CFB Coaching Carousel: Ranking the Most Disappointing Hires of the Last 5 Years
It's tough quantifying failure, even in the quick-hook world of college football head coaches.
When programs are tossing around millions like it's nothing, it doesn't take long to go from the "next big thing" to the unemployment line. During the past five years of college football hirings and firings, that's become painfully obvious.
To be considered a "disappointment," a lot of things have to go wrong. In most cases, a coach needs to have been widely regarded as a terrific hire to make this list. There have been plenty of situations the past few years where headline-grabbing names have failed famously.
If you were so bad that you've already been hired and fired during that short time frame, you garnered consideration for this dubious distinction as well. There are a handful of coaches on this list who are still employed and can earn their way back off it. More, however, have already burned that chance.
Then, there's a coaching situation that was botched so epically bad, it could leave its once-proud program picking up the pieces for several years to come.
Let's take a look at the most disappointing hires of the past half-decade.
10. Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State Bulldogs
It didn't take Mississippi State long to realize it made a major mistake when trying to replace former coach Dan Mullen.
An extensive search wound up pointing to then-Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, who seemed an intriguing if puzzling fit to head South from State College to Starkville and take over the Bulldogs.
After a decent 8-5 first season, Moorhead flopped to 6-7 in his second season. Even though that isn't an awful two-year run, the powers that be decided enough was enough and canned him.
According to Sports Illustrated's Ross Dellenger, several non-scoreboard-related things contributed to the ouster. "Events over the last month—off-the-field issues and the ugly bowl loss—have shifted an original plan to keep Moorhead following a 21-20 win over Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving night," he wrote.
Players suspended for academic fraud, players missing bowl practice, a fight in another practice and a general lack of fit weren't helped any by Mississippi State playing an ugly brand of football that, according to Dellenger, led to "grumblings" around the program.
Moorhead was replaced by Mike Leach and has since landed as the offensive coordinator at Oregon, where he gets to mold elite quarterback prospect Ty Thompson for the Ducks. He has done a quality job calling plays at some big stops, but for several reasons, he didn't quite fit in when he was in Mississippi.
The fact that he only made it two years lands him on this list.
9. Dana Holgorsen, Houston Cougars
After a successful 61-41 eight-year run at West Virginia that included seven winning seasons, Dana Holgorsen did something you rarely see.
He left a Power Five conference job with the Big 12's Mountaineers to get closer to his roots and take over a Group of Five program in Houston that had been a powerhouse not long before under Tom Herman. Holgorsen took over for Major Applewhite and was expected to do big things.
That hasn't happened yet.
Holgorsen inherited dual-threat superstar quarterback D'Eriq King, who wound up transferring to Miami rather than play for Holgorsen. Life after King hasn't been easy. In his short tenure with the Cougars, Holgorsen is just 7-13.
There may be some hot-seat talk around the offensive-minded head coach who was once thought to be a perfect fit if he doesn't win in a big way in 2021. With quarterback Clayton Tune back, Holgorsen again should have a potent offense.
But he needs to put everything together. This is an experienced team that has a lot of players he recruited on the roster. It isn't like he inherited an outstanding team, but this is a proud program whose fans demand more. Holgorsen hasn't been able to provide it yet.
8. Charlie Strong, South Florida Bulls
Speaking of proud Group of Five programs, Charlie Strong inherited a sturdy roster full of talent at South Florida built by former coach Willie Taggart when he took over in 2017.
Strong had been fired from the Texas job, but after a decent run with the Longhorns following a span with Louisville where he was considered one of the hottest up-and-coming head coaches in college football, the Bulls thought they were getting a perfect fit.
The first year in Tampa was, well, strong, as the Bulls went 10-2. But things quickly crumbled afterward. Strong went 7-6 the next year before spiraling to a 4-8 record in 2019, which was enough reason for South Florida to go in a different direction.
USF replaced him with Clemson offensive coordinator Jeff Scott, who is now trying to rebuild a program that doesn't have anywhere near the talent that it did when Strong took over. For his second job in a row, Strong disappointed.
Now, both the program and the coach have headed elsewhere. Scott went just 1-8 in his first year after supplanting Strong.
After a year as a defensive analyst at Alabama, Strong is reunited with Urban Meyer in Florida, serving as Meyer's assistant head coach and inside linebackers coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Strong is one of the best defensive minds in the sport, but it simply hasn't worked out for him recently running his own program.
7. Chad Morris, Arkansas Razorbacks
There aren't any worse head coaching jobs on this list than the one Chad Morris did in his two seasons at Arkansas.
The Razorbacks were comically, almost historically putrid.
Morris is only this low on the list because there weren't immense expectations surrounding him when he took the Hogs' job after a successful run as SMU's head coach. There were never any signs of life in the SEC West.
As a matter of fact, he was fired after limping to a 4-18 record in less than two seasons, a mark that included an 0-14 run in the SEC. To make matters worse, his last "hurrah" was a 45-19 loss to Western Kentucky.
The Razorbacks also lost at home to San Jose State, and that Spartans team was nowhere close to as good as the one that won the Mountain West Conference last season. He'd replaced Bret Bielema, who surprisingly fell flat in Fayetteville after a terrific tenure at Wisconsin.
Last season, first-year coach Sam Pittman won one fewer game (3-7) in his stunted season than Morris did during his two years. The Razorbacks also were competitive in the majority of games, looked like a much better team and progressed throughout the season.
None of that was evident in Morris' regime, and he has now gone on to be fired from another job as part of Gus Malzahn's ousted staff at Auburn. The once-great offensive coordinator at Clemson couldn't muster anything on the Plains, and it just continued a nightmarish coaching stretch for Morris.
Arkansas would like to forget 2018-2019.
6. Tom Herman, Texas Longhorns
You can't go to Texas, be mediocre and expect to keep your job. That's why the Longhorns job has been a revolving door since Mack Brown resigned back in 2013.
Tom Herman wasn't awful during his four years in Austin. The 'Horns went 32-18, 22-14 in the conference and won all four bowl games in which they played. But that was not good enough, and he was let go after a 7-3 season last year and replaced with Steve Sarkisian.
But the reason Herman is so high on this list is because of the massive expectations that he brought with him after a dominant 22-4 two-year run with the Houston Cougars after becoming a hot name as Urban Meyer's offensive coordinator at Ohio State.
Hype didn't equal enough wins at Texas, though. Considering the great things many predicted for him, it was quite a quick fall from grace.
According to KXAN's Andrew Schnitker, UT athletic director Chris Del Conte said he recommended a coaching change "to get us on track to achieving our ambitious goals." Herman never won the Big 12 and made it to the championship game just once.
Along with the uneven results, his Texas teams lost several "what happened?" games over his tenure, like back-to-back losses to TCU (2019-2020) and consecutive losses to Maryland (2017-2018). There was never enough consistency for Herman to foster any goodwill around the program.
There are far worse records on this list, but few carried the hype Herman did, and he now won't have the chance to dig Texas out of mediocrity.
5. Chip Kelly, UCLA Bruins
You may think having Chip Kelly on this list after UCLA showed signs of life in a shortened 2020 season is a bit unfair.
But when you consider he still hasn't had a winning season in three years in Westwood, there are a lot of reasons he belongs here. He'd be even higher on the list if he didn't still have a job and have the opportunity to rebuild the proud Pac-12 program.
When you consider Kelly signed a five-year contract worth more than $20 million, you should expect more from him than 10-21 in three years, especially since he tore up the conference in his first go-around as Oregon head coach.
Kelly's placement on this list is because of his generally horrible record, the price tag he commanded when coming back to the college game and the fact that so much hype came with UCLA naming him the head coach in late 2017.
There are building blocks in place for the Bruins, though. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson finally looks like a mature playmaker under center, and Kelly enjoyed his best year recruiting and landed a difference-maker in the portal in Michigan running back transfer Zach Charbonnet.
The best part for UCLA fans is Kelly still has the chance to make putting him on this list look like a bad call. He had to rebuild what Jim Mora Jr. tore down essentially from scratch, and it hasn't been an overnight job.
But he needs to show returns on the scoreboard soon.
4. Scott Frost, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Keeping with the hiring-the-hot-name formula, there was no bigger hire (unless it was perhaps Chip Kelly) during the 2017 offseason than Nebraska luring favorite son Scott Frost back to Lincoln.
Frost had been a standout Cornhusker and just led UCF to an undefeated season where the program celebrated a national championship. He turned that program around so quickly and seemed can't-miss heading back to his alma mater.
Nebraska was never going to be an overnight success, but Frost has struggled to produce anything of any substance during his three seasons at the once-proud program. In 2019, the Huskers entered the season ranked and limped to a 5-7 record.
Unfortunately for Frost, that's his best mark in three years on his way to a 12-20 record.
On the bright side, Nebraska is recruiting at a high level and bringing in the type of players who can help turn around the program. But losing stars like Wan'Dale Robinson and promising quarterback Luke McCaffrey to the transfer portal isn't going to help matters.
The reason Frost isn't higher on this list is he's still around to fix things that he didn't necessarily break. It's just taking a whole lot longer than expected for him to return Nebraska to the land of the respectable, much less a conference contender.
If he doesn't start winning soon, he may suffer the same fate as Herman. The latter had a much better record and program when Texas canned him this offseason.
3. Willie Taggart, Florida State Seminoles
When Florida State hired Willie Taggart in 2017, it was pretty much universally lauded.
The Seminoles lost coach Jimbo Fisher, who followed the money to Texas A&M, and though Taggart had only been at Oregon for one (mildly successful) season, he jumped at the opportunity to return to his roots and take over one of the Big Three in Florida.
After all, Taggart turned around a South Florida program, leading the Bulls to a 10-2 record in 2016 before going to the Pac-12. He was expected to be a strong fit in Tallahassee, a guy who could bring a tough-nosed, run-oriented approach and recruit well throughout the Sunshine State.
Instead, things crumbled in a hurry.
Florida State went 5-7 in Taggart's first year at the helm, and he was 4-5 in his second season when the program let him go. According to USA Today's George Schroeder, "average attendance at Doak Campbell Stadium (capacity: 79,560) had dropped to 54,213, the lowest in more than 30 years."
Taggart never really got the chance to build his culture at a program that wanted a quick fix after Fisher left, but there were issues already in place from the previous regime, and Taggart couldn't patch up the leaks. His on-field product was flat-out awful at times, and he didn't recruit as well as many thought, either.
Florida State had long been the ACC power, but once Clemson supplanted it at the top of the rankings, things spiraled in a hurry, and Taggart exacerbated the issues. It may have been considered Taggart's dream job, but the pairing turned into a nightmare quickly.
Now, the coach is at Florida Atlantic.
2. Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee Volunteers
It's difficult to quantify in just how bad a shape Jeremy Pruitt left the Tennessee Volunteers. As a matter of fact, the extent is not even known yet.
But it's safe to say, no matter how you feel about the fan revolt that happened when former athletic director John Currie tried to bring in Greg Schiano after firing Butch Jones in 2017, the Pruitt era on Rocky Top couldn't have gone much worse.
Though the former Alabama, Florida State and Georgia defensive coordinator led UT to an 8-5 record in 2019, his overall mark in three years was 16-19 with one bowl game. His offenses were generally awful, and the assistants who tried to coach under him were a revolving door.
Even in the year where he won eight games, the Vols suffered arguably the worst loss in program history with a season-opening setback to Georgia State before falling to a mediocre BYU team.
Worst of all, though, is the pending internal investigation for potential NCAA infractions under Pruitt's watch, leading UT to fire him with cause after the 2020 season. Though the university is still looking into the alleged recruiting violations and impermissible benefits, it could wind up leading to a loss of scholarships and postseason bans.
To make matters worse, no program has been gutted worse in the transfer portal than the Vols, who watched a mass exodus of players exit when Pruitt got the hook.
There are coaches on this list who finished with worse records and others who had higher expectations, but none of them left their program with an NCAA nightmare like Pruitt may have. That's the biggest disappointment here, and it's arguably the worst.
1. Les Miles, Kansas Jayhawks
There are few tougher jobs in the Power Five than the head football coach at Kansas. The woebegone program hasn't had a winner since 2008 when it won eight games.
The most victories in any year since then was five, and the Jayhawks have won three or fewer every year since 2010. There's bad, and then there's the special brand of awful they've endured in Lawrence for more than a decade.
But when they hired former LSU head coach Les Miles to take over the program in November 2018, there was plenty of optimism he would perhaps improve Kansas some and bring it some recognition.
Less than three years later, the Miles era is over. He parted ways with Kansas after the release of a 2013 investigation into allegations of inappropriate conduct by him toward female students during his time with LSU.
Athletic director Jeff Long was also let go as a result.
Now, the program is virtually starting over, and the athletic department is going in a new direction, too. This all comes after Miles' Jayhawks just had an ugly 0-9 season where they were rarely competitive a year after going 3-9 in his first season.
Disappointing is an understatement.