Job security in sports is a joke. Plain and simple. They love you, then hate you, and if you manage to survive the hate, they love you again. In a “What Have You Done For Me Lately” business ruled by that cliche’, you’d be hard-pressed to find a profession in this country with more turnover than coaching in sports, particularly in football. Be it either the NFL or NCAA, the revolving door that is the Coaching Carousel spins feverishly this time of year, as plenty of bright, intelligent, and experienced coaches lose their jobs due to a variety of circumstances, that may or may not be out of their hands. It could be a meddling Owner or Athletic Director that constantly undermines the authority of the very man they put in charge to lead their franchise/program. Or it could be conflicting interests between the General Manager and Head Coach, driving a wedge between the two leading to one inevitably losing their job. It could be an inability to defeat their rivals, therefore losing points on the recruiting front, the lifeblood of a college program. Then again, it could be a rash of unfortunate injuries that have mercilessly ravaged the roster, leaving the coach to concoct a gameplan with half of his weapons at his disposal. Many times it’s simply a failure to meet expectations, no matter how ludicrously outrageous said expectations seem to be. And that last bit leads us to three coaching vacancies in the College Football World at three very prestigious schools, and the three men who were discharged from their positions for a plethora of reasons, some listed above.
It’s indeed a unique day in College Football for the simple fact that the proud universities of Florida, Michigan, and Nebraska are each currently void of a Head Football Coach. In fact, this is the first time in the storied histories of those three programs that all three will be heading into the same Offseason in search of a leading man. In the cases of the Gators and Wolverines, we’ve known for quite some time that there would be a change on the sidelines, with the impending terminations of Will Muschamp and Brady Hoke announced weeks ago, with both skippers allowed to finish their respective campaigns. However, the third dismissal, Nebraska’s surprising firing of Bo Pelini, came virtually out of the blue, as it was announced early Sunday Morning, barely twenty hours after the Huskers rallied back from a seventeen-point deficit to defeat Iowa in overtime on Saturday. While each of these guys experienced their fair share of problems at their respective posts, all three of these men will continue to be renowned as solid coaches, and shouldn’t have much a problem finding work somewhere else, but the common thread between them is a failure to meet expectations. Together Florida, Michigan, and Nebraska have combined to win a whopping 94 Conference Championships and nineteen National Championships, however it’s been some time since any of this triumvirate have hoisted that crystal football; Nebraska last won a National Title back in 1997, which they ironically shared with Michigan, also marking the last time that the Wolverines would sit atop the College Football Mountain, while Florida has won a pair of BCS Championships (2006 and 2008) since then. With that said, Muschamp, Hoke, and Pelini were virtually doomed from the start, for anything less than a National Title would be labeled as a failure. And wouldn’t you know it? None of the aforementioned coaches managed to hoist that trophy. In fact, none were able to lead their respective programs to a conference championship either, despite at least four years on the job apiece.
Following a modern legend was Muschamp’s biggest obstacle in Gainesville, for no matter what he managed to do at Florida, he simply wasn’t Urban Meyer. It’s a daunting task following a Head Coach that has won multiple National Championships, and rarely does it work out for the successor to said post. After all, Gators’ fans know all about this concept, for it wasn’t that long ago when Steve Spurrier took his talents to the NFL, leaving Ron Zook to fill that void six years removed from a National Title. In a dozen years on the sidelines, Spurrier went 122-27-1 at Florida (.817 Win Percentage), and finished the season ranked no lower than twelfth in the AP Poll in any of his twelve campaigns. In the face of those expectations, Zook lasted just 37 games, going 23-14 (.636 Win Percentage) before he was dismissed following a 7-5 season. Fast forward to Meyer’s reign, which lasted six years containing a 65-15 record (.813 Win Percentage) and a pair of National Titles before he abruptly retired due to physical issues, and you can see that Muschamp never really had a chance. A 28-21 resume’ (.571 Win Percentage) just isn’t enough to keep his post at a program like Florida, where he has now gone 10-15 (.400 Win Percentage) over the last two seasons. The 43-year old never quite seemed like the right guy to take over for the innovative Meyer, even though he had spent years in the SEC plying his trade as a Defensive Coordinator at LSU and Auburn, serving under Nick Saban in Baton Rouge, where the Tigers won a BCS Title in 2003. He even followed Saban to the NFL, where he enjoyed a season as his Assistant Head Coach with the Miami Dolphins. In fact, the Georgia native even played his college ball at the University of Georgia. The credentials were there, and the pedigree was evident, but the results simply never came. Defensively, the Gators remained a force in the SEC, but year after year they regressed offensively, thanks in large to part to instability under Center. Muschamp was never able to find his Quarterback, in contrast to how Spurrier had Danny Wuerffel, and Meyer had Tim Tebow. Seven different Quarterbacks tried their hand under Muschamp with minimal success, most notably Jeff Driskel who was the highest-rated passer coming out of the state of Florida in 2011. However, Driskel never really developed in that role, while Muschamp often appeared clueless as to how to improve his prized recruit. In just eight starts during his senior season, Driskel completed 54.4% of his passes with nine touchdowns and ten interceptions, before checking out with another season-ending injury. A revolving door of Offensive Coordinators didn’t help his cause either, making Muschamp look like the SEC version of Rex Ryan, so involved in the workings of his defense, while neglecting the needs of the offense. And in the end, this last quote from his final press conference sums it all up: “I was given every opportunity to get it done here, and I simply didn’t win enough games… that is the bottom line.” Good luck, William… Zook landed on his feet and you will too.
The situation in Ann Arbor isn’t all that different, as Brady Hoke too was informed of his inevitable dismissal weeks before Saturday’s 42-28 loss at Ohio State. Back in 2008, Michigan replaced the tenured and largely successful Llyod Carr with the ill-fated Rich Rodriguez experiment, which was an unmitigated disaster for the program on multiple fronts, leading them to scramble in 2011 to find a more conventional successor. Now Hoke was far from their first choice; Jon Gruden, Les Miles, and Jim Harbaugh were some of the high-profile personalities courted throughout the search. Ultimately, the Wolverines settled on Hoke, who had deep ties to the university, serving in a variety of roles under Carr from 1995 to 2002, coaching the Defensive Line before holding the Assistant Head Coach position during his final year there. In 2003 he was off to lead his Alma Mater Ball State, where he remained until 2008, accumulating a 34-38 record (.472 Win Percentage), culminating in a 12-1 campaign, which eventually attracted the interest of San Diego State, where again he would take over a flailing program. Hoke led the Aztecs to a 9-4 mark in his second and final term, concluding with a 35-14 victory over Navy in the Poinsettia Bowl. With a history of rebuilding struggling programs and years learning at the feet of the aforementioned Carr, the 56-year old made sense at Michigan, even if he was far from a “sexy” pick. After all, he fit the profile of a “Michigan Man”. With that said, he just didn’t win like the many Michigan Men that came before him. Similar to Muschamp, things started off well enough for Hoke, who led the Wolverines to an 11-2 record in his maiden voyage in Ann Arbor, highlighted by a 23-20 victory over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. However, the team continued to regress with each passing season, falling to 8-5 in 2012, followed by 7-6 in 2013, to a miserable 5-7 in 2014, the second-worst record in Michigan history since 1984. During his tenure he also witnessed the program’s two prime rivals soar to new heights, as Ohio State and Michigan State surpassed them in the ever-growing pecking order of the Big Ten. Against the Buckeyes and Spartans, Hoke was just 2-6, including three consecutive losses in the “The Game” by a total of 36 points. Furthermore, he has seen his team win just six games against the Big Ten over the last two seasons. Upon accepting the position, Hoke acknowledged that he had quite a job ahead of him, given the state of the program after his predecessor’s termination. Rodriguez’s Spread Option Offense couldn’t have been more diametrically different than Carr’s conventional, Pro-Style Offense, which was precisely what Hoke was looking to install once more. In essence, it was the same reason Rodriguez failed; his system required vastly different players, particularly at Quarterback, and in three seasons he simply wasn’t able to assemble the necessary parts. Well, Hoke in turn had to adapt his offense to the players Rodriguez spent three years recruiting, while slowly trying to implement the foundation of his (and by extension, Carr’s) offense with the requisite personnel. Simply put, it proved to be far too ambitious a project for even a builder such as Hoke, who will no doubt land on his feet somewhere else. After all, Rodriguez has settled in quite nicely at Arizona, where he has the Wildcats in the Pac-12 Championship Game this weekend.
Now we come to the situation in Lincoln, where Nebraska has now relieved a Head Coach who has won no fewer than nine games in each of his seven seasons at the helm. Going strictly off of his record on the sidelines, Bo Pelini clearly did not deserve to lose his job. In his time leading the Cornhuskers, the 46-year old put together a stellar 67-27 mark (.713 Win Percentage), including three ten-win campaigns, and has his team set for their seventh Bowl Game in as many years. However, in his case, how much is enough exactly? Pelini never led Nebraska to a Conference Championship, whether it was in the Big Twelve or the Big Ten, and since moving to the latter in 2011 is 22-10 in conference play. But even that number must come with a bit of an asterisk, for apart from 2012’s 7-1 record against the Big Ten, the Huskers have gone 5-3 in each of the other three campaigns. Furthermore, against conference powerhouses such as Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, his team is a mere 3-6. And then there is the case of the postseason, where Pelini and his charges have flamed out recently, losing three out of their past four Bowls, despite defeating an Aaron Murray-less Georgia team in last year’s Gator Bowl 24-19. Essentially, the majority of his success is viewed as fluff for lack of a better term, even though it’s much more favorable than what his predecessor Bill Callahan managed to do in his tenure in Lincoln. But with all that said, the genesis of Pelini’s firing most likely came off of the field. In a public place, the former Head Coach was apparently unknowingly recorded by someone in his vicinity making some explicit comments regarding his opinion of the Nebraska Fan Base, who began exiting the stadium as their team trailed Ohio State 27-6 in the Third Quarter of a 2011 matchup, which the Huskers managed to come back and win. Afterwards, Pelini was recorded stating the following; “Our crowd…What a bunch of @#$%ing fair-weather @#$%ing… they can all kiss my ass out the @#$%ing door. ‘Cause the day is @#$%ing coming now. We’ll see what they can do when I’m @#$%ing gone. I’m so @#$%ing pissed off…” After the tape leaked, Pelini quickly took responsibility for his comments, and went so far as to fall on the proverbial sword saying that if the Athletic Director wished to fire him, then he would accept his fate. Now you can imagine how that recording might have endeared him to the fans, who have publicly called for his head on a number of occasions now. Furthermore, he has been known to be volatile on the field as well; in a loss to Iowa last season, he derided a reporter in front of a National Television audience at halftime, and drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty when he swung his hat in the direction of a referee, nearly striking the official. Afterwards he referred to the penalty as chicken @#$%, and stated in the ensuing press conference “if they want to fire me, go ahead…I don’t apologize for anything I’ve done.” Oh, Bo, we’re going to miss you.. here’s to hoping that you don’t remain unemployed for long.
So where do these programs go now? Given the storied histories of Florida, Michigan, and Nebraska, there is sure to be a long line waiting to interview for their respective posts. Look for them each to court as many big names as possible, with an eye focused on available alumni, or at the very least someone with ties to the university. They won’t, but they just need to understand that Steve Spurrier, Urban Meyer, Lloyd Carr, and Tom Osborne are not walking through that door… And where will Muschamp, Hoke, and Pelini end up? History tells us that once a coach is fired from one of these college football blue bloods, there is a number of opportunities awaiting them at programs where the pressure to win and expectations aren’t nearly as great as the jobs they’re leaving. Zook enjoyed success at Illinois, while Rodriguez is winning games at Arizona, and even Callahan is experiencing a bit of a renaissance coaching the Dallas Cowboys’ stellar Offensive Line, proving that there is indeed life after leading an elite program. Good luck gentlemen, we hope to see you back on the sidelines soon.
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