Ed Orgeron, Dan Mullen and Gary Patterson didn’t even make it to the end of the regular season despite recent success at their schools. Orgeron won a national title two years ago, Mullen went 21-5 with two New Year’s Six bowl victories in 2018 and 2019, and Patterson is the winningest coach in TCU history.
But those weren’t even the most shocking firings of the season.
On Sunday, Lincoln Riley, who took over for Bob Stoops in 2017 and went 55-10 with three College Football Playoff appearances, decided to leave Oklahoma for USC.
What? A coach left Oklahoma -- one of the most stable programs in the sport -- to enter the game of musical chairs at USC? Those are two of the best jobs in college football, but it was a surprise to see Riley jump ship, especially since he was linked more strongly to the LSU opening.
Speaking of LSU, did you hear about Brian Kelly?
That’s right: Even Notre Dame isn’t safe. Just days before the Fighting Irish might receive a berth in the playoff, Kelly ditched his team of 12 years to take over in Baton Rouge.
That means while two high-profile jobs were filled at USC and LSU, two of a similar magnitude opened up at Oklahoma and Notre Dame.
This might be the wildest offseason of coaching movement in college football history.
Meanwhile (deep breath), Sonny Dykes left SMU for TCU, Billy Napier went from Louisiana to Florida, Fresno State’s Kalen DeBoer took over Washington, Rhett Lashlee replaced Dykes and Washington State stuck with Jake Dickert.
Even as the dust begins to settle in some college towns, others are anxiously refreshing their Twitter feeds. Who will take the reins in South Bend and Norman? Will Cincinnati, Iowa State and others have vacancies of their own to contend with?
Chaos is never good for a program, and that’s especially true with the transfer portal and the increasing regularity of decommitments.
Take Oklahoma, for example. Within hours of Riley bolting for USC, many of the Sooners’ top recruits decommitted, and quarterback Spencer Rattler is one of multiple players who announced they will transfer.
That’s the name of the game now. When coaches leave for greener pastures, they take certain recruits and players with them. Others elect to transfer elsewhere rather than waiting out the coaching search process.
In this environment, situations like Michigan has with Harbaugh become a major advantage.
Harbaugh is in his seventh season with the Wolverines, and only 11 Power Five coaches have been at their schools longer:
- Kirk Ferentz has been at Iowa since 1999.
- Kyle Whittingham has been at Utah since 2005.
- Mike Gundy has been at Oklahoma State since 2005.
- Pat Fitzgerald has been at Northwestern since 2006.
- Nick Saban has been at Alabama since 2007.
- Dabo Swinney has been at Clemson since 2008.
- David Shaw has been at Stanford since 2011.
- Mark Stoops has been at Kentucky since 2013.
- Dave Doeren has been at North Carolina State since 2013.
- Dave Clawson has been at Wake Forest since 2014.
- James Franklin has been at Penn State since 2014.
Michigan is also fortunate that Harbaugh, as a former Wolverine himself, would never leave for a different college job. Notre Dame administrators probably never dreamed a coach would leave their university for a different school, so Monday had to come as a huge shock. That’s not even a consideration in Ann Arbor.
Harbaugh has had ups and downs as Michigan’s coach, but the Wolverines have gone into the final game of the season with a chance to win the Big Ten three times in seven years, and he just cleared the biggest hurdle: beating Ohio State (emphatically).
While other schools are scrambling to get (or keep) their staffs together, Michigan is preparing for a Big Ten championship game. It’s a great position to be in.