Ben Haumiller's got a job for me. Several jobs, actually, but they're all in NCAA Football 12's new career mode, the "Coaching Carousel." Haumiller, the game's producer, explains it all using an offensive coordinator named Owen O'Cain as an example. Who the hell is Owen O'Cain?
More on him in a moment. The real story here is how, with a little layering atop the game's existing Dynasty mode, Haumiller's Tiburon team has put in what is essentially a second or third career mode into the game. There's already Road To Glory, which is a singleplayer career covering one player's four years on campus, of course. And Dynasty packs in all of the decisions you face as a head coach of a major program.
But Coaching Carousel (yes, that's the mode's name) now gives all that a structure and a goal: Rise from your beginnings as an assistant coach or small-time head coach into the leader of a major college power. Or your alma mater. Or stay loyal to that out-of-the-way school and build them into a champion.
"This is something a lot of fans have asked for, and we think they'll be happy to hear it's made it into the game," Haumiller told me, and indeed, Coaching Carousel was something murmured in a marketing survey commissioned by EA Sports a year ago. So they've been noodling on it for some time.
The way it works, your coach will usually begin as an offensive coordinator at a school of low prestige You can choose to be the head coach at a powerhouse if you really want to, but you'll face some very high expectations. So it might be better to get acclimated to meeting contract goals in a lower level job.
Starting as a coordinator means you call plays for your side of the ball only, offence or defence. You may call them from a simulation window or play them out as if it were a normal dynasty mode, controlling all players. But the remainder of the game will be super-simulated in the background.
"As a coordinator, your contract will be based on the stats accumualted on your side of the ball," Haumiller said. "So say it's something like averaging 28 points per game, or having a running back who rushes for a thousand yards. All that can factor into your job security."
Goals will be relative to a program's reasonable expectations too. "At a school like Middle Tennessee State, if you average 28 points, that's pretty lofty, they might not expect you to get that, and if you fail, they won't knock you down that far. If you're the OC at Alabama and you fail a goal, you'll be on the hot seat real quick."
Do well, and you'll become the next hot hire. A revamped AI engine will factor in dismissals and retirements in the offseason, generating interest in your services. If you feel the right opportunity has come, grab it.
"When you become a head coach, it's really all about program goals: Getting to a bowl game, defeating your rival, winning a conference championship," Haumiller said. "It's not so much about statistical performance." That mirrors, somewhat, the contract expectations of Dynasty mode in years past, but gives it more structure and greater consequence.
The carousel doesn't end once you get your first gig, either. If you are leading a midrange program, doing well there could get attention from the big boys. Coaches then will be faced with a decision of staying loyal or bolting for the dream job. Loyalty will be rewarded in its own way, of course.
NCAA 12 will also factor school ties into the entire process. When you create a coach, you'll give him an alma mater. If that school's job becomes available, your ties will give you a boost in being considered for the job.
"One of the things we saw this last year was with Michigan and their new head coach, Brady Hoke," Haumiller explained. "Michigan maybe could have gone out and gotten a bigger name, but they picked Hoke because he's a ‘Michigan Man.' So if you're not as qualified as another candidate, or you're equal, but you're an alumnus, you'll get the nod."
Your coaching style will also factor into your career path. "Let's say Paul Johnson, when he leaves Georgia Tech; do they want to stick with the option offence, or do they want to reboot? Well, in our game, if you're a coach who can run the option, they might look to you to keep that playing style intact with the players the outgoing coach recruited.
"It helps make the Carousel make some sense, giving an understanding of why coaches are getting these jobs," Haumiller said.
Johnson and Hoke are hypothetical examples. The game ships with a head coach and two assistant coaches for each of the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. As EA Sports couldn't cut a group or individual licence with the actual coaches, all the names and likenesses have been randomized. Some names were deliberately chosen, but users are free to rename and remake their features, biographies and coaching styles.
That leads us back to Owen O'Cain. When you pick up NCAA Football 12, that's the name of N.C. State's offensive coordinator. Haumiller himself put that in as a nod to Mike O'Cain (pictured at top), who was State's head coach when I was the sports editor of Technician, the student newspaper. You can see the name in that screengrab. (Evidently he was hired from within after a surprise departure, the way O'Cain himself was when Dick Sheridan abruptly stepped down in 1993.)
Mention O'Cain to a State fan and, yeah, his inability to beat the despised North Carolina Tar Heels (0-7) is the first thing discussed. It was utterly fatal to his career, which spanned 1993 to 1999. But O'Cain's teams hung some impressive pelts on the wall in his time there. He finally beat Mack Brown, then in his second season at Texas, in 1999. O'Cain's Wolfpack also took down a ranked Syracuse and Donovan McNabb twice (once with an unbelievably ballsy two-point conversion in our first overtime game ever) and Florida State in 1998, for our first-ever victory over a No. 1 team.
O'Cain's greatest player was my classmate Eddie Goines, who later became the motion capture actor for C.J. in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. O'Cain also recruited and signed future first-round draft picks Torry Holt, Koren Robinson and, though O'Cain would never coach him, Philip Rivers.
These kinds of feathers in your cap, and strikes against your record, will have their analogues in NCAA Football 12's Coaching Carousel.
Speaking for myself, Mike O'Cain has nothing to apologise for in his tenure. His teams gave us some fantastic memories. I'm delighted by any chance to share them, and I'm of course flattered that Ben - himself a Florida State alumnus - thought enough of the guy to do this in NCAA 12.
But that's Haumiller and his team for you. NCAA Football has been at the vanguard of fan service in the sports genre, through components like its TeamBuilder web application and the crowd-sourced inclusion of pre-game traditions for all the schools featured. With Coaching Carousel, the Tiburon team saw a way to create another career mode with some light but substantial additions to the long-running Dynasty mode.
"It was a low opportunity cost for us to do it, but a very high reward for us with our fans," Haumiller said. "For fans who say, eh, this doesn't affect me, that's fine. But for those who want to play this style of game, we think it'll be pretty special."
(Top image by Craig Jones | Getty Images)