What you sow is what you reap on the coaching merry-go-round, and every fall it seems like the journey starts earlier.
But why? just ask Scott Frost as well as Clay Helton.
The former Nebraska and USC coaches were fired ahead of the third week of their last two college football seasons, the first losses on coaching courses in 2022 and 2021, respectively. Yet it was a second chance for Helton, who helped play a part in Frost’s death. Nearly a year before the day Helton was fired from USC, he led South Georgia into Nebraska as a three-touchdown underdog and upset the Cornhuskers (45-42). The loss was the last straw for the Nebraska fans, and Frost was fired the next morning with a 16-31 record in four-plus seasons.
With only 367 days between their firings, Helton and Frost may forever be linked as names that herald the start of a new trend: college football’s September layoffs.
However, the question is whether this is really a trend or just a fad. Also, there are some questions about whether waiting for the regular season to end in November or December is outdated. At the moment, the coaches are preparing for the start of the season. Like it or not, this is the reality of being a famous coach in a big program. So far, three head coaches in the Power Five conferences have been fired or forced to retire in the first four weeks of the 2022 season — the fastest spike in early-season layoffs in modern history. Gone Frost, Arizona Herm Edwards and Georgia Institute of Technology Jeff Collins.
Every situation is different (and a little coaches to resign in a good way), but why did it suddenly become necessary to dismiss the carriages before the first autumn frosts nibble the grass? 247Sports polled decision makers, including FBS sports directors, to find answers.
The transfer portal and the early signing period have a big impact
The creation of an early signing period in December and an always-on transfer portal have combined to make life off the field much busier for coaches.
Players come and go, and waiting for the regular season to end in late November or early December to fire/hire a coach just doesn’t fit with the new hiring calendar. Football programs need an anchor. They need a coach with a clear plan long before the players go to school and then sign a mandatory national letter of intent in mid-December.
“I’ve always believed in the theory of waiting until the end of the season (to fire the coach) so that you have all the information you need to make a decision,” Power Five’s director of athletics told 247Sports. “However, what has changed is the early signing date. The coaching moves that happened earlier were aimed at getting there before that signing date.”
Consider Texas Tech in 2021. Matt Wells was fired on October 25, and Red Raiders administrators quickly focused on Baylor’s assistant coach. Joey McGuire as its replacement. Why? Not only did he meet their internal criteria to be a game day program coach, but the former Texas high school coach also had a 10-gallon cowboy hat filled with recruiting contacts that made him ready to hit the ground running immediately. He was hired just two weeks after Wells was fired. Unlike most new hires, he was able to start building the staff while he was evaluating the lineup. More importantly, he began hiring a month before the early signing period began in December.
Result: The Red Raiders received an immediate recruitment upgrade, especially in the Lone Star staff. He received three fast-paced commitments from Cedar Hill — the school he led to three state titles in the 2000s and 2010s — the same day Tech hired him. He managed to improve the 2022 class in just one month (46th in the country) a year after the Red Raiders finished 74th in the 247Sports Composite. The 2023 Tech recruit class is ranked 21st in the nation, according to the 247Sports Composite.
However, Texas Tech is an exception. Only 11 of the 29 new head coaches hired in 2021 have had at least a month to prepare for the early signing period.
USC may have been the first to fire its head coach at the Power Five level, but it did not hire an Oklahoma coach. Lincoln Riley until December (nearly three months after the school fired Helton and a week before the early signing period).
But again, every situation is different and it’s not always about recruitment.
Benefits of an Early Coach Change
If college football is a business, then time is as valuable as money.
The decision to replace at the start of the season could provide more transparency to the coaching process. It also allows programs to use their time wisely when searching for candidates.
“You can talk openly with coaches and agents about your work without hiding,” one Power Five advertiser said. Again, consider the USC situation. Director of athletics Mike Bon shot at Helton and quickly identified Riley as his main target. BUTaccording to the Los Angeles Times,We started checking on Riley in September. Bon devised a plan to lure the Big 12 coach to USC and discussed the work with those who represented Riley. When the window was opened to make their presentation, USC put together a compelling presentation and money backed promises. It took Bon only a virtual Zoom call and 12 hours to convince Riley to leave Norman, Oklahoma for Los Angeles after the coach lost the Bedlam Rivalry game to Oklahoma State.
In the case of USC, Bon was like a calm duck above the water (sorry, Oregon fans) whose feet paddled furiously underwater. Weeks of silent preparation led to the biggest boom in the coaching carousel. If Bon had waited until the end of the regular season, USC might never have landed Riley.
“If you make a decision at a normal time when many others are already in the market, it leads to rushing and/or forcing yourself to start the process while you still have a coach, which doesn’t look good. and everything around is bad,” said FBS director of athletics.
Often, these early decisions result in large payouts for outgoing coaches. Frost would be paid the full ransom of $15 million, which was due to fall to $7.5 million on October 1. So why not save some money and wait another two weeks to make changes if college football is the business they’re talking about? Eventually, Nebraska restructured Frost’s contract during the offseason so that he would owe the coach less if he was fired after the first month of the season. Why go through all these negotiations just to save more change? It comes down to the idea that a manager change at the start of the season could give current players more hope, leading to a spark on the pitch. Although these results have historically been mixed at best.
“I know how disruptive these changes are,” said the Nebraska state athletics director. Trev Alberts he said the day he fired Frost. “You affect not only the lives of players, you affect all coaches and their families. I understand it. But we needed to do something. Nothing will make me more happy than seeing some pretty significant changes and helping this team get over the hump and win some games.”
Nebraska, ridiculed for a 5-22 record in single-digit games under Frost, lost at home to No. 6 Oklahoma 49-14 six days later.
Cons of an early change of coach
Sports directors must sell hope to their fans and wealthy supporters.
The only thing that can excite fans more than a championship is the promise of something new: a recruit, a new facility, a new vision, or a new coach. A longer schedule gives these ad agencies and search committees more time to convince stakeholders that their best candidate has been hired, but it can also backfire.
“More time creates speculation and false expectations,” said a Power Five AD spokesperson. “More time makes people believe that you absolutely have to get it right.”
In other words, an advertiser that fired a coach and started searching with a list of names could lead to more opportunities to fail—and to do so publicly. This can lead to negative press and the loss of recruits. After all, most coaches will not engage in private one-on-one discussions about the job during the season, leading to more intermediaries having indirect conversations about their candidacy.
“The more people you talk to early on, the more likely you could be leaking candidate information,” said the same Power Five billboard. “The more time you have, the more time someone has to think about not taking your job or using your job as leverage and leaving you at the altar.”
Another commercial said: “If you fire a coach now, it means you probably should have done it four games or nine months ago. You just lost a year.”
What is the future of the coaching carousel?
Fortunately for USC and Texas Tech, that wasn’t the case in 2021. The candidates have largely kept quiet about the possibility, and both administrations have chosen their best candidates. The same can be said at the University of Connecticut, where former UCLA coach Jim Mora was unexpectedly hired in November (more than two months after Randy Edsall resigned as head coach).
The question is whether the first names on the Trev Alberts and Arizona lists are on the Nebraska and Arizona AD lists. Ray Anderson will remain silent until a formal offer is made. The state of Arizona faces a cloud of uncertainty after Edwards’ resignation was prompted by an ongoing NCAA investigation into illegal recruitment and product in the field.
ASU’s mission: to revive the recruitment relationship in the state that fell apart under Edwards.
“Temporary Coach Sean Aguano allows for some plausible messages to be made about the importance of recruiting in a state that has been somewhat neglected in recent years, and where ASU may need to engage more not only in high school recruiting but also in transfers wishing to return home,” reporter Chris…