Following Louisville’s loss to Air Force in the First Responders bowl, and the apparent collapse of the men’s basketball program, the hot topic around these parts lately has been whether or not we should be firing the men in charge of these two programs. And while we still have a ways to go before any decision is made for either head coach, I’d like to take a look at the potential for Scott Satterfield to stay at Louisville beyond next season.
For this exercise let’s strip things down to bare bones. Let’s throw out all the controllable and uncontrollable nuances of the situation Scott Satterfield finds himself in, and instead just focus on the likelihood of someone in Satt’s position failing or succeeding.
What exactly is the situation Satterfield finds himself in? A college football coach who has had losing records in two of his first three seasons at his current job.
To begin let’s look at what the odds of a head coach lasting four or more years once they’re hired to a new school. In 2020 Jason Kirk of former Banner Society (RIP) fame was kind enough to go through all 229 head coach changes between 2005 and 2014 and find out those odds. The reason for the 2005-2014 range he chose? “I chose that span because it’s a full decade, but happened long enough ago that we can say those hires all played out one way or another.” Fair enough. So what were the results?
Based on this study, and keep in mind these trends could/likely have worsened as time has gone on, it’s more likely than anything else that a FBS head coach will be gone within his first four years. However, that ~33% chance a head coach stays six or more years is a lot bigger than I expected.
But we know that not all conferences are the same; some with more impatient fan bases, donors, boards, etc. than others. So how does the ACC shape up compared to its peers (#THEALLIANCE!) and foes?
As it turns out, from 2005-2014 the ACC was the second most friendly conference for coaches looking to settle in for the long haul. I’d be awfully interested to see if this has changed over the last decade, but with the ACC having seen guys like Dabo, Cutcliffe, Narduzzi, and Clawson spend lengthy stays at their respective schools, I doubt this has changed too much.
So on one hand, the general odds for Satterfield staying for more than four years are against him, but on the other hand he does coach in one of the more patient conferences.
To break this down a little further, let’s go through the coaches in the ACC from 2010 to 2021 who had two losing seasons in their first three, and see what ultimately happened to them.
2010: Pitt’s Dave Wannstedt is forced to resign after going 7-5 in his sixth season. He posted a 5-6 record in his first season and a 5-7 record in his third. But in his fourth season his team went 9-4, and followed that up with a 10-3 campaign the next year. This was pre-ACC Pitt, so take this example for what you will.
2012: N.C. State fires Tom O’Brien after going 7-6 in his sixth season. His teams went 5-7 in both his first and third seasons. They jumped to 9-4 in his fourth season, but regressed in his final two seasons.
Despite seeing his teams go 4-8 in his first season and 5-7 in his third season, Syracuse’s Doug Marrone led the Orange to 8-5 and a share of the Big East title before being hired away to the Buffalo Bills. For any youngsters reading this, the Bills used to do stupid stuff like this a lot.
2013: After going 6-7 in Pitt’s first season in the ACC, Paul Chryst sees his time in the Steel City come to an end after three short years. Chryst also had a losing record in his first season.
2015: Syracuse fires Scott Shafer after going 4-8 in his third season at the helm, which had followed up a 3-9 campaign the year prior.
After posting only one winning record in six seasons, Virginia finally pulls the plug on Mike London.
2019: Willie Taggart is fired from FSU after back-to-back losing seasons in his first two seasons as coach.
2021: David Cutcliffe is forced into retirement after 14 years at Duke. After taking over one of the worst football programs in the country in 2008, Coach Cut didn’t see a winning football team until his sixth season when the Blue Devils won 10 games and their first and only Coastal Division title. Even though he was ultimately shown the door, it’s hard to argue that his reign wasn’t largely a success.
After beginning his time at Virginia with back-to-back losing seasons, Bronco Mendenhall eventually led the Hoos to a Coastal Division title in his fourth season. After finishing this past season with a 6-6 record, Bronco unexpectedly announced his retirement from college football.
TBD: Dave Clawson began his reign at Wake Forest with back-to-back 3-9 records, but has only witnessed a losing record one other time during his current eight-year run at Wake. He also just won 11 games and the Atlantic Division this past season. Not bad.
On the other hand you have Dino Babers, Geoff Collins, and Mike Norvell all facing difficult roads ahead. Dino, while posting only one winning record in his six years so far at Syracuse, still somehow has a job. Geoff Collins, entering his fourth season at Georgia Tech next year, hasn’t won more than three games in any of his first three seasons. Lastly, there’s Mike Norvell, who hasn’t posted a winning record in either of his first two seasons, but gets a third year that Taggart never got despite winning less games.
And then there’s Scott Satterfield. The man sparked excitement in the city after taking a team that had one just two games the year prior to eight wins and a bowl game win. But his last two seasons have been marred by coming up short in far too many close games and by getting blown out by archrival Kentucky.
It’s hard to say which side of history Satterfield will end up on, but even if you include the ACC coaches who got to stay more than four years, there are few instances where having losing records in two of your first three seasons has ended well.
Let’s just hope we have a Dave Clawson-run on our hands.