Last Saturday, in front of a spirited Homecoming crowd, the Florida Gators were embarrassed at the hands of the Missouri Tigers by a score of 42-13. In a game in which both the Tiger’s defense and special teams both scored two touchdowns, more than Florida’s paltry offense could manage, the Gators reached a new low in what has been an awful season.
As a diehard Florida Gator fan, the loss was devastating, but not at all surprising. The last two seasons have been utter disappointments, with the Gators ending last season on a 7-game losing streak and then picking up where they left off this year.
The Gators are not the only historically strong program to struggle mightily in recent years. Their most fitting counterpart in woe is the formerly-mighty Michigan Wolverines. A season of demoralizing losses, the greatest of which being an upset at home at the hands of lowly Minnesota, has capped off a three year run of mediocre Wolverine football.
Both teams’ respective head coaches, the Gators’ Will Muschamp and Wolverines’ Brady Hoke, sit squarely upon the proverbial “hot seat.” Both fanbases are stridently calling for their firings, and it appears more than likely that Gator and Wolverine fans will get their wish after the season, barring miraculous reversals of fortune. Yet, even though Muschamp and Hoke have all-but-lost their jobs, they will assuredly keep their jobs until the end of the year because mid-season firings have become taboo in college football culture.
Athletic departments consider firing coaches midyear to shed a negative light upon the program. Athletic directors feel that firing a coach announces to the college football world that their program is in chaos and is simply giving up and starting over. Programs stick with their floundering coaches because they feel that mid-season firings are too caustic for a team’s public image.
In reality, however, prolonged periods of mediocrity under a coach can be even more damaging to a school’s reputation. Successive seasons of struggling create a culture of inferiority within a program, a culture which worsens with every subsequent defeat. Once proud programs like Florida and Michigan have been in the spotlight in recent years as perennial disappointments. This reality needs no acknowledgement that many argue a midseason firing provides. Everyone, particularly fans and recruits, knows of a team’s woes far prior to a team deciding to start anew at head coach. In fact, a team deciding to fire their coach midseason sends a message to supporters and recruits that losing is unacceptable at the school and demonstrates their commitment to success.
The most prominent recent example of a team bucking the precedent and axing their head coach mid-season was that of USC and Lane Kiffin. And, while their methods may have been a little harsh in firing Kiffin at the airport upon returning from a loss at Arizona State, the decision ultimately paid off, as the team rallied around interim head coach Ed Orgeron and battled to a 7-2 record for the rest of the season, including an upset win over #5 Stanford. This decision sent a strong message throughout the college football landscape that losing is not tolerated at USC.
The question that remains is whether or not Hoke and Muschamp deserve the same fate. I believe that they do. Besides the fact that both coaches will assuredly be fired unless they pull miraculous wins against their far-superior instate rivals, #2 Florida State and #8 Michigan State, both programs have much to gain from acting now.
For Florida, giving the reigns to offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, brought in this past offseason, would allow him the ability to build a rapport with his returning offensive players. It was widely reported that Muschamp, a blatantly defensive-minded coach, wielded much authority over offensive play-calling, which resulted in a one-dimensional “three yards and a cloud of dust” offense straight out of the 1960’s. Giving Roper the ability to work with freshman quarterback Treon Harris and begin to implement his more dynamic offense will give the returning Gators much needed experience which they can build off of next season.
Michigan’s impetus to act is more based in reestablishing a strong relationship with their fans. The Brady Hoke era saw Michigan not sell out their stadium for the first time since 1975. To encourage ticket sales, something Michigan has never had to do, the athletic department ran a program in which Michigan fans could win two free tickets to the Big House with purchase of two Coke products, which many of the Michigan faithful found to be highly disrespectful. Actions such as this, inspired by Hoke’s poor on-field product, have seen Michigan’s reputation as one of college football’s elite degrade rapidly, and a change must be made.