Coaching Carousel

Movers and shakers make changes at Texas and other spots

by Katie Thulin | @katiet121 |

The 2016 college football head coach hiring’s and firings seem to be the topic of conversation instead of the actual teams and/or players this year. Maybe it’s because even with the relatively new playoff system, Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State are, as per usual, the front-runners. Although there are some “underdog” teams such as Washington (4), who hasn’t been ranked in the top 25 (at 25) since 2013, and Penn State (8), for the first time since 2011, that could make the FBS playoffs interesting.

Regardless, when Les Miles, head coach of LSU for 12 seasons, got canned at the end of September, opinions and controversial conversations over the firings of college football head coaches were sparked. No one is counting Art Briles because, well, we all know what happened there. The latest casualty of head coaches was former University of Texas head coach Charlie Strong. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise since talk of Strong’s firing had been going on for months. However when news broke on November 26 that Strong was officially fired, both UT fans and anyone who remotely cares about college football, lost their minds. Everyone seemed to have an opinion on Strong’s departure, both opponents and proponents equally.

Many people have no idea why or how a head coach gets the boot. People can speculate or look at clear facts to form their hypothesis, but there is little information about the guidelines regarding losing a head coaching job. Yes, Texas was 5-7 and lost to a 2-9 Kansas, but Strong had only been with the program for three seasons and was coaching D’Onta Forman; a running back with a good chance at the Heisman. Rumors that boosters of the University of Texas wanted Tom Herman, Strong’s replacement, from day one, began swirling quickly. Was it the boosters? If so, what do they have to gain? Was it because UT lost to a toilet bowl? We may never know.

A source from Fox Sports Southwest and college football play-by-play announcer, gives his insider opinion stating:

            “Administrators say they want their coaches to build young, graduate the players and help them grow as young men. True, but bottom line there is little patience on their behalf. Coaches have to win quickly. Build a program, not just a team, is what many coaches want. But, those in power say the right thing, but getting W’s is front and center. Frank Solich did that at Nebraska, had good men playing, but 8-9 wins was not enough. Charlie Partridge took over an FAU program that was in shambles and he was rebuilding but not fast enough for some. Charlie Strong         at Texas, and most inside the program agree, was rebuilding; albeit slow. He changed the culture but it comes down to wins and losses. The honeymoon with coaches can end quickly; and for most it is very costly.”

Once a program decides to terminate, they have to pay the coach the rest of what the contract is worth until they find another job. Kind of like unemployment for football coaches. For some teams, the cost isn’t worth the reward.

Mac Engel (@MacEngelProf ), author and currently covering the Dallas Cowboys for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, gives his inside insight to Three Point Stance in an interview about this topic. Engel has worked in three different college athletic departments including


Mac Engel – Ft. Worth Star-Telegram

Kansas, Missouri State and TCU, giving him the knowledge to help everyone understand what’s really going on behind the gridiron scenes.


KT: Who decides on who gets fired within the NCAA football organization? (FBS/FCS)

 ME: Normally firing a big-time coach is decided by an agreement between the athletic director, university president and often times influential boosters. The boosters often time have to come up with the money to write the necessary check on the buyout. 

 That’s what has changed so much since about 1995; athletic departments have become far more business and revenue oriented for the obvious reasons. They need the money so the athletic director is now no longer a former coach but now a business executive with the expertise of raising money. So they have enlisted a handful of boosters, whose money now has bought them a voice and power within the athletic department. 

It has always been the case but since about the mid ’90s it’s just more so. 

 Those are the people who make the biggest decisions.

 KT:  Are there guidelines or quotas a coach must achieve before their job is in jeopardy?

 ME: Zero. Normally there is specific language in contracts that have incentive clauses – $100,000 for a bowl win, $500,000 for a conference title, etc. 

 And then there are vague specifics about conduct that could be unbecoming or detrimental, etc. Like, if the coach gets a DWI, or has a relationship with a cheerleader, etc.

 But a quota? No. That language won’t exist in words on a contract.

KT: How come some coaches (Kevin Sumlin, Les Miles) have proven their strength yet are still in the hot seat and/or been let go already? Why do some coaches with awful records with the same longevity get to stay?

 ME: There is no hard and fast rule. A lot of it depends on the contract the guy has, and the relationships he has built with the power brokers at his respective school. For instance, Mike Gundy has done pretty well at Oklahoma State and I would bet all of my money he has a good relationship with T. Boone Pickens, who is the most influential benefactor to OSU.

 The buyouts on these contracts are enormous and that is often a driving factor in a coaches’ firing. Look at Kingsbury at Texas Tech. Or Sumlin – they are huge sums of money.

 Attention spans are short and we are collectively more impatient, especially when you take into account the staggering amount of money these guys are paid. They are normally the highest paid employees at their schools, and often the highest paid public employees in the entire state.

KT: What is your opinion on the Charlie Strong firing?

 ME: Had to happen. He was the head coach for the worst three years of Texas football since the 1930s. You can’t be Texas and lose to THAT Kansas team. They never had a winning record. They didn’t a bowl game. They never demonstrated improvement. 

KT: Who do you think will be the next to go and why? Do you think there will be any surprises with coaching firings/hirings in the 2017 season?

 ME: Good question. …. Kingsbury is coming back and I think Kevin Sumlin will, too. The buyouts on their contracts are substantial. 

Look where Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck goes. He’s the biggest name out there and there could be a school that fires their coach just to get Fleck.

With college football season over for most teams, the firing and hiring of head coaches take center stage; as does the controversy. All the while Jim Harbaugh is kicking back with some milk and steak watching Westworld…and probably screaming.

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