The Worst Move College Football Programs Make in Hiring and Firing is Pretending They Know What They're Doing

By Johnny Ginter on January 22, 2021 at 7:46 pm
Greg Mattison and Jeff Hafley

I'm terrified of turnover.

To be fair, I live in a panicky, agitated state at most all times, and sports tends to exacerbate that to an unhealthy degree. But a decade plus writing about Ohio State sports as they're played out on the field has rendered me immune to the petty concerns of puny mortals like yourself, so instead of freaking out in the 3rd quarter of a one possession game against Indiana, I freak out about much more mature, reasoned problems.

Like... everything else.

Greg Mattison is retiring! How dare he?! He's 71 years young with many, many spry years of defensive consistency left ahead of him, but instead the selfish jerk is choosing to spend time with his family (?) and enjoy the fruits of half a century of labor as a football coach (???).

Whatever dude. Fake Buckeye. Have fun remembering McCarthyism or living life or whatever and not assuaging my overblown fears about a diminished Ohio State defense. My fears take precedent over your needs! I refuse to be an adult about this!

Ol' Greg

So that's going to cause me no small level of stress going forward. The biggest stumbling block to college football hegemony is poor hiring at any level of a program. Mattison was a solid hire with a great football track record (his performances against Ohio State notwithstanding), but there's no guarantee that his replacement will be able to live up to that standard.

The history of college football is littered with failed dynasties that crumbled because the replacements of good coaches ended up being bad coaches and the replacements of bad coaches ended up being worse coaches.

And the 2020-21 college football coaching carousel has been an absolute ride. Texas doing Texas things and hiring a very good offense guy who nonetheless sputtered at Texas West, Alabama hiring freaking Bill O'Brien as offensive coordinator to replace said very good offense guy, the Auburn faithful losing their minds because their school hired someone from another program with roughly equal national prominence, Bert hitting the Champaign room. And Michigan doing nothing.

Well. They extended Harbaugh and hired Mike Hart for some reason. So worse than nothing.

I will point out that I argued against them doing so, repeatedly, once comparing a Harbaugh extension to the French and British governments throwing money at the Concorde jet for decades, even after it became apparent that the only people riding it were Bond villains and calico cats owned by wealthy dowagers.

"Okay, so what's the reasonable move for an athletic director or school president?"

That's a valid question. My answer is: there isn't one. Don't do anything. Don't move, or breathe, or blink. Just hide under some coats and hope that everything will work out.

If you are Gene Smith you get some leeway. If you're Ryan Day, sorry. Coats. Maybe after a few lucky hires. Until then, coats.

In that Concorde article I mentioned, I cautioned against the Sunk-Cost Fallacy, which is the tendency of people to continue to throw good money at bad, reasoning that they're in too deep to change what they're doing. I'll add to that by talking about the Monty Hall problem.

Monty Hall was the host of the gameshow Let's Make A Deal. The basic premise was this: Monty Hall presents you with three doors. Two of the doors have a goat eating peanut butter behind them and the other has a shiny new AMC Gremlin. After you pick one of the doors, Monty opens one of the two you didn't pick and lo and behold, it's a goat eating peanut butter. Monty says that you now have the chance to switch from your original door choice to the other door that hasn't been opened.

The question: is it to your advantage to switch doors?

Yes (if you didn't watch the video above). And not just kind of yes, absolutely yes. Switch to the other door! You probably made the wrong choice when you picked the first time, and that fact doesn't change just because you saw a goat eating peanut butter.

But the fun part of the Monty Hall problem is that no one ever wants to switch. One study found that only 12% of people were willing to make the switch the first time they were confronted with the dilemma, which bumped up to only 55% even after people started to be confronted with the result of not switching. In fact, people still will argue vociferously that switching is the Wrong Move even when simple math proves them wrong.

And I get it. Switching is scary and stressful. It is extremely fun and good to simultaneously make fun of and praise Illinois for bringing in Bielema, in no small part because that's not us dealing with him. Sark heading to Austin is funny for a whole host of reasons, as is the fact that Clay Helton is still somehow holding on to Sark's former job at USC. Tennessee fired Jeremy Pruitt, Schiano's at Rutgers, Frost can't coach, the damn rowboat sunk, who is even the coach at South Carolina?

In all seriousness, Greg Mattison has earned a restful and happy retirement. He's an excellent coach and Buckeye fans will be sad to see him go. In part because I fear some fracturing of the Ohio State defensive coaching staff like the disunion of the Mongol Empire.

So if we could just go ahead and turn over all hiring decisions to either some kind of advanced Skynet AI or maybe Gene Smith, I would very much appreciate it. Barring that, a strong multi-month sedative to get me through coaching carousel season would be great.

View 55 Comments