One of the phrases you never want to hear as a fan of a college football team is “hot seat.” Any time your coach lands on the proverbial ass warmer, chances are your favorite team is struggling. These days, seats get warm earlier and earlier in the season, and for increasingly unfair reasons. Look around the country right now, and you’ll see coaches you’d never expect to hear about being in danger of losing their jobs suddenly the focal point of rumors and speculation. And frankly, it’s just not a good look for anyone.
Obviously, coaching changes need to be made from time to time. Syracuse University certainly needed to make a change after Greg Robinson had successfully run the program into the ground. Penn State clearly needed to make a move in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, no matter how revered Joe Paterno was by the fanbase.
But aren’t the goals and expectations getting just a tad too ridiculous? Aren’t the leashes getting, frankly, just way too damn short?
Take a look at Texas, for example, where Charlie Strong is in serious danger of being fired. Here’s the thing: Charlie Strong is less than two years into that particular coaching gig. He’s been successful wherever he’s gone, but now he’s at Texas, where the fans and alumni possess irrationally high expectations year after year. Yes, the Longhorns are 1-4, but keep in mind they’re a couple fluke plays away from being 3-2, and frankly, they aren’t nearly as talented as people just automatically assume they should be. Mack Brown didn’t exactly leave Strong with an enormous amount of superstar talent, evidenced by the fact that zero Longhorns were picked in the 2014 NFL Draft.
But now, particularly with Chip Kelly likely on the way out in Philadelphia, and with UT athletics director Steve Patterson having been fired, Longhorn fans are clamoring for Texas to cut ties with Strong and go hard after Kelly.
Believe it or not, there are entire websites dedicated to the coaching hot seat. CoachesHotSeat.com ranks all of the D1 coaches based on perceived job stability, like it’s some sort of game, and not the livelihoods of actual people – and I’m not just talking about the head coaches here, who all make a very healthy living; there are countless assistant coaches who rely on their head coach, well, keeping the job as a head coach.
If you’re curious, CoachesHotSeat.com currently lists Scott Shafer way, way down on the list at No. 87, meaning that people around the country are taking notice of the job he’s doing and think he deserves to stick around Central New York for a little while. I’m obviously inclined to agree, and if the Orange can pick up wins these next two weeks, and get to 5-1 with Pittsburgh coming to town, I firmly believe Mark Coyle should get that man a contract extension on the spot. And the good news for Shafer is that Coyle seems to get it.
As he told Bud Poliquin back when he was hired this summer:
“But I don’t want to speculate. You can bring a coach in who’s absolutely the wrong fit for an institution. You can bring in a coach who’s a great fit. Look at Rich Brooks at Kentucky. When I got there, he might have been there three or four years and we were struggling. And the fan base was, like, ‘You gotta make a change! You gotta make a change! This is terrible!’
“I remember sitting down with Mitch Barnhardt, the athletic director, and we were saying, ‘What are we going to do here? This is an issue.’ And we said, ‘We need to give him time.’ The next thing you know, we’re upsetting Georgia and we’re going to five straight bowl games. We end up beating LSU, Tennessee, Florida State. I mean, we’re beating big-time programs and having great success. And the fan base was, like, ‘Pull the plug.'”
It’s refreshing when you’ve got an AD who actually understands that, as he and Shafer have indicated, “it’s not a dash, it’s a marathon.” It takes time to get a program moving in the right direction, and it takes stability. Let’s say, just for the sake of pure speculation and a hypothetical, that Syracuse lost all of the rest of its games to finish 3-9 for the second straight year (which, let’s be honest, is not going to happen). Let’s also say that people start calling for Shafer’s job. Well, you know what? That would be an even bigger detriment to the progression of the program than any amount of losses.
You need some semblance of stability from one year to the next, and then on to the next. That’s a big reason why people always say you should give a coach at least three or four years, because that allows him to not just bring in his own recruits, but also get them into his system and on the field. You can’t tell what a coach’s program is going to look like until you see the guys he recruits for his system. If Syracuse moved on from Shafer, it would mean that the program will have had three head coaches over a five year span. That is absolutely no way to build a program. You’re going to have transfers who were here for the coach, you’re going to lose recruits, and you’re going to have to go back to the drawing board to install yet another offensive and defensive system with an all new coaching staff.
That’s what Texas fans don’t seem to realize. There was a reason the Longhorns eventually moved on from Mack Brown, and it’s actually pretty similar to the reasoning behind Syracuse moving on from Paul Pasqualoni following the 2004 season. Over his final three years at Texas, the Longhorns were just 11-15 in Big 12 play. Sometimes, a program can still be competitive, but things get stagnant, and coaches simply lose interest in certain aspects of the job, like recruiting for instance.
Coaches need a chance to succeed before you decide to pull the plug, plain and simple. If you’re not going to give them a shot, the odds are stacked against you finding success unless you get insanely lucky with whoever you hire, and we all know that, given the enormous amount of turnover in football coaching, the whole thing is an enormous crapshoot.
It’s ridiculous to me that people are calling for Charlie Strong’s job. It’s also a bit strange that people are calling for Al Golden to be fired despite the fact that his team is currently 3-1, and just two years ago went 9-4. The fact that Mark Richt is No. 6 on the CoachesHotSeat.com rankings is patently absurd to me, given his career record of 140-49, along with the fact that 1) his team is 4-1, and 2) went 10-3 last season.
What the hell do fans and administrators and boosters and board of trustee members think is going to happen if you move on from good coaches? Am I crazy, or are the expectations for the coaching profession getting dangerously high? Yes, everyone wants to win. I would love to see Syracuse run the table and end the season 11-1, but if Scott Shafer doesn’t win nine games, I’m not going to be calling for his head.
If you’ve got a good coach and a successful program, just embrace that and enjoy it when the coach keeps the team competitive and playing at a high level. If you’ve just made a coaching change, for the love of god, give the coach at least a little time to implement his system and bring in players who fit that system, and see what he can do. We’re an increasingly impatient society, and unfortunately for college football coaches, it’s bleeding over into their profession.