Shelf life for coaches becoming shorter

The four-year rule was never official. It was never written or codified
in any meaningful way. It was just one of those understandings. A new
college football coach needed some time to recruit and develop his
players and reshape the culture of a program in his own image.

The
rule of thumb was always four years. By then seniors would have played
every college down under one coach’s leadership, and boosters would have
a good idea what sort of man they had on their hands.  

“Win in four or hit the door,” was the saying back in the day.

Now it’s “Win in one or you might be done.”  

That
is a bit of an exaggeration, but no one doubts that the grace period
for new coaches has grown precipitously shorter over the years.  

Derek
Dooley is just the latest example. Forget the mess Dooley inherited
after Lane Kiffin’s inglorious single season in Knoxville, and forget
the facilities upgrades Tennessee needed in order for the Vols to
compete in the high-stakes SEC recruiting wars (upgrades that were just
completed this year). You can even forget the injuries that led to a
disappointing sophomore season for the young head coach. Dooley didn’t
get the wins, so he was shown the door before the end of year three.  

Joker Phillips also lasted less than three at Kentucky.  

John
L. Smith will in all likelihood be out at Arkansas in one, and at least
one more SEC change is possible by season’s end.    

This year
the average tenure of an SEC coach was 4.8 years with Mark Richt and
Gary Pinkel skewing the average upward with 11-year stints at Georgia
and Missouri. Next year, if nothing else changes, that average will drop
to 4.6. 

That puts the SEC in the middle of the major conferences when it comes to coaching tenures.
The
Big 12 leads with an average of 8.5 years, but Mack Brown and Bob
Stoops push that number northward.  The Big East is the worst with an
average tenure of only 2.4 years, while conferences like the ACC are one
Frank Beamer retirement away from plummeting near the bottom of the
pile.  

The reasons are simple.

College football has
become, in some cases, a nine-figure investment for athletic departments
and the donors that keep them afloat. Head coaching salaries stretch
upwards of 100+ times the medium household income in the United States,
which means that performance is expected much quicker than in the old
days when the coach at Notre Dame couldn’t make more than the college
president, who was a priest.

Now, Nick Saban’s compensation
package is worth $45 million over eight years. As long as Alabama wins
championships, it’s worth it. But the moment the Tide falls below eight
wins a season, you can bet that somebody is going to run the numbers.

The
other reason for the shortened working life of a head coach is the
success others have had in a relatively short period of time.

James
Franklin will lead former cellar-dweller Vanderbilt to its second
consecutive bowl game and could potentially give the Commodores their
first nine-win season.

Kevin Sumlin could win 11 in his debut at Texas A&M.

And
SEC rookie Hugh Freeze, while still one win away from bowl eligibility
at Ole Miss, has injected enthusiasm and optimism into a program that
had neither one short year ago.  
Whoever takes over at Tennessee
will no doubt have a lot of support and a wonderful honeymoon. The same
will be true at Kentucky and Arkansas.

But if recently history is
a guide, the good-feeling grace period won’t last long. It rarely
does.  Wins are the only job security.