Skip to main content

10 Head Coaching Moves College Football Programs Would Like to Forget

10 Head Coaching Moves College Football Programs Would Like to Forget

Lane Kiffin's brief tenure as Tennessee's head coach is better off forgotten

The end of college football’s regular season results in numerous coaching vacancies and fans are on the edge of their seat about who their program will hire... and rightfully so. A good coaching hire can revitalize a program. A bad one can cause years of damage. Everything looks easy from a distance, but here are 10 that stand out for various reasons.

10. Kansas 2011: Charlie Weis Replaces Turner Gill

The Jayhawks brought in Turner Gill from Buffalo after the 2009 season to replace Mark Mangino, who had resigned amid accusations of abusive coaching practices. Kansas gave Gill a five-year, $10 million contract and he proceeded to go 5-19 in his two seasons. Gill was fired at the end of the 2011 season, but his contract stipulated that he had to receive the remaining $6 million within 120 days of being fired. Kansas reached out to its top boosters to help cover that cost and then turned around and hired Charlie Weis to replace him. The ex-Notre Dame head coach went 6-22 and was fired after four games into the 2014 season. Kansas would have been better off just letting Gill finish out his contract.

9. Michigan State 1999: Bobby Williams Replaces Nick Saban

Nick Saban guided the Spartans to their best season in three decades before departing for LSU.  Then he had second thoughts. How likely it was that he would have stayed and how hard athletic director Clarence Underwood tried to keep him is the subject of debate, but in the end Saban went to Baton Rouge. Underwood replaced him with running backs coach Bobby Williams, who coached the team to victory in the Citrus Bowl.  Williams then went on to have one winning season in three years as head coach and his team was 3-6 in 2002 when he was fired.

8. Notre Dame 1980: Gerry Faust Replaces Dan Devine

Some would call this a terrible coaching move. Others, including Notre Dame athletic officials, called it “The Bold Experiment.” After Notre Dame head coach Dan Devine retired at the end of the 1980 season, he was replaced by Gerry Faust, who had coached for 19 seasons at Archbishop Moeller High School in the Cincinnati area and won five of the last six Ohio State Championships. Notre Dame officials knew it was a gamble, but Faust had an amazing record and had sent a lot of great players to Notre Dame, including Bob Crable and Tony Hunter (He also coached former Speaker of the House John Boehner.). Faust also was a devout Roman Catholic and Notre Dame was his dream job. The experiment ultimately failed. Faust went 5-6 in his first season and never matched the success of Devine. He resigned in 1985 in the midst of another 5-6 season and his final game was a nasty 58-7 blowout by Miami. Faust coached at Akron for the next nine seasons and – class act that he is – still attends Notre Dame games. While great coaches often get their start in high school, none since have ever gone straight from high school to leading a major program.

7. Arkansas 1989: Jack Crowe Replaces Ken Hatfield

Razorback head coach Ken Hatfield had won the Southwest Conference (SWC) in 1988 and ‘89, but had a tense relationship with AD Frank Broyles. When Hatfield bolted for Clemson after the 1989 season, Broyles asked Hatfield’s offensive coordinator, Jack Crowe, to stay and lead the program. Crowe went 9-14 in Arkansas’ last two seasons in the SWC. Then in 1992, the Razorbacks opened their first SEC season with a loss to The Citadel. Crowe was fired and defensive coordinator Joe Kines coached the team for the remainder of the season.

6. Alabama 2002: Mike Price Replaces Dennis Franchione

After Dennis Franchione surprised Alabama by leaving for Texas A&M at the end of a 10-3 season in 2002, AD Mal Moore then surprised fans by hiring Mike Price. In his 14 seasons at Washington State, Price had made the Rose Bowl twice. He also enjoyed the nightlife a little more than the Alabama officials preferred. His five months in Tuscaloosa included a reprimand for being seen out drinking into the early morning hours, but everything came to a head in April 2003. Price went to Pensacola for a golf tournament where he was seen at a strip club that ultimately resulted in a bawdy Sports Illustrated story (Price later sued SI and the lawsuit was settled.). Alabama President Robert Witt, who had promised to clean up the Crimson Tide’s image after NCAA sanctions, rescinded Price’s contract and hired Mike Shula. Price went to UTEP, where he and his family were beloved, and coached for nine seasons. Looking back, his actions seem pretty tame when compared to some of the coaching scandals that have occurred since then. 

5. Tennessee 2008: Lane Kiffin Replaces Phillip Fulmer

After firing Phillip Fulmer in 2008, athletic director Mike Hamilton hired Lane Kiffin, the former offensive coordinator at USC and the recently fired head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Hamilton gave Kiffin full control of the program and he proceeded to fire the entire staff, including graduate assistants and secretaries. After leading the team to a 7-6 record, he bolted in January 2010 to return to the Trojans as their head coach, leaving the Volunteers with no other options than Derek Dooley to lead their program. Tennessee has never fully recovered.

4. Arkansas 2017: Chad Morris Replaces Bret Bielema

Bielema was fired after a 4-8 season and replaced by Morris, who had just led SMU to a bowl game. However, he would not have the same success in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks went 2-10 and winless in the SEC in 2018 and started the 2019 season at 2-8. The final straw was a 45-19 beatdown by Western Kentucky on November 9. Morris was fired the next day. 

3. SMU 1981: Bobby Collins Replaces Ron Meyer

When head coach Ron Meyer left to coach the New England Patriots, SMU hired Bobby Collins, who had an impressive seven-year run as head coach of Southern Miss. Collins put together a 43-14-1 record and two Southwestern Conference championships while at SMU, but his tenure resulted in the program being given the “Death Penalty” in 1987. Many are to blame for this and Collins inherited a program that was already violating NCAA rules, but he still bears a lot of the responsibility as head coach. As the NCAA report on SMU’s probation noted, Collins had told the NCAA that, “all known violations had been disclosed and that every effort would be made to avoid violations in the future. Both assurances turned out to be false.” SMU has never fully rebounded from the severe NCAA sanctions.

2. Nebraska 2003: Bill Callahan Replaces Frank Solich

After an eight-win season and six straight bowl appearances, Nebraska AD Steve Pederson fired head coach Frank Solich. Granted, Solich’s success had not mirrored that of his predecessor Tom Osborne, whose final four years had included three national championships. The Huskers’ vaunted option offense also was losing its effectiveness. So in addition to firing Solich, Pederson decided to scrap it and bring in head coach Bill Callahan to install the West Coast offense. The decision did not work out and both Pederson and Callahan were fired in 2007.

1. Ole Miss 2004: Ed Orgeron Replaces David Cutcliffe

If you had told me 10 years ago that Ed Orgeron would be leading an unbeaten LSU team to the College Football Playoff, I probably would’ve looked for a lobotomy scar. Nevertheless, his recent success does not negate his place on this list. Back in the early 2000s, the dominance of USC under Pete Carroll caused ADs across the country to reevaluate the way they managed their football programs. It also caused some to lose their minds, the most egregious example being Ole Miss’ Pete Boone. After taking the reins in 1998, David Cutcliffe led the Rebels to five straight winning seasons, something no coach in Oxford had done since Johnny Vaught. After losing many key starters at the end of the 2003 season, including quarterback Eli Manning, Ole Miss went 4-7 in '04. Boone fired Cutcliffe and replaced him with Orgeron, the assistant head coach and recruiting director for USC. It became apparent quickly that Boone should have stayed with Cutcliffe. Orgeron won 10 games in three seasons and was fired in 2007. Cutcliffe is now at Duke, where he has taken the Blue Devils to six bowls, the most by any coach in the program’s history. And he is the last Ole Miss head coach to have five straight winning seasons.

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.