Five coaches this year have been presented with the opportunity of a lifetime in the face of adversity.
Clay Helton (Southern Cal), Shawn Elliot (South Carolina), Mike Canales (North Texas), Bill Cubit (Illinois), and Mike Locksley (Maryland) were all handed the reigns to their respective programs after the dismissal or resignation of their head coach within the first part of this season, and are now in charge of getting their program back on track in a trial-by-fire audition for the permanent head coaching job.
Cubit has six games under his belt leading the Illini program already and is 4-2 in that span, while Helton, Elliott, and Canales all have one game under their belts - with Elliott the only one to notch a win (a 19-10 victory over Vanderbilt). Locksley had a bye week last week and will face Penn State on Saturday in his interim coaching debut for the Terps.
All of this got me wondering: How many interim head coaches, who led their program for at least two games, have performed well enough to earn the head coaching post and is there a formula to ensure they get the permanent gig? Do the odds look good for Locksley, Cubit, Elliott, Helton and Canales?
Does winning every single one of the games leading the program result in earning the job? How about beating your rival, or ending the season on a multi-game win streak?
The simple, short answer to all of those questions is a resounding no.
I decided to take a look back on how past interim head coaches since 2008 have fared when it comes to landing the permanent head coaching job. Only interim head coaches who spent two games or more were considered for the list.
Number of interim head coaches who coached two games or more: 19
# of those interim HCs who earned the respective HC job:1 out of 19 (5%)
# of those interim HCs who remained on staff the following year: 4 out of 18 (22%)
# of interim HCs who immediately went on to HC jobs somewhere else: 1 out of 18 (6%)
Most wins: Everett withers at UNC (7-6)
Highest win percentage: Brian Wright at FAU (100%)
Breakdown of positions that were elevated to interim role:
-Defensive coordinator (6)
-Offensive coordinator (6),
-Position coach (5),
Head coach heading into 2008: Tommy Bowden (3-3)
Interim head coach: Assistant HC / WRs coach Dabo Swinney (4-3)
Result: Dabo's recruiting prowess and three wins in four ACC games (including a win over Spurrier and South Carolina in the season finale) helped solidify him as the choice for the program moving forward. Dabo now serves as the poster boy of what an interim head coach can do for a program when given the chance, as he's helped build Clemson into one of the premier national programs.
Coach hired: Dabo Swinney
Head coaching heading into 2010: Dan Hawkins (3-6)
Interim head coach: ILBs coach Brian Cabral
Result: Cabral took over for Dan Hawkins after a five game winless stretch (three of them at home) to Missouri, Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Kansas. In his three games leading the program, Cabral went 2-1, winning his first two games against Iowa State and Kansas State, before losing to Nebraska. Cabral did not get promoted to head coach, but did stay on Jon Embree's staff as linebackers coach. He now serves as the assistant head coach / defensive coordinator / inside linebackers coach at Indiana State.
Coach hired: Redskins TEs coach and Colorado alum Jon Embree
Head coach heading into 2010: Todd Dodge (1-6)
Interim head coach: OC Mike Canales (2-3)
Result: After a 1-6 start under Dodge (who was in his fourth season), including particularly bad losses to Army (0-24) and FIU (10-34), Dodge was let go and Canales stepped in for his first stint as an interim head coach at the FBS level. Canales lead the program to wins over Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee, and was retained as offensive coordinator when Dan McCarney was tabbed to take over the program.
Coach hired: Florida assistant head coach / DL coach Dan McCarney.
Head coach heading into 2011: Mike Stoops (1-5 to start the season)
Interim head coach: DC Tim Kish (3-3)
Result: Kish did an admirable job stepping in, and there was a ton of support among the team to elevate Kish to head coaching job moving forward, but with Rich Rodriguez available, the administration made a splash hire and Kish went on to join the staff at Oklahoma, joining the Stoops brothers.
Coach hired: Former Michigan and West Virginia HC Rich Rodriguez
Head coach heading into 2011: Mike Locksley (0-4)
Interim head coach: DBs coach George Barlow (1-7)
Result: Defensive backs coach GeorgeBarlow was handed the reigns to the program after an overtime loss to FCS Sam Houston State. Under Barlow's guidance the Lobos were outscored 327-73 in the eight games that followed, with just a lone 21-14 win over UNLV to his name. Barlow went on to coach the secondary at Vanderbilt and now coaches the corners at North Carolina State.
Coach hired: ESPN commentator and former Notre Dame HC Bob Davie
Head coach heading into 2011: Butch Davis (0-0 - fired in July amid NCAA investigation)
Interim head coach: DC Everett Withers (7-6)
Result: Withers went 7-6 leading the program, and his first win as a head coach was against James Madison. He didn't get the permanent gig with the Heels, but after a year at Ohio State under Urban Meyer as the co-defensive coordinator / assistant head coach / safeties coach James Madison tabbed him to lead their program, and that decision is looking really good right now.
Coach hired: Southern Miss HC Larry Fedora
Head coach heading into 2011: Jim Tressel (0-0 - resigned May 30th after NCAA violations)
Interim head coach: DC Luke Fickell (6-7)
Result: Fickell was thrust into the spotlight in Columbus following the tattoo and memorabilia scandal, and lead the program during their first non-winning season since 1999. When Urban Meyer was hired he opted to keep Fickell (a solid recruiter and advocate for the players Meyer was inheriting) on board as the co-defensive coordinator.
Coach hired: ESPN analyst and former Florida HC Urban Meyer
Head coach heading into 2011: Joe Paterno (8-1)
Interim head coach: DC Tom Bradley (1-3)
Result: Perhaps taking over one of the most adverse situations in the history of college football, Tom Bradley took over the Penn State program in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and managed keep the team playing together with an enormous amount of pride, eventually leading them to a win over Ohio State. Bradley spent a few years away from coaching, expressing interest in a few head coaching positions, before landing on the staff at UCLA as Jim Mora's defensive coordinator.
Coach hired: New England Patriots OCBill O'Brien
Head coach heading into 2011: Bob Toledo (2-5)
Interim head coach: OL coach Mark Hutson (0-6)
Result: Tulane failed to record a win in the second half of the season under Mark Hutson. The stint was Hutson's second as an interim head coach (he helped lead Eastern Illinois to a 8-5 mark after Bob Spoo left the program). Hutson went on to work as the tight ends coach for the Oakland Raiders before returning to his roots at the FCS level at Eastern Illinois as the associate head coach / offensive line coach.
Coach hired: New Orleans Saints WR coach Curtis Johnson
Head coach heading into 2012 season: Bobby Petrino (0-0 - fired after scandal)
Interim head coach: Weber State (FCS - UT) HC John L. Smith (4-8)
Result: Even though he was referred to as a "player's coach", the rare opportunity to serve as an FBS head coach for an entire season didn't go John L. Smith's way from the get-go.See here. Smith left his first head coaching post as the head coach at Weber State (D-II - UT) to come back to Arkansas, where he most recently had served as special teams coordinator.Smith is currently the head coach at Fort Lewis College (D-II - CO).
Coach hired: Wisconsin HC Bret Bielema
Head coach heading into 2012: Robb Akey (1-7)
Interim head coach: OC Jason Gesser (0-4)
Result: Gesser was unable to notch a win in four tries against San Jose State, BYU, UTSA and Utah State. He is currently the assistant director of development at Washington State under Mike Leach.
Coach hired: Arkansas OC / QB coach Paul Petrino
Head coach heading into 2013: Ron English (1-8)
Interim head coach: OC Stan Parrish (1-2)
Result: Days after being named interim head coach, Parrish helped lead the program to a 35-32 win over in-state rival Western Michigan. In the two games that followed against Bowling Green and Central Michigan though, the Eagles were outscored 100-17. Parrish has spent the years that followed out of college coaching.
Coach hired: Drake (FCS - IA) HC Chris Creighton
Head coach heading into 2013: Paul Pasqualoni (0-4)
Interim head coach: OC coach TJ Weist (3-5)
Result: Weist lost his first five games leading the program (USF, at Cinci, at UCF, Louisville, at SMU) before ending his interim stint on a three game win streak against Temple, Rutgers and Memphis. Weist is now the senior offensive analyst on Jim Harbaugh's staff at Michigan.
Coach hired: Notre Dame DC Bob Diaco
Head coach heading into 2013: Carl Pelini (2-6)
Interim head coach: OC Brian Wright (4-0)
Result: Brian Wright finished his interim stint leading the program with the best winning percentage of any interim head coach that coached two games or more. Wright won all four of the games he led the Owls in, beating Tulane, Southern Miss, New Mexico State, and FIU.Many thought that would be enough to give him a permanent shot leading the team, but instead the administration brought in Charlie Partridge. Partridge elected to keep Wright on board as offensive coordinator / associate head coach, where he still remains.
Coach hired: Arkansas assistant head coach / DL coach Charlie Partridge
Head coach heading into 2013: Don Treadwell (0-5)
Interim head coach: QB coach Mike Bath (0-7)
Result: Bath couldn't get the program in the win column in his seven tries, and now serves as the running backs and fullbacks coach on Craig Bohl's staff at Wyoming.
Coach hired: Notre Dame OC Chuck Martin
Head coach heading into 2013: Lane Kiffin (3-2)
Interim head coach: DL coach Ed Orgeron (6-2)
Result: Of all interim head coaches since 2008, Ed Orgeron has won the most games with the interim title (six). Included in those six wins was a win over a highly ranked Stanford squad, but the two losses to Oregon and cross-town rival UCLA we apparently too hard to overlook for the administration. After spending a season away from the sidelines, Orgeron joined the LSU staff as defensive line coach.
Coach hired: Washington HCSteve Sarkisian
Head coach heading into 2014 season: Jeff Quinn (3-4)
Interim head coach: OC Alex Wood (2-2)
Result: Wood, the former head coach at James Madison (FCS - VA) from 1995-1998, took over for Jeff Quinn who lasted seven games into the 2014 season. The first two games (Central Michigan and at Ohio) were both losses, but Wood lead the program to 40+ point outings and wins over Akron and UMass in his final two showing. Kent State was supposed to be played in between those two wins, but was instead cancelled. Wood now serves as the head coach at Florida A&M (FCS).
Coach hired: Wisconsin-Whitewater (D-III - WI) HC Lance Leipold
Head coach heading into 2014 season: Charlie Weis (2-2)
Interim head coach: DC Clint Bowen (1-7)
Result: Bowen, a member of the longtime member of the Kansas family with very deep Jayhawk ties, got the chance to lead his alma mater after a 2-2 start by Charlie Weis that saw the program score just 27 points in their first three games against FBS opponents. Bowen led the team to close losses to a ranked Oklahoma State squad (20-27), Texas Tech (21-34), and a top 5 TCU team (30-34) and notched one win against Iowa State. Bowen was retained by new head coach David Beaty to serve as defensive coordinator.
Coach hired: Texas A&M WRs coach David Beaty
Head coach heading into 2014 season: June Jones (0-2)
Interim head coach: DC Tom Mason (1-9)
Result: Mason took over a tough situation at SMU following an 0-2 start by June Jones which included embarassing losses to Baylor and North Texas. Mason's lone win leading the program came in the last week of the season against UConn (27-20), but the team under his leadership played down to the wire at Tulsa and against South Florida as well. Mason now serves as the defensive coordinator at Hawaii under Norm Chow.
Coach hired: Clemson OC Chad Morris