College football history has seen the vast majority of its major head coaching moves come from programs that did not hold major status in the sport, meaning that particular program was not a true power and contender for national titles. There have been very few lateral moves from say a program like Ohio State and moving on to a program such Georgia, two programs that certainly hold elite status in college football.
While just a hypothetical scenario, there have been two such moves that actually did transpire since the mid 1970s that were notable.
In 1976, Johnny Majors led the Pittsburgh Panthers to the National Championship, and then he became the Head Coach for the Tennessee Volunteers, the school where he once played running back and obtained his college degree.
Majors would be the Head Coach for Tennessee from 1977-1992 before returning to Pittsburgh for the last four years of his coaching career, a time when Pittsburgh was no longer a big-time college football program.
After Coach Majors decided to make a lateral head coaching move from Pittsburgh to Tennessee and head to Knoxville, college football did not see another move of that magnitude until now Texas A&M Head Coach Jimbo Fisher (2018-current) left Florida State.
Prior to being the Head Coach for Florida State, Coach Fisher was an offensive coordinator at Cincinnati (1999), LSU (2000-2006), and Florida State (2007-2009). He was then the Head Coach at Florida State (2010-2017), but prior to that time was never a head coach. His transition to Texas A&M was a major move in college football, and he received a 75 million dollar contract over 10 years to do it.
Now it looks like the times have changed with college football coaching moves.
Lincoln Riley jumped ship from being Oklahoma's Head Coach and headed west to become Southern California’s Head Coach. He was the Head Coach of the Sooners from 2017 through the regular season game against Oklahoma State this year.
With reports of Riley receiving 148 Million dollars and a private plane for his family, it is hard to argue with him for taking the opportunity to be on the West Coast.
That was Sunday. The very next day, another lateral head coaching move happened yet again.
University of Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly finally took a different job. Rumored with the NFL and different jobs around college football for years, he is heading to Baton Rouge to Coach the LSU Tigers. The asking price was reportedly around 9 million per year.
Coaching his first game for the Fighting Irish in 2010, he has 12 seasons of being the Head Coach for Notre Dame.
So, what in the world just happened? All those years of no lateral head coaching decisions, then, just like that, two in as many days took place.
Of course money came into play. Coach Riley’s situation was just incredible, assuming reports came out accurately about the price tag, undoubtedly booster related with so much money heading in his direction.
As for Coach Kelly, while not as big an asking price, seeing that number on a piece of paper had to be pretty enticing.
With so many big-time jobs hiring coaches from the second or even third tier of college football programs in the past, it has been odd seeing two consecutive later college football head coaching moves. Perhaps there is no specific explanation. With that in mind, take a look some big-time coaches since the early 1970s and their coaching past prior to the job they are most known for:
Steve Spurrier - Florida (1990-2001), Spurrier was at Duke (1987-1989) prior to being the Head Coach for the Gators. He helped his alma mater win its first title and honestly brought Florida into the level of being a national power.
Jimmy Johnson - Miami (1984-1988), he was at Oklahoma State (1979-1983) and became the Head Coach for Miami and did very well, winning the 1987 National Title. Oklahoma State was a solid program, but never got over the hump to be a true national power during any consistent time frame.
Bobby Bowden - Florida State (1976-2009), Coach Bowden took over at Florida State after being at West Virginia (1970-1975). At the time, neither program was honestly considered among the elite programs in college football. Coach Bowden, of course, helped the Seminoles to prominence, and Florida captured National Titles in 1993 and 1999 under his watch.
Dennis Erickson - Miami (1989-1994), won the 1989 and 1991 (AP only, 1991) National Titles with the Hurricanes. He came to Miami from Washington State, a program that few coaches had great success with.
Lou Holtz - Notre Dame (1987-1996), Coach Holtz had plenty of experience, but never ran a true college football giant before heading to South Bend. He helped the Irish win the 1988 National Title. His prior stop before Notre Dame was Minnesota (1984-1985), hardly a big-time coaching stop. He was at North Carolina State (1972-1975), New York Jets (1976), and Arkansas (1977-1983) prior to Minnesota and Notre Dame.
Urban Meyer - Florida (2005-2010), helped the Gators claim National Titles in 2006 and 2008 before sitting out a year, and then became Ohio State’s Head Coach (2012-2018). The Buckeyes won the National Title in 2014. Before heading to his first big job at Florida, Coach Meyer was at Utah (2003-2004) and Bowling Green right before that (2001-2002).
Tom Osborne - Nebraska (1973-1997), Coach Osborne was the top man for the Cornhuskers when they claimed the 1994, 1995, and 1997 (1997 Coaches Poll) National Titles. He was an assistant coach at Nebraska from 1964-1972 before being elevated to being the Head Coach of the Cornhuskers.
Nick Saban - Alabama (2007-current), in one of the most unusual coaching moves in the last half century, Coach Saban left the Miami Dolphins after the conclusion of their 2006 regular season loss to the Indianapolis Colts, and shortly thereafter was named Alabama’s new leader. He’s won six National Titles while at Alabama (2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017, and 2020). He had previously helped LSU win the 2003 National Title as well.
Bo Schembechler - Michigan (1969-1989), Coach Schembechler never won a National Title, but was consistently in the top 20 throughout his career at Michigan, and won 13 Big 10 Championships. He came to Michigan from Miami of Ohio.
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