Tuesday, October, 16, 2007 | Ron Caragher’s decision last winter was to take the University of San Diego head coach position or remain an assistant at Kentucky. Either way, he seemed destined last weekend to be involved in a game with national title implications.

Caragher sent voice mails and text messages to Kentucky head coach Rich Brooks not long after the Wildcats upset LSU, the nation’s No. 1-ranked team among Football Bowl Subdivision schools.

And voice mails and text messages from Brooks and his staff were making their way to San Diego not long after Caragher’s No. 1-ranked Toreros pounded No. 2 Drake 56-19 in a game that matched the nation’s top two non-scholarship Football Championship Subdivision schools.

Hey, this guy knows how to pick a winner.

“I’ve kept in touch in touch with good friends and guys on the staff, and several have congratulated me,” Caragher said. “I’m happy for them, but I’m so thankful to have an opportunity to be the head coach at this terrific university.”

Brooks, you might remember, was a candidate for the San Diego State job in 2002 that went to Tom Craft. But in today’s sports climate, it’s interesting to wonder how much time at San Diego State Brooks would have been given to turn around the program.

At Kentucky, he got time from a supportive university president and athlete director. After three years, Brooks had a record of 9-25 and appeared to be losing ground. He was 4-8 in 2003, 2-9 in 2004 and 3-8 in 2005.

But Kentucky’s administration — in a rare show of patience in college athletics these days — stuck with Brooks for a fourth season. The Wildcats responded with an 8-5 record and a win over Clemson in the Music City Bowl.

This year, the Wildcats are 6-1 and ranked No. 8 in the nation by The Associated Press.

I asked Caragher when the Wildcats knew they had turned the corner, and he really couldn’t give me an answer. He said even when the coaches felt good about the talent they’ve recruited and the system they had in place, they couldn’t be sure that big win was coming.

“We knew it wouldn’t happen overnight,” Caragher said. “We tried to upgrade the talent level as the first task at hand. We needed speed and size to compete with the Floridas, Georgias and Tennessees in the Southeastern Conference.

“When we beat Georgia and Clemson last year, we knew we were coming. Those were huge wins. We thought they were ready to take the next step, but you don’t know how the key games on the schedule are going to go.”

We live in a sports talk radio and Internet message board age when NFL coaches that take their team to the playoffs one year are fired for missing it the next year. Or college coaches may not get a chance to see their first full recruiting class become juniors, let alone seniors.

Here’s an NFL example: Kansas City Chiefs coach Herm Edwards took the New York Jets to the playoffs in 2004 for the third time in four years, but when he missed the playoffs in 2005, he was fired.

He was replaced by Eric Mangini, and he took the Jets to the playoffs. He was being called Eric Man”genious.” Give me a break.

One year later Mangini and the Jets are 1-5.

Today’s sports culture doesn’t accept that a team can simply get beat. Either their coach did what it takes to win or he’s incompetent. In the Chargers’ 28-14 win over the Raiders, the same plays the Chargers are being celebrated for making, the Raiders are being criticized for letting the Chargers make.

Chargers fans were quick to blame head coach Norv Turner and defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell for the Bolts’ 1-3 start. Two years? There were Chargers fans that didn’t want to give Turner and Cottrell two more weeks.

“We didn’t sulk, we didn’t go in the tank and we practiced well when we were struggling,” Turner said. “That was on the reasons we were able to come out of it. Now we’ve got more guys playing at a real high live than we did early.”

A few things I see in San Diego State football is second-year head coach Chuck Long has his players still competing hard for him after a 2-4 start. He has a system in place, he’s recruiting strongly and he has the personality to deal with a fan base that part disgruntled and part apathetic. Nothing seems to bring this guy down.

San Diego State certainly isn’t immune to the fire-now climate in sports. The Aztecs have fired six coaches in 26 seasons between Claude Gilbert after 1980 season and Tom Craft after 2005. Craft didn’t help his cause when he went into a bunker mentality after being under attack for so long.

Rich Brooks might have been fortunate that San Diego State passed him by and he later worked for an administration with patience at Kentucky. SDSU needs to show that kind of patience with its seventh coach in a generation.

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org’s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

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