Determining the worst coaching tenures for any period is no easy task. Each program has its own set of hurdles to overcome, and all coaches aren’t on equal footing when they take over a job.
In forming Athlon’s list of the top 25 worst coaching tenures of the BCS era, we placed an emphasis on what shape the program is before the coach arrived, how it fared during his tenure, and the short-term effect after his departure. Programs like Eastern Michigan or New Mexico State have traditionally been a difficult place to establish a winning tradition, so it’s hard to punish coaches from both schools (or similar circumstances), even if their record is uninspiring. On the other side, programs like Southern Miss or East Carolina have a track record of success recently. Which makes the 0-12 by Ellis Johnson and 3-20 by John Thompson among the worst tenures of the BCS era (since 1998).
Also of note, only tenures that have been completed factored into this ranking. So any active tenures going into the 2013 season were not considered for this article.
College Football’s Worst 25 Tenures of the BCS Era
1. Mike Locksley, New Mexico
Locksley was regarded as one of the nation’s top assistant coaches and recruiters when he left Illinois to join New Mexico in 2009. The Washington, D.C. native was able to attract some talent to Albuquerque, but it didn’t translate into results on the field. Locksley’s tenure at New Mexico lasted only three years, with his final season ending after the fourth game. Locksley won just two Mountain West games during his tenure and was suspended for one game due to an altercation with an assistant coach.
2. Larry Porter, Memphis
Record: 3-21 (2010-11)
Porter’s tenure is another example of why programs should be reluctant to hire ace recruiters with no head coaching experience. The former Memphis running back was hired as the Tigers’ head coach in 2010 and lasted only two years. Porter didn’t inherit a disaster at Memphis, as Tommy West went 15-23 over his final three years and played in a bowl game in 2008. Porter’s teams were largely uncompetitive, and his three wins came against MTSU (6-7 in 2010), Austin Peay (a FCS opponent) and Tulane (2-11 in 2011). After Porter’s unsuccessful tenure, Memphis got it right by hiring Justin Fuente, who went 4-8 in his first season with the Tigers.
3. Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss
Record: 0-12 (2012)
There aren’t many one-year stints as a college football head coach. But it was clear to Southern Miss after just one season that Johnson wasn’t the right fit for the program. The Golden Eagles turned in arguably their worst season in school history, finishing with an 0-12 mark, with the offense ranking 110th nationally in scoring and the defense finishing 113th in points allowed. Southern Miss was replacing a handful of key contributors from its 2011 squad, but the Golden Eagles still had enough talent in the program to compete for a bowl bid. Johnson is an excellent defensive coordinator, but Southern Miss clearly made the right call to pull the plug after one season.
4. John Thompson, East Carolina
Record: 3-20 (2003-04)
After Steve Logan was fired in 2002, the Pirates made a big mistake by hiring Thompson. In the two years prior to Thompson’s arrival, East Carolina went 10-14. And in two seasons under Thompson, the Pirates slumped to 3-20. However, the program rebounded under Skip Holtz in 2005, winning five games and then seven in ‘06. Thompson is another case of a good coordinator that was not ready to be a head coach. And his record looks even worse when you consider two of his victories came against Army with the other one being Tulane.
5. Rob Ianello, Akron
Record: 2-22 (2010-11)
Prior to taking over at Akron, Ianello had no coordinator experience and was coming off a four-year stint on Charlie Weis’ staff at Notre Dame. The results were disastrous for the Zips. Ianello won just one game in each of his two years in Akron and went winless in MAC play in 2011. The Zips beat Buffalo in 2010 – a Bulls team that went 2-10 – and VMI in ‘11 under Ianello’s watch. Although Ianello’s tenure was a failure, the school deserves poor marks for firing him on the way to his mother’s funeral.
6. Greg Robinson, Syracuse
Record: 10-37 (2005-08)
Although Paul Pasqualoni has struggled at Connecticut, he went 26-23 over his last four seasons at Syracuse from 2001-04. While Robinson wasn’t inheriting a roster full of talent, he wasn’t getting a bare cupboard either. The Orange went from being a consistent bowl team to one that struggled just to get a couple of wins a year under Robinson’s watch. The Orange never won more than one Big East game in a single year under Robinson, and he recorded the program’s only double-digit losing seasons.
7. Todd Dodge, North Texas
Record: 6-37 (2007-10)
You have to credit North Texas for at least thinking outside of the box with Dodge’s hire. After being a successful high school coach in Texas, Dodge was supposed to turn North Texas back into a Sun Belt power. Instead, the Mean Green nosedived into being one of the worst teams in the nation. North Texas went 6-37 under Dodge’s watch and never won more than one conference game from 2007-10. Considering where North Texas is on college football’s food chain, a hire like Dodge is worth the risk. However, the Mean Green are still trying to dig out from his tenure, as Dan McCarney is just 9-15 over the last two years.
8. Turner Gill, Kansas
Record: 5-19 (2010-11)
Surprising. That’s the one word that comes to mind when mentioning Gill’s tenure at Kansas. Although his record at Buffalo – not an easy place to win – wasn’t overly impressive (20-30), he did lead the Bulls to a bowl game and a MAC Championship in 2008. Gill inherited a Kansas team that went 5-7 in Mark Mangino’s last season (2009), but the Jayhawks regressed in 2010-11. Kansas won just one Big 12 game under Gill’s watch – a 52-45 victory over Colorado – and finished 2011 on a 10-game losing streak. Considering the high expectations surrounding his arrival, Gill might be one of the most disappointing hires of the BCS era.
9. Carl Franks, Duke
Record: 7-45 (1999-2003)
It’s not easy to maintain success at Duke. But it’s also hard to ignore a 7-45 record over five years. Franks came to Durham from Florida, as he served as an assistant with Steve Spurrier from 1990-98 in Gainesville. Franks also had experience at Duke, as he played for the Blue Devils and later coached there from 1987-89. The high point of Franks’ tenure was a 3-8 mark in 1999, but that record was followed up by back-to-back 0-11 seasons. The Blue Devils never won an ACC game in Franks’ final full three years at Duke.
10. Ted Roof, Duke
Record: 6-45 (2003-07)
As mentioned with Carl Franks, winning at Duke is no easy task. However, the Blue Devils can be much more competitive than they were under Franks and Roof. After taking over for Franks in 2003, Roof guided Duke to a 2-3 finish, including a 30-22 win over rival North Carolina. However, the momentum was short-lived, as the Blue Devils won only four games over the next four years. Duke also went winless in ACC play from 2005-07 under Roof’s guidance.
11. Jon Embree, Colorado
Record: 4-21 (2011-12)
Even though Embree was a Colorado alum, he was a questionable hire from the start. The former Buffaloes’ tight end had no coordinator or head coach experience and was serving as a tight ends’ coach for the Redskins prior to his arrival in Boulder in 2011. Embree didn’t inherit the best situation following Dan Hawkins, but Colorado showed little improvement under his watch. The Buffaloes went 3-11 in Embree’s first year and managed to win two out of their final three games. However, Colorado was arguably one of the worst teams of the BCS era in 2012, losing to Colorado State and Sacramento State to start the year and was demolished by Fresno State 69-14 in Week 3. Embree played a lot of young players and dealt with some injuries to key personnel, but the Buffaloes struggled mightily and his 1-11 season is the worst in Colorado history.
12. Kevin Steele, Baylor
Record: 9-36 (1999-2002)
Steele is a highly regarded defensive assistant but had a dismal stint as a head coach at Baylor. The South Carolina native was hired at Baylor in 1999, after spending four years as an assistant with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. Prior to his arrival in Waco, Steele had no head coaching experience – and it clearly showed. The Bears had three consecutive losing seasons before Steele’s debut, but Baylor backtracked under his watch. The Bears went 1-10 in 1999 and then 8-26 in the next three years. Steele’s biggest blunder came against UNLV in 1999, as he chose to run a play instead of kneeling down with 12 seconds left. Baylor fumbled on that play, and the turnover was returned by UNLV for a touchdown, giving the Rebels a 27-24 victory.
13. Bobby Wallace, Temple
Record: 19-71 (1998-2004)
After leading North Alabama to three Division II championships from 1993-95, Wallace appeared to be the right coach to make Temple competitive in the Big East. He managed to make some progress, as the Owls won four games for three consecutive years. Although four victories may not seem like much, Temple had not won more than three games in a season since 1990. However, Wallace didn’t make enough progress under his watch, and the Owls were dismissed from the Big East after the 2004 season. Temple was forced to play 2005 as an Independent and posted a dreadful 0-11 record. The highlight of Wallace’s tenure? A 28-24 win over then-Big East memberVirginia Tech in Blacksburg in 1998.
14. Vic Koenning, Wyoming
Record: 5-29 (2000-02)
When Koenning was promoted to replace Dana Dimel, Wyoming had put together seven consecutive years of six or more wins, including a 10-2 mark in 1996. However, Koenning was unable to continue that momentum, and the Cowboys fell into the bottom of the Mountain West. Under Koenning’s watch, Wyoming went 5-29, which included only one win in conference play and two others against FCS opponents. Koenning is a solid defensive coordinator but was overmatched as a head coach.
15. Terry Shea, Rutgers
Record: 11-44 (1996-2000)
Shea’s tenure started just outside of the BCS era, but his three years in the required timeframe were a struggle. Rutgers went 2-20 in his first two seasons and recorded a 9-24 mark over the final three years. Shea did manage to go 5-6 in 1998 but was blown out by Temple in 1999 and 2000 and went a combined 4-18 from 1999-2000. The cupboard wasn’t full for Shea when he arrived at Rutgers, as Doug Graber didn’t fare better than .500 in his final three seasons. However, Shea did little to build on the mild success Graber had in 1991 (6-5) and ‘92 (7-4).
16. Stan Parrish, Ball State
Record: 6-19 (2008-10)
If this was a list of all-time worst coaching tenures, Parrish’s 2-30-1 record at Kansas State from 1986-88 would rank near the top. While Parrish’s tenure at Ball State was bad, it wasn’t quite as bad as his previous stop at Kansas State. The Cardinals went 6-19 under his watch, which was a clear backtrack from the progress made under Brady Hoke (19-7 in 2007-08). The Cardinals also lost two games to FCS opponents under Parrish.
17. Todd Berry, Army
Record: 5-35 (2000-03)
Considering how difficult it has been to win at Army, it’s unfair to punish Berry too much in these rankings. However, his tenure in West Point was largely uncompetitive. Berry was hired to resurrect a program that had five losing seasons over the last six years, but he struggled mightily in his tenure, winning just one game in his debut season and posting a 1-11 mark in 2002. Berry was dismissed after an 0-6 start in 2003. Army is not an easy place to maintain success, but Berry’s decision to run a pro-style offense proved to be too difficult of a transition for a program that was acclimated to option attacks.
18. Derek Dooley, Tennessee
Record: 15-21 (2010-12)
Tennessee was caught in a bad spot when the Seahawks hired Pete Carroll away from USC, which prompted Lane Kiffin to bolt Knoxville for Los Angeles. Kiffin’s mid-January move didn’t leave the Volunteers much time to find a new coach before Signing Day. Dooley came to Tennessee from Louisiana Tech after a 17-20 record in three years with the Bulldogs. Louisiana Tech did make small gains under Dooley, which included a bowl game in 2008. However, he failed to bring much improvement to Knoxville, as the Volunteers went 15-21 under his watch and went 4-19 in SEC play. Considering the coaching turnover in Knoxville from Phil Fulmer to Kiffin to Dooley in just three years, Tennessee had to go through a lot of transition in a short time. However, Dooley winning just one SEC game in two years is simply unacceptable at a program that has all of the resources and tradition necessary to compete for SEC East titles.
19. Paul Wulff, Washington State
Record: 9-40 (2008-11)
At the time of his hire, Wulff seemed to be a good fit at Washington State. He was a former player with the Cougars and spent eight years at Eastern Washington, accumulating a 53-40 record. Wulff also took EWU to three playoff appearances. After a successful run under Mike Price, Washington State declined under Bill Doba, posting three losing seasons in five years. Wulff wasn’t inheriting a full cupboard, but the program wasn’t in terrible shape either. The Cougars were dreadful in Wulff’s first year, beating only Portland State and an 0-12 Washington team. Things didn’t get much better in year two, as Washington State went 1-11 and failed to win a Pac-12 game. The Cougars were more competitive in Wulff’s third season and won four games in 2011. However, that wasn’t enough for Wulff to return for 2012. Wulff’s tenure at Washington State ended with a dismal 4-32 record in Pac-12 play.
20. John L. Smith, Arkansas
Record: 4-8 (2012)
It’s unfair to pin all of Arkansas’ struggles in 2012 on Smith. The Razorbacks were left in a bad spot after Bobby Petrino was fired in April, and it’s no easy task finding a head coach in May for the upcoming season. No matter what coach was on the sidelines in Fayetteville last year, the transition from Petrino was going to cost Arkansas a couple of games. But after winning 21 games from 2010-11, the Razorbacks were one of college football’s biggest disappointments in 2012, and Smith has to shoulder a chunk of the blame. Arkansas’ 2012 season began to unravel in Week 2 after an overtime loss to ULM, and the Razorbacks were pummeled by Alabama 52-0 the following Saturday. Arkansas won three out of four games in the middle of the season, but it wasn’t enough. Considering the talent on last year’s team, Arkansas’ 2012 campaign will be one of the most disappointing in school history.
21. Jim Hofner, Buffalo
Record: 8-49 (2001-05)
Hofner came to Buffalo in 2001, which was shortly after the Bulls moved from the FCS to the FBS ranks. While the transition to the FBS wasn’t expected to be easy, Buffalo was largely uncompetitive under Hofner’s watch. The Bulls went 8-49 in his tenure and never won more than three games in a season. Buffalo had back-to-back 1-11 seasons from 2002-03, and Hofner finished his tenure with a dismal 1-10 mark. One of the few highlights of the Hofner era was a 36-6 win over Central Michigan in Brian Kelly’s first season.
22. Chuck Long, San Diego State
Record: 9-27 (2006-08)
Despite having a location in a fertile recruiting area, San Diego State has struggled to maintain success. After the failed Tom “Air” Craft era, the Aztecs made a splash by hiring Long from Oklahoma. Although Long was regarded as one of the top assistant coaches in the nation, San Diego State didn’t show much progress under his watch. The Aztecs went 3-9 in 2006, 4-8 in ‘07 and slipped to 2-10 in ‘08. The program also lost twice to FCS opponent Cal Poly under Long’s direction.
23. Tom Holmoe, California
Record: 9-31 (1998-2001)
Holmoe inherited a California team that was coming off a 6-6 mark in Steve Mariucci’s one and only season in Berkeley. The Golden Bears went 8-14 in Holmoe’s first two years but faded over the final three seasons. California went 4-7 in 1999 and then recorded a 4-18 mark over the final two years of Holmoe’s tenure. The Golden Bears failed to win a Pac-10 game in 2001 and their 1-10 overall mark is the worst in school history. California also ran into NCAA trouble after Holmoe’s tenure, as the program was forced to forfeit four wins from 1999 and was banned from postseason play in 2002 due to the use of ineligible players. Holmoe failed to beat Stanford once during his tenure, and the program quickly rebounded once Jeff Tedford was hired, winning seven games in 2002.
24. Ed Orgeron, Ole Miss
Record: 10-25 (2005-07)
Orgeron did a good job of assembling talent in Oxford, as his recruiting class in 2006 was ranked No. 15 nationally by Athlon Sports. But a good portion of the highlights from Orgeron’s tenure were on the recruiting trail. Ole Miss won only three SEC games from 2005-08 and never made a bowl appearance under Orgeron. Three of Orgeron’s wins came against Memphis and three more came against FCS opponents. In 2008, one year after Orgeron was fired, Houston Nutt went 9-4 and led the Rebels to a win over Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl. Orgeron was hired due to his recruiting ties, but he had no head coaching experience prior to his arrival in Oxford.
25. Walt Harris, Stanford
Record: 6-17 (2005-06)
After a respectable 52-44 mark in eight years with Pittsburgh from 1997-2004, Harris decided to leave the Steel City for the Farm. The veteran coach had a tough assignment taking over the program after Buddy Teevens went 10-23 in three years, but Stanford went 5-6 in Harris’ first year. However, things fell apart for Harris in his second season, as the Cardinal went 1-11 in 2006. Stanford’s offense struggled after quarterback Trent Edwards was lost for the year, but the Cardinal was largely uncompetitive all season. Harris caught a bad break with Edwards’ injury, but the program was headed in the wrong direction, and dismissing him after two years proved to be the right move.
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