Some college football coaching hires have shifted the balance of power in the sport. Others have made major headlines and captured the public’s attention but ultimately fizzled. Here are seven hires that shaped the game:
1. 1951: Woody Hayes leaves Miami (Ohio) for Ohio State
When Wesley Fesler resigned as Ohio State coach on December 9, 1950, one name loomed over Ohio State’s search for a replacement: Cleveland Browns coach Paul Brown, the future Pro Football Hall of Famer who had led the Buckeyes from 1941-1943. Although Brown never applied for the job, he interviewed for the position.
But Ohio State hired Hayes, who had compiled a 14-5 record at Miami, including a Salad Bowl victory to cap a 9-1 season in 1950. He signed a one-year, $12,500 deal that included a full professorship in physical education and right to name his coaches.
“His selection from a list of seven aspirants put an end to days of guessing and gossiping and put a damper on a ‘Bring Back Brown’ boom which had been rolling in high gear for weeks,” the Associated Press wrote.
LEGACY: At Ohio State, the no-nonsense Hayes won three consensus national championships and finished with a 205-61-10 record. On December 30, 1978, he was fired for punching a Clemson player who had intercepted a pass against Ohio State in the Gator Bowl the previous night.
2. 1957: Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant leaves Texas A&M for Alabama
A report of Bryant’s release as Texas A&M coach earned an eight-column, banner headline on the front page of the Birmingham (Alabama) News before he had even agreed to a deal with Alabama.
“It’s like your mother calling when she needs you,” Bryant said of a potential move to his alma mater following Texas A&M’s loss to Texas in its final regular-season game. “That’s the only reason I’d consider it.”
Bryant accepted the Alabama job before coaching Texas A&M for a final time, in the Gator Bowl. It’s unknown whether he took to Alabama a sign from his A&M office that read: “Winning is not everything, but it sure beats anything that comes in second.”
LEGACY: Bryant was hugely successful in 25 years at Alabama, turning a mediocre program into a national powerhouse. He won six national championships and compiled a 232-46-9 record.
3. 1963: Ara Parseghian leaves Northwestern for Notre Dame
Parseghian’s move from Northwestern was filled with drama and uncertainty, much of it stemming from a South Bend (Indiana) Tribune report that prematurely reported the 40-year-old’s hiring at Notre Dame.
Parseghian apologized for the delay of his hiring announcement, which reportedly involved his confusion about a successor at Northwestern. “[The] whole thing was blown way out of proportion, and I regret the embarrassment caused Notre Dame by the brief delay in signing the contract,” he said.
Said Reverend Edmund Joyce, who hired Parseghian: “I told Mr. Parseghian the possibilities of Notre Dame were good and we were interested in getting a young man with a good record.”
LEGACY: In 11 seasons with Fighting Irish, Parseghian compiled a 95-17-4 record and won national championships in 1966 and 1973.
4. 1968: Bo Schembechler leaves Miami (Ohio) for Michigan
Schembechler, relatively unheralded at Miami (Ohio), was a stunning choice for Michigan, which many expected to consider prominent coaches Joe Paterno (Penn State), Vince Dooley (Georgia) and Doug Dickey (Tennessee). His hiring marked the first time since 1938 that Michigan had hired a head coach from outside its football family.
“Who knows what this new man can do to restore Michigan’s shaken prestige as one of the country’s foremost football powers,” Detroit Free Press sports editor Joe Falls wrote. “But any guy who once worked for Woody Hayes and Ara Parseghian has to know what work is all about, as well as excellence.”
LEGACY: Schembechler never won a national championship at Michigan, but he did post a 194-48-5 record and appeared in 10 Rose Bowls (winning two). He had a fierce rivalry with his mentor Hayes and Ohio State, including “The Ten Year War” from 1969-1978. In 2021, vandals splashed paint on a statue of Schembechler, whom some blame for a cover-up of allegations of sexual assault by a former Michigan team doctor during the coach’s tenure.
5. 1976: Johnny Majors leaves Pittsburgh for Tennessee
Four weeks before Pitt’s Sugar Bowl matchup with fifth-ranked Georgia, Majors announced his decision to coach Tennessee, his alma mater. Pitt would go on to beat Georgia to finish 12-0 and win the national title. Majors’ success at Pittsburgh made him a hot commodity at Tennessee.
“[T]his was one of the most unusual hirings in football history,” Knoxville News-Sentinel sports editor Tom Siler wrote. “This time UT officials had no choice. Tennessee fans selected John. UT officials merely followed orders from the cash customers.”
LEGACY: In the waning weeks of the 1992 season—his 16th at Tennessee—Majors was asked to resign. He won two Sugar Bowls and a Cotton Bowl with the Volunteers, and finished with a 116-62-8 record.
6. 1982: Jackie Sherrill leaves Pittsburgh for Texas A&M
At Pittsburgh, Sherrill—coming off an 11-1 season and a Sugar Bowl win—was making $60,000 a year plus incentives that roughly doubled that number. Sherrill’s six-year deal at Texas A&M included salary and fringe benefits that reportedly amounted to $300,000 annually.
“Saying ‘my heart and soul remain in Pittsburgh,’ Jackie Sherrill last night moved his bank account to College Station, Texas,” wrote Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sports editor Bruce Keidan.
Even Pitt’s players understood the deal was too good to pass up. “For that kind of money, I think I could stand on my head for 10 years,” tackle Dave Puzzoli told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
LEGACY: Sherrill had a 52-28-1 mark in seven seasons at Texas A&M. His best years came from 1985-1987, when he went to three straight Cotton Bowls, winning two.
7. 2007: Rich Rodriguez leaves West Virginia for Michigan
Rodriguez’s Mountaineers, 10-1 and poised to play in the national title game, only had their “Backyard Brawl” rivalry game with Pitt left. But West Virginia, a 28-point favorite, lost the game and any hope of a title.
That defeat, however, did not dissuade Michigan, which hired Rodriguez 16 days later. Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel called his hiring “college football’s most significant” since Florida landed Urban Meyer.
Rodriguez’s separation from West Virginia was bitter. A lowly graduate assistant reportedly handed the West Virginia athletic director the coach’s letter of resignation. Of the split, Rodriguez said: “It’s never easy. When is the right time or an easy time to leave a program? I don’t think any coach would tell you there’s an easy time.”
LEGACY: Rodriguez lasted three years at Michigan, producing only one winning season and finishing with a 15-22 record.