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9 Worst College Football Coaching Hires of the BCS Era

by: Esteban On  Monday, September 30, 2013

worst college football coaching hires bcs era

On Sunday, USC athletic director Pat Haden announced that USC had fired coach Lane Kiffin after an embarrassing 62-41 loss to Arizona State. If this were any other coach at any other school the timing would have been a little surprising, given that there is so much season left to right the ship. However, this wasn’t just any coach at any school, and given that everyone on earth (except former USC AD Mike Garrett) knew Kiffin was terrible hire in the first place, his firing came as a shock to pretty much no one.

Today, to commemorate the end of Kiffin’s tenure at USC, we’re going to see where his hire ranks on the list of worst college football coaching hires of the BCS era.

Before we get started, though, we should clarify what we mean by “worst hires.” We’re not just looking at coaching tenures that failed miserably. Instead, what we are looking for are hires that seemed like a bad idea at the time and were. Thus, guys like Mike Locksley are not on the list. His tenure at New Mexico, where he went 2-26, was absolutely brutal. But his hire didn’t seem that crazy. He was a respected offensive coordinator at Illinois from 2005-08, and New Mexico isn’t exactly Alabama or anything.

Got the idea? Okay, then. Let’s take a look at the worst coaching hires of the BCS era…


9. Turner Gill (Kansas)

Turner Gill Kansas - worst college football coaching hires of BCS era

Tenure: 2010-11

Record: 5-19

Before being hired to coach the Kansas Jayhawks, Turner Gill was the coach of the Buffalo Bulls. Obviously, winning anything in the city of Buffalo is no easy task, and that’s especially the case when you play in the Mid-American Conference. So you can’t really hold the fact that Gill went 14-18 with Buffalo against him too much. However, 2010 was a crossroads for the Jayhawks. They just wrapped up a period in which they made four bowl appearances in seven seasons, which including a huge win over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. After Mark Mangino ran out his welcome in Lawrence, you would have thought Kansas would look to build on the that run by going after someone with a little more pedigree and a higher profile. But no. They went with Turner Gill.

The move didn’t look good, and it turned out worse. In two seasons Gill’s Jayhawks went 5-19, which included an 0-9 mark in the Big 12.

8. Ted Roof (Duke)

Ted Roof Duke coach - worst college football coaching hires of BCS era

Tenure: 2003-07

Record: 6-45

What’s worse than hiring a no-name coaching candidate when you’re on the verge of taking your program to the next level (like Kansas did with Turner Gill)? Hiring the defensive coordinator from your own awful team.

You could see why Duke would take a chance Carl Franks in 1999. Though he turned out to be awful, going 7-45 and doing nothing to improve the program, he at least was the offensive coordinator at Florida. But what on earth would lead the Blue Devils to think, “hey, let’s hire Franks’ defensive coordinator to be our new head coach!”

Unfortunately we don’t know the answer to that. All we know is that Roof went 6-45, including three straight seasons without a win in the ACC.

7. John L. Smith (Arkansas)

John L. Smith

Tenure: 2012

Record: 4-8

In fairness to the Razorbacks, they weren’t expecting to have to make a hire in 2012. But Bobby Petrino got into that little motorcycle accident, which revealed that he was handing out cash and staff jobs to his mistresses, and Arkansas had to let him go. It was a tough situation.

That being said, hiring John L. Smith was the wrong response to it. The guy has some moderate success with Louisville, going 11-2 in 2001 and winning the Liberty Bowl. But in four seasons at Michigan State, Smith was 22-26—a record that ought to have been good enough to get him a job in Conference USA, or maybe Mountain West. But the SEC? No, 22-26 with the Spartans is not good enough to land a coaching job in the SEC. Sorry.


6. Kevin Steele (Baylor)

Kevin Steele Baylor - worst college football coaching hires of BCS era

Tenure: 1999-2002

Record: 9-36

The Bears had three straight losing seasons from 1996-98. So what did they do to turn things around? They hired a guy with zero head coaching or coordinating experience. Steele was a coach at Oklahoma State, Tennessee, Nebraska, and with the Carolina Panthers, and he was highly regarded. But he did not have the chops to take over a college program in a major conference, and it showed.

5. George O'Leary (Notre Dame)

George O'Leary Notre Dame Scandal - worst college football coaching hires of BCS era

Tenure: 2001


If you’re trying to get appointed as the head football coach at one of the most prestigious academic institutions in America, it’s probably best not to lie about your own educational background on your resume.

Geogre O’Leary learned that lesson the hard way back in 2001. Notre Dame actually hired the Georgia Tech coach, but then fired him a few days later when it came out that O’Leary did not actually have a masters degree from “NYU-Sunnybrook”—a school that does not exist.

However, O’Leary shouldn’t get all the blame here. After all, you would think fancy pants administrators at Notre Dame  might look at the resume and realize that school doesn’t exist before giving him the job. So yeah, this was a pretty bad hire.

4. Lane Kiffin (Everywhere)

Lane Kiffin fired at USC coach - worst college football coaching hires of BCS era

Tenure: 2009 (Tennessee), 2010-13 (USC)

Record: 7-6 (Tennessee), 28-15 USC

Lane Kiffin was a great offensive coordinator at USC. You can’t deny that. They went 23-3 under his watch with Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart. However, he failed miserably in the NFL, going just 5-15 with the Raiders (nice one, Al Davis), then somehow got hired by the Volunteers. Then, after just one mediocre season at Tennessee, the Trojans stole him away.

Now, in fairness, Kiffin did have one good season with USC. In 2011 they went 10-2. But if you look at that one as the anomaly and scratch it out of the books, his record as a head coach in the NCAA is only 25-19.

Good enough to get a job? Absolutely. Good enough to get a prestigious head coaching job? No way.

3. Stan Parrish (Ball State)

Stan Parrish Ball State - worst college football coaching hires of BCS era

Tenure: 2008-10

Record: 6-19

All you really need to know about this hire is that, from 1986 to 1988, Stan Parrish’s K-State Wildcats went 2-30-1. Seriously, two wins, 30 losses, one tie. And both of those wins came in the first of his three seasons. So what on earth could have possessed the Ball State Cardinals to hand the reigns over to their offensive coordinator in 2008?

(What can I say? It gets easier and easier to make the case for these guys as we move along.)

2. Jon Embree (Colorado)

Jon Embree Colorado coach - worst college football coaching hires of BCS era
Tenure: 2011-12

Record: 4-21

Jon Embree played for Colorado from 1983-86, and it’s always nice to hire an alum as head coach. That being said, it’s usually better if those alums have actual head coaching experience, which Embree did not. After trying to make a go of it in the NFL, Embree served as assistant coach—not coordinator—with the Buffalos, UCLA Bruins, Kansas City Chiefs, and Washington Redskins before inexplicably being offered the HC job at Colorado.


1. Larry Porter (Memphis)

Larry Porter Memphis - worst college football coaching hires of BCS era

Record: 3-21

Coming in at number one on our list of worst coaching hires of the BCS era is Larry Porter, the Jon Embree of Memphis.

Like Embree, Porter was an alum of the program that gave him a shot at being a head coach, and like Embree he had zero head coaching or coordinator experience. He was reportedly a top-notch recruiter and had served as running back coach at Tennessee-Martin (wherever that is), Arkansas State, Oklahoma State, and LSU when Memphis was like, hey, let’s see if this guy can coach!

Turns out he cannot. Recruiting and coaching running backs is his forte, but not running an entire program.

Oh well!