Skip to main content

5 College Football Head Coaching Moves Few Saw Coming

Brian Kelly, LSU Tigers Football

It is rare for coaching moves to shock both the fans and the media

Lincoln Riley's move from Oklahoma to USC and Brian Kelly's departure from Notre Dame to LSU shocked the college football world. Most of the time, coaching hires and firings are weeks in the making with tons of speculation before the actual move happens. As Big Pussy famously said on The Sopranos, "They know, but they don't know."

Then there are the occasional coaching moves that cause one's jaw to drop like with Riley and Kelly. Here are five more that did just that.

5. Dennis Franchione leaves Alabama for Texas A&M (2002)

Franchione took over a program that went 3-8 in 2000 and led it to back-to-back winning seasons. The Crimson Tide quickly offered him a 10-year, $15 million contract, but he did not sign it. When Texas A&M head coach R.C. Slocum was fired in November 2002, Franchione called the idea of him going to the Aggies "idiotic," and gave the impression that he would sign the contract soon. Then he boarded a private plane to College Station on Dec. 5 for an interview and never came back, informing Alabama players of his decision via teleconference. The fact that the Tide was facing scholarship losses and a two-year bowl ban because of recruiting violations by Franchione's predecessor, Mike DuBose, helped factor into his decision. Franchione went 32-28 in five seasons at Texas A&M before mutually parting ways with the program in 2007.

Recommended Articles

4. Jimmy Johnson goes to Miami (1984)

Howard Schnellenberger took a program that was on life support and turned it into a national power in five seasons, winning a national championship in 1983. When he left for the USFL, he was replaced by Johnson, who was then the head coach at Oklahoma State. Fans and media said, "Jimmy who?" when he arrived in Coral Gables because he had gone 29–25–3 in his five years in Stillwater and only made two bowl games. Nevertheless, he left as big a mark on The U as Schnellenberger, giving the program its brashness and swagger and winning a national title in 1987 before leaving for the Dallas Cowboys in 1989.

3. Hal Mumme goes to Kentucky (1996)

After Bill Curry was fired following a 4-7 season in 1996, many in the Bluegrass State were lobbying for his replacement. Wildcats basketball head coach Rick Pitino endorsed former Pitt head coach and ESPN color commentator Mike Gottfried, and former governor John Y. Brown Jr. was pushing for former Miami and Louisville head coach Howard Schnellenberger. Instead, Kentucky athletic director C.M. Newton went with a little-known coach from Division II Valdosta State whose Air Raid offense had taken the program to the NCAA playoffs for the first time. Mumme led the Wildcats to consecutive bowl games before resigning amidst recruiting violations after a 2-9 season in 2000, but Kentucky's offensive output during his time in Lexington led to a revolution in the college football passing game.

2. Bobby Petrino goes to Arkansas (2007)

Talk about whiplash. Petrino left Louisville for the Atlanta Falcons in January 2007 less than six months after signing a 10-year contract with the program. Money aside, what made the Falcons' job so palatable was the opportunity to coach Michael Vick, but the superstar quarterback's legal issues from bankrolling an illegal dogfighting ring prevented him from playing in the 2007 season. On Dec. 10, the Falcons slipped to 3-10 after a loss to the New Orleans Saints and Petrino bolted for Arkansas, letting his players know by leaving a four-sentence laminated note in each of their lockers. He did well in Fayetteville, going 11-2 in 2011 and giving the Hogs their best season since 1977. However, he was fired shortly after for covering up an affair with a staff member in the athletic department.

1. Barry Switzer goes to the Dallas Cowboys (1994)

Well first, no one expected Jimmy Johnson to resign after winning a second straight Super Bowl, but he did after feuding with owner Jerry Jones. Things got even more shocking when Jones brought in Switzer, who had been out of coaching for five years after resigning in disgrace over an out-of-control Oklahoma program. The Sports Illustrated cover on the hire summed up the national mood on the move. Ultimately, Switzer led the Cowboys to a Super Bowl win in 1995 before resigning after a 6-10 season in 1997.

— 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.