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Fire Bronco Mendenhall? The perils of firing a successful coach

We're not even midway through the season and college football fans are already firing off the #FIRE(insert coaches name) tweets at a torrid pace. If you're a fan of a losing team, clearly you have a case but if a coach has a winning record, you might want to think twice about calling for his job because if you think it's bad now, IT CAN GET MUCH WORSE.

Chris Covatta

Ah yes, it's that time of year.

We are just far enough along in the college football season for fans to realize that their team probably will not meet the unrealistically high expectations set by the fan base. Either their team has suffered a single loss or maybe the offense is only averaging 27 points per game as opposed to the requested 45. A travesty indeed!

BYU fans are no different. I've started to notice a portion of the Cougar faithful, along with many other fan bases around the country, have started social media campaigns (#FireCoach) to send the head ball coach and his coordinators packing. Every Saturday afternoon from now until the end of the season we will be seeing tweets along the lines of...




"I HATE PUMPKIN SPICED COOKIES. (also please fire my coach)."

According to these fans, the coaches don't understand how serious the fan base is about college football and how important it is that they perform at the highest level. These fans want change and they want it yesterday.

Now if a team is struggling to win their first game of the season, then they have just cause to canning their current coach. However, if said team currently has a winning record or finishes the season with a winning record, it might be in their best interest to read the following.

Replacing a head coach that has a winning record seldom produces instant results.

Since 2002, 31 college football coaches with winning records have been fired. This number only includes those who were fired for their poor performance (schools who fired their coach because of off the field issues like Joe Paterno were not included). Of those 31 created positions, only nine coaches had a better record than their predecessor.

That's right. Only nine times has a coaching change led to a better football season when the "idiot" before them had a winning record. For those fans demanding change, I highly doubt that many of them have the patience to wait as the new guy slugs through a losing season. What's worse is that of those nine coaches who did produce a winning record, three of them were named Charlie Weis, Dennis Erickson and Brady Hoke. I don't have to tell what kind of wonders those guys have worked at Notre Dame, Arizona State and currently Michigan.

To be clear, the warning here isn't that a team should never fire their head coach so long as they string together 7-5 seasons. There are many cases in which a coach can fail to improve and it's important for the team to move on instead of continuing to muddle in mediocrity. To be fair, two of the nine coaches that came back with better records than the previous coach were Urban Meyer and Kevin Sumlin. So there is a chance you can hit the jackpot and land one of the best coaches in the country but the odds are not in your favor.

The lesson and caution here is simple. Finding a good college football coach (or any coach for that matter) is difficult. Sure, there might be a hot offensive coordinator on the rise that could be the solution to all of your problems but the likelihood of A) that guy saying yes to taking the position and B) him being wildly successful are slim. You will be hard pressed to find guys like Gus Malzahn or David Shaw who are ready to take over a program right when you demand it be so.

All of that said, if you still want to fire your coach with a wining record, just know that there is some risk involved. If you want further evidence, take a look a the list of examples below of how things went from "things could be better" to "THIS IS A DUMPSTER FIRE".


2003: Frank Solich - 9-3

2004: Bill Callahan - 5-6

This might be the best example of an entitled program firing a great coach and then getting burned for it. Frank Solich was given the opportunity (or burden) of taking over for Nebraska legend Tom Osborne, who had just finished a five year stretch in which the Cornhuskers went 60-5, including three national championships. Taking that job was a most certain death trap. Solich fared well in his first four seasons, going to two BCS bowls and posting a top ten ranking three times. But after a 9-3 season the folks in Lincoln decided to part ways with the lifelong Husker coach and bring in offensive guru from the Oakland Raiders, Bill Callahan. In 2004 he lead the Huskers to their first losing season since 1961. If the fans and administration through a 9-3 season wasn't up to snuff, it's hard to imagine what they felt after 5-6.


2010: Ralph Friedgen - 9-4

2011: Randy Edsall - 2-10

In one of the more perplexing moves in recent memory, Maryland decided that they had yet to see enough progress from Friedgen and his team. Many found this strange since the Terps were coming off of fairly successful 9-4 season which included a bowl win and victories over rival UVA and a ranked NC State team. Enter Randy Edsall who promptly put up a double digit loss season. Now it's true that sometimes it needs to get worse before it gets better but Edsall has followed up his stellar 2011 campaign with four wins in 2012 and seven in 2013.


2012: Tom O'Brien - 7-5

2013: Dave Doeren - 3-9

This example is not nearly as drastic as the other two but it still serves the same purpose. Tom O'Brien had led his team to three consecutive winning seasons and two bowl victories but the athletic director fired him due to lagging season-ticket sales and his failure to recruit top in state talent. So NC State brought it Dave Doeren, who was coming off of a great season at Northern Illinois (Jordan Lynch says "you're welcome"). In his first season, Doeren went 3-9 and failed to win a conference game. Yikes. It appears as if the Wolfpack have started this season on the right foot with a 4-2 record but their wins have come from the national football powerhouses Presbyterian and Old Dominion. Oh and still no conference victories.


2011: Ron Zook - 6-6

2012: Tim Beckman - 2-10

Zook was always up and down at Illinois and nothing encapsulated that more than his final season. The Illini started off hot, winning their first six games but then hit the skids and lost their remaining regular season games. They promptly fired Zook and hired Toledo head coach Tim Beckman. In his first season the Fighting Illini went 2-10 and lost six games by 28 points or more. But don't worry! In 2014 they are a robust 3-3 AND if they win the rest of their games, they will be 9-3. So that's something fun to think about.


Fired Coach
Replacement Coach
Ball State Bill Lynch (6-6) Brady Hoke (4-8)
Louisville John L. Smith (7-6) Bob Petrino (9-4)
Texas A&M R.C. Slocum (6-6) Dennis Franchione (4-8)
UCLA Bob Toledo (8-5) Karl Dorrell (6-7)
Washington Rick Neuheisel (7-6) Keith Gilbertson (6-6)
Akron Lee Owens (7-5) J.D. Brookhart (6-5)
Nebraska Frank Solich (9-3) Bill Callahan (5-6)
Florida Ron Zook (7-5) Urban Meyer (9-3)
Marshall Bob Pruett (6-6) Mark Snyder (4-7)
Notre Dame Ty Willingham (6-6) Charlie Weis (9-3)
Pittsburgh Walt Harris (8-4) Dave Wannstedt (5-6)
Syracuse Paul Pasqualoni (6-6) Greg Robinson (1-10)
Colorado Gary Barnett (7-6) Dan Hawkins (2-10)
Arizona State Dirk Koetter (7-6) Dennis Erickson (10-3)
Miami (Fla.) Larry Coker (7-6) Randy Shannon (5-7)
Arkansas Houston Nutt (8-5) Bobby Petrino (5-7)
Georgia Tech Chan Gailey (7-6) Paul Johnson (9-4)
Southern Miss Jeff Bower (7-6) Larry Fedora (7-6)
Texas A&M Dennis Franchione (7-6) Mike Sherman (4-8)
Bowling Green Gregg Brandon (6-6) Dave Clawson (7-5)
ULM Charlie Weatherbie (6-6) Todd Berry (5-7)
Marshall Mark Snyder (7-6) John "Doc" Holliday (5-7)
Notre Dame Charlie Weis (6-6) Brian Kelly (8-5)
Maryland Ralph Friedgen (9-4) Randy Edsall (2-10)
Miami (Fla.) Randy Shannon (7-5) Al Golden (6-6)
Michigan Rich Rodriguez (7-6) Brady Hoke (11-2)
Pittsburgh Dave Wannstedt (7-5) Todd Graham (6-6)
Illinois Ron Zook (6-6) Tim Beckman (2-10)
Texas A&M Mike Sherman (6-6) Kevin Sumlin (11-2)
NC State Tom O'Brien (7-5) Dave Doeren (3-9)
Purdue Danny Hope (6-6) Darrell Hazell (1-11)