Houston head coach Tony Levine dismissed offensive coordinator Mike Nesbitt after their week loss to Texas State. Bret Bielema let Mike Markuson go after Wisconsin's week 2 loss to Oregon State. Al Groh was released this week by Paul Johnson. Awfully early in the year to be making these kinds of changes some would say.
Dan Wolken of USA Today took a look at this issue. Wolken spoke with New Mexico head coach Bob Davie and Oregon State head coach Mike Riley to get their thoughts on what he perceives as a troubling trend.
"To get into the season and pull the plug, I don't agree with that," New Mexico's Bob Davie told USA Today. "I think it sends out a bad signal to everybody, and what's your reason? Is it to motivate your team? I don't think that's a good way to motivate. Or have you just hit rock bottom? It would surprise me one thing or two things could happen in a couple games that could make you say, 'I've got the wrong guy here.' Why was the wrong guy there (in the first place)?"
"I think it probably paints that picture of the pressure people are under to succeed and trying to find the answer or change the course of what's going on," Oregon State coach Mike Riley told Wolken. "That's a real dramatic move, and it's probably a result of the pressure to do well."
Obviously no head coach breaks fall camp hoping to fire one of his assistants, especially early in the season. But as the economics involved continue to rise in college football, pressure and expectations follow suit. A head coach may view making an early change at an underperforming unit as a better option than running the risk of having a more drastic change occur (that might not be within their control) after the season.
And unfortunately for those who are against the early season trap door treatment, the changes at Houston and Wisconsin, at least early on, seem to have worked. The Houston offense has shown marked improvement since the Texas State opener. The Cougars have averaged more than 41 points per game in their four outings since while never scoring less than 35 points. The Wisconsin offense has also seen an uptick in production since the Oregon State game. Over their first two games the Badgers averaged just 2.9 yards per carry and rushed for one touchdown in 70 attempts. Since then Wisconsin’s yards per carry has jumped to nearly 3.8 while scoring touchdowns once out of every 16 rushes. After scoring just 36 points in its first two games, Wisconsin is averaging nearly 28 points per game since.
Wolken also spoke with AFCA Executive Director Grant Teaff about this trend. Under Teaff’s direction the AFCA has lobbied for assistants to receive guaranteed contracts like the head coaches they work for.
"One of the reasons we've pushed so hard for that is the incidents we're now seeing take place," Teaff told USA Today. "It was pretty well perceived those would start taking place because of the pressure to win, the pressure to recruit. We are pleased that by and large, when those types of situations take place, they do take care of the coaches and their families."
With TV money continuing to pour into college football, the stakes are only going to get higher and it's hard for anyone to feel "safe" these days. Every coach should attempt to have a good portion of, and hopefully their entire, annual salary guaranteed in their contract; and with every raise should try to store some more of that away for a rainy day and invest for your future.