10 Coaches Who Have Successfully Replaced a Legend
Taking over a new college football program is difficult for anybody. You have to get used to new players, coaches, a fanbase that is used to having things done a certain way and then you have to find ways to win games. There is a lot of pressure on you to succeed, and it is a business that not everybody has the heart to get it done.
When you are replacing a legendary head coach, the pressure is magnified by 1,000. Forget about making an impact early on, you have to do everything perfect and convince everybody involved that everything is going to be all right without the former coach on the sidelines. While nobody in their right mind expects you to fill those shoes, there are plenty of guys who weren't able to escape the shadow and quickly crashed and burned before the gig even got started.
You could be considered the best singer of today, but that pressure cooker is turned up when you are asked to cover an Aretha Franklin song at the Grammys in front of millions.
Here are a few of the college football head coaches who have passed the test and have done a good job in replacing a legend.
Jim Tressel, Ohio State
Replaced: John Cooper
Many in Columbus are going to have mixed feelings about head coach John Cooper. Some are going to remember his bowl record that was a horrible 3-8 during the time he spent with the Buckeyes, while others won't ever forget the 2-10-1 record against the Michigan Wolverines. Whichever side you choose to not let go, you must also remember that he won three Big Ten titles and 111 games in 13 years.
Despite coming up short in the big games, Ohio State was still in good hands as far as being successful throughout the rest of the year.
Then Jim Tressel came along and kind of finished the deal. Winning six Big Ten titles in 10 years, including a national championship in 2002, the Buckeyes were on top of the college football world as if Woody Hayes were still coaching.
Unfortunately, much like Cooper, Buckeyes fans are going to have different feelings about Tressel as well, but I'm sure none would trade the feelings of consistent winning for anything.
Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Replaced: Lou Holtz
When Lou Holtz was coaching in the downside of his career, he led the South Carolina Gamecocks to a 33-37 record in six years. Even though it wasn't exactly what folks were hoping for from a guy that just kicked butt with Notre Dame, he remains an iconic symbol of college football and a coach you would want on any sideline.
While the Gamecocks were searching for somebody to help turn the program around, Steve Spurrier was looking to get back into coaching after failing miserably in the NFL with the Washington Redskins. After eating a few slices of humble pie, the Ol' Ball Coach has pulled off arguably his biggest accomplishment in his coaching career.
Although not having nearly the same amount of talent he had at Florida, he has quickly turned the Gamecocks into a consistent winner and a program that is considered an SEC contender these days.
South Carolina is no longer the school that is laughed at by SEC foes; it is a school that is respected and feared. Somehow Spurrier pulled it off and it seems like even brighter days are ahead.
Tom Osborne, Nebraska
Replaced: Bob Devaney
Bob Devaney spent 11 seasons with the Nebraska Cornhuskers and put together a remarkable 101-20 record, which included back-to-back national championships in 1970 and 1971. He was really the start of putting the Cornhuskers in the spotlight, as the team was ranked every year in the AP Poll he coached the team except his first season on the job.
And to think he was the fourth choice the school had in mind to take charge.
After the 1972 season, Devaney decided to step aside and let Tom Osborne take over after being the offensive coordinator of the program. Osborne ended up coaching Nebraska from 1973 to 1997 and won three national titles, 13 conference titles and numerous head coaching awards. His teams never won fewer than nine games in a single-season and he is the fastest head coach to reach the 250 win total.
Devaney helped plant the seeds for Nebraska to grow as a program, but it was Osborne that really took things to another level and turned this school into a true college football powerhouse.
Chip Kelly, Oregon (Now in the NFL)
Replaced: Mike Bellotti
There aren't many folks around college football who would consider Mike Bellotti a legend. But I think it is safe to consider Oregon a big-time program at this point, and it is Bellotti who has the most victories in program history. He consistently put the Ducks in the AP Poll and led the program to two Pac-10 titles in the early 2000s.
Although he never won a national championship and may not have the biggest name of other coaches on this list, he did get things started and certainly made things a lot easier for Chip Kelly. I'm sure if you asked around Eugene what Bellotti means to the program, fans would have nothing but kind words for the former head coach.
Kelly only spent four seasons with Oregon, but boy were they fun. He reached four consecutive BCS bowls and won 86 percent of his games. Finishing the final three seasons in the Top Five of the AP Poll, the Ducks were not only national championship contenders under Kelly, but helped change the game as we know it.
While Kelly may be remembered for the impact he made in a short amount of time, it was Bellotti who should receive a little more credit.
Bret Bielema, Wisconsin (Now with Arkansas)
Replaced: Barry Alvarez
Much like a lot of the legends replaced, Barry Alvarez was the one who put the Wisconsin program on the map. Winning three Big Ten titles, 117 games and making Wisconsin the first Big Ten team to win back-to-back Rose Bowls, Alvarez really made his mark felt. There were some growing pains thrown into those 16 years of coaching, but the years under Alvarez was by far the most successful era of Wisconsin football we have seen yet.
Bret Bielema then took over after being the defensive coordinator of the Badgers under Alvarez. All he did was win three Big Ten titles, Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2006 and finished his final three seasons with leading the school to three consecutive Rose Bowls. He helped produce many NFL players in a short amount of time and the 68 victories in seven years really put his name in the hat as one of the more underrated coaches in the country.
The way Bielema left Wisconsin may not have been on the best terms, but the great people of Madison can never forget what he accomplished in replacing a legend.
Will Muschamp, Florida
Replaced: Urban Meyer
I think it is safe to throw Urban Meyer into that legend category. While it may seem like he is still a little fresh to the coaching scene, he has won everywhere he has coached, has two national titles under his belt and only has two seasons of more than three losses in his 11 years of coaching.
Oh, and he happens to be 7-1 in bowl games throughout his career.
Florida Gators fans may feel a certain way towards Meyer at the moment, but they are quick to bring up those national titles and the great players who thrived when he was running the team.
Will Muschamp has only been with the Gators for two short seasons, but hasn't missed a beat in trying to remove himself from the Meyer shadow. Sure, the first season got off to a rocky start, but the recruiting classes have remained at the top and last season really showed the direction this team is heading under Muschamp and his staff.
Florida fans were hesitant early on, but there aren't many who don’t now have full trust in the current head coach.
Les Miles, LSU
Replaced: Nick Saban
There is no arguing that Nick Saban is a legend. Without question the best coach of this era, you could easily make a case for him being the best coach of all-time. With four national championships already won, including the last two, there is nothing the guy hasn't been able to do, and he continues to set the bar higher each and every season.
When Saban left Baton Rouge, there was question about what was going to happen to the LSU program. In came Les Miles and the success continued like as if Saban were still calling the shots. Although he is often the butt of the jokes for poor time management and eating grass, Miles has won 85 games in eight seasons and has also won a national title.
The Tigers are always in the national championship hunt and a lot of that starts with Miles at the top. He has done such a great job that he has actually become the true rival next to Saban, often giving him a run for his money in a matchup between schools that usually sends the winner to the SEC Championship Game.
Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
Replaced: Bobby Bowden
Thanks to the NCAA scandal that took away tons of wins from former Penn State coach Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden is now the winningest coach in college football. There are very few coaches in the history of the sport that had built a program the way Bowden did with Florida State. With two national championships, 13 ACC titles and 315 victories with the program, he was the definition of consistency and longevity.
Jimbo Fisher was the head coach in waiting in the final seasons under Bowden and was instantly promoted the second Bowden left. In three seasons he has had his fair share of struggles, but the recruiting has remained top notch, and he has won all three bowls he has led the Seminoles to. Even though folks in Tallahassee may get frustrated at times, they must remember that they were quite spoiled with Bowden and that things could always be worse.
The Seminoles are desperate to once again compete for a national title, but I'm not sure there are many other coaches on the market that could do the job Fisher has done in three seasons. You could nitpick here and there, but he has done a solid job early on as Bowden's replacement.
Lane Kiffin, USC
Replaced: Pete Carroll
Many are going to remember the way things ended with Pete Carroll at USC and it will forever overshadow the accomplishments. However, this was a head coach that was 97-19 in nine seasons with the school, won seven straight Pac-10 titles and back-to-back national titles. If it weren't for a remarkable drive by Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns, you could make a valid case for him having the best decade as a college football coach ever.
I may pick on Lane Kiffin more than anybody, but when you take into account everything he has been working against, you have to also give credit where it is due. He was brought into the mess that Carroll left behind and has been working with fewer scholarships and a two-year bowl ban.
His 25-13 record still isn't what Trojans fans were hoping for, but things could have been a lot uglier after everything the school has been through in the last few years.
Does Kiffin need to turn things around quickly? You bet. Has he done a respectable job at times and prevented things from falling apart at the seams? Yes.
In a way, Kiffin has done a decent job of replacing Carroll. Then again, the bar was set extremely high.
Bill O'Brien, Penn State
Replaced: Joe Paterno
Bill O'Brien has only been with the Penn State program for one season that quickly flew by, and he has already made his mark in replacing a legend.
Joe Paterno built Penn State with his bare hands and was much more than a football coach. You couldn't turn anywhere in State College that didn't remind you of something that had to do with the legendary head coach, as Penn State was Penn State because of Paterno.
Then of course the scandal happened and everything came crashing down.
O'Brien, somebody who had no college experience and was entering a situation that we have never seen before, instantly provided hope to the university and somehow was still able to provide a respectable product on the football field.
Despite facing a four-year bowl ban, limited scholarships and coaching at a school whose football program was marred by a sex scandal, he found a way to win eight games and remind people that the Nittany Lions aren't going anywhere.
The current Penn State coach has earned his stripes already for the job he has done. Everything else from here on out is extra.
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