HANSEN

Greg Hansen: Honeymoon phase for coaches fades fast

2012-12-07T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Honeymoon phase for coaches fades fastGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 07, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The best day of the year in college football isn't when your team whips Rival U or climbs into the top 10 but rather when a private jet arrives in town, and out steps your new coach/conquering hero.

On Thursday, Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour hailed the arrival of Sonny Dykes by calling him one of the "best offensive minds in the business" and further declaring "our community will love (him) on game day."

A few days earlier, Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart announced that UK's new football coach, Mark Stoops, is one of the "best defensive minds in the business," and that Stoops has the resources to "take us to another level."

Right. And one day soon, Utah will be playing Indiana in the Rose Bowl.

The odds are better, and it is more realistic, that both former Arizona coordinators, Dykes and Stoops - among the "best in the business" - will be fired by 2017.

But isn't the Welcome To Town news conference and attendant honeymoon grand?

Over the last 60 years, 22 men who had been UA assistant coaches became head coaches. Nineteen of them were ultimately fired. Only Army's Rich Ellerson, who has also coached at Southern Utah and Cal-Poly, has not been fired, forced to resign or be unseated in an epic dispute of some sort.

The other two, Eastern Illinois coach Dino Babers and Youngstown State coach Eric Wolford, are still in the honeymoon period and don't yet count against the total.

Wherever Ellerson has gone, from Arizona to Army, he has been labeled "one of the best defensive minds in the business." Alas, the Cadets are 2-9 this season, and if they lose to Navy on Saturday, Ellerson would be 5-18 in his last two seasons, 18-32 overall, and the celebrated creator of the Desert Swarm defense is likely to make it 20 for 20, a perfect record - or is it an imperfect record? - of former UA assistant coaches getting canned.

Some have been shown the door twice. John Mackovic, Arizona's offensive coordinator in the mid '70s, was fired by Texas and Arizona. Bob Weber, who was Arizona's defensive coordinator in the mid 60s, was fired by Arizona and Louisville. Larry Smith, Arizona's defensive coordinator in the mid '70s, was fired by USC and Missouri.

All were once described among the "best minds in the business," which is actually a football kiss of death.

Mike Gottfried, a celebrated Arizona offensive mind of the '70s, was later fired as the head coach at Kansas and Pitt. Remember Dave Fagg, part of Dick Tomey's original Arizona staff and a very nice man? He was fired twice as Davidson's head coach.

Dykes and Stoops coached together on Arizona staffs of 2007, 2008 and 2009. How good were they? The Wildcats went 21-17. Good coaches but not the saviors Kentucky and Cal hope they have hired.

If he did his homework, Dykes knows that since Pappy Waldorf retired as Cal's football coach almost 60 years ago, the Bears have fired eight of 11 head coaches. The two who left unscathed, Mike White and Steve Mariucci, bolted for the NFL. A third, Bruce Snyder, departed after an acrimonious contract struggle.

Stoops will find Kentucky's coaching tree similarly toxic. Dating to 1961, UK has fired (or forced out) Charlie Bradshaw, John Ray, Fran Curci, Jerry Claiborne, Bill Curry, Guy Morriss and Joker Phillips.

Only retread Rich Brooks survived, choosing to retire at 68 rather than extend UK's streak of ousted football coaches.

A roll call of the brightest minds in UA football coaching history failed to become successful head coaches.

Moe Ankney, who went to his alma mater, Bowling Green, was fired after going 20-31-3. Bob Valesente was 4-17-1 and fired at Kansas. Jeff Woodruff, 9-34 at Eastern Michigan, was done after four seasons.

Last month, before the Arizona-Utah game in Salt Lake City, former UA offensive line coach Ron McBride acted as a greeter in the school's press box cafeteria. He had gone 88-63 as the Utes' head coach but was asked to depart when his 13th Utah team sagged to 5-6.

I asked him why he returned to the school in any capacity.

"I guess I like them more than they liked me," he said with a laugh.

More?

Ed Cavanaugh was fired by Army; Chuck Amato was fired by N.C. State; Steve Axman and Max Spilsbury were forced out at NAU; Bob Davie was axed by Notre Dame; Rob Ianello was shown the door after going 2-20 at Akron; Rip Scherer was dumped by Memphis; Tom Reed was pushed out at N.C. State; Ed Zaunbrecher went 20-36 at Louisiana-Monroe and was let go.

In college football, the surest way to lose your job is to become a head coach.

McBride's protégé, Pat Hill, left his position as Arizona's offensive coordinator, one of the "best offensive minds" in the game, whereupon he built Fresno State into a sometimes-imposing power, 112-80 over 15 years.

Last January, Hill returned to Tucson to coach in a college All-Star game. He was unemployed after a 4-9 finish.

"I guess I'm not as smart as I used to be," he told me. "We're all hired to be fired anyway."

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Pac-12 South football standings

Team W L T PCT
Arizona 5 1 0 0.833
Utah 5 1 0 0.833
USC 5 2 0 0.714
ASU 5 1 0 0.833
UCLA 5 2 0 0.714
Colorado 3 4 0 0.429

Pac-12 North football standings

Team W L T PCT
Oregon 6 1 0 0.857
Oregon State 4 2 0 0.667
Stanford 4 3 0 0.571
Washington 5 2 0 0.714
Cal 4 3 0 0.571
Washington State 2 5 0 0.286
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