NCAA Coaching Carousel

No one ever said winning was easy. You can ask some of the greatest sports minds this past century, and while many found ultimate success, plenty have seen their coaching career halted before it ever even began.

Today, only one thing matters in the professional and collegiate world of sports, winning.

You find a way to win, you’re put on top of a pedestal. Ask coaching legends like Vince Lombardi, John Madden, Nick Saban, Bobby Knight, or Mike Krzyzewski (who has grown into such a household name one can simply refer to him as, Coach K in a casual conversation).

These are guys that not only found a way to win, but they found a way to win quickly & often. However, would these names be given the same leeway to build a championship team or collegiate program today?

The terms ‘rebuild’ or ‘building for the future’ are terms fans, front offices, and athletic personnel cringe at. It’s a term, that while understood, has almost become unacceptable.

The NFL has seen 95 coaching changes since the 2005 season, including 12 the past two seasons alone (not including the most recent firing of Browns HC Hue Jackson after a little over two seasons at the helm).

Yes, the NFL certainly has it’s share of coaching carousels, but there’s one place in which coaching carousels reign supreme. That place is the magical land of college football (NCAAF).

I’m not saying anything you guys likely don’t know already, a coach performs well at a smaller school, a bigger school needs a new coach, they’ll swoop in and offer some ridiculous contract that the current school has no chance to counter. You know the spiel…

Here’s the thing, these quick coaching changes that are encouraged by fans, alum, and boosters are usually counterproductive.

Former elite programs who are looking to recapture their glory days will hire a coach, and expect to find almost instant results.

From this point, I’ll break down scenarios from various NCAAF perspectives.

Perspective 1: Power 5 Schools (FBS)

(Cough… Texas… Cough)

  • Hire a guy who has found some kind of success elsewhere
  • Guy enters a mess of a situation that he’s been hired to completely turn around
  • 2-3 years later, wouldn’t you know it, the guy couldn’t snap his fingers and bring the program to true championship caliber.
  • Boosters get annoyed and put pressure on the athletic department (and heaven forbid you piss off boosters, or actually run the program based off of internal decisions alone).
  • 3rd season comes to a close with improved results, but not the, ‘magical wave of a wand’ kind of results, so the program fires the coach they hired 2-3 years ago without giving the guy a chance to coach the recruits he brought in.
  • The school then scrambles to find a guy they feel is “better” for the position.
  • Coach is officially hired, the 2-3 year clock resets, and the process begins from square one (without players he’s recruited).

Hmm… Perhaps this scenario is why we don’t just listen to someone because they happen to donate money to the program. Give them a t-shirt, give them two t-shirts, give them tickets, but don’t give them the right to influence football personnel decisions.

There’s an ole’ saying that easily applies to any front office or athletic program, “ignore the noise.”

Perspective 2: Other 5 Schools (FBS)

  • Hire a guy who has a good track record as either an FBS coordinator or FCS head coach (pending on the program, expectations are scaled accordingly).
  • Coach does really well his first season, turning a 1 or 2 win team to a 10-11 team win.
  • Uh oh, a power 5 school is appalled that this mid-major found the right coaching fit before they did, so rather than stick with the plan they had in place, they spitefully stray away from their initial hire, and take the coach who found success in a smaller conference (because these hires always go so well).
  • The ‘other 5’ school thought they had their coach locked up for another 3-4 years, and all of a sudden after spending countless hours to ultimately make the right decision, they’re back to square one.
  • The only thing the mid-major program can do at this point is to once again, go coach hunting. What are the chances they’re going to catch lightning in a bottle twice? Slim to none.

Perspective 3: FCS Schools

  • We have a football team?

Washington State & Mike Leach is a niche example that can currently go against this claim, but Notre Dame is a perfect example that enforces this counterproductive coaching theory.

Notre Dame hasn’t seen true football glory since the late 80s/early 90s. For the past two decades they’ve attempted to right the ship, in particular, by finding someone qualified to restore the program’s success.

In 1997 Bob Davie was brought in to fill tough shoes that Lou Holtz bestowed on the Fighting Irish faithful. Davie was given a 5 year period to continue the upheld tradition that Holtz had built the previous decade.

In 2002 Notre Dame hired Tyrone Willingham. He was fired three seasons later with a solid record 21-15.

Charlie Weiss was next man up, and while Notre Dame gave him a longer grace period, Weiss found himself out as ND’s head coach in his 5th season (35-27).

It was in 2010 that Notre Dame hired former Cincinnati Head Coach, Brian Kelly. While heavy criticism comes with the territory, Notre Dame has been patient enough (Kelly currently on his 8th season) to allow Kelly to put his plan into place, and low & behold… glory restored as Notre Dame is seen as a true championship contender for the first time in over a decade.

Now, as for the quick trigger they had with Tyrone Willingham, Willingham was 14-10 in his first two seasons as HC (including a 10 win season).

Kelly in his first two seasons at the helm? 15-10, going 8-5 in both.

The difference? Notre Dame remained patient, stuck with their gameplan, and allowed the guy they brought in to implement his own strategy (& recruits) to build a program over an 8 year span.

Did it help that Kelly lead Notre Dame to a 12-1 record in his third season at the helm? Yeah, that usually buys you some time, but one can only wonder if they had given a few of the previous guys a longer lifespan.

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