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The 2005 Coaching Carousel Revisited: The Big Winners and Bigger Losers

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The 2015-16 coaching carousel is just getting started, a scary thought with more than a dozen jobs opening up before Thanksgiving. That number is only going to balloon as coaches start to fill those positions and other coaches and schools wait until the end of the season to part ways.

Most new coaches bring with them a sense of optimism. In the winter and spring, every hire seems like a good one. The reality, of course, is different. Some hires work. Some don’t. Some hires work so well a coach is gone to a better opportunity in a short matter of years.

We decided we’d mark this year’s coaching carousel with a look back at the coaching moves from just a decade ago. This was the year Urban Meyer stepped into the SEC, Oklahoma State, BYU and Utah hired coaches who became campus institutions and Notre Dame, Stanford and Washington made disastrous moves.

Of the 23 hires in the 2005-06 cycle:

• Two coaches would win a national championship (Urban Meyer and Les Miles).

• Four are still coaching the team that hired them (Miles, Frank Solich, Kyle Whittingham and Mike Gundy). A fifth would retire midway through the season (Steve Spurrier).

• 11 coaches would be fired in five seasons or less. Of the 14 coaches fired out of this class, only two (Bill Cubit and Charlie Weis) would get another non-interim FBS coaching job.

• And, in a surprise, only two would use the school that hired him in 2005 as a stepping stone to another job. Skip Holtz moved from East Carolina to USF. Bronco Mendenhall, after 11 seasons at BYU, made a surprise move to Virginia.

Here’s a look back at all the coaching hires in 2005-06 along with how Athlon Sports evaluated each move in the pages of the 2006 college football preview annual.

Urban Meyer, Florida

What did Athlon say?

“Meyer should have the Gators in the hunt for the national title on a consistent basis.”

How did he do?

Exactly what he was projected to do. The Gators won the national championship in 2006 and 2008 and came within a game of the 2009 BCS title game before losing to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. He also coached Florida third Heisman winner, Tim Tebow, and proved that his version of the spread option offense — then a novel idea — could work in the SEC. Off-field issues and health problems contributed to an 8-5 season in 2010 and his abrupt departure. He and Nick Saban are 1a and 1b in terms of the best coaches in the game today.

Charlie Weis, Notre Dame

What did Athlon say?

“He must lead the Fighting Irish to a national championship and compete for a BCS bowl year in and year out.”

How did he do?

Weis started well enough, seemingly living up to his status as one “one of the most highly regarded coordinators in NFL history,” as Athlon put it. Remember, at the time he was hired at Notre Dame, Weis had three Super Bowl rings and was considered the mastermind behind the rise of Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense. At Notre Dame, he took underutilized talent by the previous staff and reached two BCS games in his first two seasons, losing both. He was far less adept at building his own program and installing a college system, going 16-21 in his last three seasons. His 3-9 season after Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija left was the worst for Notre Dame in 44 years. That, and his failed tenures as head coach at Kansas and offensive coordinator at Florida have effectively ruled his college coaching career a punchline.

Les Miles, LSU

What did Athlon say?

“Some Tiger faithful had hoped the program could have lured a bigger name to Baton Rouge, but Miles is a very good coach who succeeded at Oklahoma State during a time when Oklahoma emerged as one of the top two or three programs in the nation.”

How did he do?

It’s complicated. If Miles was an underwhelming hire at first — he had coached only four years at Okie State and never won more than nine games — he erased doubts early. LSU finished 11-2 and in the top six in his first season before winning a BCS title in 2006 despite two losses. LSU made a second title game appearance in 2011, but the loss to Alabama was a sign of things to come. Oddly enough, what distinguished Miles at Oklahoma State — competing with Oklahoma and Texas in a loaded division — put him in a tough spot at the end of the 2015 season. Miles was reported to be on thin ice due in part to losing five in a row to Alabama. After a win over Texas A&M in the last week of the regular season, Miles a victory lap in front of a supportive Tiger Stadium and was the LSU athletic department announced he'd be back for 2016.

Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

What did Athlon say?

“Perhaps no coach in the country was a better fit for South Carolina than Steve Spurrier.”

How did he do?

This wasn’t exactly Florida, Part II, but Spurrier may have exceeded even the expectations of South Carolina. South Carolina held its own with four bowl games in his first five seasons before a breakout in 2010 when the Gamecocks upset then-No. 1 Alabama 35-21. From 2011-13, Spurrier led South Carolina to three 11-win seasons and three top-10 seasons — neither of which had ever been achieved even once in South Carolina history. He retired abruptly in 2015 as one of four coaches as the all-time wins leader for two major college schools. Athlon predicted he’d last six or seven years before retiring. He stayed almost 11.

Ed Orgeron, Ole Miss

What did Athlon say?

“The Ole Miss administration turned to a Orgeron, a high-energy coach who will offer a significant change from the laid-back Cutcliffe. But bringing energy alone won’t satisfy Ole Miss.”

How did he do?

He followed through on the energy part, recruiting at a torrid pace and becoming either a caricature of himself or an SEC folk hero, depending your perspective. Gameday, though, was a disaster. His tenure was one of the worst in SEC history as Orgeron went 10-25 overall and 3-21 in the SEC. Orgeron won twice as many conference games as an interim coach in the Pac-12 than he won in three seasons at Ole Miss. He’s back in his comfort zone, professionally and geographically, as the defensive line coach at LSU.

Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

What did Athlon say?

“He is a solid hire, but he has a difficult job. Life in the Big 12 South can be overwhelming. With Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Texas Tech on the schedule every year, there is almost no margin for error.”

How did he do?

Gundy became Oklahoma State’s career wins leader in his sixth season at Oklahoma State, and that was a year before a 12–1 season and Big 12 title in 2011. Oklahoma State’s confidence in its former quarterback paid off — he was promoted the same day Les Miles left for LSU. Gundy raised eyebrows when he retained only one assistant from Miles’ staff, but his offensive coordinator post (Larry Fedora, Dana Holgorsen and Todd Monken) has become a stepping stone to head coaching jobs.

Dave Wannstedt, Pittsburgh

What did Athlon say?

“Wannstedt should have no problem keeping Pittsburgh near the top of the re-configured Big East.”

How did he do?

He did not keep Pitt near the top of the Big East. Instead of the traditional power Pitt leading the way in the Big East, it was Louisville, West Virginia and Rutgers. The Panthers didn’t reach a bowl game until Wannstedt’s fourth season, and his most meaningful impact on the league was an upset of No. 2 West Virginia to knocking the Moutanineers out of the BCS title picture in 2007. Wannstedt returned to the NFL as an assistant in 2011 and later became a TV analyst on Fox Sports.

Walt Harris, Stanford

What did Athlon say?

“Harris might not be the most exciting hire of the offseason, but he will likely end up being one of the best.”

How did he do?

Terrible. Harris was hired at Stanford with the reputation of a quarterback guru and a perfect hire for the Cardinal. He was a Bay Area guy who cleaned up a mess at Pitt and was poised to do the same at Stanford. Instead, he had the Cardinal at new depths, going 1-11 in his second and final year. At least he set the stage for the arrival of Jim Harbaugh in 2007.

Bronco Mendenhall, BYU

What did Athlon say?

“He doesn’t make a big splash nationally as a big-name hire, but he his a well-respected defensive coach and a solid choice for a program that has struggled both on and off the field in recent years.”

How’d he do?

BYU made a run at alum Kyle Whittingham and didn’t get him, but the Cougars’ consolation prized ended up pretty good. Mendenhall restored BYU as a consistent program that has flirted with the top 25 most of his tenure. This may be hard to believe given today’s infatuation with young coaches, but Mendenhall was the second-youngest Division I-A coach at the time at the advanced age of 38. He’s led BYU to bowl games in all 11 seasons as head coach and a pair of Mountain West titles before the Cougars went independent in 2012. Mendenhall's move to Virginia after the 2015 season was one of the biggest surprises of this year's carousel.

Kyle Whittingham, Utah

What did Athlon say?

“It will be almost impossible to maintain the same level of success the program achieved under Meyer, especially considering the underclassmen who left for the NFL following Meyer’s departure.”

How did he do?

Whittingham not only maintained the same level of success under Meyer, he exceeded it. Whittingham won 24 games in his first three seasons when Meyer won 22 in his two years in Salt Lake. His third season, though, was a turning point as Utah went 13-0, upset Alabama, fresh of a BCS championship game elimination bout with Florida, in the Sugar Bowl. After 2008, Whittingham couldn’t topple TCU in the Mountain West and had two losing seasons in his first three in the Pac-12. His ability to adapt seems to have prevailed with an 11-7 record in the Pac-12 in 2014-15.

Tyrone Willingham, Washington

What did Athlon say?

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“Willingham was a safe hire for a program that desperately needs some stability — and someone to stay clear of NCAA sanctions. He is a solid coach with a great reputation, but Willingham is far from a sure thing.”

How did he do?

The alarm bells from a lackluster tenure at Notre Dame rang true. Willingham avoided any NCAA entanglements but also any bowl entanglements. He went 11-37 in four seasons, bottoming out with a winless year in 2008. He’s now a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee.

Terry Hoeppner, Indiana

What did Athlon say?

“He was a safe hire — but safe might not be good enough or the struggling Hoosiers.”

How did he do?

Hoeppner was on his way to proving that he was no lukewarm hire. The Hoosiers went 4-7 and 5-7 in his two seasons, but they had clearly picked up momentum with three Big Ten wins in 2006 with an upset of No. 15 Iowa. Hoeppner’s infectious energy also sparked interest in the football program on the basketball-mad campus. Hoeppner never got a chance to finish the job, passing away in June 2007 due to complications from a brain tumor. A hint of where Hep could have led Indiana happened the following year when his former assistant Bill Lynch took IU to a bowl game in 2007, ending a 15-year drought.

Ron Zook, Illinois

What did Athlon say?

“Zook will bring some much-needed energy to the Illini program. Zook’s first order of business is to improve Illinois’ in-state recruiting.”

How did he do?

Zook brought energy to Illinois along with an influx of recruiting talent (Juice Williams, Arrelious Benn, Martez Wilson). His seven-year tenure had one banner year — an upset of Ohio State and a 9–4 campaign in 2007. That year, Illinois became one of the worst teams to play in a BCS game, losing 49-17 to USC in the Rose Bowl. Zook went 34-51 in seven season at Illinois before he was replaced by Tim Beckman. Now, Illinois is seeking a coach who will bring some much-needed energy to the Illini program and whose first order of business is to improve Illinois’ in-state recruiting.

Greg Robinson, Syracuse

What did Athlon say?

“Robinson is about as qualified as any non-head coach in the game.”

How did he do?

Maybe there was a reason Robinson never got his own program before 2005. He was a decorated assistant with Mack Brown and Terry Donahue in the college ranks and with Mike Shanahan and Dick Vermeil in the NFL, a stint in the NFL that included two Super Bowl rings. The Robinson era at Syracuse had fans pining for Paul Pasqualoni. Robinson went 10-37 in four seasons. He resurfaced as a midseason replacement at defensive coordinator for Texas in 2013 before landing as DC at San Jose State in 2014.

Skip Holtz, East Carolina

What did Athlon say?

“There is no reason Holtz can’t have this program among the elite in Conference USA.”

How did he do?

East Carolina needed someone to clean up a mess after John Thompson went 3-20 in two seasons. Holtz delivered and more. The Pirates went 5-6 in his first season before four consecutive winning seasons. Holtz can’t take credit for Chris Johnson, whom he inherited, but he did lead ECU to a pair of nine-win seasons and Conference USA titles in his last two years. Holtz flamed out at USF, but his turnaround in three seasons at Louisiana Tech shows that maybe Conference USA is his home.

Frank Solich, Ohio

What did Athlon say?

“With a few breaks, Ohio could make a move in the next few years.”

How did he do?

He’s the dean of MAC coaches by a long shot. His hire at Ohio was greeted with skepticism if only because Solich had never coached anywhere but Nebraska at the best time in program history and his five-year tenure with Huskers had the benefit of a running start at the end of the Tom Osborne era. He build a solid contender at a moribund Ohio program, reaching a bowl game every year from 2009-13. He’s had one losing season at Ohio but no MAC titles in three trips to the championship game.

Mark Snyder, Marshall

What did Athlon say?

“Bobby Pruett’s decision to retire in early March took everyone by surprise. Marshall didn’t panic, however. The school took its time to find the right fit for the program as it makes its move from the MAC to Conference USA.”

How did he do?

Marshall brought back an alum who was fresh off a national championship as a defensive coordinator at Ohio State, but he never took the Thundering Herd to the same heights Pruett did. Marshall went 22-37 seasons with one bowl appearance. Snyder served as defensive coordinator at USF and Texas A&M, and landed with another former Jim Tressel assistant, Mark Dantonio at Michigan State, after he was fired from Texas A&M.

Bill Cubit, Western Michigan

What did Athlon say?

“Cubit has had a difficult time staying on one place for very long.”

How did he do?

When he was hired, he had five jobs in seven years, but ended up staying for eight seasons in a transient league. Western Michigan was rarely bad, but the Broncos never won the MAC in Cubit’s 51-47 tenure. Cubit was fired at WMU an immediately scooped up as Illinois’ offensive coordinator. He revived the Illini’s offense, took over as interim coach in 2015 and was eventually promoted to full-time coach at the end of the season.

Shane Montgomery, Miami (Ohio)

What did Athlon say?

“Miami has a solid track record in the hiring process, and Montgomery should be next in a long line of successful RedHawk coaches.”

How did he do?

To the contrary of our assessment in 2005, Montgomery, who earned the job as Ben Roethlisberger’s quarterback coach, was the first in a line of failed coaches for Miami. He went 7-4 his first season, but went 2-10, 6-7 and 2-10 in three seasons since. The RedHawks have had one winning season (2010 under Mike Haywood) since Hoeppner was hired at Indiana. Montgomery is now the offensive coordinator under Bo Pelini at Youngstown State.

Hal Mumme, New Mexico State

What did Athlon say?

“Mumme brings some baggage to Las Cruces, but New Mexico State is a program that needs to take some risks.”

How did he do?

Mumme is the godfather of the modern-day Air Raid, but he’s also been one of the least successful head coaches to employ the offense — particularly taking into account a trail of NCAA violations at Kentucky. New Mexico State threw the ball around, but all it got the Aggies and Mumme was an 11-38 mark in four years. Mumme is at NAIA Belhaven where his team is 4-17 in two seasons.

Dick Tomey, San Jose State

What did Athlon say?

“His credentials are outstanding, but he will have a very difficult time succeeding at San Jose State.”

How did he do?

The architect of the Desert Swarm defense and all-time wins leader in Arizona history did not have a nice coda to his head coaching career. He started well enough, leading San Jose State to nine wins and a bowl in 2006, but the program fell apart to 2-10 in his final season in 2009. Tomey stepped away from football after a one-year stint as an assistant at Hawaii before resurfacing as an associate AD overseeing football at USF earlier this year.

Mike Sanford, UNLV

What did Athlon say?

“Sanford should do a solid job, and he should be able to recruit quality athletes to play in what should be an offense as exciting as the city itself.”

How did he do?

About the same as most head coaches at UNLV — without a bowl game and out in a few years. Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator at Utah improved from two wins in his first three seasons to five in his last two. The journeyman coach landed as an offensive coordinator at Louisville under Charlie Strong but was fired early in the 2011 season — sound familiar, Texas fans? He’s at Indiana State now where he’s 14-23 in three seasons. His son, Mike Sanford Jr., is offensive coordinator at Notre Dame and a potential head coaching candidate in his own right.

Brent Guy, Utah State

What did Athlon say?

“Guy should be given plenty of time to rebuild because Utah state will be playing more difficult competition over the next few years.”

How did he do?

A non-descript defensive coordinator ended up with, at best, a non-descript tenure. He went 9-38 in four seasons with one of college football’s worst — at the time — programs.