One of the most boring national championship games ever was perhaps the most fateful. On Jan. 3, 2001, Oklahoma, led by second-year head coach Bob Stoops, topped Florida State, led by 25th-year head coach Bobby Bowden, by the very odd score of 13-2, winning Stoops his first national championship and denying Bowden his third.
Wait, why are we talking about the 2001 Orange Bowl in the middle of August 2015? Let’s step back a few paces and it’ll all make sense.
On his debut appearance as an analyst on SiriusXM’s college sports station, former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke says it takes “five to six years” to build a program.
“That’s what everyone wants, two or three, especially if you’re a fan of the school,” said Hoke, via the Detroit Free Press. I know you may have to change an offensive system as far as going from a pro style to spread or a spread to a pro style. Defensively, are you going to be a 3-4 team or a 4-3 team? All those things are part (of it) as you go out and start to recruit.
“Whenever you get one of those jobs, that first recruiting class is going to be about a 50/50 class. Especially when you’re hired as the coach.”
Hoke, of course, was fired at Michigan after posting a 31-20 mark in four seasons.
After linking the article on his Twitter account, USA Today writer Dan Wolken argued a coach doesn’t have to win a national title within that magical five-to-six year window, but it’s more than enough time to prove capable of winning one. Idaho Statesman columnist Brian Murphy then jumped in asking the last coach to win a national title outside of his first five years at a school, and the conversation evolved from there.
And that brings us back to that 2001 Orange Bowl.
The 1990’s were a decade dominated by coaches that slowly built their programs into major powers: Bowden and Nebraska’s Tom Osborne. Those two coaches combined to claim half of the decade’s titles, with another long-term builder – Washington’s Don James – claiming another. But Stoops’ victory signaled a change in the industry: the slow build had been completely replaced in favor of the quick fix.
Let’s take a look at the national championship winning coaches since the turn of the century:
2000: Bob Stoops, 2nd year at Oklahoma
2001: Larry Coker, 1st year at Miami
2002: Jim Tressel, 2nd year at Ohio State
2003: Nick Saban, 4th year at LSU; Pete Carroll, 3rd year at USC
2004: Pete Carroll, 4th year at USC
2005: Mack Brown, 8th year at Texas
2006: Urban Meyer, 2nd year at Florida
2007: Les Miles, 3rd year at LSU
2008: Urban Meyer, 4th year at Florida
2009: Nick Saban, 3rd year at Alabama
2010: Gene Chizik, 2nd year at Auburn
2011: Nick Saban, 5th year at Alabama
2012: Nick Saban, 6th year at Alabama
2013: Jimbo Fisher, 4th year at Florida State
2014: Urban Meyer, 3rd year at Ohio State
Over the last decade and a half, coaches that ultimately win national championships take an average of 3.08 years to get there (excluding repeat winners). Remove outlier Mack Brown from the equation and the average drops to 2.63 years. Even coaches that lost national title games of late have done it quickly: Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich (each in their second years at Oregon), Gus Malzahn (first year at Auburn), and Brian Kelly (third year at Notre Dame).
That’s not to say these coaches got to the national championship game entirely on their own. Quite the opposite, in fact. Most of them used ingredients supplied to them and managed to make a meal their predecessor never could.
What does that mean for current coaches? Well, it implies a bunch of talented, successful, deserving coaches like Mark Richt, Brian Kelly, Gary Patterson, Art Briles, David Shaw, Mike Gundy, and Dabo Swinney have probably seen their windows pass them by. And a bumper crop of new-ish coaches like Hugh Freeze, Malzahn, Kevin Sumlin, Bret Bielema, James Franklin, Jim Mora, Todd Graham, Rich Rodriguez, et al, had better win a title now or risk not winning one at all.
It also paints a picture that Hoke’s successor, Jim Harbaugh, is exactly the type of coach primed to win a national title in this day and age.
Of course, these numbers do not possess voodoo power. No trend will get in the way and stop Baylor from facing Ole Miss this January in Arizona. But they do paint a powerful picture: if you don’t win a national championship quickly, you’re probably not winning one at all.