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The 2010 Coaching Carousel Revisited: The Big Winners and Bigger Losers

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College football programs tend to be copycats. They borrow offensive and defensive schemes, recruiting tactics and coaches from the same handful of staffs.

By 2010, another trend took off — the coach-in-waiting. This was supposed to be the way aging coaches would ease fears in recruiting. Bobby Bowden tabbed Jimbo Fisher as his eventual successor at Florida State. Rich Brooks did the same with Joker Phillips at Kentucky.

This policy, though, had its drawbacks. Fisher and Phillips had never been head coaches before, and only one of them still was less than five years later. Maryland named James Franklin a coach-in-waiting for Ralph Friedgen, but a new athletic director had a change of heart and let Franklin leave for Vanderbilt. Will Muschamp was named a coach-in-waiting at Texas, but he tired of waiting for Mack Brown to leave. He left for Florida, and Texas fans would eventually be relieved he didn’t stick in Austin.

The 2009-10 coaching carousel was also the year Notre Dame and USC hired new coaches with wildly different results.

Of the 22 coaches hired for 2010:

• Only three remain with the teams that hired them (Jimbo Fisher, Brian Kelly and Doc Holliday)

• 12 were fired and have yet to get other FBS coaching jobs.

• Five left for bigger jobs (Butch Jones, Charlie Strong, Sonny Dykes, Mike MacIntyre and Willie Taggart).

• Two left voluntarily for lateral jobs or steps down (Tommy Tuberville and Dan Enos).

As the 2015-16 coaching carousel continues to spin, here’s what Athlon had to say about the 2010 class of new coaches and how they actually turned out.

Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

What did Athlon say?

“Notre Dame hit a home run by hiring Kelly … There’s no season to believe he will not have Notre Dame back to prominence in the near future. The days of losing to Syracuse at home are over.”

How’d he do?

Kelly has, for the most part, returned Notre Dame to national prominence. The Irish have been ranked in the top five at some point in three of the last four seasons, including a trip to the BCS title game (and subsequent drubbing at the hands of Alabama) after the 2012 season. If not for a rash of injuries and academic casualties in the last two seasons, Notre Dame may have hit even greater heights.

Lane Kiffin, USC

What did Athlon say?

“It is noteworthy than a school that is facing an ongoing NCAA investigation hired a coach who showed so little regard for NCAA rules in his only season as a head coach.”

How did he do?

Tennessee fans were furious to lose Kiffin after only one season, and USC fans were thrilled to have one of Carroll’s own (plus Ed Orgeron and Monte Kiffin) returning to Los Angeles. All of turned to be much ado about nothing. USC went 10-2 and defeated then-No. 4 Oregon at Autzen despite NCAA sanctions in 2010. It was all downhill from there. USC was a preseason No. 1 in 2012 and finished 7–6 with an embarrassing performance in the Sun Bowl — both on the field and off. USC athletic director Pat Haden fired Kiffin on a tarmac after an September loss to Arizona State the following season. Kiffin went 28-15 at USC and has become a hot name again after only two years as Alabama’s offensive coordinator.

Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

What did Athlon say?

“The school could have had its pick of just about any coach in the nation to succeed Bobby Bowden. What is so special about Fisher?”

How did he do?

Plenty was special about Fisher. The handoff of the program from the legendary Bobby Bowden to the coach-in-waiting Fisher was clunky but nonetheless a resounding success. Fisher modernized the program from nutrition to conditioning while finally capitalizing on all those elite recruiting classes FSU had been signing for years. By the end of his third season in 2012, Florida State was back among the national elite, winning 29 consecutive games including a Heisman trophy for Jameis Winston, the 2013 national title and a 2014 College Football Playoff appearance. The question is if FSU gets to keep him. Reports linked Fisher to the LSU job when the Tigers mulled parting with Les Miles.

Derek Dooley, Tennessee

What did Athlon say?

“Dooley could very well enjoy tremendous success, but his record at Louisiana Tech has to be cause for concern.”

How did he do?

Cause for concern? How about alarm bells. Kiffin’s shocking departure for USC in January 2012 left Tennessee in a bind, but the Volunteers surely could have done better than a 17-20 coach at Louisiana Tech. Dooley ended up as one of the worst hires for a major program in college football history as Dooley went 15-21 in three seasons. Tennessee was uncompetitive in the SEC in his final two seasons, going a combined 1-14. With his perfect hair, orange pants and quotables, Dooley could have been one of the SEC’s greatest characters if not for that dismal record. Dooley is now the wide receivers coach with the Dallas Cowboys.

Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech

What did Athlon say?

“As long as everyone remains on the same page philosophically, the Tuberville-Texas Tech marriage should be a happy one.”

How did he do?

This marriage was not a happy one as Texas Tech might not have been ready to move on from Mike Leach. Even as the Red Raiders led the Big 12 in passing in 2012, Tuberville had his eye on leaving. Tuberville bolted after three seasons and took a lesser job — at least conference-wise — at Cincinnati. Tuberville went 20-17 (9-17 in the Big 12) in three seasons, a record not that different from his successor. Kliff Kingsbury, a Leach QB at Texas Tech, is 19-18 overall and 10-17 in the Big 12.

Mike London, Virginia

What did Athlon say?

“This is one of the top hires of the 2009-10 offseason.”

How did he do?

This seemed like a slam dunk hire. It was not. London, a former Virginia assistant, went 24-5 at Richmond with an FCS title. He proved Virginia didn’t have a recruiting problem as the Cavaliers brought in above-average ACC talent. The record never matched up. London had one winning ACC season and one bowl game before he was fired this season. London finished 27-46 overall and 14-34 in the ACC. London quickly found a spot on D.J. Durkin's staff at Maryland as associate head coach.

Charlie Strong, Louisville

What did Athlon say?

“Strong possesses all the qualities necessary to be a good head coach, and he is at school that should be able to sustain success in the Big East.”

How did he do?

Strong’s first head coaching opportunity was long overdue. At 50, he was a national championship coordinator who had worked under Lou Holtz, Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer. He went 14-12 in his first two seasons at Louisville but made quick progress, going 23-3 in his last two seasons with an upset of Florida in the 2013 Sugar Bowl. His hire at Texas was greeted at skepticism. A 5–7 record with the Longhorns hasn’t done much to change that perception even considering Texas’ disastrous hire of AD Steve Patterson.

Joker Phillips, Kentucky

What did Athlon say?

“Ideally, if you are a BCS conference school, you’d like to hire someone with experience as ahead coach, but it’s hard to poke a hole in Phillips’ résumé.”

How did he do?

When Rich Brooks, who had reached four consecutive bowl games at Kentucky, tabbed Phillips as coach-in-waiting, the move made perfect sense. Phillips was an alum and ran solid offenses. Kentucky’s program momentum came to a screeching halt by the time he finished 2-10 and winless in the SEC in his second season. Phillips landed as a wide receivers coach at Florida but was fired when he ran afoul of NCAA rules. Phillips is now a receivers coach with the Cleveland Browns.

Butch Jones, Cincinnati

What did Athlon say?

“Jones walked into a great situation at Central Michigan, but he deserves credit for winning a bunch of games. Still, it won’t be easy to keep Cincinnati at the top of the Big East.”

How did he do?

Jones was still in Brian Kelly’s shadow when he left Central Michigan. That perception continued when he took over for Kelly a second time at Cincinnati. After a rocky first season, Jones went 19-6 in his last two with a share of the Big East title in both. His 2016 season at Tennessee will be the first time he’s coached to his fourth season anywhere.

Turner Gill, Kansas

What did Athlon say?

“Cons: None.”

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How did he do?

Just five years ago, Gill was one of the hottest coaches on the market after leading a moribund Buffalo program to its first MAC title. A year prior, he had interviewed for the Auburn position when the Tigers hired Gene Chizik. Gill proved to be in over his head at Kansas, going 5-19 and 1-16 in the Big 12. Since Kansas, the ex-Nebraska quarterback seemed to find his comfort zone in the FCS coaching at Liberty.

Skip Holtz, USF

What did Athlon say?

“Jim Leavitt did a tremendous job building the program; Holtz can take it to the next level."

How did he do?

Holtz was another hire that seemed to be destined to success. Leavitt built the USF program from scratch, but it had seemed to have gone stale as the Bulls entered the Big East. A player mistreatment scandal gave USF a reason to let go of Leavitt and bring in Holtz, fresh off back-to-back Conference USA titles. Holtz took USF to another level — he set the program back several years, going 16-21 overall and 5-16 in the Big East.

Ruffin McNeill, East Carolina

What did Athlon say?

“McNeill wasn’t ECU’s first choice, but he is a solid hire for a school that has been a consistent winner in C-USA.”

How did he do?

Even though East Carolina hoped to hire Rick Stockstill from Middle Tennessee, McNeill ended up doing a pretty good job. An ECU Alum, McNeill led East Carolina to its first 10-win season in 22 years in 2013. He went 26-13 from 2012-14 before dipping to 5-7 in 2015, despite being competitive for most of the season. His abrupt firing following the season was one of the biggest surprises of the 2015-16 coaching carousel. McNeill wasn't out of work for long, landing as assistant head coach on Bronco Mendenhall's first staff at Virginia.

Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech

What did Athlon say?

“There are no guarantees he will compete for WAC titles, but you can sure that this disciple of both Hal Mumme and Mike Leach will run exciting offenses in Ruston.”

How did he do?

The former Texas Tech assistant revived Louisiana Tech with a high-flying offense. The departure of Boise State to the Mountain West opened the door for the Bulldogs to win the WAC in 2011. Tech entered the top 25 in 2012 before losing to Utah State and San Jose State to finish the season. Dykes left for Cal, a job he seems to be trying to leave at the moment.

Doc Holliday, Marshall

What did Athlon say?

“He will get good players to come to Marshall; now he just has to coach them.”

How did he do?

Holliday brought in good players and coached them. The Thundering Herd are 32-8 in the last two seasons, including a 20-4 mark in Conference USA behind one of the nation’s most up-tempo offenses.

Larry Porter, Memphis

What did Athlon say?

“Can he run a program? We’ll find out.”

How did he do?

We did find out, and, no, Porter could not run a program. He was a Memphis alum who had never been anything but a running backs coach, and now it’s easy to see why. Memphis went 3-21 in his two seasons before the Tigers pulled the plug. His biggest contribution to the Memphis program was making successor Justin Fuente look like miracle worker. Porter is — you guessed it — a running backs coach again, this time at North Carolina.

Dan Enos, Central Michigan

What did Athlon say?

“He has strong name recognition in the state and is regarded as a good recruiting, but the school could have found a coach with a more accomplished résumé.”

How did he do?

This was a ho-hum hire that offered ho-hum results. Predecessors Brian Kelly and Butch Jones were big winners in Mount Pleasant while Enos just barely made two bowl games in five seasons. Enos bolted to be the offensive coordinator at Arkansas.

Rob Ianello, Akron

What did Athlon say?

“There is an opportunity for upward mobility if he is able to bring in some top recruiting classes.”

How did he do?

A former Notre Dame assistant, Ianello worked under Barry Alvarez and Dick Tomey and was considered to be a strong recruiter. After going 2-22 in two seasons, it was clear why Ianello was a career assistant. He rejoined Charlie Weis at Kansas, making him a part of three consecutive dismal tenures. He’s now an assistant at Buffalo.

Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State

What did Athlon say?

“Seems to be a strange fit.”

How did he do?

MacIntyre was a little-known assistant who had served time at Ole Miss and Duke and in the NFL with the Cowboys and Jets. He turned out to be the best hire at San Jose State since the 1980s. Despite no West Coast roots, MacIntyre revived a program that went 1-12 in his first season and 11-2 in his third. MacIntyre would try to revive another struggling West Coast program when he left for Colorado.

Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky

What did Athlon say?

“Taggart is a perfect fit at Western Kentucky.”

How did he do?

The former Hilltoppers quarterback who played for longtime WKU coach Jack Harbaugh shepherded the program into the FBS era. Taggart took over a program that went 0-12 the year before he arrived and went 7-5 in 2011 and 7-6 with the program’s first bowl appearance in 2012. Many of the players on this year’s 8-4 team were Taggart recruits. Taggart engineered another big-time turnaround with an 8-4 season in his third year at USF.

Jeff Quinn, Buffalo

What did Athlon say?

“If I’m an AD at a MAC-level school, I’d be elated to bring on a guy who has worked so closely with Brian Kelly over the past two decades. This is a great hire.”

How did he do?

Little did we know in 2010 that the Brian Kelly coaching tree would bear little fruit. Quinn went 20-36 with one bowl appearance in five seasons.

Todd Berry, ULM

What did Athlon say?

“Army is a difficult job, but Berry’s record at West Point was dreadful. That has to be a cause for concern as he embarks on a new job at another school that has not experienced any sustained success in the FBS ranks.”

How did he do?

Berry led ULM to its first bowl game in school history in 2012 with a trip to the Independence Bowl. The Warhawks have been saddled with APR difficulties and recruiting limitations. Berry was fired after a 1-11 season in 2015.

Bobby Hauck, UNLV

What did Athlon say?

“Hauck has a great track record, but it will be far more difficult to win at UNLV in the improving MWC than it was to win at Montana in the Big Sky.”

How did he do?

Hauck was an enormously successful FCS coach, going 80-17 in seven seasons at Montana. Hauck ended UNLV’s 12-year bowl drought with a trip to the 2013 post season. Otherwise, Hauck had four two-win seasons in five years before he was fired in 2014. Hauck was an assistant at San Diego State in 2015.