In college football, nothing lasts forever - or for long

Clemson’s fab four is no more. The non-playing principals who led the Tigers to the College Football Playoff in six consecutive seasons have scattered. Dan Radakovich, the athletic director who gave Dabo Swinney all he desired, has jumped to Miami. Tony Elliott, the play-caller for the entirety of that CFP run, will become head coach at Virginia. Brent Venables, the best defensive coordinator in the sport, has bounded back to Oklahoma, which once fired him, as head coach.

None of this is surprising. Indeed, the surprise was that Clemson kept this bunch intact this long. Only the head coach remains, and we’ve learned not to discount Dabo. Still, it’s hard to imagine the Tigers being better over the next few years than they’ve been over the past decade. If not for Clemson’s continuity, Nick Saban would have a national championship ring for all his fingers plus one thumb.

The lesson herein isn’t novel: Nothing lasts forever. There’s also a subtext: College football keeps getting harder to manage, even if you’re at a place that has every resource. Think how much has changed since 2017, which wasn’t so long ago. College players can receive money for use of their name/image/likeness. They can avail themselves of the transfer portal, which has stretched the concept of recruiting to a level unimagined.

A coach still must find new players. The coach also must re-recruit his players – or else he can watch them go elsewhere and win a title or a Heisman Trophy, if not both. We think of Joe Burrow and Justin Fields. We think of Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. We think of JT Daniels and Jahmyr Gibbs.

It’s remarkable how impatient institutes of higher learning can be when it comes to football. LSU fired Ed Orgeron not two years after he won a national championship. He was replaced by Brian Kelly, who’d taken Notre Dame to the playoff twice and stood a chance to make it with this year’s team. He couldn’t wait to see if the Fighting Irish was in or out. LSU had $100 million with his name on it.

Dan Mullen was pushed aside a year after taking Florida to the SEC title game. Oklahoma, which made the playoff three years running, saw Lincoln Riley jump to USC. Oregon lost Mario Cristobal to Miami, which began wooing replacements even as incumbent Manny Diaz was out recruiting.

On the local level, the AJC’s Chip Towers reported Friday that Dan Lanning, the coordinator of Georgia’s top-ranked defense, will be introduced as Cristobal’s replacement. That story was confirmed Saturday. Lanning will stay with the Bulldogs through the playoff and then head to Oregon. Four years ago, Lanning was coaching inside linebackers at Memphis.

Lanning became the Bulldogs’ DC after Mel Tucker left to become Colorado’s head coach, a position he vacated after a year for Michigan State. Last month the Spartans, afraid that Tucker might bolt again, signed him to a 10-year extension. A head coach who has had one winning season will make $95 million over the next decade.

None of the institutions cited above is a directional school. These are all Power 5 jobs, though power can be a slippery slope. The Big 12 is set to welcome Cincinnati, BYU, Houston and Central Florida. This happened after Oklahoma and Texas announced their intentions to join the SEC. There’s thought Riley left Oklahoma because he’d rather coach in the Pac-12, where there’s no Alabama, no Georgia, no LSU – at least not yet.

The CFP has been in place since 2014. Before that, there was the Bowl Championship Series. Before that, there was the Bowl Coalition. Before that, Bear Bryant decided where he wanted to spend the holidays and everyone else haggled over what was left. The playoff includes four teams. Its elders aspire to see it grow to 12, though those folks can’t seem to agree on what they’ve agreed to do. A press conference announcing playoff expansion was expected earlier this month in Dallas. It was never held. The sixth in-person meeting regarding expansion ended with no resolution.

Going by this season’s final rankings, these teams would have made the playoff had it been 200 percent larger: Notre Dame, Ohio State, Baylor, Mississippi, Oklahoma State, Michigan State, Utah and Pitt. There are 130 FBS programs. A 12-team grid would give 9.2 percent of them a shot at a national championship. It would also add at least two weeks to the season. Remember how college presidents claimed a longer schedule would be deleterious to their athletes? Guess those athletes can work a little longer for their NIL money.

Speaking of seasons: In what other sport is it standard procedure for a coach to leave when his team has games remaining? Imagine Brian Snitker bailing on the Braves before Game 1 of the World Series to assume managerial authority over the Mets. Because the NCAA, the purported governing body, has washed it hands of its biggest sport, stupid stuff has been allowed to happen for so long that we’ve ceased noticing how stupid it is. We just shrug and say, “The new guy has to go recruiting, right?”

Full credit to Clemson. It got good and stayed good. It kept its leaders, reaping six playoff berths and two national titles. The Tigers finally slipped this year, losing three games and winning four times by one score. Minus Venables and Elliott and Radakovich, it’s difficult to imagine Clemson regaining its title as the biggest challenger to Alabama. That position is now open. Might Georgia claim it?

It might, but it will have to do it with a new defensive coordinator. This is college football. Everything changes, everything except Saban. And he turned 70 on Halloween.