It’s rare to see a college football coach hire catch the media by surprise. In most coaching searches, the names and interest level between the candidates and the programs are known and rumored about until the job is filled.
However, every coaching cycle seems to have a hire or two that catches the media or a program's fanbase by surprise. Regardless of whether the hire is good or bad, some hires seem to come out of nowhere or register as ones that no one saw coming when the job opened.
The 2015 cycle is no different, as South Carolina hired former Florida coach Will Muschamp, while Virginia was able to pull Bronco Mendenhall away from BYU. With the Mendenhall and Muschamp hires in mind, here are 10 coaching hires since 2000 that no one saw coming when the job opened:
10 College Football Coaching Hires That Shocked Fans Since 2000
Bill Callahan, Nebraska from the Oakland Raiders (2004)
Callahan is regarded as an excellent assistant but probably isn’t built to be a head coach. Even though he led the Raiders to the Super Bowl in the 2002 season, Oakland slumped to an awful 4-12 mark the next year, which resulted in Callahan’s firing. After the terrible 2003 season with the Raiders, Callahan somehow managed to land at Nebraska. Yes, there’s something appealing about a coach with NFL experience, but Callahan rode the coattails of former Raider head coach Jon Gruden to get Oakland to a Super Bowl and lost the team the next year. Callahan led Nebraska to a 27-22 mark during his four seasons, which included a Big 12 North division title in 2006. However, the Cornhuskers were just 15-17 overall in Big 12 play under Callahan’s watch and recorded two seasons with just five victories.
Ron Zook, Illinois from Florida (2004)
With an elite recruiting base and the success of Florida under Steve Spurrier, Zook’s 23-14 record was a major disappointment in Gainesville. The Gators never won more than eight games in a season under Zook’s watch and he was fired with two games remaining in 2004. Considering his mediocre record at one of the nation’s top programs, Illinois’ decision to hire Zook didn’t make a lot of sense. Zook did lead Illinois to a Rose Bowl appearance but had four losing seasons. The Ohio native was always regarded as an excellent recruiter but was never able to mesh the talent with results on the field.
Paul Pasqualoni, Connecticut from the Dallas Cowboys (2010)
Even though Pasqualoni is a Connecticut native and recorded a 107-59-1 mark during his tenure at Syracuse, this hire made little sense at the time and did not work out for the Huskies. Pasqualoni was out of college football for six seasons, spending all of that time in the NFL. Considering the last three years of his Syracuse tenure resulted in a 16-20 record, coupled with his time away from the college game, Connecticut’s hire of Pasqualoni made little sense. The Huskies finished Pasqualoni's tenure with a 10-18 record and zero bowl trips.
Charlie Weis, Kansas from Florida offensive coordinator (2011)
Weis started off his career at Notre Dame with a solid 19-6 mark, which included back-to-back appearances in BCS bowls. Despite the early success, Weis was never able to elevate the program into national title contention and never won more than seven games in each of his final three years in South Bend. After getting fired from Notre Dame, he spent one year with the Chiefs and then one season with Florida as its offensive coordinator. Although Weis is a highly regarded assistant, he’s done little to suggest he can lead a program as its head coach. The Jayhawks went 1-11 in his first season, 3-9 in 2013 and 2-2 before he was fired in 2014.
Jim Mora, UCLA from Fox (2011)
The Bruins had an extensive coaching search to find Rick Neuheisel’s replacement at the end of the 2011 regular season. Some big candidates (Chris Petersen) weren’t interested in leaving for Los Angeles, and when the pool of candidates began to get thin, UCLA decided to go with Mora as its next head coach. Considering he had no collegiate coaching experience since 1984 and was just 31-33 in four seasons as a NFL head coach, Mora’s hire came as a big surprise. However, Mora has been a good fit so far, recording a 37-15 record in four seasons with the Bruins and one Pac-12 Championship game appearance.
Bret Bielema, Arkansas from Wisconsin (2012)
With the rise of social media, keeping a coaching search under wraps for any program is nearly impossible. Somehow, Arkansas kept its courtship of Bielema off the radar and was able to hire him away from Wisconsin just after winning the Big Ten Championship. Considering Bielema’s background as a player in the Big Ten and his successful stint at Wisconsin (68-24 and three consecutive Rose Bowls), it was a surprise to see him make the move to Arkansas. However, Bielema’s move to Fayetteville has worked out well, as he’s 17-20 in three years, including consecutive seven-win seasons after a 3-9 debut. Bielema has Arkansas moving in the right direction.
Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati from Texas Tech (2012)
The marriage between Tuberville and Texas Tech always seemed a little odd from the start. However, no one could have expected Tuberville to jump from Texas Tech to Cincinnati, especially considering the uncertainty surrounding the Big East/American Athletic Conference at that time. The Arkansas native has left each of his three stops with a winning record and led Texas Tech to a 20-17 mark in three years. As a program, Cincinnati has upside. And the Bearcats are making a commitment to facility upgrades, which should help the program become more attractive for future conference realignment. Tuberville is 25-13 in three seasons at Cincinnati.
Mike Riley, Nebraska from Oregon State (2014)
Nebraska was one of the highest-profile jobs in the 2014 coaching carousel, and athletic director Shawn Eichorst was looking for a coach to take the Cornhuskers back into Big Ten title contention on a consistent basis. Bo Pelini won at least nine games in each of his seven seasons in Lincoln but never won a conference title. Eichorst picked Riley to replace Pelini, which was a surprise after Oregon State went 12-13 in his final two years in Corvallis. Oregon State is not an easy job, and Riley guided the program to 93 wins during his tenure with the Beavers. Although Riley had success at a tough job, most expected Nebraska would hire a bigger name.
Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia from BYU (2015)
Mendenhall’s move from BYU to Virginia seemed to catch everyone by surprise when it was announced on Dec. 4. The Utah native wasn’t on candidate lists after Mike London was fired and it’s probably not a stretch to consider BYU a better overall job than Virginia. In 11 seasons with the Cougars, Mendenhall went 99-42 and will coach his final game with the program in the Las Vegas Bowl against Utah. BYU is a good job, but the program also has its share of challenges as an independent. Mendenhall is inheriting some similar challenges at Virginia with its strong academic reputation.
Will Muschamp, South Carolina from South Carolina defensive coordinator (2015)
Despite a 28-21 record in four seasons at Florida, Muschamp got a second chance to be a head coach in the SEC. Although Muschamp didn’t inherit a roster full of talent and depth with the Gators, a 28-21 record at one of the best jobs in college football doesn’t inspire much confidence for his ability to lead South Carolina back into SEC East title contention. Muschamp is an excellent defensive coach, but he struggled to hire the right coaches and develop an offensive system at Florida. Will the second time around in the SEC be any different?