10 College Football National Championship-Winning Head Coaches Who Had Rough Starts

Many coaches have started in the outhouse and made it to the penthouse

Each college football season brings a new round of head coaches and high expectations. For Nebraska and Florida State, Scott Frost and Willie Taggart are currently falling short of them. While the verdict is still out on both coaches, they still have time to turn things around. Many coaches have had rough starts before having great success. Here are 10 that weathered bad beginnings and went on to win national championships.

 

Duffy Daugherty, Michigan State (1954-72)

After Michigan State head coach Clarence Munn was promoted to athletic director, assistant Daugherty inherited a team that won the Big Ten title the year before and entered the 1954 season ranked seventh. Injuries quickly derailed the Spartans, who went 3-6. The next season, Michigan State went 9-1 and beat UCLA in the Rose Bowl. Daugherty then won back-to-back national championships in 1965 and '66.

 

Frank Broyles, Arkansas (1958-76)

Broyles left a head-coaching gig at Missouri for Fayetteville in 1958 and proceeded to lose his first six games. However, the next season Broyles won the first of his seven Southwest Conference titles at Arkansas and then claimed a share of the national championship in 1964.

 

John McKay, USC (1960-75)

After serving as an assistant with the Trojans for two years, McKay was promoted to head coach in 1960 and USC entered the season ranked No. 6. The Trojans did not stay there long, losing their first three games and going 4-6. That being said, they did beat cross-city rival UCLA and two years later, McKay won the first of his four national championships.

 

Joe Paterno, Penn State (1966-2011)

The longtime Penn State assistant took over head-coaching duties in 1966 and lost three of his first five games before finishing the season at 5-5 (the same record as in '65). The Nittany Lions improved to 8-2-1 the next season and then Paterno recorded the first of his five perfect seasons in 1968.

 

Bobby Bowden, Florida State (1976-2009)

Bowden left a relatively safe job at West Virginia because he saw the potential with Florida State. Success was not immediate, as he lost his first three games in 1976 and finished 5-6. That would be his only losing season in Tallahassee, where he built a powerhouse and won two national titles.

 

Howard Schnellenberger, Miami (Fla.) (1979-83)

Miami was considering dropping its football program before it hired the Miami Dolphins' offensive coordinator so it was no surprise that he went 5-6 in his first season in 1979. Schnellenberger though had a vision of a revolutionary program that started to become a reality with each season. Miami steadily improved and won its first national championship in 1983.

 

Bill McCartney, Colorado (1982-94)

The longtime Michigan assistant was hired to replace Chuck Fairbanks in 1982 and only won seven games in his first three seasons. He was fortunate that Colorado did not have high expectations and thus stuck with him. The move paid off and the Buffaloes won three Big 8 titles and a national championship in 1990.

 

Lou Holtz, Notre Dame (1986-96)

Holtz left Minnesota to replace Gerry Faust at Notre Dame and inherited a struggling program. The Irish’s woes were fully apparent in his first season in 1986 when the team started 1-4 and finished the season 5-6. But things got better fast and Notre Dame went undefeated and won the national championship in 1988.

 

Bobby Ross, Georgia Tech (1987-91)

Following a successful five-year stint at Maryland, Ross accepted the head-coaching job at Georgia Tech in 1987, but only won five games in two seasons. But the team improved to 7-4 in 1989 and went 11-0-1 and shared the national title with Colorado in 1990.

 

Pete Carroll, USC (2001-09)

After so-so stints with the New York Jets and New England Patriots, Carroll returned to the college game with ideas on how to create a top-flight program. They did not immediately pan out, as USC started the season 1-4. Then the Trojans won five of their next six games and earned a bowl berth. The next season, USC began a seven-year run in which they won 82 games, seven conference titles and two national championships.

 

— 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.

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