For a guy in another conference, DeLoss Dodds spends a lot of time talking about schools in the Southeastern Conference. The Texas AD referenced a current SEC coach and a former SEC coach in an attempt to fend off critics of Longhorn football coach Mack Brown:
“I love stability. I love continuity. If you have stability, you have continuity and you’ve got good people. It’s a formula that works. I think we’ve got that. If somebody tells me we need to change, I say, “Ok, but who should we hire? (Nick) Saban? Well, Saban isn’t going to come here.’ …
Mack does t so much better than everyone I’ve ever seen. Instant gratification. We want it right now. And if it’s not working, we want to blow it up and get instant gratification. In this kind of world, that’s not necessarily the answer.”
According to the reporter from The Daily Texan — the university’s student newspaper — Dodds also used the turmoil at Tennessee to defend his coach:
“Dodds pointed out that after Tennessee let go of Phillip Fulmer following several mediocre seasons, the Volunteers didn’t recover. They went 23-37 in the last four years under Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley, who was fired last November. Dodds doesn’t want that to happen to Texas.”
With regards to Saban, Brown is right… he won’t leave Tuscaloosa for Austin. It’s not easy for even the biggest schools to snag proven, big-name coaches from big-time programs. Florida’s last three head coaching hires have been two assistants and a guy from Utah. Oklahoma’s last hire was an assistant. Ohio State hired a man out of retirement to follow a man it hired from the FCS level.
Texas might have money and great recruiting, but that doesn’t mean a snap of the fingers would land the Longhorns Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly or Boise State’s Chris Petersen (who’s turned down every plum job in America).
As for Fulmer, it’s clear that he’s become the Patron Saint of Litmus Tests. When Georgia fans became angry with Mark Richt after a single losing season in 2010, many fans said (and some in the media wrote) that Richt was experiencing a Fulmerian decline. Tennessee’s woes were tacked to their ex-hall of fame coach and those woes were used to say, “We better move now and not wait around like the Vols did with Fulmer.”
Across the aisle, so to speak, administrators like Brown point to what happened in Knoxville as an example of why you don’t fire coaches until rock bottom has been hit. Their thinking: “If Tennessee had held onto Fulmer they’d have righted their ship sooner.”
It’s not clear whether a Brown/Fulmer comparison, however, is any more accurate than a Richt/Fulmer comparison. Like Richt, Brown’s struggles appear to be shorter lived than Fulmer’s were. Richt had one losing season, Fulmer had two. In Brown’s last three seasons he’s had one losing season. Ah, but over that three-year span his record is 22-16 compared to Fulmer’s 24-15 2006-2008 stretch.
Still a wider look shows that Fulmer’s issues went back further than three seasons:
|Fulmer 01-08||Brown 05-12|
|Record||68-34 (.666)||80-24 (.769)|
|Top 10 Finishes||2||1|
Clearly, Fulmer’s last eight years weren’t on par with Brown’s. In fact, it had been a decade since he’d won his BCS crown and the last of his two SEC titles.
But it’s no wonder Dodds is trying to tell Texas fans that the two coaches are peas in a pod — at 73 he surely doesn’t want to hire another football coach. If the last coach he hires is Brown, his last football hire will have been a hall of famer who led the Horns to a BCS title.
While Fulmer’s dismissal at Tennessee will forever be debated, the key issue — in our view — isn’t the firing, but the hiring that was done after he was booted. If a school axes a coach the result could be good or bad based on the next hire. After firing John Mackovich in 1997, Dodds hired Brown from North Carolina where he’d gone 69-46-1. But things sure worked out for a long time in Austin with Brown.
After Fulmer was fired, Tennessee hired Lane Kiffin. His January, 2010 departure after a single season meant UT’s roster would go through back-to-back years of attrition and that the Volunteers would have to rush to hire their next guy (Derek Dooley, who had a losing record at Louisiana Tech).
Firing isn’t the gamble that hiring is. You can fire someone to soon and still land a top coach. You can also fire someone who needs to be fired and hire someone who’ll make matters worse.
That’s why ADs like Dodds will always use Fulmer as a scarecrow to shoo away cawing fans. Most ADs secure in their legacies don’t want to tarnish things with an unnecessary gamble.