Hot Reads: The Coaching Factors that Matter to FBS ADs
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Hot Reads: The Coaching Factors that Matter to FBS ADs

October 19, 2017

Not a fan of the fact that Brett McMurphy, most recently of ESPN but he’s worked at a lot of places over the years, is relegated at the moment to writing real stories on his Facebook page. He’s one of the best in the business and should be working somewhere. (And I have to assume he will be once whatever was left on his ESPN contract is up, but that’s a guess on my part.)

But just because McMurphy doesn’t have a national outlet doesn’t mean he’s not putting in work. On said Facebook page, he recently published the results of a survey he conducted of 40 FBS athletic directors on what matters most to them when it comes time to make a coaching change.

The most-cited reason perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise, but a few of the others are interestingly ranked:

A coach’s win-loss record ranked as the first or second-most significant factor by 39 of the 40 ADs. The other athletic director ranked it fourth, behind recruiting success, fan unrest/attendance and success vs. top rival(s).

Recruiting success was second overall and ranked no lower than the third-most important factor by 22 athletic directors, but six ADs did not include recruiting on their ballots.

Fan unrest/attendance finished as the third-most significant factor. Sixteen ADs said it was among the top two most important factors, while four ADs listed it among their least-significant factors. Eight ADs said it’s not something they consider when making a coaching change.

Behind win-loss record, you had a tightly grouped second tier that, in addition to the two reasons above, included the coaches’ buyouts and conference titles (which again seems to be like the basic marker of success at most places).

I’m a little surprised to see how high recruiting ranks, though maybe I shouldn’t be. Behind winning, recruiting is probably the thing most fan bases care about the most. In fact, in some situations it can serve as a replacement for winning: “The record's not where we want it, but look at what’s coming.”

Since Nebraska’s been through a few of these now, let’s play a quick game of match the firing to the reason.

Frank Solich: I’m going with recruiting. At least that seems like it was AD Steve Pederson’s primary motivation.

Bill Callahan: Wins and, more specifically, some in-the-record-book losses. This one’s pretty clear, though the Huskers did seem to be improving year to year under Callahan until the bottom fell out in 2007.

Bo Pelini: This is the tough one. It wasn’t wins and losses alone. It was never said to be about recruiting (though I think there were some red flags there). Fan unrest? It feels like the fan base was pretty evenly split here. You might have to get all the way down to conference titles (the fifth-ranked reason) to find a workable solution, but only because "personality conflict” wasn’t listed as an option.

High Heat

Since we’re already on this track, here’s an interesting look at the “hot seat” around the country from Bud Elliott and Bill Connelly of SB Nation. Rather than just a discourse on “he’s safe, he’s not,” this story uses projected remaining wins and chances of making a bowl game as a jumping off point for any future decisions.

Nebraska is projected at 4.8 wins in 2017 (with three already in the barn) and is given a 76 percent chance of missing a bowl game. Here’s how, in Elliott and Connelly’s estimation, that impacts the situation in Lincoln:

Nebraska was blown out by a combined 94-31 in Lincoln by Wisconsin and Ohio State. The school fired its athletic director and has already hired a new one. It is generally questionable to fire a coach after just three seasons, but the program has regressed under Riley, a strange hire to begin with. The odds of the new AD wanting to bring in his own guy are quite high, especially since the Huskers are staring a 5-7 finish in the face.

Two other Big Ten coaches – Illinois’ Lovie Smith, Rutgers’ Chris Ash – are on the list.

The Grab Bag

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