College Football Coaching Changes Aren't Always the Solution to the Problem

Michael FelderNational CFB Lead WriterNovember 27, 2012

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 17: Head coach Derek Dooley of the University of Tennessee walks the sideline during a 41-18 loss against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vanderbilt Stadium on November 17, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

We heard the stirrings for most of the season from Tennessee and Auburn. Kentucky fans made a big stink and got their wish too. North Carolina State is dreaming about greener grass, as are the rest of the schools that decided to drop the hammer on their coach as the 2012 season ended.

Everyone is so certain they are about to step up to the big time. Their program is going to get the type of team and win production that, and this is my personal favorite, "their fans deserve."

Unless they think being an average team or a short spike in success is what they "deserve" then odds are they will not be happy with what comes next.

As USA Today reported earlier this month, coaching changes rarely result in the sustained success that every athletic director hopes for and every fan feels entitled to. That news came from a study that examined 1997 to 2010 coaching changes at the FBS level conducted by the University of Colorado Systems and Loyola-Chicago.

For those of us who have long believed that burning things to the ground and starting from scratch was not always the best way, this survey was a bit of hard numbers to back general theory. As the study showed:

When a team had been performing particularly poorly, replacing the coach resulted in a small, but short-lived, improvement in performance after a change.

The records of mediocre teams – those that, on average, won about 50 percent of their games in the year prior to replacing a coach – became worse.


In other words, the grass is not always greener on the other side following a firing.

Fans, in the modern age of "what have you done for me lately" sports, have long seen firing the guy as a cure-all. Whether it is feeling as though their mediocre school that's going bowling every year but not to BCS games should do better, or they fail to recognize how big a rebuilding project happens to be, they believe firing is always the answer. The next coach is always the favorite coach because whatever guy they have now stinks.

So, while more vocal now—thanks to social media and technology in general—this rabid behavior is nothing new.

However, what is new is the athletic directors bending to the whims of the masses. The yelling gets loud and instead of the old move to "stay the course" and buy into a plan to build a program from a solid foundation, athletic directors are out chasing candidates again.

What makes it worse now, than ever before, is the money. Football is the major cash cow for universities and if your program is not performing well, that's money out of the school's pocket.

Stadium does not sell out? That's cash the athletic director cannot spend on something else. Boosters tying their donations to whether or not the coach is still on the job? A chunk of change that goes uncollected.

Thus, instead of patience, instead of building a foundation, instead of working a plan, coaches are now essentially hired to be fired. Regardless of the state of the program when a coach is hired, he's speed racing towards getting the axe.

Winning football games is a very involved process. It takes a lot of pieces and a lot of patience. Yes, some guys get it turned around quickly. Others take some time to get things up and running. Good coaches and programs can be built both ways. Unfortunately, in today's climate we'll never know about the coaches who need a little time, as they will never get it.

For teams that are bad, it takes a dedicated and focused effort to raise the program to a consistent bowl level. For mediocre programs there is nothing more difficult than going from a seven- or eight-win team to becoming the nine- or ten-win conference champion contender.

For the few teams that are capable of winning nine to ten a year, and odds are your team is not one of them, and a continued shuffling of the deck and rolling the dice hardly ever gets you closer to sustained success.

Football takes talent. Talent takes recruiting. Recruiting takes relationship building. Relationship building takes time. Football also takes quality ball players to go with the talent. Building quality ball players takes strength and conditioning. It takes teaching and coaching. Those things take time as well.

In other words, as everyone else is excited to see their new coach come in and fix everything, I'll be watching for how many are back in the same boat in a very short time period. College football is not a "quick fix" sport—yet that is exactly how folks treat it these days.