For years now, we all have had the conversation here about how coaches that win National Championships usually earn themselves a lifetime contract with that school if they so choose to stay. With Phillip Fulmer being forced out on Monday at Tennessee, the validity of the statement again popped up in my head. Should Fulmer’s 1998 National Championship and 150-51 career record at Tennessee allow him to stay as long as he desires to? Let’s take a look at the elite fraternity of coaches who have won National Championships since 1968 and what became of their careers after they won the elusive championship of college football. (The AP, UPI polls were both used here before the BCS era.)
1968 – Woody Hayes (Ohio State)
- From 1951-1978, the controversial Hayes had a 205-61-1 record with 3 National Championships (’54, ’57, ’68), 13 Big Ten Championships, and 8 Rose Bowl berths. One time, when asked why he went for two despite a 36-point lead against Michigan, Hayes said, “Because I couldn’t go for three.” Hayes retired after the 1978 season with Ohio State.
1969 –Darrell Royal (Texas)
- In 20 years as head coach at Texas, Royal never had a losing season, compiled a 164-47-5 record, won 3 National Championships, won 11 Southwest Conference Championships and appeared in 16 bowl games. In Royal’s first season in 1957 he lead the Longhorns to a 6-4-1 record and a Sugar Bowl berth – the previous season, in 1956, the Longhorns were 1-9. Royal retired after the 1976 season with Texas.
1970 – Bob Devaney (Nebraska)
- In 11 seasons with the Huskers, Devaney was 101-20-2 with 2 National Championships, 9 bowl appearances, and 8 Big-8 Conference Championships. Much like his successor, Tom Osborne, would later repeat, Devaney finished his final 3 seasons with an amazing 32-2-2 and would retire after the 1972 season with Nebraska.
Darrell Royal (Texas) – see above
1971 – Bob Devaney (Nebraska) – see above
1972 – John McKay (USC)
- From 1960-1975, McKay lead the Trojans to a 127-40-8 record with 4 National Championships and 9 Pacific-8 Championships. McKay popularized the I-formation which helped two of his players, OJ Simpson and Mike Garrett win Heisman Trophies. McKay would leave USC for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1976-1984. After passing away in 2001, McKay’s ashes were spread across the Coliseum Field.
1973 – Bear Bryant (Alabama)
- Before retiring after the 1982 with 25 seasons under his belt at Alabama, Bear had a 232-46-9 record with 6 National Championships and 13 SEC championships.
Ara Parseghian (Notre Dame)
- In only 11 years as head coach at N.D. from 1964-1974, Parseghian compiled a 95-17-4 record with 2 National Championships. FYI – Parseghian and his understudy, Bo Schembechler, were responsible for the renewal of the N.D. and Michigan rivalry which started in 1978 after approx. a 30 year absence – Parseghian was already retired by 1978 and never would play Michigan.
1974 – John McKay (USC) – see above
Barry Switzer (Oklahoma)
- Switzer was an amazing 157-29-4 at Oklahoma with 3 National Championships (’74, ’75, ’85) and 12 Big 8 Championships in his 16 years in Norman. After retiring in 1988, Switzer would take a few years off before coaching the Dallas Cowboys from 1994-1997.
1975 – Barry Switzer (Oklahoma) – see above
1976 – Johnny Majors (Pittsburgh)
- Majors took over the Pittsburgh program in 1973 and with recruits such as Tony Dorsett and Matt Cavanaugh, won the National Championship in only his fourth year. Following the 1976 championship season, Majors left for his alma mater Tennessee where he would coach for 16 years before returning to Pitt for his final four years of coaching. FYI – Majors began his coaching career at Iowa State and compiled a record of 24-30-1 before taking over Pitt in ‘73.
1977 – Dan Devine (Notre Dame)
- Under heavy pressure that was created after Parseghian’s retirement, Devine went 53-16-1 at Notre Dame. Despite his success, fan’s still paraded around South Bend in 1977 with “Dump Devine” bumper stickers as rumors circulated that Parseghian would return or Don Shula would become the new head coach. Devine was always unhappy in South Bend and would leave under his own terms. He was replaced by the notorious Gerry Faust, and needless to say, that fans wanted him back but Devine was done coaching for good.
- His comment shortly before his retirement directed at the Irish fans, “I don’t understand. I’ve stood across the field from [legendary coaches] Bud Wilkinson of Oklahoma and Bob Devaney of Nebraska. I’ve beaten their teams. And they say I can’t coach?”
1978 – Bear Bryant (Alabama) – see above
John Robinson (USC)
- Robinson was the head coach at USC from 1976-1982 and again from 1993-1997 (Los Angeles Rams coach from 1983-1991) with a college record of 104-35-4 and one National Championship.
1979 – Bear Bryant (Alabama) – see above
1980 – Vince Dooley (Georgia)
- In 25 seasons at Georgia, Dooley was 201-77-10 with 6 SEC Championships and one National Championship before retiring after the 1988 season to pursue politics.
1981 – Danny Ford (Clemson)
- Ford was 96-29-4 with 5 ACC Championships and one National Championship before being forced to resign following the 1989 season reportedly due to a falling out with the administration at Clemson. At that time, Clemson’s football program was being heavily investigated by NCAA for reasons that range from paying players to fixing grades – Clemson would be cleared of all accusations.
1982 – Joe Paterno (Penn State) – Currently coaching Penn State
1983 – Howard Schnellenberger (Miami)
- After taking over Miami soon after the football program was almost dropped in 1979, Schnellenberger beat the Huskers in the 1983 National Championship game and abruptly left after the win to coach the Washington Federals of the USFL.
- BONUS TRIVIA!!! – After the 1993 spring season, the USFL moved its games to the fall of 1994 – the owner sold the team before the 1994 season because he didn’t want to compete against the Miami Dolphins – the new owner moved the team to Orlando – before he coached even a single game, Schnellenberger was fired and replaced by…….……drumroll…………..Lee Corso! Schnellenberger would end up at U. of Louisville in 1985.
1984 – LaVell Edwards (BYU)
- As the Cougars’ coach from 1972-2000, Edwards compiled a 257-101-3 record with 19 conference championships and one National Championship. BYU was his one and only coaching gig.
1985 – Barry Switzer (Oklahoma) – see above
1986 – Joe Paterno (Penn State) – Currently coaching Penn State
1987 – Jimmy Johnson (Miami)
- In five years at Miami, Johnson was 52-9 and played for two National Championships (winning only one) before leaving for the Dallas Cowboys in 1989.
1988 – Lou Holtz (Notre Dame)
- Holtz won the National Championship in just his third year at Notre Dame and would go on to compile a 100-32-3 record at N.D. before retiring.
- Holtz was 23-11-1 his final three years at N.D. when he walked away from a “lifetime contract” because “it was the right thing to do.”
1989 – Dennis Erickson (Miami)
- After winning 2 National Championships and compiling a 63-9 recored at Miami, Erickson left for the Seattle Seahawks following the 1994 season.
1990 – Bill McCartney (Colorado)
- After winning the 1994 Fiesta Bowl with the Buffaloes, McCartney retired with a 93-55-5 career record.
Bobby Ross (Georgia Tech)
- After 5 years, 3 ACC Championships, and one National Championship at Georgia Tech, Ross left for the San Diego Chargers following the 1991 season.
1991 – Dennis Erickson (Miami) – see above
Don James (Washington)
- From 1975-1992, James lead Washington to a 153-57-2 record with one National Championship, 6 Pac-10 Conference Championship, 4 Rose Bowl wins, and one National Championship. James retired from coaching with Washington.
1992 – Gene Stallings (Alabama)
- Stallings retired from coaching after the 1996 season with a 62-25 record, 4 conference divisional titles, one SEC Championship, and one National Championship at Alabama.
1993 – Bobby Bowden (Florida State) – Currently coaching Florida State
1994 – Tom Osborne (Nebraska)
- Retired after the 1997 Orange Bowl finishing his career with a 49-2 record and 3 National Championships. In 1999, ESPN honored Osborne as “The Coach of the Decade” even though he only coached for 80% of the decade.
1995 – Tom Osborne (Nebraska) – see above
1996 – Steve Spurrier (Florida)
- Resigned from the U. of Florida in 2001 with 6 SEC titles and one National Championship to become the head coach of the Washington Redskins just 10 days later. Spurrier was 122-27-1 at Florida.
1997 – Lloyd Carr (Michigan)
- The day after losing to Ohio State for the 6th time in 7 years, Carr announced to his team that he would retire at the end of the 2007 season. Carr would win 5 Big Ten Championships and one National Championship at Michigan, which would be his one and only heading coaching job.
Tom Osborne (Nebraska) – see above
1998 – Phillip Fulmer (Tennessee)
- 3 years after finishing 5-6 and now with Tennessee facing its second losing season in 4 years, Fulmer announced he would step down at the end of the season. Fulmer won 2 SEC Championships and one National Championship.
1999 – Bobby Bowden (Florida State) – Currently coaching Florida State
2000 – Bob Stoops (Oklahoma) – Currently coaching Oklahoma
2001 – Larry Coker (Miami)
- Won the National Championship in his first year at Miami (replaced Butch Davis). After finishing the 2006 regular season at 6-6 including multiple games with locker room fights and bench clearing brawls, Coker predicted he would be back in 2007 in a post-game conference after a loss to Boston College.
- Coker was fired the next day.
2002 – Jim Tressel (Ohio State) – Currently coaching Ohio State
2003 – Nick Saban (LSU)
- In 5 years as LSU head coach, Saban was 48-16 with 2 SEC Championships and one National Championship. After returning to LSU for the 2004 season and finishing 9-3, Saban would leave to coach the Miami Dolphins.
Pete Carroll (USC) – Currently coaching USC
2004 – Pete Carroll (USC) – Currently coaching USC
2005 – Mack Brown (Texas) – Currently coaching Texas
2006 – Urban Meyer (Florida) – Currently coaching Florida
2007 – Les Miles (LSU) – Currently coaching LSU
Impressed? Needless to say, Phillip Fulmer is part of the elite of the elite in college football history when you examine all of the coaches on the list here. Danny Ford, Larry Coker, and now Phillip Fulmer are the only 3 coaches who appeared to have been either forced out or fired in the past 30+ years. I think it is obvious that the 58 year old Fulmer was not ready to give up his head coaching duties quite this soon and if it was up to Fulmer, I’m sure he would have at least another decade or so left in him. However, with a legacy to preserve, Fulmer needed to step down to satisfy the brass at Tennessee and not make this situation any worse than it needed to be. Regardless of what your opinions on Fulmer are, the one thing you can never take away from him is that one day – years from now – his tenure at Tennessee will go down as one of the most successful ones in SEC and NCAA history.
So does winning a National Championship really buy you a lifetime contract? No. However, it certainly does put you on a pedestal that has only enough room for the best of the best.
The question that needs to be answered is would you have fired Fulmer given the fact that the only thing he has done wrong in 17 years was start the 2008 season 3-6? (keep in mind Tennessee won the 2007 SEC East Division and the 2008 Outback Bowl)