Be Careful Who You Fire

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The year was 1958. It was one that would prove to be a year of change and new beginnings. President Dwight D Eisenhower signed an act into law that would establish a little agency we know as NASA, the USS Nautilus (the first nuclear submarine) reached the North Pole, the microchip was invented and some British guy created the Peace Sign. There was also change and a new beginning at the University of Arkansas. A new Head Football Coach was on the hill. Little known Frank Broyles had been a head coach for just one year at the University of Missouri (5-4-1) when the Razorbacks came calling.
Before Broyles’ arrival, Arkansas had been less than stellar. In the program’s 63 year history, they had a winning percentage of only .506. That’s not exactly the kind of record that excites and unifies a fan base. Broyles’ first season was not any better. In fact, it was anything but special. After 6 games, Arkansas’ record was 0-6. It must have looked to many fans as if AD Barnhill had made a huge mistake in hiring an “unproven” coach. The only saving grace was 4 straight wins to finish the season including an upset victory over the Texas A&M Aggies. But over the next 4 seasons, Coach Broyles proved to be the right choice as he led the Hogs to two, 9 win seasons with a record of 34-10. It seemed as if Arkansas could go no where but up!
But then, something happened that often happens in college football. Coach Broyles’ Razorbacks had a bad season. In 1963, Arkansas had a dismal 5-5 record including a 0-7 shutout loss to Rice on November 16th. After the embarrassing loss to Rice, Arkansas was 4-5. Nobody expected the lowly Razorbacks to win their next 22 games. But that’s exactly what they did! Arkansas did not lose another game until January 1, 1966 in the Cotton Bowl against LSU. It is to date, the greatest era in the history of the Arkansas Razorback Football Program.
But in the current climate of college sports, this is a story that might not have happened. How many times have we heard of first year coaches being fired for not meeting expectations? Every year we see coaches who are fired for having one bad season. Chances are, in 2018, Coach Broyles would not have been allowed to stay at Arkansas long enough to see success. This is a troubling trend in college football.
There is another, more troubling trend however, that has proven to be detrimental to many football programs. It is the practice of firing a “Tenured” coach when it appears that they have plateaued.
Here are 4 examples:
1. Phillip Fulmer-Tennessee
Fulmer is considered by most to be the best coach in the Vol’s history. He played 3 seasons at Tennessee from 1968 to 1971. He joined the staff as an OL coach in 1980. In 1989 he was promoted to Offensive Coordinator. In 1992 he was promoted to Head Coach and lead the Vols to a 152-52 record over the next 16 years including 15 bowl appearances, 2 SEC championships and an undefeated season in 1998 when Tennessee won a National Championship. In spite of all these accomplishments, under pressure from the fans, he was fired in 2008 after going 5-7 for the season. It was only the second losing season of his tenure as head coach. Most fans probably excepted Fulmer’s firing because after all, Lane
Kiffin had arrived to save the day! During the 10 years since Fulmer’s departure, Tennessee fans have had to endure a brutal 57-56 record, 4 coaching changes and only 4 winning seasons.
2. Frank Solich-Nebraska
“Fearless Frankie” as he was known, was an All Big Eight fullback and co-captain of the Huskers’ 1965 team. He was inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame in 1992. He joined the Cornhuskers’ coaching staff in 1979 and remained with the school for the next 24 years! He received the Head Coach’s job in 1997 when longtime coach Tom Osborne retired. During his 6 year tenure as Head Coach, Solich compiled a record of 58-19 winning less than 9 games only once. The Cornhuskers were bowl eligible every year. Under Solich’s leadership, Nebraska won three Big 12 North Division Championships and one overall Big 12 Championship. They finished in the Coaches and AP Top 10 in three of his six years. Despite all of this, he was fired after the 2003 season where the Cornhuskers finished 9-3. Second year AD Steve Pederon stated, “He would not let Nebraska gravitate into mediocrity” or “surrender the Big 12 to Oklahoma and Texas.” Since the firing of Solich, Nebraska has chewed up and spit out three coaches and their current coach, Scott Frost, finished 4-8 in his first season and will likely be number four. They’ve won only 60% of their games and haven’t won a conference championship in nearly 20 years!
3. Mack Brown-Texas
Mack Brown coached the Texas Longhorns from 1998 to 2013. During his 16 years at UT, Brown compiled a record of 158-48 (.767). He led the Longhorns to 2 National Championship appearances (winning the National Championship in 2005), 15 bowl appearances and 13 Top 25 finishes. Texas only had one losing season during his tenure.
He even had a higher winning percentage than that of Legendary Texas Coach Darrell K Royal. But in the end, none of that mattered. In 2013, Brown resigned under pressure after an 8-4 season. Over the four seasons that followed, the Longhorns had a dismal record of 23 wins and 27 losses. They’ve had only one winning season in that time.
4. Houston Nutt-Arkansas
Houston Nutt coached the Razorbacks from 1998 to 2007. In the 8 seasons before Nutt’s arrival, the Hogs had a dismal 38-51 record with only 2 winning seasons and played in just 2 bowl games. Arkansas was struggling to find its place in the SEC. But in his first year as Head Coach, the Razorbacks finished with a 9-3 record, won the SEC West and received a bid to play in the elite Florida Citrus Bowl. They finished the year ranked 16th in the AP Poll. During his 10 years at Arkansas, Coach Nutt had a record of
on the school’s all-time win list, behind only Frank Broyles. Under his leadership, Arkansas
75–48 record, which is second
won the SEC West 3 times and played in 8 bowl games. It can be argued that he was one
muffed punt away from taking Arkansas to the BCS National Championship Game in 2006.
In his final season, Arkansas went 8-5. His last game as Head Coach of the Arkansas
Razorbacks was against #1 LSU on November 23rd 2007. Arkansas won 50-48 in a triple
overtime thriller. Three days later, Houston Nutt resigned under pressure from a
disgruntled fan base. In the 11 years since Coach Nutt’s departure, Arkansas fans have
suffered through 5 losing seasons. There were a couple of good years under Petrino and an
occasional ray of hope under Bielema, but Arkansas’ program is currently at it’s lowest point
in over 50 years with a miserable 2-10 record in 2018.
My point to all of this is, “Be Careful Who You Fire!” As the old saying goes, “Sometimes you don’t
realize what you had until it’s gone!” College football fans need to realize, there will be good years and
there will be bad years! But once a coach has proven that he can win, don’t be too eager to replace
him! Another cliché but true saying is, “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side!”
The football programs at Tennessee, Nebraska, Texas and Arkansas have all suffered terribly in the years
following the removal of coaches who had proven that they can win. Fulmer, Solich and Brown
averaged over nine wins per season. Nutt averaged over seven. In each case, their successors have
been unable to achieve the same level of success as these four coaches.
Fans across the college football scene are eager to see their team win a National Championship, and in
many cases, will settle for nothing less. But history has proven, sometimes, it’s better to leave well
enough alone! There’s no guarantee that the “next guy” will do any better….or even as well.
In today’s climate, Coach Broyles could have easily been fired after his first year at Arkansas. He lost his
first 6 games. Once again, he could have easily been fired in 1963. After all, 5-5 is completely
unacceptable for the Arkansas Razorbacks! Had he been fired, we would have probably never seen the
22 straight wins that led to a National Championship in 1964.
Arkansas just finished its worst season since 1952. Many fans are calling for the release of Coach Morris.
My opinion is, “These fans are insane!” Although there is plenty to complain about, Hog fans should
look at what’s to come, be patient and give our Coach enough time to complete the rebuilding of this
program.
Our most famous words might be, “We’ll be better next year,” but someday, those words will be true.
Josh Posey

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