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.


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.”  


is a bit of an exaggeration, but no one doubts that the grace period

for new coaches has grown precipitously shorter over the years.  


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.  


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.

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


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.


other reason for the shortened working life of a head coach is the

success others have had in a relatively short period of time.


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.


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.