We’re close to halfway through the regular NCAA football season, and things are starting to heat up. A number of teams are at completely different spots in the rankings than they were a few weeks ago, and some of the shifts have been fairly surprising. We’ve been following the season pretty closely to see how our College Football Championship predictions and 2016 Heisman predictions would pan out. Now, however, we’d like to turn our attention to the 2015 NCAA football coaching changes thus far.
At this point in the season, there have been five 2015 NCAA football coaching changes. Four of these were due to coaches getting fired, while only one of them stemmed from retirement. Some of these are certainly more important than others when looking at the grand scheme of things, but we will give each coach their due respect. We’ll talk a bit about what they’ve managed to achieve this season, why they’ve been let go, and how the team should fare without them. Bear in mind that there may be more coaching changes this season; the current list of 2015 NCAA football coaching changes will merely influence possible shifts in strategy as each of these teams gears up for the more difficult half of their schedules.
Tim Beckman – Illinois Fighting Illini
The first of our 2015 NCAA football coaching changes actually occurred before the start of the regular season. Illinois fired Tim Beckman a week before their season opener, a move which was anything but unjust. Beckman was under external review at the time of his firing, as he had been accused of mistreating his players. More specifically, there were multiple allegations that he had pressured players to take to the field while injured, and had even gone as far as to try and hide these injuries from officials. Illinois didn’t look too fondly on Beckman’s alleged treatment of his Fighting Illini, especially since it violated university policy.
Beckman’s review had actually not concluded at the time he was let go, but the school had apparently uncovered enough evidence to justify giving him the boot. And as far as many are concerned, they really didn’t need much evidence to justify their decision in the first place. Beckman wasn’t known for getting along with Bill Cubit (his offensive coordinator and interim replacement), and some believed that Beckman should’ve been shafted when he and Cubit nearly traded punches back in 2013.
Cubit and Beckman couldn’t even reach a consensus on how to run their offense, which is literally the only thing on which they have to agree as colleagues. In that sense, Cubit’s most likely thrilled to be taking the reins. Although he’d probably be happier if the Illini weren’t 4th in the Big Ten West and unranked in the AP polls. Illinois wasn’t a highly favored team to begin with, so it stands to reason that losing Beckman wouldn’t have a big impact on them.
Even so, of the 2015 NCAA football coaching changes thus far, this is one of the best-deserved. Beckman hasn’t been exuding competence over the past few years, and even his media appearances have been pretty shaky. A coach’s ability to represent his team verbally may not have much impact on his ability to lead them on the field, but Beckman didn’t really excel at either. Since Cubit isn’t doing worlds better, there’s a good chance that the Fighting Illini will have an all new coach next season. Until then, they’re going to have to tough it out with the talent they’ve got. That just doesn’t mean much.
Randy Edsall – Maryland Terrapins
When we said that some of the 2015 NCAA football coaching changes were not as important as others, we were largely referring to these next two entries. Beckman was at least well-known, but Randy Edsall’s name probably doesn’t ring a bell unless you either go to Maryland or just really know your college football. The Terrapins are currently dead last in the Big Ten East, with a 2-4 record and absolutely no wins in the conference so far.
There was buzz that Edsall was going to get canned following Maryland’s 28-49 loss to Ohio State, and the news of his departure came the day after the game. It may seem a bit unfair to sack the coach for losing to the reigning champions and current top-ranked team in the NCAA, but it’s not really as simple as all that. Edsall hasn’t been delivering for quite some time now, and he was likely going to be replaced by next season anyway. The fact that Ohio State was his third loss in a row just made the decision a bit easier.
Not only had Edsall been slipping this season, but there was something of a political element to the decision as well. Maryland is currently looking to build a $155 million indoor football facility, and they can’t ask their boosters to pony up that kind of dough in the midst of their worst season in three years. That said, there isn’t necessarily much hope that the season will improve. Offensive coordinator and interim replacement Mike Locksley had a 2-26 record back when he coached for New Mexico, so it’s hard to imagine that he’ll make a whole lot of positive changes while filling in for a coach who went 22-34 with the Terrapins. It’s too soon to tell, but keeping Edsall might have been the lesser of two evils.
Whether or not it was the right move, this was one of the more anticipated 2015 NCAA football coaching changes. In fact, even Edsall himself seems to have seen it coming. He released a statement the day after he was fired in which he was entirely gracious, and did not come off as even a bit surprised. “On behalf of myself and my family I want to thank everyone for giving me the opportunity to be part of the University of Maryland as its football coach,” said Edsall. “I am proud of the great progress we made with our student-athletes, not just on the field but in the community and the classroom. We take away a lot of great memories during our stay here at College Park and wish everyone the best in the coming months and years.”
Dan McCarney – North Texas Mean Green
The next of our 2015 NCAA football coaching changes is the most practical thus far. The North Texas Mean Green have yet to win a single game this season, and it’s clear that their organization has decided to place the bulk of the blame with Dan McCarney. He was fired almost immediately following their recent 7-66 loss to Portland State, their worst loss of the season.
As much as this is a tough pill to swallow, the truth of the matter is that McCarney has been a losing coach for the bulk of his career. Between his run at North Texas and his previous position with Iowa State, he has a 78-117 record. It’s been two years since his best season at North Texas, in which the Mean Green won the Heart of Dallas Bowl after going 9-4 in the season. He also had five bowl appearances during his dozen-year stay at Iowa State, so he’s clearly capable of delivering a decent season from time to time. But in the grand scheme of things, McCarney just isn’t the coach you want if you’re trying to win consistently every year.
McCarney’s case and Edsall’s case have some definite parallels, not the least of which is our inability to say whether or not the team is actually going to improve much with new leadership. The interim replacement duty for North Texas will be shared by defensive coordinator Chris Cosh (who has a history of inconsistent performance at various schools) and offensive coordinator Mike Canales (who has a 2-3 record from the last time he took over as interim coach in 2010). Canales and Cosh aren’t the worst replacements you could ask for, but they aren’t really ideal, either.
Again, as far as 2015 NCAA football coaching changes are concerned, this one doesn’t really come as much of a shock. And much like Edsall, McCarney has decided to leave on good terms. “The people here at North Texas are great,” said McCarney in a statement to the press, “we couldn’t have been embraced or supported any better during my time here.”
Steve Sarkisian – USC Trojans
The firing of Steve Sarkisian is probably one of the 2015 NCAA football coaching changes making the biggest splash right now. Sarkisian’s been making headlines for some time now, showing up to USC functions while under the influence of alcohol and painkillers. And while some of his substance abuse cannot be fully confirmed, there has been great suspicion due to his behavior that he has been using prior to games as well. While some are blaming his substance abuse on his divorce, many believe that Sarkisian is in the midst of active addiction. As such, he was asked to take a leave of absence so that he could take care of himself. It was only one day later that he was let go.
Unlike the other 2015 NCAA football coaching changes that we have covered so far, this was not about Sarkisian’s inability to lead the team. While his ability to coach a football team while battling addiction is certainly up for scrutiny, USC is simply hoping that he will use the time he has been given to look after himself and make a full recovery. The team will need to make a recovery as well. Previously one of the top-ranked teams in college football, the Trojans have plummeted all the way through the rankings and clean off the board after their last three games, two of which they lost.
While some are wondering why it took USC so long to fire Sarkisian in the first place, others are focusing on the trials ahead. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton will be Sarkisian’s interim replacement, but his only previous stint as an interim coach was during the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl. To be frank, it’s a bit surprising that Helton hasn’t had more chances; the Trojans have experienced a lot of turnover in their coaching staff in recent years.
This is one of the more tragic 2015 NCAA football coaching changes to date. No one wants to see a man fight a losing battle against himself. But from both a practical standpoint and from a standpoint of compassion, USC made the right move. The Trojans cannot flourish under a coach who is struggling to keep himself together, and the stress of running a team is not going to aid Sarkisian’s recovery. If he is able to sober up, then he might still have a future ahead of him. As for the Trojans, they had better hope that Helton can introduce a bit of discipline to their offensive line. Even with Sarkisian’s personal struggles, the team should be performing a lot better right now. There is no excuse for one of the better teams in the NCAA failing to secure a ranking. The only excuse we can imagine is that Sarkisian’s struggles have impacted the team emotionally. If such is the case, then they had better move on by the time they face Notre Dame. Otherwise, it’s all downhill from here.
Steve Spurrier – South Carolina Gamecocks
While all of the 2015 NCAA football coaching changes we’ve discussed so far have been due to coaches being fired, a number of them have at least left on good terms. Not only is Steve Spurrier leaving South Carolina on good terms, but he is also the only coach on this list who is doing so by his own volition. Spurrier announced his immediate retirement after the Gamecocks went 0-4 in the SEC (2-4 overall) with their loss to LSU this past weekend, much to the chagrin of the many fans, players and coaches who revere him.
Spurrier’s interim replacement will be offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Shawn Elliott, but there is little point in assessing whether or not Elliott can lead the team as well as Spurrier. With 86 wins at South Carolina, 135 wins in the SEC, and 228 wins overall, Spurrier is a legend. He is the winningest coach ever to grace the presence of South Carolina (as well as Florida, where he has 122 wins), and he ranks second in SEC coaching history behind Bear Bryant (who only recorded 24 more SEC wins than Spurrier). In short, no interim coach could stand a chance of filling his shoes.
While Spurrier had previously planned on sticking around for a while—largely to prove a point to those who thought he was getting too old to keep up his momentum—he finally decided to call it quits. It’s a real shame, too. Spurrier helped define the SEC, with an air-based offense that was somewhat unique to the conference at the time. Now, every coach seems like they’re trying to imitate Spurrier, regardless of whether or not they’re actually aware that they’re doing it. The SEC doesn’t need Spurrier to thrive, but it would’ve been nice to see him finish out the season. His sudden retirement leaves us in a lurch. We never got to say goodbye.
And neither did South Carolina. Seeing the way they’ve performed with one of the greatest all-time SEC coaches (and the absolute greatest still alive today), it’s hard to imagine them doing much better now that he’s gone. Spurrier’s retirement has made waves as the most important of all 2015 NCAA football coaching changes thus far, and he will be truly missed. But the Gamecocks? Their season will likely fizzle out, no more impressive than when it started. As far as we’re concerned, South Carolina’s season is over. At the very least, we can close the book on the hope that they’ll actually have a season worth watching this year.