Last weekend marked the end of the college football season for many programs, and for some of the more disappointing of those programs, it also marked an opportunity to start anew. In sports, there’s one way to rebuild that’s easier than any other: get a new coach. And this method proved irresistible to athletic directors all around the country. Cal’s Jeff Tedford, who had a great start to his tenure but faltered in recent years, was among the first to go. He joined Kentucky’s Joker Phillips and Tennessee’s Derek Dooley, who were canned in-season. And following last weekend’s action, they were joined by… well, a lot of other guys. (And more are likely to follow.) Let’s look at who they are:
Gene Chizik, Auburn
Hey, remember when Auburn won the national championship two years ago? Auburn’s having a tough time remembering itself. That’s how far they’ve fallen, plunging to 3-9 (and 0-8 in the SEC) this season. Auburn’s hiring of Chizik was much-derided initially, given his 5-19 record in two seasons at Iowa State prior to getting the Tigers’ top job, and while the 2010 title obviously quieted things, it gradually became clearer and clearer that that was Cam Newton’s championship first and foremost.
Without Newton, Chizik started looking more and more like his Iowa State self, and once he lost 49-0 to Alabama on Saturday, he was done. Alabama’s way better than Auburn this year, but this game was 42-0 at halftime. The SEC is an unforgiving place, and it’s especially not about to forgive 3-9. It would have been a shock had Chizik been retained.
John L. Smith, Arkansas
Look, Smith was in a tough spot, taking over for Bobby Petrino in April after Petrino’s control of his penis proved far less masterful than his command of his football team. On top of that, he had a rough year personally. But the fact remains: he went 4-8 with a preseason top 10 team, and that (plus his 10-month contract) meant that getting rid of him was, if anything, an even easier call than firing Chizik. The mercifully-short Smith era was a disaster in every respect, as the Razorbacks never recovered from a shocking early-season loss to Louisiana-Monroe.
Smith’s squad gave LSU a good game in the season finale (though that doesn’t mean Smith escaped criticism even then), but Smith’s fate was sealed. It’s still unclear who’ll replace him – Auburn fans are aiming high – but like Auburn, Arkansas can’t get much worse than it was this season.
Frank Spaziani, Boston College
If anything, the surprising thing here was how long Spaziani lasted. He inherited a program that was 20-8 in two seasons under previous coach Jeff Jagodzinski, and 27-9 in the three seasons before that, and went 22-29 in four seasons. What’s more, his teams got worse every year: 8-5 to 7-6 to 4-8 to this season’s 2-10 nadir. It was already apparent that the Eagles weren’t about to do much soaring under Spaz’s stewardship, but a 2-10 record had to be beyond even the most pessimistic projection. File this one, too, under the “no matter who replaces him, BC can’t get much worse” category.
As an additional viewpoint on Spaziani, we enlisted the help of SportsGrid contributor Dave Levy, who’s also a BC alum and fan. Here’s what he had to say:
Farewell to Frank Spaziani
(The Head Coach Who Never Should Have Been a Head Coach)
BC lost its first bowl game in 10 years on New Years Eve in 2008 to Vanderbilt, pushing them to 9-5 on the season. While the nation’s longest bowl victory streak had snapped, the season was probably still a success against expectations – Matt-Ryan-less, second-year coach Jeff Jagodzinski piloted a repeat appearance in the ACC Championship Game (this one, not this one), and it could have been a lot more mediocre when you try to name the multiple starting QBs for BC that year.
Not too long after that loss to Vandy, Jags was fired for flirting with the NFL (or threatening to flirt, we’ll never know), and in his place, BC was given the guy who piloted the rock steady defense for most of the last decade, DC Frank Spaziani, who had minimal head coaching experience and was seen as a company man if anything at all. Us BC fans have spent four years watching worse-and-worse performances and growing more and more self hating, so much so that it is pummeled out the positive memories of top ranked Ds the former defensive coordinator provided. The only thing BC fans are resting on now is that perhaps our four years of penance will be worth it – there is plenty of hope that the only direction from here is actually up out of the inferno.
Tom O’Brien, N.C. State
This one was more surprising. O’Brien had more success at Boston College than he did with the Wolfpack (his last three BC teams all went 9-3), but he has a winning overall record at N.C. State (40-35), and the school – not exactly a traditional football power – is going to its third straight bowl game and will post a winning season whether it wins or loses that game. O’Brien, though, won’t be around to coach it. It might prove to be the right move, but it wasn’t a gimme like Chizik’s ouster, and there’s certainly no guarantee that whoever replaces O’Brien will do better.
Jon Embree, Colorado
Yes, Colorado had a pretty quick trigger here (Embree lasted just two seasons) and perhaps he didn’t get enough time to try and turn things around. But Colorado was pitiful. They won one game this past season, by one point, over a 3-9 Washington State team. That followed a 3-10 effort in 2011. They lost to Sacramento State. They were down by 35 to Fresno State after one quarter. They surrendered 50 or more points five times. Looking back on this Colorado season is making me sad.
And sure, Embree wasn’t taking over a good program, but the Buffaloes weren’t in complete shambles like they are now. Embree’s predecessor, Dan Hawkins, went 19-39 in five seasons (he didn’t coach the final three games of 2010, in which Colorado went 2-1). That’s pretty bad. 2012 Colorado was something beyond that – they were depressing. It’s to bad it ends like this for Embree, who was trying to revive a program he played for himself, but good Lord was Colorado awful this year.
Danny Hope, Purdue
Another coach done in by mediocrity, rather than downright awfulness – he never finished worse than 4-8 and his last two teams were bowl eligible. Unfortunately for him, he never finished a regular season at Purdue better than 6-6, either, and Purdue only got there this year by beating three mediocre-to-bad teams (Iowa, Illinois, Indiana) to end the season. Purdue’s not a traditional power, but it’s not a traditional doormat, either – they played in the Rose Bowl barely a decade ago, and while Hope didn’t make a mess of things, Purdue has a right to hope for more than middling finishes.
Other moves of note.
Bill Cubit’s out at Western Michigan. He didn’t have a bad tenure overall, going 51-47. I mainly remember him, though, as Greg Schiano’s first offensive coordinator at Rutgers. His son, Ryan, was the quarterback? The results? Well, some RU fans are fond of pointing out how two cubits equal one yard. Additionally, Suthern Miss coach Ellis Johnson might be on the way out after just one season, Considering that season resulted in an 0-12 record after last year’s Southern Miss team went 12-2, though, we, uh, would understand Johnson’s ouster.
Photos via Getty