent role.

The FAU situation reminds me about what happened to the 1989 Michigan Wolverines Basketball Team. Head Coach Bill Frieder  accepted a job to coach at Arizona State. Michigan Athletic Director sent Frieder to Tempe and promoted assistant Steve Fisher to the Wolverines the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines won the tournament and Fisher was hired as the permanent coach.

Now Wright has the task of trying to guide FAU to a bowl game.

The final three games are against Southern Mississippi 0-8, New Mexico State 1-8 and FIU 1-7.

There is no way that Wright will allow this team to let down, but if the Owls play as well against these opponents as they did against a strong football team like Tulane, I like their chances of getting to a bowl game. I have a feeling their coaching search won't be as long as it appears at this present time.

Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. But I will say this, Wright did get a loud applause from the media after the game, something that was unimaginable during the Infamous Pelini Era.

Wright can only learn from Pelini when dealing with the press, "Learn What Not To Do" and if he figures it out quickly. If he makes himself very accessible to the public and media then he'll have a bright head coaching future.

When I first heard the news and spoke to Owls Assistant Media Relations Director Justin Johnson, I told him that when this controversy clears, the departure of Pelini will be the best thing that ever happened to this program.

The early returns are good and it will be interesting to see how this teams rallies around their new coach.

Good Riddance Carl Pelini. I knew you were a bad hire in the first place and I'm glad that your mysterious behavior and drug abuse led you to a one way ticket out of town.

You blew your only head coaching opportunity that you'll ever get. Might be time to call brother Bo so we can see the "Hothead get re-united with the Pothead."

We'll see if he smokes a joint if his former team wins a bowl game as another coach reaps the benefits of his recruiting.

The guy can't pull his hair out because he doesn't have any.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com.

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