Since the Lane Kiffin debacle of a week ago we've seen the coaching world scrutinized and coaches themselves come under fire for leaving jobs. Dan Shaugnessy of the Boston Globe wrote a pretty scathing article that essentially bashed the college game; players, college towns, recruiting experts and all, but centered on the disengenuois nature of the coach. While the Shaugnessy article really rubbed me the wrong way as he called college town inhabitants "yahoos" the aspect that truly bothered me was his broad brushing of the profession as a "cesspool" rife with guys only looking for a paycheck.
I've spent the last week running between Twitter, email and phones trying to get a scoop on who would be the new coach and how the student-body, alumni and fanbase felt. I do understand why Tennesseeans were upset with Kiffin's departure, the young brash coach was doing something great; not on the field currently but in recruiting and rebuilding the psyche of the Tennessee fan. Losing a guy you put your faith in hurts but when the dust settles how wrong was Kiffin for going to USC?
More importantly and with a wider angle is college football truly over ran with coaches constantly skipping town for "the next big paycheck."
Read more and the "anti-Kiifin" musical stylings of Tennessee basketball player Renaldo Woolridge aka Swiperboy
In the last two seasons we've seen 22 BCS level coaches displaced for a myriad of reasons and 22 guys have stepped in to fill those jobs. That's a nice easy eleven guys a year moving between jobs so we'll base our assessment on the most recent events. We've seen more than Lane Kiffin called a liar as Mardy Gilyard at Cincinnati let the nation know how he and his teammates felt about Brian Kelly's decision to move to Notre Dame after their undefeated season.
People speak of the "promises made" and toss the word "traitor" around with a cavalier nature that begs the question as to whether or not they truly understand the gravity of it's implications. While I'm not absolving Lane Kiffin, Rich Rodriguez and Nick Saban of all wrong doing I am going to say that outside the LSU, Michigan and Tennessee fanbases I don't understand the outrage or the gross overgeneralizing of all coaches as "slimeballs."
In the last two seasons here are the coaches that have moved from their BCS level coaching gig:
Tommy Bowden, Ron Prince, Sylvester Croom, Joe Tiller, Greg Robinson, Phil Fulmer, Ty Willingham, Tommy Tuberville, Jeff Jagodzinski, Gene Chizik, Mike Belotti
Brian Kelly, Bobby Bowden, Mark Mangino, Rich Brooks, Steve Kragthorpe, Charlie Weis, Lane Kiffin, Mike Leach, Pete Carroll, Jim Leavitt, Al Groh
In that same timespan here are the coaches that have moved into the vacated coaching positions:
Dabo Swinney, Bill Snyder, Dan Mullen, Danny Hope, Doug Marrone, Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian, Gene Chizik, Frank Spaziani, Paul Rhoads, Chip Kelly
Butch Jones, Jimbo Fisher, Turner Gill, Joker Phillips, Charlie Strong, Brian Kelly, Derek Dooley, Tommy Tuberville, Lane Kiffin, Skip Holtz, Mike London
Now comes the heavy lifting; deciding what is and is not acceptable. Feel free to drop your own opinions in the comments they're greatly appreciated, for me I have a couple rules that I will not bend and they revolve around upward mobility. Just as I would never begrudge a high school athlete for decommitting or transferring from a school to improve his chances at success I hold coaches to that same standard. In short In The Bleachers Official Policy on Coaching Changes:
If the coach is improving his coaching profile, resume or standing then he should be free to do so
While folks may read that and bring out the "contract argument" I will go back to our list of 22 coaches that left their jobs from 2008-2010. Of those 22 coaches 15 were fired; you can trot out the Fulmer, Tuberville and Bowden "resignations" if you like but the fact is they were forced out because of performance by the administration. Two of the coaches; Joe Tiller and Rich Brooks, truly retired on their own accord. That leaves just 5coaches in the last two seasons that left their current coaching jobs to take other gigs; Mike Belotti moved to an AD position, Pete Carroll moved to the NFL, Brian Kelly, Lane Kiffin and Gene Chizik were the only coaches to get other BCS level jobs.
In contrast looking at the 22 "new hires" during the time period we see that Kelly, Kiffin and Chizik were the only coaches who moved in a "relatively lateral" path (we will discuss this later). For all the fuss about coaches skipping town what we are seeing is more guys being hired and promoted for proving themselves, that list of 10 looks like this; Swinney, Mullen, Marrone, Sarkisian, Spaziani, Rhoads, Kelly, Fisher, Phillips and Strong. There were also 5 coaches moving from non-BCS positions into BCS conferences; Jones, Gill, Dooley, Holtz and London. Both Snyder and Tuberville were hired from outside of football and Lane Kiffin and Danny Hope go into our "other" category as they were special cases. Kiffin being fired by the Raiders and Hope being the associate head coach for a season prior to Tiller's retirement.
The point is, when you look at the facts only 3 coaches made moves that were within the same level of football. The rest of the coaches were either getting a shot at a head coaching job, graduating from a lower teir job to "the bigs" or were out of football. That leaves just Kiffin, Chizik and Kelly for us to truly discuss.
I'll preface this next paragraph with this; if you think that all BCS level jobs are created equal I'm surprised you've made it this far without your brain exploding from bunches of words. Iowa State is one of the worst head coaching jobs in the country. It is in a state that produces very few BCS level football recruits each year, further more it is in a region that gets raided heavily by football super powers such as Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Oklahoma and what those guys don't get Iowa and Illinois already have dibs on.
Cincinnati is a little better job but this is a school that doesn't have dedicated practice facilities, plays second fiddle to Ohio State and has a 35,000 seat stadium.
In keeping with those ideals I think we can all agree that Gene Chizik's move to Auburn, in the Plains of Alabama with access to the fertile recruiting grounds of Georgia, Alabama and the rest of the South, was truly a tremendous step up. As a guy with a best friend in vet school in Ames, Iowa I can assure you that just living in Auburn is an improvement.
For Brian Kelly a move from Cincinnati to Notre Dame was also a no brainer step up. Yes, the Bearcats went undefeated but the money, support and the general opportunity of working in a football mecca like South Bend is leaps and bounds ahead of anything Cinci can offer.
This leaves us just Lane Kiffin as the possible coach who didn't get a "promotion" and instead moved laterally. This boils down to a flavor debate. As in which flavor you prefer; the creamsicle orange of the Volunteer Navy or sunny 80 degree days in Troy. We're currently working on an official "In The Bleachers College Football's Top 15 Jobs Rankings" but we'll take a quick look at reasons Kiffin made the move, two specifically.
Recruiting is the first and most obvious reason that Southern Cal is a better gig than Tennessee and it works two ways. The first and clear cut explanation is the shear volume of players produced in California. Check the two most popular recruiting services and you'll see the discrepancy between the homegrown talent. California has 13 players in the Top 100 according to Rivals or 14 according to Scout. Meanwhile, Tennessee has just one player according to both lists.
So its is pretty clear that California holds a substantial edge in terms of elite talent production.
What's that you say? Tennessee has access to the nation's most fertile recruiting ground; the south? That is true as Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina have plenty of membership in the Top 100 and are comfortable drives from Knoxville. Here lies USC's next recruiting advantage. While Tennessee is fighting, clawing and battling with the likes of Saban, Richt, Meyer, Fisher, Swinney, Davis, Nutt and Chizik for the recruits located across the south USC gets the pick of the western litter.
To put it bluntly USC is the only football power west of Lincoln, Nebraska. While they may lose out on talented guys to Washington, Oregon, Arizona State or Oklahoma at times, by and large the Trojans pick the cream of the crop and leave the Pac 10, WAC and MWC with the rest of the west's recruits.
The second reason is "coming home" or getting that dream job. Whether its Roy Williams in 2003, Brian Kelly in 2009 or Lane Kiffin in 2010 every coach has their dream job. For some like Meyer, their current situation is too good to warrant moving to the dream position. For others getting offered a dream scenario is a chance that cannot be passed up. While I don't think what Kiffin did was of the greatest character I also believe wholeheartedly that a man should be free to pursue advances in his career.
So, unless you're a Tennessee Volunteer, the USC job is a step up from Knoxville albeit not the monumental move upward that Chizik or Brian Kelly took in their new gig.
In short folks fair is fair and seeking a promotion and job security in your life is the goal and that too is the goal of a football coach. To climb the ladder, be more financially secure and to set their sights on achievement. Yes, sometimes that means leaving behind a recruiting class of kids. Yes, sometimes it means leaving before you finish the project your started.
Upward mobility is the name of the game and in the end every coach on this list has improved their lot in life by taking a better job. While the Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden stories are great truth be told "in today's world of college football coaches are hired to be fired" as were 68% of the coaches in the last two years. No fans cry foul when their team goes 4-8 and the coach is tossed regardless of contract. It is a two way street and if that team goes 10-2 and a big dog comes calling, be it the NFL or a Big Time Job, don't be surprised when the coach opts for increased security.