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Carlson: Think your team's coach should be fired? Why it won't happen in college football this year

South Carolina coach Will Muschamp is one of college football's head coaches who might've been on the hot seat this year. But the pandemic's impact on athletic department revenues will make it difficult for any school to fire and buy out a coach. [AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File]
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp is one of college football's head coaches who might've been on the hot seat this year. But the pandemic's impact on athletic department revenues will make it difficult for any school to fire and buy out a coach. [AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File]

Even in this pandemic-altered college football season, some things remain the same.

The “FIRE MY TEAM’S COACH!” crowd still makes regular appearances.

It happened a couple weeks ago after Iowa State lost to Louisiana-Lafayette and Kansas lost to Coastal Carolina. Heck, Texas Tech won its opener with a less-than-stellar performance against Houston Baptist, and some Red Raider fans said they’d had enough.

And of course, the off-with-his-head bunch appeared Saturday after OU lost at home to Kansas State.

I’m not suggesting any of these factions were large — Lincoln Riley at OU and Matt Campbell at Iowa State have both done lots of great things while Les Miles at Kansas and Matt Wells at Tech are only in their second seasons with those programs — but still, some folks were lighting torches and sharpening pitchforks.

If you were in one of those groups or if you ever get to the point this season where you consider joining in, let me save you the energy.

Major-college head coaches aren’t getting fired this season.

Unless they do something unsavory or untoward — think Bobby Petrino at Arkansas — coaches are not going to be fired for on-field performance. Much like this season is a freebie for players after the NCAA ruled it wouldn’t count against their eligibility, coaches will get a free pass, too.

The reason?

Bottom lines.

The coronavirus is causing major financial shortfalls all across college sports. No program is immune. Not big ones. Not successful ones. Not any one.

Texas led the nation in fiscal year 2018-19 with revenue in excess of $232 million. The Longhorns brought in $11 million more than any other athletic department in the country. I mean, Bevo is a money-making machine.

But earlier this month, Texas laid off 35 staffers and eliminated 35 more unfilled positions.

You know it’s bad when Texas has to cut that many people.

And Texas is not alone. Athletic departments everywhere are looking for ways to save money and stay afloat during these turbulent times. They’re stretching to cover the necessities. They’re asking fewer people to do more.

Considering that, it seems highly unlikely athletic departments would have the money to buy out head coaches.

As salaries have skyrocketed, so have buyouts. To fire a head coach and his assistants, many Power 5 programs would have to pay around $20 million. That’s a lot of money in normal times — and these times definitely aren’t normal.

It’s an expenditure athletic departments can’t even fathom right now.

That’s why it’s highly unlikely that even coaches on the hottest seats will be fired. Clay Helton at USC, Gus Malzahn at Auburn, Chip Kelly at UCLA, Will Muschamp at South Carolina, even Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, none are likely going anywhere no matter how their seasons go.

And frankly, this season shouldn’t be a barometer anyway. Teams are going to be dealing with all manner of upheaval. Positive tests for COVID. Position groups hit hard. Players in quarantine. Coaches in isolation.

This season just isn’t a fair litmus test.

Now, I’m not saying there will be no coaching changes.

In fact, I can say with a hundred percent certainty that there will be because there already has been. Jay Hopson resigned at Southern Miss two days after a season-opening loss, and while his buyout wasn’t disclosed, it is believed to have been no more than $500,000.

Hardly chump change, but not a seven-figure payout either.

Word out of Hattiesburg was that Hopson was not all that popular in addition to not being all that successful. Hopson, you’ll remember, wanted to hire Art Briles as his offensive coordinator, and when the Southern Miss president thought it best to keep Briles away from his campus, Hopson raised a stink.

There will always be exceptions to every rule.

But over the past five years, FBS college football has seen an average of 25 head coaching changes each year. That’s nearly 20% of all programs.

This year, you might be able to count the changes on one hand.

Now, an older coach retiring or a successful coach getting poached by the NFL might change that total. That could cause the lights to shine and the music to play and the coaching carousel to spring to life.

But the spin won’t be fueled by firings.

So, if you want to be upset about your team struggling, go ahead. If you want to hop on social media or call sports talk, I’m all for giving those frustrations an outlet. Better out than in, as they say.

But if you want your coach fired because your team isn’t winning enough, let me save you the intrigue and energy — it isn’t going to happen.

Just one more thing this pandemic has changed.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or Like her at or follow her at

Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›