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Institutions Must Show More Patience and Faith With Their Football Coaches

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Boston College followed through on a promise and fired Head Coach Jeff Jagodzinski if he interviewed with the NY Jets of the NFL. This instance, along with last year’s lawsuit of Rich Rodriguez by West Virginia, is some big steps by institutions to take back some control. Now, the institutions need to step up in the way they deal with coaches. 

Many pundits (me included) rip on coaches for bailing from job to job, but that is a by-product of institutions that pull the trigger on coaches after a struggling season or two. This is not directed at programs where changes occur after three or more losing or break-even seasons. If the program is not headed in a positive direction (however subjective a measure that may be), change may be warranted. I am talking about the kind of pressure that almost ran Mack Brown out of Texas before Vince Young did his thing; the kind of pressure that led to Tommy Tuberville’s resignation at Auburn; he rather unwarranted pressure that is slowly building on Jim Tressel at Ohio State and Bob Stoops at Oklahoma.

The pressure to win and win now is heavier than ever. As the business of college football has grown and become more and more profitable, so has this pressure. Institutions have parted ways with coaches with winning records, consistent bowl appearances, and high graduations rates. You would think this is rewarded with contract extensions, but if all of that does not equate to conference wins and BCS wins, the coach may soon be on the way out of the door. 

Many will say that the competitive nature of the sport dictates an expectation of a quick turnaround for a program. Some college programs jump too early at early success – see Notre Dame which rewarded Charlie Weis with a huge contract after one year and now rumors abound about the size of his buyout contract. Some programs seem out of touch with what it takes to be/stay competitive in the conference/nation – see UCLA who spent a crazy amount of money for Rick Neuheisel’s tainted résumé and work history in order to compete with USC. Either scenario creates enormous buyouts, crazy contract stipulations, and only adds to the cycle of confusion.

There are still a group of Auburn fans who maintain that the best coach to hire in replacement of Tommy Tuberville was Tommy Tuberville. Did Auburn react to the success of the cross-state rival and traditional power come-back-to-life-again University of Alabama and Nick Saban? It is hard to argue that it did not at least register on the decision-makers’ radar. 

Eddie Robinson won more games as a head coach than any other coach in college football while at Grambling University. (Sorry Joe Paterno.) At one time in his career, the university was seriously considering letting him go while the team was struggling. Only a groundswell of alum and media support thwarted this effort. What a travesty that would have been! 

College football, on the D1A (FBS) level, is a beauty contest. It is not just for the championship, though that certainly applies, but in terms of the whole athletic department. Many powers that be (especially at southern schools) believe the national prominence and recognition of the football team affect so many other aspects of the university. 

Remember the 1993 film, The Program? The head coach has a winning season, misses a bowl game, and is called into the president’s office with the AD and other boosters to talk about the direction of the program. The coach responds with a query about how secure his job is and the president reminds him of how important success on the field is to the alumni base, the boosters, student population, and to recruiting of students even. You may think this is absurd, but let me assure you that conversation takes place at many institutions of higher learning each year. 

Should it happen that way? In a perfect world, no way! However, it does exist and thus the constant need to succeed drives many good coaches to either seek fame and fortune elsewhere, take more secure/less flashy jobs or out of the business altogether. 

So if we expect coaches to change their job-hopping ways, institutions must show more fortitude, vision, and faith in the direction of programs. Otherwise, prepare yourself for the endless merry-go-round of coaches and programs each season. 

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About J. Newcastle

  • We saw a lot of institutionalized coaches leave this year: Fulmer, Tommy Tuberville, Tommy Bowden, Tom Amstutz (too! many! Toms!), and Rocky Long to name a few. Some of those decisions were mutual, others weren’t. But some schools wants to see their coaches with passion, and something to prove. After a while you just don’t have that, and you can go through the motions. The coaches for all those schools have a lot to prove.

    But then you have schools like BC, Army, and Iowa State, whose coaches are leaving the senior class to play under their third coach as an amateur. That’s just way too many, and it’s bad for the program.