Commentary

Coaching hires have been a laugh riot this holiday season

Originally Published: December 18, 2008
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Here in this holiday season, it's time to stop and give thanks for the bountiful gifts sports supplies us.

Specifically, lift a mug of eggnog to college football, which is putting the finishing touches on a run of coaching hires that have been a laugh riot. These college administrators, they kill me. Now that Tina Fey has shelved her Sarah Palin impersonation for the time being, where else can you get comedic quality like this?

[+] EnlargeDan Mullen
J. Meric/Getty ImagesMississippi State's decision to hire Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen was a coup.

The vacant jobs that have been filled in automatic BCS qualifier leagues to date are Tennessee, Auburn, Mississippi State, Clemson, Washington, Kansas State and Syracuse.

The seven (white) men hired for those prestigious jobs had a combined head-coaching record in 2008 of 7-15.

Seriously. Is that not the funniest thing you've heard in weeks?

If you're scoring (or laughing or crying) at home, that's 2-10 for Gene Chizik at Iowa State, 4-2 for interim Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and 1-3 with the Oakland Raiders for Lane Kiffin. That's whoopie-cushion material right there.

None of the others sat in the big chair this fall.

Among those not hired: Mike Leach (11-1 at Texas Tech and in a mood to move, had there been interest) and Turner Gill (8-5 at Buffalo, not long ago the worst program in America).

Short, sweet question for the slapstick administrators in question: What the hell were you thinking?

Wait. Before you answer, here's what I'm thinking of each of those hires:

Mississippi State. The hire: Dan Mullen, Florida offensive coordinator.
The grade: A-minus. Let's face it: The Bulldogs are not dealing from a position of strength in the SEC. They've won four or fewer games in seven of the past eight seasons. So landing one of the brightest offensive assistants in the country is a coup. The only drawback is that Mullen will remain immersed in the Gators' preparations for the FedEx BCS National Championship Game instead of reporting for full-time duty in Starkville -- but that's as it should be. Finish one job before starting the next.

After that there is reason to lampoon -- or at least question -- every other hire. But somebody has to be second-best, so on we go:

Tennessee. The hire: Kiffin. The grade: C-plus.
For 20 games, Kiffin had one of the worst jobs in all of football -- coaching under Al Davis. Before that he had one of the cushiest jobs in all of football: recruiting and calling plays at USC. I know this much: Post-Leinart and Bush, the Trojans' offense hasn't been dazzling, which reflects on Kiffin and the new coach at Washington, whom we will get to shortly. The biggest positive to date is the hiring of Daddy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, for the same position in Knoxville. If former Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron is added to the staff it would be a recruiting boon. Still, there are some folks at USC who never thought Kiffin was especially suited to the college game. Will that change now?

Washington. The hire: Steve Sarkisian, who called plays at USC with/after Kiffin. The grade: C.
Same questions here as there were for Kiffin: is he really an adept offensive mind, or has he simply benefited from the luxury of working with superior talent? And why hasn't the USC offense been more consistently explosive in recent years? The fortunate thing is that there is ample room for upward mobility in the current Pac-10.

Clemson. The hire: Swinney, who was recruiting coordinator and wide receivers coach until Tommy Bowden was whacked in midseason. The grade: D-plus.
Swinney was part and parcel of a failed season, but somehow got a promotion out of the deal. Who knew that beating Duke and Virginia could lead to such ample rewards? Clemson fans loved the fact that the Tigers closed the regular season by beating rival South Carolina. But hey, Bowden beat the Gamecocks seven times in nine tries and look where that got him. Swinney has the same thing going for him that Sarkisian has at Washington: the in-conference competition in the ACC isn't that stiff.

Syracuse. The hire: Doug Marrone, New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator (which is a handy way of saying he takes orders from offensive mastermind Sean Payton). The grade: D-plus.
Let's see … athletic director Darryl Gross goes out and hires an NFL assistant with no head-coaching experience. Where have we seen that before? Oh yeah, with freshly fired Greg Robinson, whose four-year tenure was an absolute train wreck. Marrone at least is an alum, but he hasn't recruited in seven years. This looked like a job that should have been gift-wrapped for Gill, whose head-coaching handiwork was on display just down the road.

Kansas State. The hire: Bill Snyder, who was pulled out of mothballs at age 69, three years after he retired. The grade: D.
Yes, Snyder is the guy who breathed life into K-State football in the first place. But don't forget that he'd started sucking the life back out of it before retirement -- in his last two seasons the Wildcats were 9-13 and 4-12 in the Big 12. So unless Snyder can dial back into whatever he last had in 2003, this move is doomed to failure.

[+] EnlargeGene Chizik
AP Photo/Jamie MartinGene Chizik is winning over recruits and has everyone talking about Auburn.

Auburn. The hire: Chizik. The grade: F.
Chizik needs to begin every morning by reciting the Lou Gehrig speech: "Today-today-today, I consider myself-myself-myself, the luckiest man on the face of the Earth-Earth-Earth." The fact that he somehow parlayed a 5-19 record at Iowa State into a job at one of the better programs in the country is astounding -- and reflects the glorious dysfunction that is Auburn athletics. Understand this: Auburn could have kept Tommy Tuberville and his 85-40 record (Resignation? Right.) but went with a guy who opened his tenure in Ames with losses to Kent State and Northern Iowa. Auburn could have gone after Leach, who knows something about winning in a brutal division, but instead hired a guy who went 2-10 in league play in the softer Big 12 North. Auburn could have landed the red-hot Gill, whose Buffalo team has won six of its past seven games, but instead embraced a guy on a 10-game losing streak. Maybe Chizik will be the next Bill Parcells -- he went 3-8 in his first year as a head coach, at the Air Force Academy in 1978 -- before turning out all right. But until that happens, this has the makings of the worst hire in SEC history.

So it's been quite a run of you-cannot-be-serious stuff during the hire-and-fire season in college football. But here's the ultimate punch line: Charlie Weis kept his job at Notre Dame.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.