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Why Florida and Michigan Could Have Trouble Making the Big Hire

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Rejection stings. When the time comes for Florida and Michigan to hire new football coaches, the two college football powers may find out how much.

The Gators’ Will Muschamp and the Wolverines’ Brady Hoke remain employed today, but both of their fates are all but sealed. The two fourth-year coaches who entered the season under pressure to win now, have not.

Florida lost 42-13 to Missouri on Saturday to fall to 7-11 overall and 5-8 in the SEC since last season. Michigan defeated Penn State two weeks ago, but Hoke remains the first coach in school history to lose three games before Oct. 1.

By December or earlier, both programs will be looking for new coaches, but finding the perfect answer will be tough.

Hiring the right coach for a power program is hard, and these two programs know as much as any. Since 2003, Florida and Michigan have made more questionable hires (Ron Zook, Rich Rodriguez, Hoke and Muschamp) than successful ones (Urban Meyer).

Finding an elite coach in 2014 may be tougher than ever, especially if Florida and Michigan are not able to land high-profile, popular candidates. The next tier beyond the dream candidates for fans — Dan Mullen and Jim Harbaugh — is a thin and somewhat unproven group.

Here’s why Florida and Michigan may be in trouble when trying to fill the most important pair of headsets:

The coaching talent pool has dried up

Arguably, coaching across the board is better than it’s been in a long time. Spread coaches have changed the dynamic from coast to coast. So how can the talent pool be dry? 

Coaching acumen across the board may be high, but so are coaching moves. In 2013, 25.2 percent of schools had head coaching turnover. In 2012, the rate was 22.5 percent. Generally, fewer than 20 percent of FBS programs hire new coaches in a given year. Back-to-back seasons of that kind of turnover hasn’t been seen in 40 years.

In other words, many head coaching upstarts have already moved into their new jobs. Meanwhile, the pool of second-tier or lower-tier coaches that would be candidates at programs like Florida or Michigan haven’t had an opportunity to build lengthy track records.

The most likely candidates to move up are staying put

Think about it: In general, Coach X who takes teams like Baylor, Utah, TCU or Boise State to major bowls would be on a fast track to a big-time job. That’s what Urban Meyer did when he left for Florida. Meyer’s successor, Kyle Whittingham, also took Utah to a BCS bowl but stayed put with the Utes (more on him later). 

Coaches like Art Briles at Baylor and Gary Patterson at TCU might not be contenders for the Florida or Michigan jobs to begin with, but for one reason or another, they didn’t take (Briles) or contend for (Patterson) the Texas job that opened a year ago.

Boise State’s Chris Petersen could have had any number of open jobs since leading Boise State to a pair of BCS games. He can only fill one of those, and he picked Washington this season.

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...or typical candidates to move up have been there, done that

Again, Coach X who wins a Fiesta Bowl at UCF would generally generally a contender for a major job. Not so if that coach is a 68-year-old George O’Leary who previously was the coach at Georgia Tech and has plenty of baggage.

Even the Cincinnati job, which has been a stepping stone in the past, doesn’t have an intriguing young candidate. Mark Dantonio (Michigan State), Brian Kelly (Notre Dame) and Butch Jones (Tennessee) all turned the Cincinnati gig into major conference jobs. Cincinnati’s coach, Tommy Tuberville, already has been the head coach at Ole Miss, Auburn and Texas Tech.

Louisville has sent two of its last three coaches to the NFL (Bobby Petrino) and Texas (Charlie Strong). Now, Petrino is back, and his viability — and interest — for another job may be a matter of debate.

Good jobs are better

Why hasn’t Briles left Baylor? Two words: McLane Stadium. Surely, that’s not the only reason Briles isn’t the coach at Texas or anywhere other than Waco, but it doesn’t hurt. Facilities upgrades and other investments in football programs have turned good jobs or mediocre jobs into better ones.

Patterson rarely entertained jobs when TCU was in the Mountain West, though he did refute a report linking him to the Kansas State position in 2008. TCU also has a Big 12 affiliation that wasn’t on the radar six years ago.

For Mullen at Mississippi State, the Bulldogs are doing their part to keep up in the facilities arms race. They opened a $25 million football facility in January 2013. Ole Miss completed a renovation and expansion of its 10-year-old football facility in spring.

The College Football Playoff also opens up championship possibilities simply by doubling the field from two to four. The BCS standings aren’t a perfect indicator of what the selection committee might do, but it’s worth noting the following programs have been ranked in the top four of the BCS in just the last five seasons: Michigan State, South Carolina, Oklahoma State, Stanford (twice), Cincinnati and TCU (twice).

The notion that certain (Power 5) programs can’t play for a national championship doesn’t hold true as much as it once did. In other words, the coaches at Michigan State and Stanford don’t have to leave to be able to win a title.

Realignment casts doubt on would-be candidates

Utah’s Whittingham and West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen have seen their records take a hit due to realignment. Around 2010, Whittingham had the record of a coach who would follow in the footsteps of his old boss, Meyer, when he went 33-6 during a three-year span that included an undefeated season in 2008. Since then, his team is 11-19 in its first three seasons in the Pac-12 with one bowl appearance in four years.

Holgorsen was a hotshot offensive coordinator when he took over at West Virginia, winning the Big East and the Orange Bowl in 2011. The Mountaineers went 6-12 in their first two seasons in the Big 12.

Coordinators are playing the waiting game

How many times have Alabama’s Kirby Smart, Michigan State’s Pat Narduzzi and Clemson’s Chad Morris appeared on candidate lists for head coaching jobs in the last few seasons? Yet every time they stay put.

Thanks to rising salaries, the best assistants can make head coach money while remaining a coordinator. Smart and Morris both make in excess of $1.1 million. Narduzzi makes more than $900,000.

Top assistants can be choosy with head coaching jobs, but that also means they will be unproven if their first gigs end up at a power program. Bob Stoops, Mark Richt and Jimbo Fisher were first-time head coaches when they landed at their current jobs, but so were Will Muschamp, Ron Zook, Charlie Weis and Mike Shula.

When Florida and Michigan officially enter the market for a new coach, who knows? Perhaps they’ll make that clear, slam dunk hire and all of this will be moot. But at the same time, fans expecting the perfect candidate from Day One may end up disappointed.