Tramel: Tennessee's firing of Jeremy Pruitt reminds us that college football job security is shaky
The University of Tennessee fired football coach Jeremy Pruitt on Monday, and it got me to thinking about job security on the college gridiron.
When we discuss the quality of a college football coaching job, we tend to focus on how much opportunity there is to win. But that’s only half the quality of a job.
Sure, Texas is a great job, with a big-time chance to win. It’s also a school that has fired three head coaches in barely seven seasons. So you’ve got to weigh that.
And all these things change. Baylor is a better job than Texas Tech, and a decade ago, that wasn’t true. Oklahoma State is a better job than Missouri, and a decade ago, that wasn’t true.
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When the century turned, Tennessee was a better job than was OU. Better facilities, better recent history, better job security. The Sooners got the Volunteers on long-term history, but that’s about it. Heck, at the time, the Big 12 was at least as competitive as was the Southeastern Conference, so you couldn’t even play the easier-path card.
OU fired four head coaches from June 1989 to November 1998. That’s not the symbol of a good job.
Tennessee once employed two head coaches over 32 seasons. That’s a symbol of a good job.
But like I said, things change. The Sooners have had two head coaches (and a truckload of hardware) since December 1998. Tennessee now has fired five head coaches since November 2008 -- Phil Fulmer, Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley, Butch Jones and Pruitt.
A good coaching job doesn’t have to mean championships and parades. It also could mean opportunities for advancement. Boise State, for example.
The Broncos continually lose coaches, but not because they’re fired. Houston Nutt left after one season for the Arkansas job. Dirk Koetter left after three seasons for the Arizona State job. Dan Hawkins left after five seasons for the Colorado job (back when that was a wise thing to do). Chris Petersen left after eight seasons for the Washington job. Bryan Harsin just left after seven seasons for the Auburn job.
Coaches ought to be clamoring for the Boise State job. Nobody gets fired. You win big. Opportunities abound.
Tennessee’s plight got me to thinking. What other schools go through a bunch of coaches?
In the Big 12, OU hasn’t fired a coach in 22 years (John Blake) and OSU hasn’t fired a coach in 20 years (Bob Simmons).
Iowa State has fired two coaches since dismissing Jim Walden in 1994 -- Dan McCarney after 12 seasons, Paul Rhoads after seven years, so that’s solid.
Kansas State has fired just one coach since 1988 -- Ron Prince, in between Bill Snyder’s two stints.
West Virginia has fired just one head coach in the last 40 years. Don Nehlen retired after 21 seasons, Rich Rodriguez left for Michigan after six years, Bill Stewart was fired after four seasons and Dana Holgorsen left for Houston after eight years.
Texas Tech has fired two coaches in the 2000s -- Mike Leach after 10 seasons, in 2009, and Kliff Kingsbury after six years. Tommy Tuberville left for the Cincinnati job, and most Red Raiders were glad he did.
Texas Christian hasn’t fired a coach since Pat Sullivan in 1997. Dennis Franchione left for Alabama and Gary Patterson has been on the job since before Y2K.
Baylor had great consistency with Grant Teaff, 1972-93, but then fired Chuck Ready, Dave Roberts, Kevin Steele, Guy Morriss and Art Briles, the first four for lack of victories and the latter for lack of virtue.
The Big 12 is about normal.
In the SEC, Louisiana State is a great, but tough, job. Since Charley McClendon’s retirement 41 years ago, only one LSU coach lasted longer than five years, and only Nick Saban left for another job. And Les Miles was fired after 12 seasons. Ed Orgeron has made it almost five seasons, so we’ll see.
Auburn has fired all four of its head coaches since Pat Dye’s 1992 retirement -- Terry Bowden, Tuberville, Gene Chizik and Gus Malzahn, the latter just last month.
Even Alabama, before Saban’s current reign of terror, was not a safe place to be head coach. Mike Shula was fired after four years, Franchione left after two seasons for Texas A&M (an inferior job), Mike DuBose was fired after four years, Gene Stallings retired after seven seasons, Bill Curry left after three years for inferior Kentucky and Ray Perkins was fired after four seasons. So in the 24 years between Bear Bryant and Saban, only Stallings came out unscathed.
Speaking of A&M and Big 12 expatriates, those schools aren’t bastions of stability.
Nebraska had two coaches, Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne, between 1961 and 1998. Since then, the Huskers have fired Frank Solich, Bo Pelini, Bill Callahan and Mike Riley, which means Scott Frost has to be on the hot seat, his record of 12-20 is by far the worst of the bunch.
Colorado won big under Gary Barnett but fired him for a variety of reasons in 2005. Since then, CU has gone through Hawkins, Jon Embree, Mike MacIntyre and Mel Tucker. Only Tucker (for Michigan State) left of his own free will.
Give Missouri credit. The Tigers have shown some patience. Barry Odom was (surprisingly) fired after four years (2016-19), but Gary Pinkel coached the Tigers for 15 years. And while Mizzou fired Larry Smith in 2000, it did so after seven seasons.
Texas A&M fired R.C. Slocum, after 14 seasons, in 2002, and since has fired Franchione, Mike Sherman and Kevin Sumlin. You might have to go back to Bear Bryant in 1957 as the last Aggie coach to leave in good standing.