10 Once-'Hot' College Football Coaches Who Have Lost Their Luster
Do you remember when Dennis Franchione was one of the hottest commodities in coaching?
What we smugly know now, with wisdom gained only through the passage of time, makes us laugh at the thought of Franchione being hired at Florida or Oklahoma.
But 15 years ago? Not so much.
That's the thing about coaches. Even when we're aware of the tarnishing process, it's not until a couple of years later that we realize how ill-fitted a guy was for a certain job or even the role of head coach.
The 10 guys highlighted here are the best recent examples of coaches who were hot commodities on the market only to come tumbling back down the charts. Success could have meant an NFL job, sustained employment at a big-time school, a head role at a bigger college program or the opportunity to become a head coach for the first time.
They are the antithesis of Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Pete Carroll and David Shaw—coaches who either lived up to the hype after they moved up a level or were able to cash in on successful runs as a coordinator.
As recently as 2011 Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com reported, "The Kirk Ferentz-to-NFL-rumors are as common to December as holiday shopping and frost on your windshield."
That was before Iowa dropped to 4-8 in 2012, its worst mark since the second season of the Ferentz era, a 3-9 finish in 2000.
Ferentz is 115-85 overall and 68-60 in Big Ten play in 16 years at Iowa. That includes conference crowns in 2002 and 2004 and three consecutive No. 8 finishes in the final Associated Press poll from 2002 to 2004.
Since then, things have cooled to where the Hawkeyes have posted a single winning mark in Big Ten play in their last five tries: a 5-3 record in 2013.
The last time Iowa was ranked was on Nov. 21, 2010, at No. 24 in the AP poll. It dropped out the next week after losing 27-24 at unranked Minnesota.
It makes you wonder if Ferentz should have tried his luck in the NFL while his star was still ascending.
At the height of his popularity at Texas Tech, Mike Leach was one of the hottest coaches in the country. Referring to the Red Raiders' 11-2 finish in 2008, CBSNews.com credited him with managing to be "competitive with the heavyweights with a middleweight budget and a fraction of their recruiting power."
What came next was two years out of football, after which Washington State finally picked him up for the 2012 season.
In his first three years in Pullman, Leach has struggled to engineer the success he accomplished at Tech. He is 12-25 overall and 7-20 in Pac-12 play at Washington State versus his 84-43 overall and 47-33 conference marks with the Red Raiders.
He's gone from being a rising star, albeit a non-traditional one, to a hot-seater.
Perhaps the most overhyped young gun in recent history, Lane Kiffin used his 5-15 record as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders to get the head jobs at Tennessee and USC.
It's a fact that makes his 7-6 mark (4-4 in the SEC) with the Volunteers and his 28-15 record (17-12 in the Pac-12) with the Trojans seem almost predestined.
Here's what Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton had to say about Kiffin at his introductory press conference in December 2008:
Tennessee football history is made up of great coaches and great players who shaped who we are today. Choosing a football coach to fall in the line of Gen. Neyland, Bowden Wyatt, Doug Dickey, Johnny Majors, Phillip Fulmer, among others, is no small task. Today, we introduce the newest member of that coaching fraternity and the newest member of our Tennessee athletics family.
If the claims of his unproven greatness weren't enough, Kiffin sweetened the pot by making verbal missteps at every turn.
One of the most memorable came when he was recruiting South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery to Tennessee, as Chris Low of ESPN.com reported: "According to Jeffery and [Walter] Wilson [his high school coach], Kiffin told Jeffery that if he chose the Gamecocks, he would end up pumping gas for the rest of his life like all of the other players from that state who had gone to South Carolina."
Kiffin is going into his second season as the offensive coordinator at Alabama.
Major Applewhite played quarterback at Texas (1998-01) before kicking off his coaching career as a graduate assistant for the Longhorns (2003-04). From there he made stops at Syracuse, Rice and Alabama before landing back in Austin in 2008.
After rising to offensive coordinator, Applewhite was pegged as Mack Brown's replacement before news broke in 2013 of his "inappropriate, consensual behavior with an adult student" dating back to the 2008-09 Fiesta Bowl.
According to Kevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News, the incident ended Applewhite's chances to advance in coaching:
Anybody whoever thought he was going to be the next head coach at the University of Texas, I think that's over with the revelation of this episode that he had with an adult student trainer. … I think he'll have a hard time job getting [a] major college coaching job. He might be able to get a coaching job at a smaller school, but I think his days at getting (the Texas job) are probably over.
After taking 2014 off, Applewhite was recently hired as the offensive coordinator at the University of Houston, where he will serve under head coach Tom Herman.
While it's one thing to lead UConn to a 10-3 season (1998) and East Carolina to back-to-back 9-5 finishes (2008-09), it's another to do it and be the son of legendary coach Lou Holtz.
It's hard to think of any young coach who looked to have more long-term promise than Skip Holtz did heading into the South Florida job in 2010. Things started off well there with an 8-5 finish, but the record dropped to 5-7 in 2011 and 3-9 in 2012.
Things there got off to a bumpy start, as he led the Bulldogs to a 4-8 finish in 2013 before rebounding to a 9-5 mark last season.
Though Holtz is definitely not off the "re-hirable" list, it's far-fetched to think he'll be considered for future top-tier openings like Texas, Alabama and Notre Dame.
Back in 2009, it seemed like every time you tuned in to a weeknight college football game on ESPN, you saw up-and-coming head coach Derek Dooley and his Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.
The network featured them three times that year, once on a Wednesday night and twice on Friday. The Bulldogs went 1-2 in those games and 4-8 overall—the second of two losing campaigns in the three-year Dooley era in Ruston.
Somehow it was enough to earn him the coveted Tennessee job, where he took over as the dust settled after the Lane Kiffin debacle.
That stop lasted three years, with all of them resulting in sub-.500 finishes. The run included one bowl appearance—a loss to North Carolina in the 2010 Music City Bowl—a 15-21 record and a 4-19 mark in SEC play. The Vols won just a single conference game in Dooley's final two seasons, a 27-21 overtime win over Vanderbilt in 2011.
Dooley is now a wide receivers coach with the Dallas Cowboys.
That's when, in 2010, the Gators shocked the world by hiring away Texas' heir apparent to Mack Brown. Muschamp became the kingpin-in-waiting during the 2008 season, his first as the Longhorns' defensive coordinator.
Here's what Brown had to say about Muschamp in the presser announcing the arrangement on Nov. 18, 2008, according to Bobby Bragg at Horns Digest via Scout.com:
He's had several opportunities to interview for head coaching jobs, but we wanted him to stay here. I'm going to continue coaching as I'm enjoying it. I have eight years left on my contract, I am not thinking about moving on, it's simply that I think Will is a great young coach, a perfect fit for this place, and he wants to stay. Nothing will change in our structure. He will continue in his role as defensive coordinator and when the time comes, will be ready to step in and take over the program.
Pete Thamel of the New York Times called it "one of the most stealth big-time coaching searches in recent memory." He credited Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, who explained, "Coach Muschamp is someone we targeted from the beginning, and he is the guy we wanted."
Four seasons later, Muschamp and his 28-21 overall record and 17-15 mark in the SEC were out. His best year was his second (2012), when the Gators went 11-2 and finished No. 9 in the AP poll. His worst was the next (2013), when they skidded to 4-8.
His name was also tossed around a year earlier for the Arkansas State opening, where the last three former head coaches have moved on to plum jobs at Ole Miss, Auburn and Boise State.
Heupel played quarterback at Oklahoma from 1999 to 2000 before trying his luck in the NFL for two seasons. He returned to his alma mater as a graduate assistant in 2004 and spent a single season as an offensive assistant at Arizona before returning to Norman in 2006.
Heupel was promoted to co-offensive coordinator late in 2010 and led the Sooners to top-15 finishes in scoring in 2011 and 2012 before dropping to a No. 40 rank in 2013. Although they rebounded to a No. 21 rank last year—36.4 points per game—they scored a mere 14 and six points, respectively, in lopsided losses to Baylor and Clemson.
Utah State recently named Heupel as its offensive coordinator.
No inexperienced head coach may have ever enjoyed the attention Kliff Kingsbury garnered going into his second season at Texas Tech in 2014.
Where Derek Dooley and Lane Kiffin cashed in subpar head coaching roles to nab bigger and better jobs, at least they had experience. Kingsbury, on the other hand, needed nothing more than two years as an offensive assistant (Houston, 2008-09) and three years as an offensive coordinator (Houston 2010-11 and Texas A&M 2012) to get the reins at his alma mater.
Things went well enough in his debut, an 8-5 campaign plus an upset win over No. 16 Arizona State in the 2013 Holiday Bowl. That set up Kingsbury's offseason of love, a stretch that included everything from a photo of him shirtless on FoxSports.com to Bleacher Report's own feature piece, a "Day in the Life" of the "Bro King of College Football."
The era of good feelings continued into the 2014 season when the Red Raiders won their first two games (FCS Central Arkansas and UTEP) but disappeared after four straight losses. Tech wound up losing eight of its last 10 and finished 4-8, its worst mark since 1990.
The good news is Kingsbury has much less hype to live up to coming into 2015, which means maybe he'll have a chance to make his mark on the field match that of his hot-and-cool appeal.
While Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald isn't on the hot seat, he also isn't the same guy whom Athlon Sports ranked as the No. 17 head coach in college football coming into 2012.
Fitzgerald had six years under his belt then, coming into a season where he'd achieve an almost unthinkable 10-3 record. It was the program's best mark since 1995, when the Wildcats went 10-2 and won the Big Ten.
Since then, he's seen consecutive 5-7 marks, including a 4-12 record in Big Ten play. It's the worst stretch of the Fitzgerald era since his first two years (2006-07), when he also went 10-14 overall but still managed a 5-11 mark in conference action.
Even though Fitzgerald is often considered a lock to start and finish his head coaching career at Northwestern—he's only spent three seasons coaching anywhere else—remember he's still being mentioned for bigger jobs elsewhere.
While another losing season at Northwestern wouldn't spell the end, it would be another significant step away from golden-boy status.