College football is a cruel world and for guys like Gene Chizik and Derek Dooley, and they are about to find out just how cruel it can get. Both coaches are working with disgruntled fanbases and teams that are not winning at a rate that gets people excited, and they have very few opportunities remaining to "salvage" the season.
To add insult to injury, the Arkansas job is sitting out there as a gig that you, me and every coach in the business knows is about to come open.
All this begs a few questions for schools unhappy with their current coaches: When should you make a coaching move? Do you wait until the dust settles and the season's done to do your evaluation and then pull the trigger? Or do you make up your mind following ugly result after ugly result and hit the eject button during the year?
Wait. Do your kids, your exiting coach and ultimately yourself a favor and just wait to pull that trigger.
Instead of getting into the whole "how do you handle this" deal, let's talk about the actual hiring process. The "advantage" gained by having everyone know your gig is open is negligible. This idea that you can start earlier in the hiring process and get a jump on other jobs is just more fluff than fact.
You're hiring college coaches to fill your gig. Those guys, with very few exceptions—like Urban Meyer, who had been working for ESPN before going to Ohio State—are working right now (please spare me the Jon Gruden nonsense).
Regardless of whether you want to go with the lower-level head coach or the high-level assistant, they are all putting in work for their current job. At best, you can gauge interest through their agents, but the possibility of hiring someone who already has a job before the season ends is about zero. Clemson, with the Dabo Swinney move, of course is the very rare exception.
Ask North Carolina how its coaching search went last season when everyone knew that its job was one to be had. No one was getting interviewed midseason; it was nothing but rumors until the season ended.
At that point, coaches could finally interview, and the Heels ultimately heard "no" a few times before settling in on Larry Fedora.
Look at the current state of the Arkansas search. The Razorbacks haven't made a move or brought in candidates, even though the job has been held by an interim since the Bobby Petrino fiasco. When the season ends and they get to talk to prospects, then something will actually happen.
And let's not forget Penn State, a job that was clearly open to the world following the very public firing of Joe Paterno. The Nittany Lions ended up with Bill O'Brien, a hell of a coach, but that took until January because O'Brien had a job to do in New England, and other candidates couldn't be talked to until they finished their seasons.
Now, keep in mind that should you know you're going to be looking for a coach, then by all means you must make sure you have your ducks in a row. Swift actions must be taken after the season to fire the coach, but more importantly swift action has to be taken to get his replacement in the boat.
Auburn and Tennessee know that they may well be in the market for a new head man. Firing Chizik and Dooley now might appease fans, but it doesn't put them in a better position to hire the next guy.
Instead, what needs to happen is less worrying about the volatile fans and more pumping the back channels to gauge interest and vet options.
Because, while you cannot actually interview candidates, your coaching search has to start well before December and January. That means pumping industry friends and contacts to get assessments of how possible candidates could do if they had your job. It means gauging interest through agents in an effort to find out just who you can get for your school.
That's the real work that should be getting done right now.
Firing a coach during the season is the proverbial lipstick on a pig. Do the heavy lifting behind closed doors instead of the easy window dressing for the riled masses. The only thing worse than the current situation for these programs, should they opt to go with a new hire, is the rage that would occur should the next hire be a bad one.
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