College Football Coaching Carousel

Jack Hershberg

As a fan, it was awesome to have some sort of normalcy return to the college football landscape with nearly no games canceled due to the coronavirus this 2021 season. Alabama and Georgia were dominant as usual, Michigan actually beat Ohio State for once, and Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma to take another job. Yes you heard that last part right, Lincoln Riley, who was the head coach of Oklahoma, abruptly resigned   after they lost to Oklahoma State in the regular season finale. A coach who had a 55-10 record, produced two Heisman award winners, and 3 playoff appearances, left Oklahoma— thought to be one of the most coveted jobs in all of college athletics—for a new venture. No, he didn’t bolt for a lucrative NFL coaching position, but instead, he decided to head out west and take another college football head coaching gig at USC. Riley completely blindsided the Oklahoma faithful and gave them no indication that he was making this move. However, he was not the only coach to make such an abrupt decision. A few days later, Brian Kelly resigned from Notre Dame to take the LSU job. In his case, Kelly was leaving a team that still had an opportunity to make it into the playoffs (they were the 6th ranked team in the recent poll). Why are all of these coaches leaving such storied programs at such an inconvenient time for their universities and players?

Well… it’s for the money. It’s always for the money. Money is usually always the deciding factor for coaches. For Lincoln Riley, his rumored contract with USC is for 10 years and $110 million. Other incentives include that USC would be buying both of his homes in Norman, Oklahoma for $500,000, buying him a $6 million home in Los Angeles, and unlimited use of the USC private jet for him and his family. Although it may seem that Riley left Oklahoma out to dry, this is a very tempting and lucrative offer. And, not to mention, who wouldn’t want to live in Southern California? When you view this decision from a football len, USC provides a much easier path to the College Football Playoffs than Oklahoma.

In another huge move that shook up the college athletics landscape, it was announced in late July that Oklahoma and Texas would join the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in 2025. In football, the SEC has been the most dominant conference for the last decade, as they have won 7 national championships since 2010, which is by far the most by any conference. Every year, you would have to run through the gauntlet to make it to the playoffs. Safe to say that this is the hardest path to win a national championship. This was probably the same logic that Riley used when he was thinking about a possible change as the Pac-12 has won 0 championships during that time. Riley wants to win national championships, something that has eluded him in his career thus far, but he feels that he will have the best chance of doing so at USC.

As for Brian Kelly, whose contract with LSU is for 10 years for $95 million, he is heading right into the thick of it. Kelly, who has the most wins in the history of Notre Dame football, with 113, had so much success at such a storied program. He led them to a national championship appearance in 2012 and two playoff appearances in 2018 and 2020. Notice how I said appearance instead of wins? Well, this is because whenever they got to the playoffs,they would always compete against teams from the SEC and ACC who had multiple 5 star recruits on their rosters that would humiliate Notre Dame in these games. Logically, a main reason why Brian Kelly left such a storied program, besides the money, is because he wants to win national championships and coach the best talent that he will have in his career, which LSU can provide him. The state of Louisiana is notorious for producing some of the best college football players in the country, and Kelly believes that he will be able to convince these players  to stay local for college and attend LSU. But, of course, LSU is in the vaunted SEC which will certainly make winning a lot more difficult than at Notre Dame. Nonetheless, I think Brian Kelly understands that and is ready for this new challenge in his career. 

This was just the beginning of the coaching cycle as these two coaches created a domino effect that will continue for the next couple of weeks. At Oklahoma, they replaced Lincoln Riley with longtime Clemson Defensive Coordinator and former Oklahoma assistant coach Brent Venables. As for Notre Dame, they promoted their Defensive Coordinator, Marcus Freeman, to the head coach position. It’s safe to say that he and his players were jubilant with the in-house hire and are excited for what lies ahead. Other notable head coaching hires include: Florida hiring former Louisiana coach Bill Napier, Virginia Tech hiring former Penn State Defensive Coordinator Brent Pry, and the University of Washington hiring former Fresno State coach Kalen Deboer. In addition, I can’t leave out how the University of Miami hired their new coach, Mario Cristobal. The University of Miami officials had discussions with Oregon coach Mario Cristobal for weeks while they still had their own coach, Manny Diaz, under contract, coaching and recruiting for the team. On December 6 Diaz was finally fired, and Cristobal was hired just a couple of hours after. It was certainly not a great look for the university, and they were completely disrespectful in how they treated Diaz. It was a cruel and unusual way to be fired. But I guess that is just part of the business. 

You might be wondering why these coaches are leaving at such an inopportune time, since they still have to coach in bowl games. Don’t blame the coaches. Blame the NCAA. Starting the Monday after the conference championships, coaches are hitting the road in hopes of recruiting the top prospects. Universities need to fill these head coaching vacancies before this period or else they will be behind the eight ball. Certainly, places like USC and LSU can’t afford to do this unless they want to continue firing their head coach every couple of years. While the moves of Lincoln Riley, Brian Kelly and other coaches seem completely blindsided and abrupt, they were all made because they want to win a national championship. And of course… for the money.