As the 2011 college football season kicked off, Heisman candidate lists were being formed along with preseason All-Americans, and college coaches were considered on the hot seat. As the season started and progressed the growing concern of job security was held over their heads and the drama continued building, all through November, with speculation of their firing. When I look at the coaches you connect the dots and know the bottom line is the lack of winning.
The hammer dropped hard on several college coaches around the country: UCLA’s Rick Neuheisel, Arizona State’s Dennis Erickson, Turner Gill of Kansas and Illinois’ Ron Zook were the most notable firings.
Neuheisel was hired in 2008 and his overall record was 21-28 in four years. He will be allowed to coach the team in the Pac-12 Championship Game against Oregon. If UCLA qualifies for a bowl game, offensive coordinator Mike Johnson will be the interim head coach.
Dennis Erickson was 31-30 during his career at ASU. The Sun Devils started fast with a 6-2 record, but faded down the stretch finishing 6-6. A Washington native and good friend of mine, I was not shocked when university officials announced that Erickson had been fired. Coach Erickson was the head coach for the Seattle Seahawks when I was fresh out of college coaching (graduate assistant coach at the University of Washington) and he interviewed me for a quality control coaching position. However, I took a scouting position with the Carolina Panthers instead. He will be allowed to coach the Sun Devils in their bowl game.
Zook was coaching one of the hottest teams in the country out the chute with a 6-0 start, and then went 0-6 to finish the season. He was dismissed from his duties as the head football coach at Illinois after compiling a 34-51 career record. Illinois athletics director Mike Thomas said in a statement, “I assessed the entire program and felt that it was time for a change in leadership. It is imperative that our program shows some consistency and competes for championships, and I think a change in coaches can help us get there sooner.”
Unlike several other coaches, Zook has two years remaining on his contract, which was to pay him $1.75 million each of the next two seasons. It has a buyout of $2.8 million.
Gill, a young up-and-coming head coach who was a former Nebraska quarterback, played and was a longtime assistant coach for Nebraska’s legendary coach Tom Osborne, before taking the head coaching job at the University of Buffalo, where he found very good success.
At Kansas his record was 5-19, 1-16 in the Big 12, and in several games I watched including last weekend vs. Missouri, his teams were out-matched in talent quite often. Gill had agreed to be paid $10 million over five years. Acting athletics director Sheahon Zenger fired Gill after two seasons on the job, with a buyout of $6 million as long as Gill agreed to exit his position allowing the university the opportunity to hire a new coach.
There was also the hiring of Urban Meyer as the new head coach at the Ohio State University. All of this right around the time when college recruiting is at the height of its process. But for all the coaches fired, the common denominator for all was not enough wins, and that was the bottom line.