College Football's One-Year Coaching Tenures: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Alabama's Nick Saban was one of many legendary coaches with short stints
By: David Fox | 10/10/12, 6:05 AM EDT
After Arkansas’ 24-7 dismantling of Auburn on Saturday, coach John L. Smith has a reason to smile. Sure, it’s been a disappointing season for the coach who will likely spent only one season at Fayetteville, but at least a bowl game remains a possibility now
For Arkansas, Smith’s one-year tenure will be one of the most painful single seasons in recent years. For fans outside of Arkansas, it’s at least been one of the more intriguing one-year coaching situations.
Smith isn’t first one-year tenured coach and won’t be the last. Even some of the all-time greats have made short stints at other schools -- Bear Bryant, Bill Parcells, Darrell Royal and Howard Schnellenberger had one-year stints in their careers.
Just last season, four coaches had one year tenures either due to taking other jobs (Hugh Freeze and Todd Graham) or like Smith, had the job on an interim basis (Luke Fickell and Everett Withers).
Here are the good, the bad, the ugly and the interesting for college football’s one-year coaching tenures:
Hugh Freeze, Arkansas State (2011)
Record: 10-3, 8-0 Sun Belt
Freeze got the job in unorthodox fashion as he was the offensive coordinator for the head coach the program just fired. But his only season at Arkansas State was the best in team history. The Red Wolves won an outright Sun Belt title for the first time and reached only their second bowl game. Freeze set the table for another high school coach-turned-offensive mastermind in Gus Malzahn.
Todd Graham, Rice (2006)
Record: 7-6, 6-2 Conference USA
Before Pittsburgh, Graham left Rice in the lurch after one season. But that single was one of the best for a moribund program. Graham took over a 1-10 team under Ken Hatfield the year before to lead Rice to its first bowl game in 45 years. When his year was over, he returned to Tulsa, where he was defensive coordinator before landing at Rice.
Steve Mariucci, Cal (1996)
Record: 6-6, 3-5 Pac-10
A 6-6 season is enough to put current Cal coach Jeff Tedford on the hot seat watch. Yet in the mid-90s, this was Cal’s best record and only bowl appearance between 1994-2002, the latter being Tedford’s first season. At age 41, Mariucci left to coach the San Francisco 49ers to replace George Seifert, who abruptly resigned after the ’96 season.
Nick Saban, Toledo (1990)
Record: 9-2, 7-1 MAC
Saban’s first head coaching gig was short-lived but successful with a share of a MAC title and the Rockets’ best season in seven years. And as a sign of the times, Toledo’s nine wins weren’t enough to earn the Rockets a spot in one of 19 bowl games in 1990. Saban left after his only season in Toledo to be Bill Belichick’s defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns.
Frank Broyles, Missouri (1957)
Record: 5-4-1, 3-3 Big 7
Broyles’ stint was sandwiched between two of Missouri’s most accomplished coaches. He preceded Dan Devine and succeeded Don Faurot, who would later be the namesake of Missouri’s field. After one year in Columbia, he embarked on his Hall of Fame career with Arkansas.
Jim Tatum, Oklahoma (1946)
Record: 8-3, 4-1 Big 6
Tatum led Oklahoma to a conference title and a Gator Bowl victory, but he’ll be better remembered for who he left behind in Norman before he bolted for Maryland. Tatum paid players out of the athletic department coffers and was notoriously difficult to deal with. That said, he brought nine All-Americans to Oklahoma, including Buddy Burris and eventual Texas coach Darrell Royal, in addition to hiring the legendary Bud Wilkinson as his offensive coordinator.
Bear Bryant, Maryland (1945)
Record: 6-2-1, 3-2 ACC
Maryland athletic director Curley Byrd was impressed enough with the 32-year-old career assistant Bryant to give him his first head coaching job. But the Bear and Byrd clashed in his lone season with the Terrapins, and Bryant bolted for Kentucky after one season. Two years later, Maryland would benefit from a one-year stint at another school when it hired Jim Tatum from Oklahoma.
John L. Smith, Arkansas (2012)
Record: 2-4, 1-2 SEC
This season has been so bad for Arkansas, the question remains if this team could contend in the SEC West no matter the coach. With one of the worst defenses in the SEC, the Razorbacks are just looking to salvage a bowl game before moving on to the next coach.
Luke Fickell, Ohio State (2011)
Record: 6-7, 3-5 Big Ten
With Jim Tressel resigning on Memorial Day before the 2011 seasons, Ohio State had its first losing season since 1988 and lost to Michigan for the first time since 2003. But the season under the interim coach Fickell wasn’t a total loss -- the Buckeyes defeated Big Ten champion Wisconsin and lost only one game by more than a touchdown. Meanwhile, quarterback Braxton Miller made his debut. New coach Urban Meyer retained Fickell as defensive coordinator.
Lane Kiffin, Tennessee (2009)
Record: 7-6, 4-4 SEC
Kiffin brought swagger to Knoxville. He got under the skin of Florida’s Urban Meyer and other SEC rivals. And he signed an elite recruiting class. Tennessee loved all that. Then he took the USC job in mid-January, weeks after most coaching changes. Tennessee fans did not like that. Moreover, Kiffin’s top-10 signing class never panned out as a bulk of the class transferred, failed to qualify or ran into legal trouble.
Dennis Erickson, Idaho (2006)
Record: 4-8, 3-5 WAC
Erickson was not the most in-demand coach when he returned to the program that gave him his first job, but a year later, Arizona State came calling. Erickson returned to the Pac-10 and left Idaho with a team that went 3-19 the two seasons after he left.
Sam Wyche, Indiana (1983)
Record: 3-8, 2-7 Big Ten
Wyche would eventually take the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl, but he couldn’t win more than three games at Indiana. The last coach to leave the Big Ten for and NFL job, Wyche had his Hoosers tenure preceded by eventual ESPN analyst Lee Corso and followed by Bill Mallory.
Todd Graham, Pittsburgh (2011)
Record: 6-7, 4-3 Big East
The high-octane offense never delivered at Pittsburgh, where Graham took over for a coach, Mike Haywood, who didn’t even make it into his first season, much less complete a full season. When Graham bolted unexpectedly for Arizona State, he left behind a fractured locker room and an angry team for Paul Chryst to repair.
Howard Schnellenberger, Oklahoma (1995)
Record: 5-5-1, 2-5 Big 8
In stints at Miami, Louisville and FAU, Schellenberger’s credentials as a program-builder are impeccable. As a program rebuilder at Oklahoma, he was a disaster. He arrived to clean up a mess left by Barry Switzer but never fit in culturally in Norman. He was forced out amid rumors of off-field issues and was replaced by John Blake.
Lou Saban, Northwestern (1955)
Record: 0-8-1, 0-6-1 Big Ten
The well-travelled Saban had many jobs in the college ranks and pro ranks, but few of them were as bad as his lone year at Northwestern. Saban’s 0-fer in 1955 was the first at Northwestern, but not the last. Saban would be succeeded by Ara Parseghian, who had a successful run in Evanston before going to Notre Dame.
Houston Nutt, Boise State (1997)
Record: 4-7, 3-2 Big West
Houston Nutt was Boise State’s first hire after the Broncos became a Division I-A program. After a successful run in I-AA at Portland State and Boise State, then-Broncos coach Pokey Allen was poised to guide the Broncos into major college football before he died of cancer shortly after the 1996 season. After one season at Boise State, Nutt left for Arkansas and was replaced by Dirk Koetter, who began a run of three wildly successful Boise State coaches.
Bill Parcells, Air Force (1978)
Parcells’ first head coaching job was not with the New York Giants, instead it came five years earlier at Air Force. Parcells wasn’t thrilled with the recruiting process, so he left after a year to be an assistant with the Giants. Coaching stability, though, was easy to find at Air Force thereafter. The Falcons have had only three head coaches since The Tuna left -- Ken Hatfield, Fisher DeBerry and Troy Calhoun.
Pat Dye, Wyoming (1980)
Record: 6-5, 4-4 WAC
Wyoming once had a nice coaching tree with Fred Akers (who would coach at Texas), Dennis Erickson (who won two national titles at Miami), Joe Tiller (who would coach at Purdue), and Pat Dye. A long time assistant to Bear Bryant at Alabama, Dye was a possible successor to Bryant, who was then two years away from retirement. Dye instead took the job at rival Auburn, where he won 142 games in 11 seasons.
Jackie Sherrill, Washington State (1978)
Record: 3-8, 2-5 Pac-8
Sherrill’s first head coaching job was also one his least successful. After going 3-8 at Wazzu, Sherrill landed at Pittsburgh where had four top-10 finishes in five seasons with a little help from Dan Marino. Sherrill then went to Texas A&M, but his .273 win percentage in his single season at Washington State was the worst of his career until 1995 at Mississippi State.
Darrell Royal, Washington (1956)
Record: 5-5, 4-4 Pacific Coast Conference
After a middling season at Washington, Royal returned to his Midlands roots by taking the Texas job, where he’d become the Longhorns’ most celebrated coach. After Royal’s short stint, Washington had only two coaches (Jim Owens and Don James) from 1957-92.
by David Fox
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