Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Interesting Article on Firing Coaches

Pete Thamel, the most popular reporter on the Plains, has an interesting take on Florida's hiring of Urban Meyer. The conclusion seems to be that taking quick action to fire a coach is a good idea because it allows a program a headstart on hiring his replacement. This hits on something that always seemed odd to me: the notion that a coach should be fired at a certain record, but retained with one or two additional wins. For example, I've read in various places that John L. Smith should/will be fired at 6-6, but retained at 7-5. How does that make sense? Is one win over Purdue really that important? Was the difference between Smith being fired or retained really just a couple plays in the Notre Dame game that were beyond his control?

Coaches should be fired or retained based on a global evaluation of a program. Is the team doing well relative to its recent history? Is recruiting going well? Are the players embarrassing the school? These are the relevant questions, rather than "is the team 7-5 or 6-6?" And once an AD has the sense that the program isn't going in the right direction, then he should axe the coach immediately, provided that the coach has had enough time to establish a track record. (I would generally suggest five years for a rebuilding job and less for a program with significant natural advantages and talent on-hand, such as, say, Florida or Notre Dame.)

Jeremy Foley played this exactly right in 2004. He had a coach who had inherited a good amount of talent and yet his team was 4-3. The signs were apparent that Ron Zook was not a good coach, from his squandering of talent to his lame attempts to fight frat boys, to even his credentials when he got the job. If you have enough evidence to make a decision, why wait? Why stall so that Zook can beat Florida State and pundits with absolutely no sense of sample size proclaim that the program is "headed in the right direction" (as they surely would have done if Zook would have been fired after winning in Tallahassee, a victory that had more to do with Florida State's concurrent decline than anything else). If all the signs are that the head coach is below average, what difference will a few extra games make? The supply of quality coaches is finite and it's too important not to jump into that pool as early as possible, especially when a November or December hiring can allow the new coach to salvage a portion of the recruiting class, as opposed to waiting until January when that task is harder.

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