December 12, 2007

Nothing more to prove

Apparently the eagle has landed at Southern Miss.

In news most Oklahoma State fans should have been bracing themselves to receive for the last day or two now, Cowboy offensive coordinator Larry Fedora is leaving Stillwater for Hattiesburg, Miss., to replace former Golden Eagle head coach Jeff Bower, who was also once the Cowboys' offensive coordinator. USM has called a 1 p.m. press conference to announce the hire.

The news is one of a bittersweet nature for the Cowboy program. Many reading this might be asking right now, "Hey Justin, how can any of this 'Fedora is leaving' news be sweet for OSU?' " To answer that, I have but one sentence for you…

No more bubble screen passes!

Kidding. (Well, maybe not?)

The real answer is this: Losing coordinators to head-coaching jobs at other programs is a sign that your program is heading in the right direction. Forget about a second-straight 6-6 season and a defense so bad that old socks were in better shape. The simple fact is that, as time went on, Fedora's offense at OSU only got better, more potent and more explosive. His success, and the outstanding seasons by players such as Zac Robinson, Dantrell Savage and Adarius Bowman are why the 45-year-old career assistant is finally getting his chance to run a college football program.

And really, can you fault the guy for wanting that shot? Sure, he could have stayed another two years in Orange Country, seen just how far he could have taken Robinson (and vice-versa) and hope and pray that the defense would improve so OSU could seriously challenge for the Big 12 title and BCS bid. But on the flipside, when a mid-major program with a decent track record comes calling, it's tough to not want to get things going? After all, there's no guarantee that Fedora's stock is any higher in a couple more years than it is in Dec. 2007.

No doubt, losing Fedora will be a major hit for the OSU football program to take. He came in with a solid resume and the reputation of improving offenses as time went on. And after three seasons, his reputation is stronger than ever. Check out the offensive numbers from year one to year three in his system:

2005: 3,573 yards; 1,880 passing (170.9 yards per game), 1,693 rushing (153.9 ypg)
2006: 5,327 yards; 2,623 passing (201.8 ypg), 2,704 rushing (208 ypg)
2007: 5,809 yards; 2,859 passing (238.2 ypg), 2,950 (245.8 ypg)

Aside from the fact that the numbers in passing, rushing and overall total yardage went up every season, the thing that stands out the most are the averages. While year one wasn't as balanced as in 2006 and 2007, all three years were pretty symmetrical and, before Bedlam this year, the offense was averaging exactly 250 yards a game on the ground AND in the air as well. That just seems so staggering to me. (After all, I have a hell of a time doing that on the Xbox.)

So the question, after taking in all that information, is: What more could Fedora do at OSU? Honestly, not a whole lot. His offense finished ninth nationally (484 ypg) and averaged 33.4 points a contest this past season. While his system became one of a championship level during his time at OSU, even he's smart enough to realize that you can't sniff a championship without a defense. If that wasn't the cold, stark discovery made this season, I don't know what was. So, figuring that in, the ceiling at OSU is probably not moving much higher until the defense catches up.

So it just became a matter of it being the right place and right time for Fedora. And since it sounds like his requests to increase the budgets for assistants and recruiting has been taken care of, it was just his time. When you think about it, it's not often that an assistant has a chance to become a head coach. Some go entire careers without ever getting the opportunity. Is it really that smart to turn down a chance to take that next step, especially when that next step is to a respected, mid-major program?

Of course not. For Fedora, his mission with the Cowboys was accomplished. He built a dynamic and high-octane offense in Stillwater and the pieces are there for continued success for another offensive assistant to take over and keep the momentum going. This won't be the end of the world for OSU. This will be a sign for young and dynamic offensive minds that OSU is a place where you can come, advance and eventually get a crack at your own job one day. That's a sure-fire sign of success. Coaches always come and go in the game of college football, but having a successful coach leave willingly for a better opportunity is a lot better than the alternative, which is seeing a coach get fired for not working out. And fans in orange are all too familiar with the latter when it comes to OSU football.

So, all an OSU fan can do now is wish Fedora the best and hope for him to have success in Hattiesburg. He deserves nothing but praise and thanks for the job he did in Orange Country.

And send him some money for yellow-tinted sunglasses. Don't know if his current frames will fly with gold and black.

Justin Wilmeth is the editor of OStateIllustrated.com. He can be reached via e-mail at justin@ostate.com.

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