“You’re Fired”: A Guide to 2012′s College Football Coaching Vacancies
Updated: Who’s Out as Head Coach After 2012?
The college football sidelines will look drastically different next season after thirteen schools fired their head coaches, six since last weekend's games.
College football coaches make big salaries, but they also make big money for their schools – as long as they’re winning.
Success on the field puts fans in seats, drives television interests, and leads to postseason bowl games with lucrative payouts for the schools and the conferences.
As long as they play within the rules (or don’t get caught bending them) and make money for the athletic department by fielding a winning team, they’ll be set.
Lots of factors play into a coach's success, but the win-loss record wasn't on the side of these coaches, several of whom were casualties of Sunday’s mass firings at the college level.
Seven coaches were relieved of their duties following this weekend’s games: Colorado’s Jon Embree, Boston College’s Frank Spaziani, Purdue’s Danny Hope, Auburn’s Gene Chizik, and North Carolina State’s Tom O’Brien on Sunday, and Southern Mississippi’s Ellis Johnson two days later.
Given how poorly many of their seasons went, some of them probably saw it coming – asked about his job status a day earlier, Hope quipped that he’d been on the hot seat for four years – but that doesn’t make it any easier.
While those schools waited until the end of the regular season to announce the decision, others moved much more quickly. Cal’s Jeff Tedford, Tennessee’s Derek Dooley, Kentucky’s Joker Phillips, Western Michigan’s Bill Cubit and Idaho’s Rob Akey were all let go midway through the season, to allow the schools to get a jump start on their searches for replacements.
Kentucky has already found Phillips’ successor: Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops will finally get his shot as a head coach with the Wildcats next season.
Kentucky’s firing and hiring process went very smoothly, aided in part by Phillips’ class and dignity from the time of the announcement, through the end of the season.
Other schools didn’t fare quite as well in the aftermath, particularly Colorado, who fired Embree, an alumnus, after just two seasons. Many fans, alumni, and members of the Colorado media believed it was too soon to pull the plug, and in his tearful farewell press conference, Embree seemed frustrated that he had such a short tenure to try to right the program after his predecessor, Dan Hawkins, got four seasons.
The Buffaloes, especially athletic director Mike Bohn, who hired both Hawkins and Embree, have to get it right with their next hire, but coaches on the move this offseason will have plenty of other options.
Ellis Johnson - Southern Mississippi
Southern Mississippi won the Conference USA title last season but in the team’s first year under head coach Ellis Johnson, the Eagles posted an 0-12 record. He won’t have the chance to improve on the winless record after getting the boot on Tuesday.
Johnson, who was the defensive coordinator at Southern Miss in the late 1980s and most recently was assistant head coach at South Carolina.. He was hired last year after former coach Larry Fedora moved on to North Carolina, but it seems Johnson is one of the many coaches who’s better as a coordinator than a head coach.
Jon Embree – Colorado
The Buffaloes won just one game in 2012, but Embree deserved at least one more year to try to make an improvement. Colorado’s conference schedule was brutal thanks to the depth in the Pac-12, and Embree hadn’t had much time to recruit and coach his own players.
Embree might not have been the best hire for the Buffaloes; when they offered him the job back in December of 2009, he was coming off a stellar season as the Washington Redskins tight ends coach, and while he’d been a position coach for Colorado, UCLA, and the Kansas City Chiefs over the last 20 years, he had no head coaching experience. Regardless, the Buffs’ administration wanted a Colorado man, but they didn’t give him a fair shot at maturing as a head coach and getting the already-broken program back on track.
Embree is a stand-up guy, and he treated his players with respect and kindness, always looking out for them as if they were his own children. The wins and losses didn’t end up in his favor, but as Embree pointedly said at his press conference: “We did things the right way.”
Frank Spaziani - Boston College
The Spaz got the boot from BC on Sunday, ending the season-long speculation about when he’d finally be relieved of his duties. The Eagles’ longtime defensive coordinator didn’t have the same success as the head man, with win totals that steadily decreased in each of his four years. Last year, the team’s poor performances snapped the school’s 12-year bowl game streak, and after a 2-10 record this year – the school’s worst since 1978 – the Eagles are again out of the postseason, and Spaziani is out of a job.
Danny Hope - Purdue
A late-season run helped Purdue sneak into bowl eligibility, but coach Danny Hope won’t coach them in the game after getting the axe over the final weekend of the regular season. Hope had a losing record, 22-27 over four years.
He was in a tough spot at Purdue; it’s not easy to recruit players there when their competitors Ann Arbor, Columbus, and South Bend are pursuing the same talents. The university is also at the bottom of the conference in compensation for its coaching staff, and it’s hard to attract the best position coaches if the school isn’t paying a competitive salary. Purdue will have a tough time finding a coach who’ll come in and win early, unless the program can open its coffers and pay a bigger name considerably more than Hope and his staff made over the last four years.
Gene Chizik - Auburn
Has any coach risen so high, so quickly, and then fallen so far, just as fast? Chizik fell upward to Auburn from Iowa State, where he was 5-19 in two seasons and headed for the Cyclones’ hot seat. He was Lane Kiffin-like in his move from a mediocre job to a better one, but unlike Kiffin, Chizik’s big break put a championship ring on his finger. The Auburn Tigers went 14-0 in 2010 thanks in large part to Cam Newton and won the BCS Championship. After losing Newton to the NFL, the Tigers were just 4-4 in the SEC the following season, and they were winless in the conference this year.
The Auburn job, with lots of SEC tradition and a recent championship win, will be a great opportunity for whoever ends up replacing Chizik
Tom O'Brien - North Carolina State
One of the biggest surprises of the weekend was North Carolina State canning Tom O’Brien after six seasons. The Wolfpack finished a respectable fourth in the ACC (albeit in a down season for the conference) with a 7-5 record, and NC State fans thought O’Brien would at least last through the bowl game.
O’Brien led the team to its third straight bowl game, but the widespread opinion was that he wouldn’t be able to take the Wolfpack any further. He was 40-35 in the last six years, but just 11-19 against ACC Atlantic Division opponents, and the team’s loss to in-state rival North Carolina this season may have sealed his fate.
John L. Smith - Arkansas
To no one’s surprise, the interim head coach will not be the Hogs’ head coach again next season. Smith left a brand new job at his alma mater,
Derek Dooley - Tennessee
In just under three years as the head coach at Tennessee, Dooley added color to the Volunteers’ press conferences (and sidelines, with those burnt orange gameday slacks) but not many wins. He was just 4-21 against SEC opponents – not a remotely acceptable mark for a storied program like UT.
The Volunteers have been just 23-27 since firing longtime coach and alum Phillip Fulmer after the 2008 season. The team has had one winning season since 2007, when they finished 7-6 in Lane Kiffin’s only season; Dooley’s record as UT head coach was 15-21. The program has lost a lot of its luster in the last few years, but it’s one of the best head coaching jobs in the nation, with the money and allure to land the kind of coach that will make the Vols newly competitive in the SEC.
Jeff Tedford - California
Tedford got the dreaded vote of confidence from AD Sandy Barbour before the season started, but not even the impassioned support of former player and current NFL superstar Aaron Rodgers could save him. The Bears were beset by injuries this season, but after a $321 million renovation to Memorial Stadium, they could only make so many excuses.
Tedford won Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors twice, and he holds the school record for most wins and bowl game victories, but the program has been on the decline. Tedford’s first losing season (5-7) was in 2010, but he was just 3-9 this year.
His biggest contribution will undoubtedly be lobbying for the facility improvements, which took 21 months and forced the team to play their 2010 home games in San Francisco’s AT&T Park. The new facilities make Cal more competitive with other top Pac-12 schools, and will help Tedford’s eventual replacement sell recruits on signing with the Bears.
Bill Cubit - Western Michigan
Cubit, the coach with the fifth-most wins in WMU program history, was fired as the team’s head coach on November 17 after the Broncos dropped five of their last six games. In eight seasons, Cubit had a winning record, but the team was just 2-8 in the MAC this year, in large part because quarterback Alex Carder missed half the season with a hand injury.
Joker Phillips - Kentucky
Phillips, who played for the Wildcats in the early 1980s, had been an assistant at Kentucky since 2003 before becoming head coach in 2010. He was 13-24 in three seasons, but he was incredibly respected by fellow coaches, alumni, players, and members of the media.
In an open letter to the Wildcat community, athletic director Mitch Barnhart wrote: "I have determined that it is in the best interest of our athletics program to make a change in our football coaching staff at the conclusion of the season. I do so with a heavy heart for a man who has served his alma mater for almost 22 years as a player and a coach. Joker Phillips has carried the banner for the Blue and White with honor and pride.”
A class act until the end, in the press conference during his following his final game, Phillips said: "One of the things I learned is you’ve got to practice what you preach. Everybody’s going around here talking about how I handled this thing. The reason why I handled it this way: How can I go in there and tell those guys how I want them to handle themselves and I’m not handling it the same way. So I learned a lot during these last three weeks. But it’s time to go. I understand that. It’s definitely time to go."
Rob Akey - Idaho
Akey was fired back in October after the Vandals’ 1-7 start, and offensive coordinator Jason Gesser took over as interim head coach for the remainder of the season. Akey was 20-50 since he was hired at Idaho in 2007.
It’s one of several huge changes to come for the football program. The Western Athletic Conference (WAC), of which Idaho was a member, will not sponsor football in 2013 because it no longer has enough viable teams. Idaho plans to compete in D-I football as an independent next season, which could make the vacant head coaching spot a tougher sell.
Mike Price - UTEP
Price wasn’t fired, but after speculation that he was on the hot seat this year, he announced his retirement from coaching, and at his retirement press conference, he openly admitted: “I didn’t win enough games.”
The 66-year-old Price went 3-8 in his ninth season with the school, and he endorsed current defensive coordinator Andre Patterson as his choice to take over the program.