College Football's Most Surprising Head Coach Hires of the BCS Era

Bret Bielema made a surprising jump from Wisconsin to Arkansas.

No college football head coaching search ever goes according to plan. However, anytime a job opens during or after the season, there’s a good idea of which candidates will be interested or the most likely targets. Despite having a general feel of where a particular program might go with its hire, there are times where a school makes a decision that blindsides or surprises everyone. Arkansas made a solid hire when it pulled Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin, but the move came as a complete surprise.

What other coaching moves came out of nowhere or caught everyone off guard? Check out these 12 coaching moves of the BCS era. 

College Football's Most Surprising Head Coach Hires of the BCS Era

Bret Bielema, Arkansas from Wisconsin (2012)
With the rise of social media, keeping a coaching search under wraps for any program is nearly impossible. Somehow, Arkansas kept its courtship of Bielema off the radar and was able to hire him away from Wisconsin just after winning the Big Ten Championship. Considering Bielema’s background as a player in the Big Ten and his successful stint at Wisconsin (68-24 and three consecutive Rose Bowls), it was a surprise to see him make the move to Arkansas. Moving to Fayetteville will help Bielema pay his assistants a little more, but making the jump from the Badgers to the Razorbacks really isn’t a huge leap in terms of moving up the coaching ladder. 

Rich Brooks, Kentucky from unemployment (2003)
Brooks was instrumental in jumpstarting Oregon as a top-25 program. He led the Ducks to 91 victories from 1977-94, which included a Rose Bowl appearance and a nine-win season in 1994. After his tenure with the Ducks, Brooks jumped at an opportunity to go to the NFL but was fired after a 13-19 record in two years with the Rams. The California native served as a defensive coordinator for the Falcons for the next four years and was selected as Kentucky’s head coach in 2003. Brooks was not a popular hire at Kentucky, especially considering he was out of football for two years before coming to Lexington. The California native only added fuel to the fans' disappointment, starting his tenure with a 9-25 mark through the first three years. However, credit athletic director Mitch Barnhart for sticking with Brooks after a bad start. Kentucky made four consecutive bowl appearances from 2006-09 and finished in a tie for third place in the SEC in '06. 

Bill Callahan, Nebraska from the Oakland Raiders (2004)
Callahan is regarded as an excellent assistant but probably isn’t built to be a head coach. Even though he led the Raiders to the Super Bowl in the 2002 season, Oakland slumped to an awful 4-12 mark the next year, which resulted in Callahan’s firing. After the terrible 2003 season with the Raiders, Callahan somehow managed to land at Nebraska. Yes, there’s something appealing about a coach with NFL experience, but Callahan rode the coattails of former Raider head coach Jon Gruden to get Oakland to a Super Bowl and lost the team the next year. Callahan led Nebraska to a 27-22 mark during his four seasons, which included a Big 12 North division title in 2006. However, the Cornhuskers were just 15-17 overall in Big 12 play under Callahan’s watch and recorded two seasons with just five victories.

Bob Davie, New Mexico from ESPN (2012)
For a program that was trying to recover from the disastrous Mike Locksley era, Davie seemed to be a good fit in Albuquerque. The veteran coach brought some much-needed stability and helped the Lobos improve their win total by three games from 2011 to 2012. Although Davie wasn’t a bad hire, it came as a surprise when you consider his last coaching experience came in 2001. Working as an ESPN analyst certainly helped Davie keep in touch with the latest trends in college football, but it’s never easy returning to the sidelines after a 10-year absence.

Gerry DiNardo, Indiana from the XFL (2002)
DiNardo had some success in his career, recording a 19-25 mark in four seasons at Vanderbilt and started his tenure at LSU with three winning campaigns. However, the Tigers trailed off during DiNardo’s last two years, and he was fired with one game remaining in 1999. After spending one year out of football, the New York native resurfaced in the XFL with Birmingham and then turned up at Indiana after the XFL folded. Although DiNardo won 51 games during his previous two college stops, it was a strange to see Indiana make this hire, especially after the way his tenure at LSU ended.

Randy Edsall, Maryland from Connecticut (2011)
Dream job. That’s how Edsall summed up his decision to leave Connecticut for Maryland. While it’s a stretch to say Edsall moved up far on the coaching ladder, this move caught everyone by surprise. The Pennsylvania native was coming off of a Fiesta Bowl appearance in 2010 and led the Huskies to four consecutive postseason appearances. In two years with the Terrapins, Edsall is just 6-18 but seems to have the program back on track after a miserable debut in 2011.  

Jim Mora, UCLA from Fox (2011)
The Bruins had an extensive coaching search to find Rick Neuheisel’s replacement at the end of the 2011 regular season. Some big candidates (Chris Petersen) weren’t interested in leaving their current school, and when the pool of candidates began to get thin, UCLA decided to go with Mora as its next head coach. Considering he had no collegiate coaching experience since 1984 and was just 31-33 in four seasons as a NFL head coach, Mora’s hire came as a big surprise. However, Mora has been a good fit so far, assembling an excellent coaching staff and leading the Bruins to the Pac-12 South Division title in 2012.

Paul Pasqualoni, Connecticut from the Dallas Cowboys (2010)
Even though Pasqualoni is a Connecticut native and recorded a 107-59-1 mark during his tenure at Syracuse, this hire made little sense at the time and has not worked out well for the Huskies. Pasqualoni was out of college football for six seasons, spending all of that time in the NFL. Considering the last three years of his Syracuse tenure resulted in a 16-20 record, coupled with his time away from the college game, Connecticut’s hire of Pasqualoni made little sense.  

Bill Snyder, Kansas State from retirement (2009)
After a failed three-year stint under Ron Price, Kansas State re-hired the most successful coach in its school history. While it’s no surprise that Snyder is having tremendous success in his second stint in Manhattan, it was a mild shock the retired coach decided to dust off his purple jacket and return to the Wildcats’ sideline. Snyder's first tenure at Kansas State ended with back-to-back losing seasons, so it was fair to wonder if the program had slipped. Snyder was always expected to be restless throughout his retirement, but a return to full-time coaching seemed like a distant possibility. 

Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati from Texas Tech (2012)
The marriage between Tuberville and Texas Tech always seemed a little odd from the start. However, no one could have expected Tuberville to jump from Texas Tech to Cincinnati, especially considering the uncertainty surrounding the Big East. If anything, Tuberville was expected to get in the mix for openings at Tennessee and Arkansas. The Arkansas native has left each of his three stops with a winning record and led Texas Tech to a 20-17 mark in three years. As a program, Cincinnati has upside. And the Bearcats are making a commitment to facility upgrades, which should help the program become more attractive for future conference realignment. Tuberville wasn’t expected to stick around at Texas Tech for 10 years, but he also wasn’t expected to land at Cincinnati or in the Big East.

Charlie Weis, Kansas from Florida offensive coordinator (2011)
Weis started off his career at Notre Dame with a solid 19-6 mark, which included back-to-back appearances in BCS bowls. Despite the early success, Weis was never able to elevate the program into national title contention and never won more than seven games in each of his final three years in South Bend. After getting fired from Notre Dame, he spent one year with the Chiefs and then one season with Florida as its offensive coordinator. Although Weis is a highly regarded assistant, he’s done little to suggest he can lead a program for the long haul. The Jayhawks went 1-11 in his first season in Lawrence, which continues to raise the question of why Weis got a second head coaching gig after his performance at Notre Dame. 

Ron Zook, Illinois from Florida (2004)
With an elite recruiting base and the success of Florida under Steve Spurrier, Zook’s 23-14 record was a major disappointment in Gainesville. The Gators never won more than eight games in a season under Zook’s watch and he was fired with two games remaining in 2004. Considering his less than stellar stint at one of the nation’s top programs, Illinois’ decision to hire Zook didn’t make a lot of sense. Zook did lead Illinois to a Rose Bowl appearance but had four losing seasons. The Ohio native was always regarded as an excellent recruiter but was never able to mesh the talent with results on the field. 

Just off the radar

Gene Chizik, Auburn from Iowa State (2009)
Chizik was not a popular hire at Auburn but led the Tigers to the 2010 national championship. However, his success was short lived, going 11-14 over the last two years. Chizik had some success in his career, but at the time, it was hard for Auburn to justify hiring a coach that went 5-19 in two years at Iowa State.

Stan Parrish, Ball State from offensive coordinator (2008)
With the success of Brady Hoke, it’s understandable the Cardinals wanted to stick with continuity and promote Parrish to head coach. However, his last tenure as a head coach was awful, recording a 2-30-1 mark in three seasons at Kansas State. Of course, winning in Manhattan isn’t easy, but Parrish was a poor fit for a program that was coming off of 19 wins from 2007-08.

Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky from unemployment (2012)
Considering what transpired at Arkansas, it’s no surprise Petrino was forced to land at a non-BCS school. However, there will still be some shock involved when Petrino leads the Hilltoppers out of the tunnel for their season opener next year.

Buddy Teevens, Stanford from Florida assistant coach (2002)
Why? That’s about the only word to sum up Teevens’ hire at Stanford. He went 11-45 in five years at Tulane and considering all of his coaching experience was East of Texas, Teevens was an odd fit on the West Coast. As expected, Teevens didn’t produce any results, going 10-23 in three years with Stanford. 

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