Why Is It Easy Come, Easy Go for College Football Coaches?
Over two thirds of all college coaches have been on the job for less than five years.
Yep, that’s right. The guy sitting in the recruit’s living room, schmoozing his mama and playing up to his papa will, if you play the odds, likely not be there when Junior reaches the end of his eligibility.
Why is this?
There are a variety of reasons why coaches leave. Some are their own decision, sometimes the decision is made for them, and at other times it’s mutual.
But any way you slice it, the kid getting recruited has a pretty good shot of playing for someone different by the time he hits his senior year.
Let’s take a look at the different reasons that coaches can leave a kid waiting at the altar…
Just Win Baby
The most understood reason, and a decision that is usually not made by the coach himself, is getting canned for lack of performance.
Recruits looking at Washington State, where Coach Paul Wulff has won only a couple of games over the last few years, have to wonder: How long will they keep this putz around?
Of course, given his complete inability to create a winning program, the recruit might also bet on the school and figure, "Hey, they’ll get rid of this joker in a year or two…Maybe we’ll get a better coach. Plus, their co-eds are hot.”
We’re talking eighteen year old decision makers here, after all.
Other coaches on the hot seat are too numerous to mention, but the results don’t have to be completely putrid…Just not up to expectations. Just ask Tommy Tuberville a few years ago at Auburn and Charlie Weiss last year at Notre Dame.
Of course, there is always the exception...A certain school in the Big Ten called the Wolverines does come to mind.
The Old Man and the Sea
At some programs, it’s the age of the coach that is the issue.
Ralph Fridgen of Maryland is a perfect example…He’s coming off a lousy season but won’t get canned because of that. He has, however, already announced that he is retiring in a couple of years.
If you’re a recruit, do you go with Ralphie on the hopes that he’ll designate a good guy as a replacement…and that the administration will follow through on his succession plan?
And what about Jo Pa, the legendary coach at venerable Penn State?
Jo Pa ain’t going anywhere…but he is also 84 years old. I know he, and many fervent Lion fans, think that he'll live forever. According to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services, however, Jo Pa’s life expectancy as a non smoker in good health is now about 6 ½ years.
If I’m going into my senior year of high school and then use my full five years of eligibility to play at Penn State then, let’s see, that’s five years of college plus my senior year, that's six…ummm…hmm.
Gee, maybe Pitt is looking like the better choice, come to think about it.
The Grass is Always Greener
Devoted fans. Storied program. Arguably the highest profile league in the nation. Huge money, with tons of extra moolah from your own TV show. Great recruiting base. One of the few places in college football with a stadium that fits over 100,000. And only been there one year.
What coach would leave that?
Well, Lane Kiffin, that's who.
For most college coaches, loyalty is something they expect from their players and their dogs. The same standards do not apply to them. I bet the kids that Kiffin signed up are feeling a bit, shall we say, used right now.
Coaches leave at the drop of a hat…for a perceived better opportunity, for mo’ money, mo’ money, or sometime…well, just because they can.
Rich Rod leaving WVU for Michigan, Brian Kelly stiffing his team right before the Sugar Bowl for the allure of the Golden Dome, Steve Spurrier leaving Florida and then ending up in South Carolina (go figure, eh) …The list of coaches who’ll leave ya’ crying is long and getting longer.
Closely related to the Grass is Greener bunch is the Hunted.
These are coaches who did well at what is perceived as a lower tier program and get poached by the big 'uns.
A couple of years ago Urban Meyer had an undefeated season at Utah, including a BCS Fiesta Bowl win…and was promptly wooed away by the Florida Gators (to his credit, Meyer had the class to coach the Utes through the Fiesta Bowl instead of stiffing them during their big moment). This year Kansas grabbed Turner Gill from the University of Buffalo while East Carolina lost Skip Holtz to Big East program South Florida.
Out in the Mountain West, TCU and Utah fans hear rumors every year that Gary Patterson and Kyle Whittingham will be moving along to...ahem…greener pastures. UConn fans live in similar fear that Randy Edsell will get snarffed from their program.
Dan Hawkins also heard that siren call also when he left Boise State for Colorado…Betcha he wishes he stayed home now.
Badges…We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badges
Most coaches have big egos. Most think that some of the recruiting laws promulgated by the NCAA are dumber than dirt. Most will do everything they can and push the edge, but stay within the boundaries.
Some, however, are like Billy Clinton with an intern, Dick Cheney with a shotgun, or Nancy Pelosi with a tax increase. Just can’t help themselves.
And when the sham hits the fan, it's exit stage right for our hero.
Good ol’ Coach Dennis Franchione pulled this disappearing act at Bama a few years back. More recently we have Pete Carroll discovering a renewed love of coaching at the NFL level. The recruiting mess he left behind had absolutely nothing to do with his departure.
Zip. Nada. Zero.
And if you believe that, I’ve got a nice bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. Hey, you can charge your own tolls on it, you’ll make a mint.
Renaissance Men…Also Known as Cro-Magon Throwbacks
There was a time when men were men, coaches were coaches, and football was football.
This meant the coach could demean, shout at, hit, endanger, dehydrate, and otherwise torture his players to his heart’s content. Toughen 'em up, like Bear did with the Junction Boys. Tough, tough, tough.
These days, like it or not, they don’t have such latitude. Some of these coaches, however, didn’t get the memo.
Pirate Mike Leach at Texas Tech, Fatty Mangino at Kansas, and South Florida’s Jim Leavitt all lost their jobs this past year because of incidents involving various degrees of player abuse.
Are these guys doing anything close to what happened in the “good ol’days”? No, of course not.
I’d remind people, however, that in the “good ol’ days” society also tolerated segregated water fountains, schools and buses, laws against the use of birth control, enough pollution to catch the Cuyahoga River on fire, and music by Bobby Vinton.
Maybe it’s time to take off the rose colored glasses and realize that some of the new rules and way we do things these days are actually better, including how we treat the players.
They are, after all, 18 to 24-year-old young men in loco parentis, many of whom are from backgrounds far, far removed from the hallowed halls of upper education.
Caveat Emptor is the Latin phrase for “let the buyer beware”, proving both that the Romans were pretty savvy and that human nature hasn’t changed in quite a while.
For young men who are fortunate enough to have the skills to play Division I college football and their families, it would be wise to heed that warning. Because the coach and his minions who are singing your praises might not be around for very long.
It’s all part of the game.