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Jim Weber

Slummin' it: Revisiting the biggest back-to-school coaching busts

Jim Weber
Dr. Saturday

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Jim Weber runs LostLettermen.com, devoted to keeping tabs on former players and other bits of nostalgia. Today he runs down the most disastrous college hires from the NFL ranks.

When NFL head coaches head back to campus for college gigs, they're expected to roll out of bed and win 10 games a year. Unlike the "No Fun League," there are cupcakes on the schedule, there's no salary cap to worry about, recruits are impressed to be sought after by a household name when some of the opposing head coaches on the trail still look like they're in college themselves (sorry, Pat Fitzgerald).

But don't be fooled: "NFL head coach" on the resumé doesn't guarantee you success at the NCAA level. With Mike Sherman on the hot seat at Texas A&M and the jury still (literally) out on Lane Kiffin, we examine the Top 10 Back to School Bombs:

10. Chan Gailey (Georgia Tech). Give Chain Gailey this: At least he was consistent. In his six seasons with Georgia Tech, the former Cowboys head coach won exactly seven games five times. But the peak of his tenure, the Jackets' run to the 2006 ACC Championship Game, turned out to be the beginning of the end: After dropping an ugly 9-6 decision to Wake Forest and then the Gator Bowl to finish the season outside of the final polls at 9-5, the Jackets had nothing left for an encore in 2007. The season soon came apart at the seams, beginning with upsets at the hands of Boston College, Virginia and Maryland, continuing through an embarrassing home loss to Virginia Tech on national television and ending with yet another loss to Georgia, dropping Gailey to 0-6 against the Bulldogs and dropping the axe on his milquetoast tenure.

9. Al Groh (Virginia). The Groh era at Virginia wasn't all bad. In fact, he pumped out NFL talent during his time in Charlottesville and was named ACC Coach of the Year – twice. But after Groh stunned the coaching community by resigning after a single season with the New York Jets to replace George Welsh for the 2001 season, expectations were sky high, and only went up with a nine-win campaign in his second year. After that, it seemed to go in reverse: Virginia never won 10 games under Groh and finally staggered in with three losing records in his final four seasons. Last year, the wheels finally came completely off: The Cavs dropped the opener to William & Mary, lost to Duke by double digits for the second year in a row and sent Groh out to the tune of six consecutive losses.

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8. Mike Sherman (Texas A&M). Granted, Mike Sherman didn't have much waiting for him when he arrived at College Station. But for a coach that led the Packers to four straight playoff appearances, his time with the Aggies so far has been a huge disappointment: Sherman is just 10-15 in two seasons with losses to Arkansas State and Baylor and losses in four of the last five to close 2009. After the defense finished an abysmal 105th in the nation in scoring D, Sherman hired defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter from Air Force to install a new 3-4 scheme, reminiscent of the old Aggie "Wrecking Crew" his first two A&M defenses have disgraced. With senior quarterback Jerrod Johnson and the vast majority of last year's offensive production en tow, there are no excuses for another losing record, even in the treacherous Big 12 South.

7. Dan Henning (Boston College). Henning, a classic journeyman with stints as head coach in Atlanta and Detroit and a pair of Super Bowl rings as Joe Gibbs' offensive coordinator with the Redskins, succeeded NFL-bound Tom Coughlin in Chestnut Hill in 1994. The bottom fell out almost immediately: After a bowl game in Henning's first season, B.C. slid to 4-8 in 1995 and went on to secure its place in sports betting infamy a year later, when 13 players were suspended for the remainder of the '96 season and six more were banned permanently for shaving points. (Henning was alerted to the scheme when B.C. gave up 17 unanswered points in the final 1:43 of the first half in an eventual 45-17 loss to Syracuse, and had team captains confront the culprits after a 20-13 loss to Pitt a week later.) The scandal would eventually result in a handful of indictments in New York and Henning’s resignation at the end of a 5-7 debacle.

6. Rod Dowhower (Vanderbilt). Dowhowers stint as an NFL head coach, a 5-24 run with the Colts that ended with a 13-game losing streak to begin the 1986 season, didn't leave much room for optimism. But Dowhower revived his career by winning a Super Bowl ring with the Redskins in 1993, more than enough to convince Vanderbilt to take a flier on another Gibbs prodcut to end a decade-long bowl drought in 1995. Promising to provide a spark on offense, Dowhower went 4-18 and just 1-15 in SEC play in two seasons. Even worse? In 1996, the Commodores were shut out three times, and it would have been four if not for a safety against Georgia.

5. Bobby Ross (Army). It was an odd fit from the start. Ross had already led Georgia Tech to a share of the 1990 national championship and the Chargers to Super Bowl XXIX. And yet, there was the former Army lieutenant in 2004 taking over an 0-13 Army squad at the age of 67. In his three seasons at West Point, the program improved (it couldn't have gotten any worse), but Ross never won more than four games in a season and was pounded by Navy each year before retiring for good after the 2006 season.

4. Bill Callahan (Nebraska) People weren't quite sure what to make of Bill Callahan's hiring at Nebraska in 2004. Less than a year before, he had led the Oakland Raiders to the Super Bowl with the top passing offense in the NFL. But during a 4-12 campaign in '03, the Raiders essentially mutinied, and Callahan – like every Raider boss under Al Davis since John Madden – was shown the door. Still, Callahan was at least seen as an upgrade over Frank Solich and a change that would bring the stodgy, option-bound 'Huskers into the 21st century. Instead, Callahan set Nebraska football back about 10 years. His first season was the first losing campaign in Lincoln in over 40 years. After a minor breakthrough to the Big 12 North title in 2006, the vaunted "Blackshirt" D collapsed in a heap in 2007, allowing at least 40 points in six different games – one of them, a 76-39 humiliation at Kansas in mid-November, all but sealing Callahan's fate.

3. Ray Perkins (Arkansas State). Arkansas State reeled in a huge fish when it inked Ray Perkins in 1987: This was the coach who had succeeded Bear Bryant at Alabama less than a decade earlier. True, he wasn't fondly remembered in Tuscaloosa and had subsequently failed with the Buccaneers in the NFL, but it was the worst franchise in the league at the time. After a year off, he took on the burden of guiding ASU back to I-A after 10 years in I-AA. Said Perkins then: "It'll take time, there's no magic." That's funny, because after going 2-9 in 1992, Perkins vanished from thin air when Bill Parcells offered him the role as offensive coordinator for the Patriots.

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2. Bill Walsh (Stanford).
Bill Walsh taking the job at Stanford in 1992 would be equivalent today of Bill Parcells taking the Vanderbilt gig. It seemed completely absurd that a man with three Super Bowl rings and initiated the age of the West Coast Offense would go back to school – and not even a football school, at that. Said one Cardinal booster at the time: "We were looking for Moses, and we got God." Needless to say, expectations were high.

The program was already in good hands with Walsh protegé Denny Green, who was bolting for the Minnesota Vikings. In his first year, Walsh led Stanford to 10 wins, a share of the conference title and a New Year's Day bowl with Green's players. Then the unthinkable happened: The program unraveled in Walsh's hands. The Cardinal went 7-14-1 over the next two years with undisciplined play and an atrocious defense. Walsh resigned and never coached again.

1. Chuck Fairbanks (Colorado). Fairbanks was never well liked, but that didn't matter. He won wherever he went, including a great (if scandalous) run at Oklahoma from 1967-72 and even a pair of playoff appearances as head coach of the lowly Patriots in the mid-seventies. It didn't help his reputation that Fairbanks pulled a Benedict Arnold by taking the Colorado job and a boatload of cash the day before the 1978 regular season finale, leading to a flurry of lawsuits in which Fairbanks admitted to recruiting for his new job while still employed by New England.

What did the Buffaloes get for all that? A 7-26 record over three seasons, including a 1-10 disaster in 1980 and a farewell tour in 1981 that featured a 59-0 loss at Nebraska and a 49-0 loss in Fairbanks' old stomping grounds in Norman. Said Fairbanks later: "The biggest mistake I ever made in my coaching career was going to Colorado." You think? Fairbanks then spent one season coaching in the USFL but was canned there as well, after which Fairbanks entered the corporate world. That’s what you call karma.

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Jim Weber is the founder of , a historical college football and men's basketball site that links the sports' past to the present.

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