The 5 worst firings over the past 10 years in college football *

Bucks43201's picture
March 27, 2013 at 4:10p

* (other than Jim Tressel, who technically "resigned")

There's been some good decisions when it comes to new coaches being hired & fired over the past ten years, and some bad decisions. I arrived at this list with 5 criteria: What was the state of the program before the coach arrived at the particular school? How successful was the coach had at the school? How was the team's competition? What was the aftermath of the decision/how did the school do after they fired him?, and lastly, how has the coach followed up with his new job(s) after he was fired?


1.) Ole Miss - David Cutcliffe:

Cutcliffe was fired in late 2004 after his only losing season in Oxford, a 4-7 campaign the first year after losing Eli Manning to the NFL. Cutcliffe was asked by the Ole Miss AD to make changes and fire assistants, a move Cutcliffe thought to be premised on panic.  In the years before that season, from '98-'03, Cutcliffe led Ole Miss to a 40-22 overall record.

Cutcliffe is the only coach in Ole Miss history to open his tenure with five straight winning seasons. In 2003, Cutcliffe's high-powered Ole Miss offense led the Rebels to their first New Year's bowl game since 1991 & their first 10-win season in over 30 years. They beat Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl and ended up being ranked #13 in the final poll, finishing the season 10-3 overall with a share of the SEC West title. Coming into the 2004 season, Ole Miss was the only school in the SEC West division to be bowl-eligible for 7 straight years.

Seven years after the firing, Ole Miss hired their third head coach (Huge Freeze) since Cutcliffe left. Although it appears Ole Miss is finally resurgent again, thanks to some seemingly-magical recruiting victories recently. It's now been over 9 years after Ole Miss canned Cutcliffe. In the first 3 years after they fired Cutcliffe, Ole Miss went 10-25, and has been 41-57 overall since he was ousted.

Cutcliffe is now the head coach of Duke, one of college football's worst team's over the past decade. But, Cutcliffe has renewed the program, and they just recently went to their first bowl game since 1994. With Cutcliffe's penchant for helping QBs develop into stars, look for Duke to sustain their success at a moderate level in the years to come. It has been, and will continue to be very difficult for Ole Miss to find sustained success in the ultra-competitive SEC West division. Cutcliffe's success at Ole Miss, the competition he faced, along with how poorly Ole Miss did after he left combined with Cutcliffe's amazing turn-around job at Duke, put him at the top of this list.



2.) Minnesota - Glen Mason:

Former Buckeye Linebacker Glen Mason is the like the hot girlfriend you break up with, because you think you can find a hotter girl. Then one day it sinks in that you screwed up royally, and didn't realize how good you had it until she's gone. You're left face down on a cold floor, borderline passed out, quasi-depressed, surrounded by empty bottles of Stroh's, with the Counting Crows August and Everything After  cd playing in he background...and she's gone for good. And you'd pay the devil to replace her. Or Tim Brewster.

Okay, maybe it's not that  bad. But, Mason was about as good as it's going to get for the Golden Gophers in this day and age, (see Tubby Smith). Mason was a solid coach who built a respected program. A program predicated on strong offensive line play, with an even stronger running game. This was the right approach for the Big Ten. Minnesota's rush offense was always highly-ranked under Mason. In 2003, for just the 30th time in college football history, the Gophers had 2 running backs with at least 1,000 yards each in the same season: Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney. Both RBs went on to the NFL. Mason led the Gophers to an overall 38-25 record his last 5 seasons at the helm. But on the last day of 2006, following an epic meltdown in the Insight Bowl against Texas Tech where the Gophers blew a 38-7 third-quarter league to lost the game 41-44 in overtime, Mason was fired. At the time I really thought this was an emotional, knee-jerk reaction by the Minnesota powers-that-be.

Minnesota has to swallow the pill that, for the time being at least, they have a ceiling. Mason and his success was about as good as it was going to get. With Ohio State, M*chigan, Penn State, and other B1G squads to battle with, Minnesota was never going to be a favorite to win the conference. They really haven't been in decades, (haven't won the conference since 1967), and don't seem to be anytime soon. It's hard to recruit out-of-state players to Minneapolis; especially when Ohio State, M*chigan, and now Nebraska, are in the same conference. With 3 different head coaches since 2007, Minnesota has struggled since firing Mason, going 26-46 since they let him go. It seems that the Gophers may have finally found a guy who can turn the corner though, in Jerry Kill. More important than coaching records is the health of the current Gophers head coach. Hopefully Coach Kill's health can improve, after he's battled various health problems, including a few seizures during games.

Glen Mason has managed to stay away from getting back on the coaching carousel, and continues his job as an analyst for the Big Ten Network. I've always thought he'd make a great Running Backs Coach for Ohio State, or perhaps an Offensive Coordinator or Head Coach somewhere in the BIG or MAC.



3.) Kansas - Mark Mangino:

Mark Mangino can trace his coaching roots back to one James Patrick Tressel, where he served as an assistant to Tressel from 1985-1987 at Youngstown State University. Mangino's path eventually took him to Norman, Oklahoma. Following the 2000 season, where Mark Mangino was Offensive Coordinator of a Sooners team that beat Florida State for the national championship, Mangino was rewarded with the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach. Shortly after, Mangino took over a downtrodden Kansas Jayhawks program, which hadn't seen success since, well, since a guy named Glen Mason was coach of the Jayhawks in the late-80s to mid-90s. Mason's success was minimal compared to what Mangino accomplished at Kansas. At the peak of his successful tenure at Kansas, Mark Mangino led the Kansas Jayhawks football, (not basketball) program to a #2 ranking in the polls in 2007! After his first season saw the Jayhawks go 2-10, Mangino went 48-38 the next seven seasons, compiling a 50-48 record overall in his eight seasons at Kansas. Just above .500 doesn't seem too impressive for a coach, but when you consider this program's football history, it's quite the feat. Mangino's 50 wins as head coach rank as the second-most in school history.

Following a monumentally successful 2007 season, the Jayhawks went to and won their only BCS Bowl in school history, defeating Virginia Tech in the 2008 Orange Bowl to finish the season 12-1. The #2 ranking during that season is the highest  ranking in school history. Kansas also set records under Mangino for consecutive weeks ranked in the AP Top 25 poll, the highest national offensive statistic rankings in school history, and largest home stadium attendance records in school history. Mangino went 3-1 in bowl games during his tenure; the 3 bowl victories are the same total the school had in it's 102-year history prior to hiring Mangino. Mangino also won numerous Coach of the Year Awards.

Following allegations of verbal abuse and "harsh mistreatment" of his players, Mangino "resigned"  was fired in 2009. With today's hyper-politically correct culture, who knows how bad these allegations actually were, but, it was enough for Kansas to part ways with the man. Mangino receives a lot of criticism for his disciplinarian style and weight problem/appearance, but it's hard to argue with his success. What he did at Kansas was remarkable and then some.

Since Mangino left the school, Kansas sucks. Sorry, there's no other way to describe it or sugarcoat it...they're just terrible. They Jayhawks are 6-30 the past three seasons. Turner Gill was let go after two seasons and a record of 5-19; while self-proclaimed schematic genius Charlie Weis went 1-11 in 2012. Meanwhile after a few years out of the coaching world, Mangino has returned to his roots in Youngstown, where is the YSU Assistant Head Coach/Tight Ends Coach. Don't be surprised to see Mangino get back into Division 1 coaching in the next few years, likely at a MAC school.



4.) Ralph Friedgen - Maryland:

In the year 2001, Ralph Friedgen took over a Maryland program which hadn't been to a bowl game since 1990. The former Terrapins OL and well-traveled coach came to Maryland with over 31 years of assistant coaching experience. It didn't take long for the new Head Coach to turn things around.

In his first game, Friedgen guided his Maryland team to a come-from-behind win over rival North Carolina. Hard to believe, but Friedgen was the first Maryland coach to win his opening game since 1959.  That first season in College Park, Maryland finished 10-2, had a top-10 ranking, and won the ACC. The Terps went to their first BCS Bowl game, losing to the Florida Gators in the Orange Bowl.

With a tough act to follow, Friedgen sustained his success, going 11-3 and 10-3 the next two seasons. In 2004 and 2005, Maryland regressed to 5-6 each year, but went 9-4 in 2006. In 2007 and 2008, Maryland combined to go 14-12. Then in 2009, the Terps dipped down to 2-10. After the 2009 season, rumblings began to surface about Friedgen being fired. But, he followed that disappointing '09 season up with a quick turnaround, and led the Terps to a 9-4 record in 2010. He was curiously fired after the 2010 season. The athletic department cited a "lack of fan support". They also hired Under Armour to design the world's ugliest football uniforms...I guess it's true what they say - any publicity, even bad publicity, is good. Hmmm.

During Friedgen's 10-year tenure Maryland would go 75-50. The Terrapins went to 7 bowl games in those 10 years, winning 5 of those 7 bowls...a remarkable accomplishment for a program that was drowning before Friedgen arrived. Friedgen led Maryland to an impressive three consecutive double digit-wins seasons. 

Maryland hired former Connecticut Head Coach Randy Edsall to take over the program. Edsall is 6-18 after two seasons, and many injuries.

After the 2010 season, in an interview with a Baltimore television station, Friedgen said that he was so angry with the firing that he burned his Maryland diploma and now roots mainly for Georgia Tech. Friedgen, though, would go on to later revoke that statement. Friedgen will be 66 next week, and it's unknown if he will step back into coaching.



5.) Pitt - Dave Wannstedt:

This may be a bit of a surprise choice, and he may even be the second-worst firing for Pitt's program the past ten years. But, it's because he followed Walt Harris and Pitt didn't learn their lesson, that it makes his firing even worse. Fool me once - shame on you...fool me twice - shame on me.
Though it didn't seem like it at times, especially after some frustrating losses, Pitt may have very well been on the cusp of something special with Wannstedt. I watch a lot of football, including most Pitt games; this was just a gut feeling I had. Wannstedt wasn't an elite coach, but I think he was a great fit for Pittsburgh, if they had the patience. The big picture was looking good.
Although their coaching styles couldn't have been more different, their closing of their tenures with Pitt were similar. What about the "What have you done for me lately?" clause. Harris was let go after the school's first BCS Bowl appearance, a loss to Utah in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. But let's be honest --- we know who the Utes coach was at the time...did Harris stand a fair chance? No. Pitt thought it was close to taking that next step to return to it's glory days. So, they decided that to get back there, they would do so by getting rid of the guy who resurrected the program. Walt Harris, who took the Panthers to 5 straight bowl games, was pushed out following the 2005 Fiesta Bowl loss to Utah. They replaced Harris with....
...Dave Wannstedt. I guess you can't blame Pitt for trying to get back to the days of their illustrious yesteryear, especially when you're playing in the Big East Conference. Wannstedt was also a Pittsburgh guy, having played OL for the Panthers in the early 70s. The "Wann-stache" had a pretty successful tenure as Pitt's head coach. But, it seems frustrating losses in close games to inferior teams are remembered more than his successes. Wannstedt went 42-31 in his six seasons at Pitt, which is pretty good. But, he actually had the Panthers on an overall upward trajectory. His finals three seasons went: 9-4, 10-3 and 7-5. The 7-5 was disappointing, but the team had a lot of talent returning the next season. Yet, Pitt again thought it could take that next step by firing a solid coach, parting ways with Wannstedt in December of 2010.
Which makes Wannstedt's ousting more frustrating for Panthers fans, is that they've had 4 head coaches since he was fired. That's right --- four coaches in just over about two years! Wannstedt's initial replacement, Miami Ohio's Mike Haywood, well - his short time at Pitt ended before it even began. Haywood was arrested for domestic violence against his wife, and subsequently was fired at Pitt. Phil Bennett took over as interim coach, guiding the Panthers to a bowl victory over Kentucky in early 2011. Then Todd Graham was hired as the new Head Coach for 2011, but he jumped ship after just one season. Last year, the Panthers hired Wisconsin Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst. After a very slow start, Chryst righted the ship and turned the season around, leading the Panthers to a bowl game in his first season. It's too early to tell, but Chryst could turn out being the right hire. But, Pitt has a ways to go to get back to the promised land, or even on the way to it, which is at least where they appeared headed before 2011.
Wannstedt's pro-style/Fullback-included offense seemed to fit Pitt football pretty well. It's somewhat ironic that Pitt hired Chryst, who was calling the offensive shots at Wisconsin when the Badgers ran a very similar offense with success. Wannstedt has joined former Big East rival Greg Schiano's staff, and is now the Special Teams Coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Schiano coached under Wannstedt when Wannstedt was Head Coach of the Chicago Bears in the 90s.



Honorable Mention:

  • Boston College - Jeff Jagodzinski (thanks/assist to "Smith5568")
  • Miami - Larry Coker
  • Nebraska - Frank Solich (thanks/assist to "GlueFingers Lavelli")
  • Pitt - Walt Harris
  • Southern Miss - Jeff Bower
  • Texas Tech - Mike Leach



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