There are only a handful of elite coaching jobs in college football. As fans, we can bicker about the relative positioning of each program, but that’s largely personal preference. What’s certain is that there is a top tier of the profession. Some jobs are purely more highly desired than others. So let’s define an elite job. I’m going to use two criteria and keep it fairly broad:
A) Win a National Title since 1976
B) Win 60% of your Games since 1976
It’s an arbitrary cutoff date of 40 years, but it’s my arbitrary cutoff date and I’m sticking to it. 40 years is nice chunk of program history, includes all of modern college football advances and allows programs chances to suffer and recoup from a bad run. If you haven’t reached the top tier in the last 40 years, the odds are you won’t any time soon. That leaves us with the following, in no particular order:
- Notre Dame
- Penn State
- Ohio State
Now, that’s a pretty big field, but I intentionally wanted to open it up a bit. For various reasons, a couple of teams on this list are not currently tier 1 jobs, but could be, with a rebound in financial spending or the right coaching hire. The only team that truly sticks out like a sore thumb is BYU, and we will exclude them because their enrollment restrictions prevent them from recruiting at an elite level.
For fun, let’s toss in two programs that didn’t fit the criteria but are currently committed to big spending to compete in the current college landscape: Texas A&M and Oregon.
That leaves us with 20 elite jobs. How you rank those jobs within that tier is largely interpersonal. Plenty may argue Texas is the best job in the country. The resources are there but the political battles may ding their ranking. The point is, this is irrelevant.
A coach at, say, OU, isn’t going to leave for another job in this tier. We literally have that living example. Since Bob Stoops became OU coach, every single team on this list had a job opening, many of them more than once, and Stoops didn’t take a single one of them. You can argue the semantics of this all you’d like, but that the fact is, if one of these jobs was appreciably more appealing than the one he had, he would have taken it. He did not. I’d say that puts them all on more or less equal footing barring interpersonal decision making (not getting along with an AD, etc.) or change in commitment (Miami, for example, had seriously cut budget until hiring Richt).
The point is, a coach needs significant and compelling rationale to leave one top tier job to take another. Let’s take a look at how each coach at these schools departed since 1976:
I boiled the departures down to three major categories. The discrepancy in “fired” and “resignation” is largely irrelevant and usually dependent on how strong of a relationship is shared between the coach losing his job and the boss doing the firing. I only noted when a coach departed one program for another. Why a coach lost his job is irrelevant to this discussion. We’re only interested in coaches who voluntarily left one job for another.
In a list of 95 different coaches at 18 different institutions across 40 years of history, only 6 even left their current posts immediately for another collegiate position. Here are the 6:
- Bill Curry, Alabama: left after they refused to give him an extension or control over his own staff. Essentially forced out.
- Dennis Franchione, Alabama: left due sanctions in the program.
- Charley Pell, Clemson: left for Florida due to pending recruiting violation sanctions
- Lou Saban, Miami: left for Army due to racial scandal
- Steve Sarkisian, Washington: left for USC job
- Lane Kiffin, Tennessee: left for USC job
Curry left due to a dispute with the administration. Despite not being fired, they refused to crater to his demands and he took his services elsewhere. Franchione, Pell and Saban all left due to scandal or coming scandal.
That means in the last 40 years, only Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin have left a tier one job for another tier one job of their own accord without any outside influence. I think most would agree both made upward career moves.
If Jimbo Fisher were to leave FSU for LSU, it would be historically unprecedented. The fact is, once you break into tier one, there’s no real impetus to leave for lateral level job. Tier one coaches leave for only the following reasons:
- NFL Coaching Opportunity
- Inauspicious Resignation
It’s common for coaches to leverage rival job opportunities against their current employers for any number of reasons. Jimbo Fisher happens to employ an agent notable for doing exactly that. You put the pieces together.
History tells us Jimbo Fisher isn’t going anywhere.