College Fooball Head Coach Firings: Really?
Stepping aside from the ACC for a moment, the Confidential cannot help but wonder what the heck is going on with college football head coach firings? Then again, as the Big Ten becomes the Pied Piper to the rest of college football’s money-obsessed rats, there is no reason to be shocked by two of the most surprising coaching firings in recent history.
First, the most offensive of all firings is the dismissal of Jon Embree at Colorado. Look, the Confidential routinely noted that the Buffaloes were the worst BCS-level program. Nothing that happened on the field gives the fans any reason for optimism–the team was outclassed week after week. But you just cannot fire a coach after two seasons. Indeed, as ESPN’s Ted Miller noted, the school really could not articulate a basis for firing him. Frankly, firing a football coach after two years should be a terminable offense for whomever hired the coach. If the athletic director hired a guy that could not last more than two years, the athletic director is even more incompetent than the head coach. Short of a scandal of some sort, it just does not make long-term sense. Can anyone name another head coach fired based on record after only two seasons?
Even worse, Colorado did this to an African-American man and a former Colorado player. In light of the latter, he should have had a little more latitude. As it relates to race, this is just yet another example of an NCAA head coach being given a shorter time to turn a program around than comparable white coaches. Sure, Jon Embree was 4-21. But Greg Schiano was 3-20 after two seasons. Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz was 4-19 after two seasons. It is statistically more likely, Embree would have been a Greg Robinson, who was only 5-18 at Syracuse after two seasons and ended up winning only 5 more games. But Colorado will never know whether Embree was a Ferentz or a Robinson. Colorado and the NCAA should be ashamed. The Confidential is loathe to suggest racism, but to not give a head coach at least three years is simply absurd. Really, the Confidential does not see why any African-American family would allow their son to go to Colorado after its treatment of Embree. And good luck to the next coach explaining to kids and their families that they can be sure that he will be the Buffaloes’ head coach for the full four or five years that the kid is in Colorado.
Second, Auburn fired head coach Gene Chizik a mere two years after winning a National Championship. Granted, many Auburn fans never liked the hire. After all, Chizik was only 5-19 at Iowa State. Notably, unlike Colorado with Embree, Iowa State was going to give Chizik more time to turn around the program. Instead, he turned Auburn around. This culminated with winning it all in 2010. To be sure, that 2010 team was special. It had to have significant talent beyond merely Cam Newton–a QB alone can only carry a team so far. Chizik and his staff were able to go 14-0 against an SEC schedule. Regardless of how much talent you have, to go 14-0 suggests some significant ability to coach the game of football. After all, how many programs have gone undefeated?
In fairness to Auburn, however, the recruitment of Newton and other issues were becoming a bit of a scandal for Auburn. This is perhaps more important than mere record. Even if Chizik was bowl-bound this year, a program has to avoid sanctions. So the firing is justifiable from that standpoint–certainly more so than with Embree. Again, however, the issue might hurt Auburn in recruiting unless it can land a home run with its new coach.
Finally, the Confidential would be remiss in failing to observe that North Carolina State and Purdue fired head coaches after winning games and being bowl-eligible. For Purdue, Danny Hope got Purdue to two straight bowl games for the first time in several years, according to ESPN, but was not allowed to even coach the team in the bowl game. He took over a team that had gone 4-8 the prior year, never finished with a worse record, and did better than that in three seasons. Not good enough? For North Carolina State, it is frustrating to beat a great team every year, but also lose head-scratchers. Still, you have to be really careful before firing a head coach that has taken you to three straight bowl games, like Tom O’Brien had done. Fans and programs need to be careful before dispatching a coach because of “mediocrity.”
Indeed, fans of programs disappointed in the average records often complain that the new guy “cannot do any worse,” as if mediocrity is bottoming-out. Syracuse fans thought that the .500ish records of Paul Pasqualoni were too much to swallow. And then they hired the aforementioned Robinson, who showed that things can get worse. Much worse. Perhaps the best example is Southern Mississippi, who forced head coach Jeff Bower to resign after 14 straight winning seasons and six straight bowl appearances. Fans and boosters were unhappy with the mediocrity. The end result? Southern Mississippi continued to go to bowl games under head coach Larry Fedora, but then watched him abandon the program for North Carolina before the 2012 season. Unlike Bower, Fedora was not interested in being a lifer at Southern Mississippi. In 2012, the team went 0-12. Enjoy THAT fans and boosters. Mediocrity can get worse.