How Much Will It Hurt When Mack Brown Leaves?

John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE

Mack Brown's relatively near-term departure from Texas seems to be a foregone conclusion. How much of a hit does the last 20 years of college football history suggest Texas fan should expect when he does depart?

There has been a lot of talks the last few months about replacing Mack Brown. The vast majority of the talk has centered on the mechanics of his departure, whether he should be fired or led to retirement, and when it should happen. There has, however, been seemingly very little discussion of what a program in Texas' shoes should expect to happen after Mack leaves, be it in five weeks or five years.

For your Sunday reading we decided to a look at coaching changes over the last two decades to see how other schools have fared in this situation as a way of gauging what Texas might go through. We specifically focused on those coaches that won titles before leaving their programs as the most analogous to Mack's current situation.

The conclusion? If the last 20 years are any guide, regardless of the circumstances it's probably going to hurt when Mack Brown leaves.

There have been four ways coaches have left their teams over this time period: firing, voluntarily quitting, retiring and leaving under a cloud of sanctions. 14 programs have won titles over the last 20 years. Of those programs, only Texas, Oklahoma and Auburn have not had at least one coaching change, though a firing at Auburn seems to be a foregone conclusion at this point.

To begin with let's go through the 14 programs chronologically from their first title to enable some assessment of the level of decline for most programs replacing a legend.

Alabama (1992, 2009, 2011) - Gene Stallings won a title in 1992 but retired after the 1996 season following NCAA sanctions. The Crimson Tide had 3 coaches (4 if you count Mike Price), 3 10-win seasons and 4 losing seasons in the decade after Stallings left before Nick Saban arrived. Fans would be wise to recall that it wasn't all smooth sailing for Saban at the start of his Alabama tenure, highlighted by Bama's loss to Louisiana-Monroe during a 7-6 2007 campagin.

Florida State (1993, 1999) - Bobby Bowden lasted 10 years after his last national title in 1999 but FSU managed just a pair of 10-win seasons during that time. Though Bowden's slow slide to retirement could have been worse (see State, Penn), the Seminoles finished a very poor 7-6 in 3 of Bowden's final 4 years and averaged over 5 losses a year from 2005 to 2009. Jimbo Fisher is 27-9 since taking over and seems to have the program headed in the right direction in a very weak ACC.

Penn State (1994) - We'll give the 1994 title to Penn State this season for the fun of it. The reasons for Joe Paterno's demise are well known and it probably won't take much to convince you that Paterno's exit was the worst on this list. Paterno had 5 10-win seasons but also 4 losing seasons in the 16+ seasons that Paterno coached after the 1994 pseudo national title. Bill O'Brien has the Nittany Lions at 6-4 in a really tough Big Ten.

Nebraska (1995, 1997) - Perhaps the best example of the dangers of mediocrity when a legend leaves, Nebraska has had only 2 losing seasons and 6 10-win seasons since Tom Osborne retired after the 1997 season. At the same time, over the last decade they've had 3 coaches, no BCS bowl wins and no fewer than 3 losses each year. Frank Solich won with Osborne's players but was 16-10 in his last two years. The Nebraska's 75-48 record since 2002 is pretty much the definition of average.

Florida (1996, 2006, 2008) - Steve Spurrier departed for the NFL in 2001 after posting 10 wins in 9 of his 12 seasons at Florida. The Gators suffered through three years of mediocrity under Ron Zook (23-15) before hitting the jackpot with Urban Meyer. Meyer gave Florida six years (three great, two mediocre and a 5-loss year) before quitting on his team. His sure thing replacement in Will Muschamp was 7-6 a year ago but is looking at 10+ wins in 2012. Florida has 2 titles since losing Spurrier but the Gators have had 5-losses or more in 5 of the least 10 years.

Michigan (1997) - Lloyd Carr stuck around for a decade after his split title in 1997 and racked up 4 10-win seasons and only a single 5-loss year. Michigan is a miserable 31-18 and on its second head coach in the 4+ seasons since Carr's departure. The highlight was an 11-2 mark last year which featured games against 3 ranked opponents and a Sugar Bowl victory that was an affront to the game of football. Michigan stands as the poster child for the dangers of hiring the hottest name in football as Rich Rodriguez's (15-22) reign in maize and blue was an abject disaster.

Tennessee (1998) - Tennessee has had 3 or more losses all but once in the 14 seasons since their 1998 undefeated season. Phillip Fulmer struggled to a 29-21 over his last 4 years but his replacements' total lack of success should serve as a warning that the devil you know is sometimes better than the devil you don't know. Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley have combined to go 21-26 in the 3+ seasons since the big man was fired and Tennessee may have a new coach in 2013.

Oklahoma (2000) - Stoops is poops. A win over 8-5 Connecticut in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl is OU's only BCS win in the last 10 years, so we've got that going for us.

Miami (2001) - Larry Coker won a title with Butch Davis's players in 2001 but was fired after he could not sustain the program's momentum a la Frank Solich. The U has not had double digit wins since 2003 and neither Randy Shannon (27-22) nor Al Golden (11-11) appear to be the answer.

Ohio State (2002) - Few coaches were as consistently successful as Jim Tressel after his 2002 Fiesta Bowl upset of Miami. The Buckeyes had only one season with fewer than 10 wins between 2003 and 2010 though they had a pair of BCS Championship Game losses. NCAA violations led to Tressel's downfall and the 2010 season was wiped from the books leading to the Sweater Vest's inglorious dismissal. Sanctions and an appallingly bad Big Ten make Urban Meyer's success in 2012 seem kind of hollow though the Buckeyes do seem well positioned to dominate until Meyer decides to quit again.

LSU (2003, 2007) - The Tigers have but a single 1-loss season since Les Miles arrived in 2005 though they do have a 2-loss national championship and a pair of SEC titles. We'll call Miles to LSU the gold standard of replacing a departing legend. It didn't hurt that Nick Saban left the cupboard bristling with talented players when he went to the NFL.

USC (2004) - Pete Carroll bolted USC for the NFL to avoid the NCAA's axe. The Trojans responded by hiring one of the sleaziest men in college football as a solution to their problems. The Trojans have gone a respectable 24-10 under Kiffin but they have not played in a bowl game because of NCAA sanctions and they've become third fiddle to Oregon and Stanford in the Pac 12.

Texas (2005) - Hook 'em.

Auburn (2010) - Will anybody be shocked if/when Gene Chizik is Miami's defensive coordinator and Auburn is under sanctions with Lane Kiffin at the helm in 2014? It seems like a foregone conclusion.

So there you have it. Adding up the 14 title winning programs we find a fairly good spread of reasons for coaches leaving their jobs over the last 20 years.

  • Fulmer and Coker were fired.
  • Saban and Spurrier departed for greener pastures in the NFL and Meyer just plain quit.
  • Stallings, Tressel, Carroll and Paterno left due to sanctions.
  • Osborne, Carr, and Bowden retired.
  • Brown and Stoops are still with their schools. Chizik is too but he'll probably will be fired in the near future.

That leaves 11 examples of programs who attempted to replace a legend. Next we ranked the replacements based on the level of pain their programs went through as a result of coaches leaving. Maybe it's moralistic, but we feel a clean program with no sanctions is paramount to a dirty one any day of the week. As such we'd always rather see Texas follow Tennessee's crappy path than USC's cheating one.

Rank Replacement

5-losses/seasons

Comment
1 Les Miles, LSU 1/9 The gold standard
2 Ron Zook, UF 5/10 3 coaches but found big success with Meyer
3 Jimbo Fisher, FSU
0/3 38-27 in Bowden's last 5 seasons
4 Frank Solich, Nebraska 3/15 3 coaches and lots of mediocrity since Osborne
5 Rich Rodriguez, Michigan 3/5 Sugar Bowl win last year
6 Randy Shannon, Miami 5/6 0-3 in bowls
7 Lane Kiffin, Tennessee 4/4 At least no sanctions!
8 Luke Fickell, Ohio State 1/2 Meyer a nice consolation prize for cheating
9 Mike DuBose, Alabama 9/16 Recently good but had a bad decade of football
10 Lane Kiffin, USC 1/3 Can't beat Stanford, still dirty
11 Lane Kiffin, Auburn 0/0 Too soon?
12 Bill O'Brien, Penn State 0/0

Uh, yea

How many of these replacements went well from the onset? Not many.

Recent history suggests teams replacing a legend tend to go through a significant decline during the process of replacing a legend. It took Florida three years and a coaching change to recover and they were our second best replacement situation. Florida State spent half a decade in the doldrums before climbing out. Only LSU avoided both sanctions and a prolonged drop in the program's quality.

Regardless of whether he's eventually fired or decides to retire, Mack Brown's tenure at Texas is almost certainly closer to the end than it is to the beginning. Unfortunately for Texas, if history is any guide, there may be more years like 2011 in our future. Fortunately for Texas, the future is infinite. There's no reason Texas cannot make an outstanding hire to replace Mack Brown and not miss a beat in spite of what has happened elsewhere over the last 20 years. Considering the level of acrimony exhibited by Texas fans during this 8-2 campaign, are we prepared to accept a few more 7-6 or 8-5 before finding success and stability again?

At 8-2 this year and a lineup built for a big year in 2013, we hope Mack gets one more shot at a title next year before riding off into the burnt orange sunset.

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