10 Struggling College Football Programs and the Coaches Who Derailed Them

Kevin PaulSenior Analyst IFebruary 16, 2010

CINCINNATI - OCTOBER 24:  A Louisville Cardinals fan is pictured during the Big East Conference game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Nippert Stadium on October 24, 2009 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Yesterday they were powers on offense, conference headliners, New Year’s bowl participants—and, in some cases—among college football’s elite. 

Today, they’re left for dead—preyed upon by the best of the best.

So what happened?  The issues can often be drilled down to one coach and his tenure, which resulted in the derailing of the program—at least for now.

Top 10 Struggling College Football Programs and the Coaches Who Derailed Them

10. Kansas State—Ron Prince

Remember when purple was in? Me neither. 

From 1997-2003, the Wildcats rattled off 11-win campaigns in six of the seven seasons during that span.  Many out there forget how good this program was under Bill Snyder—well…during his first tenure. Kansas State earned a bowl berth in 11 straight seasons, and while K-State struggled under Snyder in 2004 and 2005, the program saw no turnaround under Ron Prince. Actually, it was more of an “about face."

Just like that, it was déjà vu all over again—and the job was Snyder’s for a second time.

The numbers: Wildcats under Bill Snyder’s first tenure (136-68-1) vs. Ron Prince (17-20)

9. Tennessee—Lane Kiffin

Not many coaches get props for being the newly hired coach, plus derailing it before, during, and after he arrived, but Kiffin is well, how should we say...special?

During his mini-tenure, Kiffin managed to get Vols Nation all riled up during the preseason, keep the team close against Tebow and Florida, get into hot water with his recruiting tactics, and just overall alienate himself from "the Good Ol’ Boys."

And, oh yeah, then he bolted for his “dream job” in Southern California. 

Here you go, Derek Dooley—good luck.

The numbers: Lane Kiffin (7-6 in one season—plus countless messes to be cleaned up)

8. West Virginia—Bill Stewart

Many may argue this one—saying that Bill Stewart has done a fine job during his brief tenure at West Virginia. But dive in a little deeper, and one will see just how well Rich Rod’s system translated to the Big East—and the type of teams that were consistently in the title hunt year in and year out.

During four of his last five seasons with the Mountaineers, Rodriguez was at the top of the conference—including double-digit win totals during his last three seasons (2005-07).

Meanwhile, Stewart has posted back-to-back four-loss campaigns—pushing West Virginia back in the pack of arguably the weakest of the power conferences.

The numbers: WVU under Rich Rodriguez—60 wins in seven seasons (with only three in year one)


7. Syracuse—Greg Robinson

OK, so the ‘Cuse hasn’t been considered an elite program in recent memory—but the boys in orange did manage to win more than 100 games in 14 seasons under Paul Pasqualoni.  And while there wasn’t a consistent flux of McNabb-Harrison combos walking onto the field of the Carrier Dome, it still far exceeds the team’s performance under Greg Robinson.

Try a ten-spot of Ws under Robinson—who has lugged his struggles over to the maize and blue’s defense.

Heck, Doug Marrone almost halved Robinson’s total in his first season as coach (2009, 4-8) 

The numbers: Syracuse under Paul Pasqualoni (107-59) vs. Greg Robinson (10-37)

6. Texas A&MDennis Franchione

Under R.C. Slocum (1989-2002), the Aggies had zero losing seasons.  During Franchione’s tenure, the 12th man at A&M went from a roar as big as Texas to hearing a pin drop.  Now, Mike Sherman’s in charge, and after a 10-15 start, there’s still plenty of room for improvement—although there were moments of promise and hope in 2009 (e.g. versus the rival Longhorns).

The numbers: The Aggies under R.C. Slocum (123-47-2) vs. Dennis Franchione (32-28)

5. HawaiiGreg McMackin

Sure, Hawaii isn't a major football powerhouse, but they have become known for prolific offenses—that is until McMackin took over for the departed June Jones. Last season, Hawaii ranked 89th in scoring offense. That’s hardly paradise, kids.

On top of this, McMackin further alienated the Warrior faithful with a slur, directed at Notre Dame. Good call, coach—that’s a fanbase you certainly want to tick off.

The numbers: Hawaii under June Jones (75-41) vs. Greg McMackin (12-13)

4. MichiganRich Rodriguez

Sure, Rich Rod is only in his third season at Michigan, but three years of trying to fit a round peg in a square hole doesn't cut it.

Three conference wins in two seasons? That simply won’t get it done when coaching one of the most historic programs in college football. 

In fact, if Rodriguez doesn't beat Ohio State this year, he won’t get the same time that Carr had to drive the program.

The numbers: Michigan under Lloyd Carr (122-40) vs. Rich Rodriguez (8-16)

3. ColoradoDan Hawkins

Raise your hand if you know the last time the Buffaloes finished a season ranked in the AP Poll.  That’s what we thought: Try 2002. 

In fact, those days of Kordell “Slash” Stewart seem like ages ago, don’t they? That’s because they are.

Yes, the days of Rick Neuheisel and Gary Barnett are gone in Colorado—replaced by Hawkins, who became more known for the playing time of his son than the team’s actual performance on the field.

The numbers: Neuheisel and Barnett at Colorado (82-53) vs. Dan Hawkins (16-33)

2. NebraskaBill Callahan

The ‘Huskers were at the top of college football—scratch that, they were college football through the mid-'90s—posting three undefeated seasons in ’94, ’95, and ’97.

The "blackshirts" posted dominating performance after dominating performance under Tom Osborne and Frank Solich.

It wasn’t until Bill Callahan took over that the team started to slide to the middle of the pack in the Big 12 conference—and while Bo Pelini has injected some life into middle America, this program still has a ways to go.

The numbers: 255 wins under Osborne, 58-19 under Solich, and 27-22 under Callahan

1. LouisvilleSteve Kragthorpe

We won’t say he derailed the program. He put the program into a head-on collision with Syracuse for Big East cellar-dwelling domination.  Period.

Kragthorpe managed to morph a great quarterback school into one that is known simply for their jersey logos: The Ville. Shouldn't anything with "The" in front of it have something to be proud of? Ask Ohio State: They would answer with an emphatic yes.

The numbers: John L. Smith 41-21 (‘98-‘02), Bobby Petrino 40-9 (‘03-‘06), Kragthorpe 15-21


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