The first week of December is a time of hope and misery for college football coaches. Underperforming teams shed their coaches; there is nothing new about that. However, at the college level, some coaches lose their job simply because the boosters and the big money donors have unrealistic goals of national prominence for their teams. Some coaches become cannon fodder in those situations. Moreover, sometimes the coach that is hired may not be as good as the one who served as cannon fodder.
Looking only at major colleges in the Power 5 conferences, jobs are already open.
- Arkansas: They fired Chad Morris several weeks ago so they – nominally – have had a head start at finding his replacement. Good luck to them; they are going to need it because at this moment of history, Arkansas is the place where coaching careers go to die. Arkansas jumped to the SEC in 1992; in 28 seasons there, they have been above .500 13 times and have won 9 or more games only 4 times. In the last two seasons, the Razorbacks’ record is 4-20. As a member of the SEC West, they will face Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M every year.
- Boston College: They fired Steve Addazio last weekend. He had been at BC for 7 seasons and produced a record of 44-44. I am not going to pretend that is a great record because it is not. However, what is the expectation for football at BC? The last time they had double-digit wins there was in 2007; the coach was Jeff Jagodzinski. The powers that be there told Jagodzinski not to interview for the then vacant job with the NY Jets; he did so anyway, and BC fired him the next day. Since then, BC has gone 74-78. Does that look like a hot job to you?
- Florida State: Like Arkansas, they have had a “head start” finding a new coach having fired Willie Taggert in mid-season. There are multiple stories out there about how and why Jimbo Fisher left opening the door to hire Taggert; I don’t know which are true and which are false. However, I do know that what used to be a national powerhouse has been decidedly mediocre for the last 3 years – record over that span is 18-19. I wondered at the time Taggert was hired if he was ready for such a high-profile job; now I wonder if the profile has been sufficiently marred to be attractive to a coach who is ready for a high-profile job.
- Missouri: They fired Barry Odom last weekend. Odom had been there for 4 years and produced aa record of 25-25. Missouri is under NCAA sanctions limiting recruiting and scholarships. They also play an SEC schedule. Bonne chance, Mizzou…
- Old Dominion: They fired Bobby Wilder over the weekend after a 1-11 season. ODU has only been in Division 1-A for 6 years; Wilder has been the coach there for all that time and in 2016 – the 3rd season in C-USA – he led the team to a 10-3 record and a victory in a minor bowl game. A new coach at ODU has nowhere to go but up after a 1-11 season; at the same time, one has to wonder what the expectations are for the football program there. If the poohbahs there will be satisfied with being competitive and contending in C-USA, that is one thing; if they aspire to more than that in something less than a decade or so, that is a totally different thing.
- Ole Miss: They fired Matt Luke over the weekend after 3 seasons that produced a record of 15-21. Luke took over a program in turmoil; Hugh Freeze had to leave in the wake of major NCAA violations and investigations and Freeze’s predecessor, Houston Nutt, sued the school for defamation claiming that Freeze and the school tried to pin the violations on Nutt. Not surprisingly, Luke had problems winning games at Ole Miss and is now out of a job. Also, like Arkansas above, Ole Miss plays in the SEC West and faces the same gauntlet of teams Arkansas faces each year.
- USF: They fired Charlie Strong over the weekend after 3 seasons that produced a record of 21-16. The” problem” with that record is that the Bulls won 10 games three years ago and only 4 games this year. He came to USF after three sub-.500 seasons at Texas and took over a team that had gone 11-2 the year before he arrived. [Aside: The coach he replaced was Willie Taggert who left to take the job at Oregon.] As in the case of ODU, what do the folks in the athletic department and the big-money alums aspire to for their football team? Anyone interviewing for the job needs to understand those aspirations.
As is usually the case, schools will look for their next coach in one of three places:
- Assistant coaches on the staff: Sometimes there is one part of a team that is performing very well, and the thinking is that if the coach in charge of that part of the team has control over everything, then everything will perform very well. Sometimes that works; other times, it does not. Another reason schools look here is that paying someone taking a head coaching job for the first-time costs less than hiring someone else’s head coach.
- “Failed” NFL coaches: That model worked very well when schools decided to hire Nick Saban, Pete Carroll and Steve Spurrier. It did not work out so well when schools decided to hire Lane Kiffin, Jim Mora, Jr. and Chip Kelly.
- Successful coaches not in the “Power 5”: This year, the targets would be the coaches at Memphis, Cincy, SMU, Florida Atlantic, UAB, La Tech, Boise St. San Diego St. Hawaii, Appalachian St. and La- Lafayette. As with the category of “failed NFL coaches”, sometimes this works wonders – – see PJ Fleck at Minnesota – – and sometimes it does not work out nearly as well – – see Geoff Collins in his first year at Georgia Tech.
There have been two coaches that have stepped down so far in this off-season; one has created a vacancy:
- New Mexico: Bob Davie resigned as the head coach in Albuquerque; no specifics were given but reports cite health concerns as being a big motivator here. Recall that Davie needed emergency medical attention earlier this year and did not travel with the team to one of the away games. The job is open; it should not be difficult to improve on a 2-9 season with an 0-7 record in the Mountain West Conference.
- Washington: Chris Petersen has stepped down from the head coaching position and will assume the role of a “leadership advisor” to the athletic department. The current Washington defensive coordinator, Jimmy Lake, has been named the new head coach concurrent with Petersen’s departure from the position.
Early December is the “time of tension” for college coaches that have not done particularly well for the past year or two. Their brethren at the NFL level will face their days of reckoning in the waning hours of 2019 and in the first week of January 2020 right after the NFL regular season closes out. With 25% of the season still to take place, I see 9 coaches who are in danger of losing their jobs – – but there are still games left to play.
Finally, just to lighten the mood here a bit, consider this definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:
“Dali, Salvador: A twentieth-century Catalonian artist who came up with stuff like melting clocks and helped usher in the surrealist movement, which may have been responsible for the first widespread use of the phrase, ‘WTF’.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………