Quantifying the Coaching Carousel: How Many CFB Coaches Lose Their Job Yearly

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistNovember 22, 2013

TEMPE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 28:  Head coach Lane Kiffin  of the USC Trojans reacts during the college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium on September 28, 2013 in Tempe, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

What would you give to know the firing rate for your job?

What would it do to your attitude and emotional state to know the percentage of people who get dismissed from your precise occupation?

Would it motivate you to do more, less or look for more stable work?

Though an accurate “firing rate” would be complicated to calculate for, say, accountants or restaurant managers, things become simpler when you have a finite group of employees such as FBS head football coaches.

So, what is the turnover rate in major college football, and what does it mean for the guys who call the sidelines their workplace?


Total Turnover Rate

Here’s a look at the yearly percentage of FBS head coaches who have left their jobs in the BCS era, regardless of reason.

Sports Reference/College Football

The chart makes two clear points: First, the overall turnover rate in FBS coaching is cyclical in nature rather than static. Next, the percentage of coaches leaving their jobs has been on the rise over the past six years.

Overall, the average turnover rate in the BCS era is 17 percent. This means that of the 125 coaches who came into the 2013 season as head coaches, at least 21 will be gone and replaced by the time the 2014 season starts.

Based on the current trend, it’s safe to say that the actual number will be closer to 25 percent, or 31 coaches.


The “Fired Rate”

Though there is lots of chatter about who is on the hot seat, coaches leave jobs each year for a wide variety of reasons.

These include retirement, taking another job opportunity, health reasons and, yes, being fired or forced to resign.

Here’s a look at turnover rates in the BCS era based solely on forced exits:

Sports Reference/College Football

Again, it’s clear that the nature of turnovers in FBS coaching is cyclical. Other than gradual increases in firings from 2001-04 and 2009-11, the trend is one year a bunch of guys get the boot while the next, athletic directors put down the axe for 12 months.

There appears to be a “follow the leader” culture in firings; once a healthy season of terminating gets rolling, everybody jumps on the bandwagon. On the other hand, if firings are down, then schools are more inclined to keep their coaches for another season.

What’s more difficult to explain is the cause of the biggest swings. For example, why did only five percent of the field get fired in 2005 versus 15 percent (or three times as much) in 2011?

Comparing two years of firings is tricky, because there are unique events in every season that may only happen once.

For example, the 18 FBS coaches who got forced out after the 2011 season (the most in the BCS era) included anomalies such as Bobby Petrino’s bizarre exit from Arkansas and Joe Paterno’s scandalous removal at Penn State.

What’s worth noting is the effect that midseason firings have on the number of total dismissals that ultimately happen. For instance, three coaches were fired midseason in 2011 (Mike Stoops at Arizona, Mike Locksley at New Mexico and Bob Toledo at Tulane), while three more guys were dismissed before their teams played a scheduled bowl game.

Arizona fired Mike Stoops after starting the 2011 season 1-5.
Arizona fired Mike Stoops after starting the 2011 season 1-5.Steve Dykes/Getty Images

In 2005, on the other hand, only one coach left before the season was officially over—Colorado’s Dan Hawkins, who only missed the Buffs' bowl meeting with Clemson.

A string of midseason firings opens the flood gates and inspires other programs to follow suit, resulting in a higher rate of terminations for a given year.

If this is true, 2013 will be a banner year with five guys already out through 12 weeks of play.

Overall, the average firing rate in the BCS era is 11 percent annually. This means that of the 125 coaches who came into 2013, at least 14 will be forced out by the time 2014 rolls around.

Factoring in the current trend, this number is more likely to be a BCS-record 19.


Shelf Life

The other compelling statistic in the FBS is how long coaches are given to succeed in a new job before being fired.

In other words, what’s the “shelf life” for coaches? The following graph tracks the average number of years on the job for coaches who have been terminated since 1998.

Sports Reference/College Football

Overall, the average shelf life of coaches in the BCS era is six years. 

It’s important to note that this number includes Ohio State’s John Cooper (13 years), Texas A&M’s R.C. Slocum (14 years), Syracuse’s Paul Pasqualoni (14 years), Southern Miss’s Jeff Bower (18 years), Colorado State’s Sonny Lubick (15 years), Tennessee’s Phillip Fulmer (17 years), Fresno State’s Pat Hill (15 years) and Penn State’s Joe Paterno (46 years).

If you throw these long-term guys out, the average shelf life in FBS coaching is five years and trending downward.

The message is clear: If you can’t right the ship in four years, you’re out the door.


Explaining the Trends

So, turnover and firing rates in the FBS are up while the time coaches are given to succeed at a given job is down.

What’s the deal?

The obvious reason is that expectations for major college football coaches have never been higher. Not only are the stakes big for the schools, they’re also huge for the coaches themselves.

In the same way you might be interested in your own firing odds, put yourself in the coaches’ shoes and consider how you would feel if this was the average pay scale for the specific job you do.

USA Today

So, now you’re a fat cat rolling in the dough…but how much pressure would you feel to succeed and keep that juicy paycheck coming? 

And how painful would it be to come home and tell your family that you blew it?

And what if the entire million-dollar payday rode on the focus and performance of 100-plus 18- to 22-year-old kids?

For an insider's look, check out what Baylor's Art Briles had to say, via Daniel Uthman of USA Today, about the string of early-season firings in 2013.

Just makes me thankful every day when I walk into an office that there's a chair there...Just the nature of the business we're in. It's disturbing to me, and that's just a personal point of view. 


Statistics courtesy of Sports Reference/College Football. College coaches’ salary data courtesy of USA Today.


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