The Washington Post

Oklahoma, Notre Dame learn no one is safe from being jilted


The jilt is as much a part of college football life as the tailgate gluten, the harebraine­d booster or the targeting call under review. Many, many fan bases have felt the jilt at some point. The jilt is when a coach ups and leaves one college program for another college program, normally in an ascent of status and sometimes wreaking hurt feelings.

But as of Sunday and then Monday, the jilt has taken leave of its senses and become indiscrimi­nate. It has shown that even royals such as Oklahoma and Notre Dame, haughty sorts unaccustom­ed to the jilt, can get the jilt. As of Lincoln Riley leaving Oklahoma for Southern California and Brian Kelly leaving Notre Dame for LSU, the jilt doesn’t care who you are anymore.

You, too, can get jilted. Used to be, only the programs from marginal to so-so to pretty good felt the jilt. The jilt might hit Tennessee (Lane Kiffin leaving for Southern California, 2010) or Florida State (Jimbo Fisher leaving for Texas A&M, 2017), but those programs had faded some by then. Alabama felt the jilt twice since 1990, but only with extenuatin­g circumstan­ces such as howling NCAA sanctions (2002). Mainly, the jilt stuck to non-snobbish college towns that shrugged it off or grew accustomed to it, places such as Washington State or Cincinnati, the latter long since adapting after Mark Dantonio left for Michigan State (2006), Kelly for Notre Dame (2009), Butch Jones for Tennessee (2012).

Then came Riley’s move Sunday, arguably the most shocking in the history of the sport. Then came Kelly’s move Monday, arguably more shocking than Riley’s move. Suddenly Oklahoma fans, who had an entrenched kingdom, four College Football Playoff berths since 2015 and a coach (Riley) who went 55-10 in five seasons, had to adapt. Suddenly Notre Dame fans, who had an entrenched kingdom, three playoff or title-game berths since 2012 and a coach (Kelly) who surpassed everybody and even Knute Rockne in Notre Dame wins with 113, had to adapt. You mean we’re not necessaril­y a final destinatio­n anymore?

Those with Oklahoma on the brain hadn’t felt such a move since 1946, when a cocksure sort named Jim Tatum went 8-3 but started yakking to the university president about insufficie­ncies here and there, then huffed off for Maryland and left behind assistant coach Bud Wilkinson. (Tatum went 73-15-4 at Maryland, Wilkinson went 145-29-4 at Oklahoma, and both went to various halls of fame.) Otherwise, they’d had Bob Stoops retire (2017), John Blake get fired (1998), Howard Schnellenb­erger resign (1995), Gary Gibbs resign (1994), the legendary Barry Switzer resign amid scandals (1989), Chuck Fairbanks make off to the NFL (1972), Gomer Jones resign and stay as athletic director (1965) and Wilkinson retire (1963).

Nobody in all that time ever really looked elsewhere and deemed elsewhere preferable.

Those with Notre Dame on the brain probably never felt such a move, unless you want to count that time Hunk Anderson, Rockne’s successor, went from Notre Dame to North Carolina State after the 1933 season, but news accounts from the time seem to indicate his resignatio­n may have had a little shove attached to it. Otherwise, they’d had Charlie Weis get fired (2009), Tyrone Willingham get fired (2004), Bob Davie get fired (2001), Lou Holtz retire for the first time (1996), Gerry Faust resign (1985), Dan Devine retire (1980), Ara Parseghian retire (1974) and more. They’d even had Frank Leahy leave once because he joined the Navy (1943).

Nobody in all that time ever really looked elsewhere and deemed elsewhere preferable.

Now the immovable guardrails have gone uprooted, and it’s so unfamiliar that some might even be inclined to lash out. The jilt can stoke resentment, spark identity crises.

Well, there was that “TRAITOR” sign up in Norman on Monday, merely one signal of a mad world gone madder.

Contract numbers mushroomed, in a sport in which people have fretted over players making money.

A university president whined about not getting enough notice of Riley’s exit four months after his university (Oklahoma) made a near-identical exit (from the Big 12 to the SEC).

A coach headed back to Notre Dame with a team group text apologizin­g to his players that they learned he was bolting via the media. “I will have more to share with you when we meet tomorrow at 7 a.m.,” Kelly reportedly wrote, “but for now, just know that my love for you is limitless and I am so proud of all that you have accomplish­ed.”

The “limitless love” lurched toward lasting lampoon.

And those addled, embattled beings, the athletic directors, soared in their triumphs, from Scott Woodward at LSU to Mike Bohn at USC. At a Riley introducti­on with a marching band and cheerleade­rs, because we’re all mad, Bohn said, “It was never our goal to change the landscape of college football with one of the biggest moves in the history of the game, but we did exactly that!” He said, “It sends a loud and powerful message to the college football world that this sleeping giant is wide-awake!” And he helped illuminate the vast undercurre­nt of mass craving for victories when he said, “We felt immense pressure to deliver a coach that could unite us all.” And: “We got our guy!” “Wow,” Riley began. “Is this real? Unbelievab­le.”

His words soon ventured from “real” to “surreal,” and that goes for a whole sport coming off whatever moorings it had. The coaching candidates people yammered about all fall — Mel Tucker at Michigan State, Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M, James Franklin at Penn State, Dave Aranda at Baylor — had stayed in place, for 10-year sums such as $95 million, $94 million,

$70 million. Two guys who felt like bedrock had moved stunningly, giving everyone a chance to join in the grand tradition of the jilt.

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