Sports column: Don’t blame coaches for moving

Published 2:00 pm Sunday, December 5, 2021

Every year around this time, the college football landscape shifts as coaches are fired, hired, and recycled. Some leave on their own for greener pastures. Many more are forced out for one reason or another.

This year, the coaching carousel has gone on a very strange ride.

It’s not often that a number of top-shelf jobs open up in the same year. In 2021, at least four — LSU, Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Florida — became available.

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LSU’s midseason decision to part ways with Ed Orgeron created a ripple that spread across the country. A number of coaches used any hint of interest from LSU to wrangle raises from their current schools. Others, like Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley, might have used it as leverage to find a new job.

LSU’s quest to find a top coach to replace Orgeron led them to Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly. That, in turn, created an opening at another blue blood program.

On the surface, some of the moves seem baffling. Riley and Kelly appeared secure in their positions. They’d had enough success that they might have been able to retire there, and that’s a status few college coaches ever reach.

Then again, maybe they looked at Orgeron’s situation at LSU — as well as the offer sheet with a lot of zeroes on it — to guide their decisions.

Orgeron won a national championship at LSU in 2019 and, as a Louisiana native, achieved legend status in the state. He, too, was seemingly set for life as he headed into the final decade of a long coaching career.

Two mediocre seasons later, the Tigers’ fickle fanbase turned on him. Orgeron lost his magic touch and the program was floundering a bit. Orgeron went from the toast of Baton Rouge to just plain toast and was effectively fired, despite his $17 million golden parachute.

A similar situation unfolded at Florida. Dan Mullen won with the Gators, but not enough for the fans’ liking. A 6-6 season in 2021 was enough to send him packing.

The cases of Orgeron and Mullen show how quickly things can turn in the coaching profession, and why it’s hard to blame guys like Riley and Kelly for cashing in when they can.

Coaching is a brutal profession where the day you’re hired starts the countdown clock to the day you’re fired several years later. All the talk about loyalty and tradition disappears the first time the coach loses a rivalry game or finishes 4-8.

There are 130 coaching jobs in the Football Bowl Subdivision and only 10 have currently had the same person hold them longer than eight years. Sixty-two of those jobs — nearly half — have turned over in the last two years.

Every coaching change affects more than just the guy at the top, as well. It often means a dozen assistants and staffers are having to pack up and relocate. College coaches are basically well-paid hobos with a clipboard and a whistle.

So the next time you wonder why a coach would ever leave what appears to be a good situation, or call them disloyal or traitors for leaving your favorite team for a better-paying gig, take a minute to think what these guys are dealing with. It might be the life they’ve chosen, but it doesn’t make it any less volatile. If they have a chance to chase the money when they can, how can you blame them?

Ernest Bowker is the sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at ernest.bowker@vicksburgpost.com

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 139-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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