Canning a coach of the year

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OK, time for the ambitious bit of research for the week.

Despite knowing there probably isn’t enough time to look all this stuff up and do all the things needed to be done, I went ahead and did this anyway – mainly because of an insatiable curiosity as to whether Al Groh would be the first coach in a major conference to go from coach of the year to fired in a span of a season.

The problem with this was discovering the limitations on record-keeping or the granting of awards. The SEC goes back to the 1940s with it coach of the year honor, the ACC back to its inception in 1953. The Big East and Big 12 have records since starting up in the 1990s. But the Big Ten and Pac-10 only go back to the 1970s, so there’s some things missing there.

Also not there: The Big Eight and the Southwest Conference, which probably should count for the purposes of this activity. But without any records, they’ll be left out.

So with those problems established, I found 34 coaches who were not at their respective school two years after winning a conference coach of the year award. That seems a bit much, but there’s plenty of good reasons why someone might move on to bigger and better things. So let’s winnow the 34 down in two easy steps.

First, here’s the guys who took NFL head coaching jobs shortly after authoring award-worthy seasons in college:

Coach/School Honored 
Last year  Destination 
Dick Vermeil, UCLA19751975Eagles
Bill Walsh, Stanford1977197849ers
Bobby Ross, Georgia Tech19901991Chargers
Rich Brooks, Oregon19941994Rams
Dennis Erickson, Miami19941994Seahawks
Butch Davis, Miami20002000Browns
Nick Saban, Louisiana State20032004Dolphins

So that’s seven, and it brings the total down to 27. But those sort of honors don’t just attract the interest of pro teams. A lot of guys in the past (thought not as much recently) jumped to a more attractive college program.

Basically, whenever Alabama or Ohio State or Florida or Texas or Notre Dame comes calling, it’s a good thing. This is the list of guys who would seem to have made a leap at the time:

Coach/School Honored 
Last year  Destination 
Cal Stoll, Wake Forest19701970Minnesota
Steve Sloan, Vanderbilt19741974Texas Tech
Charley Pell, Clemson19771978Florida
Bill Curry, Georgia Tech19851986Alabama
John Cooper, Arizona State19861987Ohio State
Dennis Erickson, Washington St.19881988Miami
Steve Spurrier, Duke1988-891989Florida
Mack Brown, North Carolina19961997Texas
Tommy Tuberville, Ole Miss19971998Auburn
George O’Leary, Georgia Tech20002001Notre Dame
Mike Price, Washington St.20012002Alabama

Well, that’s a star-crossed pair to finish off that list of 11 guys. So now we’re down to 16.

OK, let’s get retirements out of the way, too.

Coach/School Honored 
Last year  Notes 
Bob Neyland, Tennessee19511952* Remained AD
Bear Bryant, Alabama19811982* Name is on stadium
Bill Dooley, Wake Forest19921992

That leaves 13, which is more manageable. They’ll be broken down into two groups: Guys who at least sort of had a choice to leave, and guys who were for all purposes shown the door (or would have been had they not resigned).

OK, first up the semi-voluntary and voluntary departures to similar or worse jobs:

* Jim Tatum, Maryland (1955). Tatum left College Park for North Carolina after the 1955 season despite the Terrapins’ status as a national power. But Tatum was from the Carolinas and coached the Tar Heels in 1942, so in retrospect it wasn’t that crazy a leap.

* John Mackovic, Wake Forest (1979): So far as I can tell, Mackovic left on his own to become the assistant head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. This was probably more of a no-brainer in 1980 than it is now, what with Tom Landry being the coach. Mackovic, incidentally, was replaced with a young Al Groh.

* Bill Arnsparger, Louisiana State (1986): Departed after that season to become athletic director at Florida, where he hired Steve Spurrier. Later returned to coaching as a defensive coordinator under Bobby Ross with the San Diego Chargers.

* Bill Curry, Alabama (1989): Alabama, then as now, was under the impression it would win a national title every year. So it offered Curry what amounted to a poison-pill contract extension. He said no thanks and bolted for Kentucky before the 1990 season.

* Bruce Snyder, California (1990): Sometimes, money can differentiate two programs that could be similar. That was the case with California and Arizona State, circa 1991. Snyder won 10 games and the Citrus Bowl with the Golden Bears that year, and things weren’t going to get any better than that.

* Walt Harris, Pittsburgh (2004): Harris bolted for Stanford after leading the Panthers to the Fiesta Bowl in 2006, in part because of little progress on a contract extension. This worked out poorly for both sides; Harris was fired after two seasons, and Pitt has endured three mediocre seasons under Dave Wannstedt.

* Houston Nutt, Arkansas (2006): In a classic case of beating the mob out of town, Nutt jumped to Ole Miss after last season. So far, so good: The Rebels won at Florida and nearly upset Wake Forest on the road.

And now the six guys who Groh might be joining at season’s end:

* Denny Stolz, Michigan State (1975): Landed the Spartans on probation and lost his job in the spring of 1976.

* Jerry Stovall, Louisiana State (1982): Stovall’s Tigers teams vacillated from 7-4 to 3-7-1 to 8-3-1 and a trip to the Orange Bowl. But the bottom fell out in 1983 and LSU went 4-7. Worse yet, the Tigers were winless in conference play for the first (and only) time since 1925.

* Dave Kragthorpe, Oregon State (1989): Kragthorpe’s coach of the year performance was awarded for a 4-7-1 season (3-4-1 in the Pac-10). The Beavers cratered to 1-10 the next season, though Kragthorpe was only one of a long line of coaches in Corvallis who couldn’t win.

* Don James, Washington (1991): Almost made it to the start of the 1993 season, but resigned in August amid sanctions leveled against the program.

* Mike DuBose, Alabama (1999): At no time is a 3-8 record acceptable at Alabama, even if it comes after a 10-win season and especially when it comes not long after a sexual harassment complaint. DuBose was gone after the 2000 season, ushering in the Dennis Franchione-Mike Price-Mike Shula era of fun times.

* David Cutcliffe, Ole Miss (2003): Eli Manning left, the Rebels went 4-7 in 2004 and the school decided it wanted a better recruiter. So it hired Crazy Ed Orgeron and spent three years in the pigskin hinterland before luring another coach (Houston Nutt) who shouldn’t have been pressured to leave his old gig prematurely.

And that’s it. Two coaches done in by scandal, one who never had a winning record at his school anyway, and three from the SEC.

So to swing back to the original thought, a potential Groh dismissal doesn’t have many parallels in college football history. But if it happens, he can always call his current conference colleague Cutcliffe on ways to handle such a rapid fall.

Patrick Stevens

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