RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Football Writer
First Florida, then Nebraska and now Michigan.
Three tradition-rich programs that have combined for six AP national championships in the last 20 years are in the market for new football coaches.
Those kinds of marquee openings can leave athletic directors around the country a little uneasy. Even if your coach isn’t headed for the Gators, Cornhuskers or Wolverines, maybe he could be on the list of the job that opens up when those three are filled.
Last season Texas and Southern California had coaching changes and the ripple effect resulted in a total of seven new coaches being hired, including Charlie Strong at Texas and Steve Sarkisian at USC.
Expect a similar wake after the Gators, Cornhuskers and Wolverines are done making waves.
Michigan made its move on Tuesday, firing Hoke after four seasons of diminishing returns.
Interim athletic director Jim Hackett’s announcement ended weeks of speculation over Hoke’s future.
“This was not an easy decision,” Hackett said. “He’s really earned the respect of all, as being a values-centered coach. We need more men like him in sport today.”
Kansas State athletic director John Currie, who can sit comfortably these days knowing his 75-year-old football coach, future Hall of Famer Bill Snyder, won’t be leaving for another job, said he expects many of his counterparts around the country to be breaking out their most-wanted lists and bracing for a possible poaching.
While speculation always leads to the biggest and most-notable names being tossed around as potential candidates for these high-profile jobs — Jim Harbaugh to Michigan, Bob Stoops to Florida — searches usually go in less obvious directions.
“The home run hire that everybody knows well, that’s really hard,” Currie said. “If you ask the average fan and even an average member of the board of trustees at a major university: Name five coaches not in our league? They couldn’t do it.
“So you end up with the same names.”
As Michigan was starting its search, Florida was moving quickly to fill the vacancy left when Will Muschamp was let go.
Athletic director Jeremy Foley was in Fort Collins, Colorado, Tuesday meeting with Colorado State coach Jim McElwain.
The former Alabama offensive coordinator might not be a name that jumps off the page to many football fans the way Oklahoma’s Stoops or even Mississippi’s Hugh Freeze might, but McElwain has done a remarkable job turning around Colorado State in just three years and has a wealth of experience — including a year in the NFL and four years working for Nick Saban.
McElwain, a Montana native, was mentioned as a possible replacement for Bo Pelini at Nebraska. Pelini won 66 games in seven years with the Cornhuskers, but was stuck in a rut of being good but not good enough to satisfy high expectations.
It’s not just wins and losses that can cause a coaching change.
“Having someone who fits your institution is really, really critical,” Currie said. “If they are leaving a good situation, they have to be real careful. Some jobs are going to have a shorter fuse than others because of the nature and the expectations.”
Hoke’s record fell well short of Michigan’s standards. He went 31-20 with the Wolverines, and the team declined steadily after an 11-2 mark in his first season. Hired after the tumultuous tenure of Rich Rodriguez, Hoke was supposed to help Michigan regain its place among college football’s elite, and his familiarity with the program’s culture and tradition helped make the initial transition a successful one.
But after going to the Sugar Bowl in Hoke’s first season, the Wolverines slowly slipped back into mediocrity, and they were among the Big Ten’s also-rans this year.
“I believe that Brady had enough time to produce results, and they’re just not there today,” Hackett said. “Therefore I believe it’s time to make this transition.”
A transition that will likely spread will beyond Ann Arbor, Michigan.
AP Sports Writer Noah Trister in Ann Arbor contributed.
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