Commentary

Bad hires and the guys who make them

Updated: December 19, 2008, 11:20 AM ET
By Ivan Maisel and Pat Forde | ESPN.com

In the wake of the wake being held for Auburn's hiring process, Pat Forde and Ivan Maisel swap e-mails on Bad Hires and the Athletic Directors Who Make Them. Let's eavesdrop:

PF: I remember [Texas sports information director John] Bianco telling me [Gene] Chizik was going to wait for a great opportunity as a head coach -- then he took Iowa State. And did worse than the already-miserable historical track record. And somehow gets a good job out of it. At the very least, I'd qualify it as the worst hire since Gerry Faust.

IM: Akron or ND?

PF: Ha ha. Akron, really. He'd already proved himself to be horrible before the Zips got stupid.

IM: I'll counter with Terry Shea at Rutgers. I've always heard that whatever thoughts [AD] Fred Gruninger had about hiring someone flew out the window the minute that Bill Walsh called and recommended Shea. Never mind that Shea had no experience on the East Coast. Gruninger had stars in his eyes. Bill. Walsh. Called. Me!

[+] EnlargeBuddy Teevens
Matt Kincaid/Getty ImagesBuddy Teevens proved to be the wrong fit at Stanford, and his run didn't last long.

PF: Speaking of Bill Walsh and, tangentially, Stanford: What was your alma mater thinking when it hired Buddy Teevens in 2002? Did it somehow forget the fact that Teevens went 11-45 at Tulane in the 1990s? Clearly Stanford didn't wait long to correct its error, bouncing Teevens after three inglorious seasons. In fact, neither Stanford nor Ty Willingham have been the same since they parted company in 2001.

IM: Man, that was a mistake. Ted Leland hired Teevens because they had been friends for decades. Leland turned out to be the last guy to figure out that Teevens couldn't cut it as a head coach. Then Leland compounded the issue by hiring Walt Harris to replace Teevens. Leland wanted a disciplinarian. He got a guy who couldn't have been a worse fit at Stanford. The guys at The Farm aren't exactly my-way-or-highway players. (Is anyone anymore?) Harris lost the locker room early in his tenure. From the safety of the beginning of Jim Harbaugh's third year, it's easier to discuss this without going to a dark place.

PF: If Chizik does bomb, he'll at least have some miserable company in SEC annals. I don't go back as far as you do (zing!), but I know that league thrived despite the employment of Ed Orgeron at Ole Miss, Gerry DiNardo at LSU or Ron Zook at Florida -- three bad fits at bad times.

Then there were the loyal sons who were promoted and plotzed: Doug Barfield at Auburn, Ray Goff at Georgia, Mike DuBose at Alabama, Rockey Felker at Mississippi State. How would you rank those (and other) SEC busts?

IM: Plotzed? It pays to increase your Yiddish word power. It occurs to me that there's a difference between bad fits and bad hires. There are guys who can coach, just not at the school that hired them. DiNardo had been successful at Vandy -- by the common Vandy standard -- as opposed to wins and losses. So it made sense that LSU took a shot.

DuBose and Orgeron: Both defensive line coaches, and while there may be a great head coach whose specialty was the D-line, I can't think of him. Goff, Barfield and Zook all had the misfortunes of replacing legends. I don't think that reflects as poorly on them. I will admit to being unable to differentiate the Felker era from the Emory Bellard era from the Bob Tyler era. Doesn't bode well for Dan Mullen, does it?

Chizik just doesn't make sense. I think of Jay Jacobs as a car dealer. His lot is bulging with 2009 Chiziks, and no one's buying. (There's a Coupe de [Tuber]Ville joke in here somewhere.)

I'm not ready to say that Chizik is in Teevens' territory, but the other guy I always think of in this situation is Paul Hackett at USC. He had outkicked his coverage at Pitt. He was clearly a better assistant than head coach, which everyone seemed to know but USC athletic director Mike Garrett. That's the same Garrett who found Pete Carroll, which is a mystery for the ages.

PF: Mike Garrett clearly has been feast or famine. But since the feast is current, he's a savant.

In our Ask The Historian section of the story (and by the way, "The Maisel Report" would simply shimmer beneath the college football fan's Christmas tree), we ask this: Doesn't every school make at least one train-wreck hire every generation? I mean, except Penn State, which only makes one hire every two or three generations.

You mentioned USC and Paul Hackett (and Ted Tollner). Notre Dame has only Lou Holtz as an exception to nearly three decades of shaky coaching. Oklahoma had the Gary Gibbs-John Blake double whammy. Texas labored through John Mackovic and David McWilliams. Alabama wandered in the desert between [Gene] Stallings and [Nick] Saban. Miami finally had to force out a coach in Larry Coker, though he certainly maintained what Butch Davis had built for a while. Maybe Ohio State and Michigan have done the best avoiding a true plunge off a cliff -- your thoughts?

IM: Pardon me while I slip on my tweed jacket and light my pipe. Ah, yes. The Historian is here. And thank you for the lovely book plug. If I do the same for you -- "Rebound Rules: The Art of Success 2.0" -- we may have to explain to our college football readers who this Rick Pitino fellow is.

Notre Dame had a few clunkers in there long before modern times. Hunk Anderson replaced Knute Rockne -- an impossible task, surely -- and after three seasons, found himself as the head coach at North Carolina State. He didn't win there, either.

Funny that you ask about Ohio State. The OSU had a Chizik moment in 1947 when it hired Wes Fesler, fresh off a 3-5-1 season at Pittsburgh. Fesler went 21-13-3 and fled from the pressure, going to Minnesota. At that time, Ohio State had become known as the Graveyard of Coaches. But the university hired Woody Hayes in 1951 and became known as the Graveyard of Yard Markers.

So is there a school that hasn't made a mistake? I've got one, and I'm just glad our old buddy Gene Wojciechowski is not here to hear it: When did Tennessee last hire a guy who didn't win?

PF: Good Lord, I can hear Geno playing a triumphant blast of "Rocky Top" on his Big Orange key chain now. Mortifying.

If the folklore is true, Bill Battle was among the first coaches to endure real estate signs planted in his yard by unhappy fans -- but you're right, he did win (.732 winning percentage and nothing but winning seasons from 1970-76). Last Tennessee coach with a career losing record: W.H. Britton, who went 4-5 in 1935 -- but he was just keeping the seat warm for Gen. Neyland, who was between stints in Knoxville.

So that might be your winner, Tennessee. Hasn't screwed up a hire once since the Great Depression. No pressure, Lane Kiffin.

IM: No pressure, Mike Hamilton.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com. His new book, "The Maisel Report: College Football's Most Overrated & Underrated Players, Coaches, Teams, and Traditions," is on sale now. For more information, go to TheMaiselReport.com.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com