Coaching changes don't guarantee turnaround

calexander@newsobserver.comDecember 1, 2012 

  • Finding Mr. Fix-it Chuck Amato went 10-14 in his final two years at N.C. State. His replacement, Tom O’Brien, went 40-35. Can N.C. State find somebody better? Some ACC schools have improved through coaching changes. Here’s a look at how each fared in the final two years of its previous coach compared with its new coach. Better
    Team2 yearsSince
    Florida State16-1029-11
    Georgia Tech16-1127-17
    North Carolina 15-118-4
    N.C. State10-1440-35
    Virginia Tech16-6-1215-104-2
    Wake Forest9-1473-74
    Team2 yearsSince
    Boston College20-822-29 
    About the same
    Team2 yearsSince
    Virginia  8-1616-21

N.C. State’s firing of football coach Tom O’Brien has some shaking their heads.

“It’s hard to understand,” former Wolfpack athletic director Todd Turner said this week. “Tom O’Brien is a very good football coach who ran an ethical, solid program and represented the university very well.”

Yow also has company in seeking a new coach. Auburn, Tennessee, Arkansas, Boston College and others are all hunting for one, too.

“All looking for that lightning bolt,” Turner said.

But change isn’t always for the better.

Auburn believed it had hired a big winner in Gene Chizik. In 2010, his second season as Tigers coach, Chizik went 14-0 and won the national championship with Cam Newton at quarterback.

This year, after a 3-9 record, Chizik was fired. Chizik and his assistants are to be paid more than $11 million in contract buyouts.

“Eleven million dollars. Imagine how the faculty at Auburn feels about that,” Turner said. “It’s crazy.”

Turner and others note a recent study that tracked and compared schools from 1997-2010 that fired coaches versus schools that retained coaches with similar records. The study by E. Scott Adler, an associate professor of political science at the University of Colorado, showed the football records were about the same.

“The reality is that every time there’s a change the athletic director goes before the microphone and says this guy is going to bring us to prominence and go to bowl games and will fit the program,” Adler said Friday in an interview. “The reality also is it’s a crapshoot. They’re not positive of anything.

“Statistically, there’s a large likelihood that down the road, you’re going to be about the same as if you didn’t make a change.”

At Maryland, Ralph Friedgen was fired in 2010 after a 9-4 season in which he was named ACC coach of the year. His successor, Randy Edsal, has gone 2-10 and 4-8 his first two seasons.

In contrast, the hiring of David Cutcliffe at Duke in 2008 has worked well for the Blue Devils. Duke was a woeful 4-42 the last four years under Ted Roof, but has been a much more competitive 21-39 in five seasons under Cutcliffe and will play in its first bowl game this year since 1994.

As head coach at Mississippi, Cutcliffe had five consecutive winning seasons and was 10-3 in 2003. Ole Miss then was 4-7 in 2004, and Cutcliffe fired when he refused to make staff changes.

Cutcliffe’s replacement, Ed Orgeron, came from Southern California and was considered a masterful recruiter. Orgeron lasted three years and was never better than 3-8.

O’Brien was 7-5 this season as the Pack qualified for a third consecutive bowl. Yow is believed to have interviewed Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes and Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris. Two other current head coaches, Kent State’s Darrell Hazell and Northern Illinois’ Dave Doeren, are viewed as candidates.

CBS Sports college football analyst Tony Barnhart said he doesn’t have a pecking order for available jobs, but the Wolfpack job should be appealing.

“The school has done a good job improving its facilities over the years and that makes it much more attractive as they go into the market place to find a coach,” Barnhart said this week.

How successful can the new coach be?

“It’s in a good conference but it plays in the toughest division with Florida State and Clemson, and now we have to assume that Louisville will be in the Atlantic,” Barnhart said. “ If (Cardinals coach) Charlie Strong stays, that is another tough team to play.”

Louisville will join the ACC, likely in 2014. With Maryland leaving for the Big Ten in 2014, the Cards should replace the Terps in football’s Atlantic Division.

It’s not known how much money N.C. State is willing to pay a new coach. That was discussed Wednesday by the school’s board of trustees. O’Brien made slightly more than $1.9 million; seven ACC coaches made more.

Former N.C. State chancellor Marye Anne Fox fired Mike O’Cain as football coach in 1999 and hired Chuck Amato, saying she hoped to have a football team that could contend for a national title. More than $100 million was spent for improvements to Carter-Finley Stadium and football facilities.

Amato won a school-record 11 games in 2002 but was fired in 2006 after a 3-9 season that ended with seven straight losses. O’Brien went 5-7, 6-7 and 5-7 his first three years as the Wolfpack coach, then won 24 games the past three years.

Yow noted season ticket sales had dipped by 1,000 over the past six years – a loss of $1.4 million that she said factored in her decision to fire O’Brien.

O’Brien, contacted Thursday, declined to comment.

In talking about the pressures on coaches, former N.C. State faculty athletics representative Art Cooper said, “Winning more than you lose is not good enough anymore. You’ve got to put fannies in the seats.”

Cooper said that in 2000. And 12 years later?

“The stakes are much higher,” said Cooper, who is retired from N.C. State. “I guess you could call salaries stakes, and they are higher. Compared to today’s salaries, the salaries back (in 2000) were chicken feed.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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