Forde-Yard Dash: Judging Lane Kiffin, Paul Pasqualoni and other awful college football coaching hires

Pat Forde
Special to Yahoo Sports

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (moving vans sold separately in Los Angeles and Storrs):


The first firings of 2013 came in a one-two punch Sunday and Monday: first Lane Kiffin at USC, then Paul Pasqualoni at Connecticut. Neither should ever have been hired, and that's not hindsight talking. The Dash knew those were bad decisions at the time, and The Dash wasn't alone in that sentiment.

Kiffin was in over his head. Pasqualoni was past his prime. Somehow, the hiring athletic directors failed to notice.

Then the schools failed to act in a timely manner after it became clear that neither man was going to work out. Both Kiffin and Pasqualoni should have been canned after last year – Kiffin's third at USC and Pasqualoni's second at UConn.

Ideally you'd like to give a coach more time than that, but the body of evidence didn't support it. Now the schools have been forced to admit their mistakes in mid-season.

The bloodletting got The Dash thinking about the worst hiring decisions of the 21st century. The question was posed via Twitter on Monday morning, and the feedback was voluminous: 366 votes over the course of the next 100 minutes. 

Here was the Twitter bottom five:

Rich Rodriguez (1) at Michigan. When: 2008-10. Why: Horrible fit of successful coach and successful program. Was it an obvious mistake beforehand? No. Rodriguez won before Michigan at West Virginia and is winning after Michigan at Arizona. With the Wolverines, he was 15-22, plus an NCAA probation and three losses to Ohio State.

Steve Kragthorpe (2) at Louisville. When: 2007-09. Why: Another disastrous fit. Was it an obvious mistake beforehand? No. He is the only significantly flawed hire in athletic director Tom Jurich's 16 years at Louisville. The Cardinals had been to nine straight bowls, including the Orange Bowl, before hiring Kragthorpe from Tulsa. They went to zero in his three seasons on the job. Since firing him: three straight bowls, including the Sugar Bowl last season.

Lane Kiffin (3) at both Tennessee and USC. When: 2009 at Tennessee, 2010-Sunday at USC. Why: Deserter in Knoxville; inept in Los Angeles; unlikeable at both. Was it an obvious mistake beforehand? For sure the second time, and a dicey fit the first time. Kiffin actually provided a brief blip of sunshine with the Volunteers, leading them to their only winning season since 2007. But at 7-6, he was barely worth all the headaches he caused – and then he fled to USC and really ticked off the Big Orange faithful. The Trojans' 2012 flop from No. 1 to 7-6 was among the worst in recent memory.

Derek Dooley (4) at Tennessee. When: 2010-12. Why: Gene pool didn't carry much weight come kickoff. Was it an obvious mistake beforehand? To everyone outside the Volunteer State. Dooley went 4-8 the previous year at Louisiana Tech and had a 17-20 record overall there. At Tennessee, he went 0-15 against ranked opponents; gave up 40 or more points nine times; and lost to perennial whipping boys Vanderbilt and Kentucky – the latter of which played a wide receiver at quarterback all game.

Ellis Johnson (5) at Southern Mississippi. When: 2012. Why: Has anyone ever had a worse year? The Golden Eagles plummeted from 12-2 in '11 to 0-12 under Johnson. Was it an obvious mistake beforehand? Perhaps, if you look beyond his great rep as a coordinator. His record as a head coach (Gardner-Webb in 1983 and The Citadel 2001-03) was 17-28. Johnson's team was outgained by more than 1,200 yards, outscored by more than 220 points and had a minus-16 turnover ratio. And the hangover continues, with Southern Miss starting 0-4 this season under new coach Todd Monken.

Five more The Dash finds particularly terrible: 

Mike Locksley (6), New Mexico. When: 2009-11. Career assistant was a complete fiasco, taking a stable program and going 2-26 before being fired early in the '11 season. If the record wasn't bad enough, there also was a 10-day suspension for fighting an assistant coach during a staff meeting his first year. The fact that Locksley got to even start a third season was amazing.

Greg Robinson (7), Syracuse. When: 2005-08. Hired to replace the solidly successful Paul Pasqualoni pretty much on the basis of sideline peppiness. Shaky as a defensive coordinator, he was awful as a head coach, going 10-37 overall and 3-25 in a watered-down Big East. Athletic director Daryl Gross compounded the error by hanging on to Robinson for four seasons.

Paul Pasqualoni (8), Connecticut. When: 2011-Monday. For unfathomable reasons, UConn decided that hiring a 61-year-old who had been out of the college game for six years was a great move on the heels of a Fiesta Bowl bid. It worked out about how you'd imagine: a 10-18 record, including 0-4 this season with losses to Towson and Buffalo. The Pasqualoni hire damaged UConn's chances of escaping the unraveling Big East/AAC.

Ron Turner (9), Florida International. When: 2013. One of the great mysteries of our time. Mario Cristobal's reward for taking FIU to its first two bowl appearances (2010-11) and upgrading the program sufficiently to jump from the Sun Belt to Conference USA was a pink slip after a 3-9 backslide in '12. The replacement was this guy, last seen going 35-57 at Illinois from 1997-2004. This year at FIU, Turner may be leading the worst team in America: the Golden Panthers are 0-4, losing by 21 points to Bethune-Cookman and by 72 to Louisville.

Bill Callahan (10), Nebraska. The Cornhuskers have had two losing seasons since 1961. Both were on Callahan's watch. He was a spectacularly bad fit at Nebraska, which fired Frank Solich (58-19) to hire him (27-22).

There is special merit for the guys who screwed up so fast in non-football areas that they never got to coach a game: Mike Price at Alabama (he put Pensacola strip club Arety's Angels on the map); Mike Haywood at Pittsburgh (domestic violence arrest); George O'Leary at Notre Dame (bogus résumé).

A few underrated disasters:

Stan Parrish at Ball State. He flopped at Kansas State in the 1980s, then proved it was no fluke two decades later in Muncie. Parrish went 6-18 in two seasons at a program that was 19-8 the two years before he was in charge and 15-10 in the two years after.

John Thompson at East Carolina. Clever defensive coordinator turned epically bad head coach. Took over from successful Steve Logan and went 3-20 in two seasons. Gave way to Skip Holtz, who immediately upgraded the product.

The Buddy Teevens/Walt Harris double whammy at Stanford. Teevens took over a program coming off the Rose Bowl and a 10-win season in three years and promptly went 2-9, on his way to a 10-23 tenure. He was followed by Harris, whose second season was a 1-11 debacle. The program then was rescued by Jim Harbaugh.

Tyrone Willingham at Washington. The Rose Bowl that Stanford went to? Willingham led the Cardinal there. Then he led Notre Dame to 10 wins in his first season in South Bend. And then the bloom came off the rose. Fired at Notre Dame in 2004, Washington grabbed him on the rebound and quickly wished it hadn't – he went 11-37, bottoming out at 0-12 in 2008.


We are a month into the college football season, and my how the time flew by. (Especially late in that Wisconsin-Arizona State game.) Before diving into October predictions (see below), The Dash offers a few superlatives from September/August: 

Best game: LSU-Georgia (11). Put it this way – this game was so good it outshined an Alabama-Texas A&M showdown that largely lived up to its considerable hype. This one gets the nod because of the back-and-forth drama. There were five ties and four lead changes, two of the latter in the final two minutes. There was brilliant quarterback play, excellent catches, tough running – and even a smidge of defense at the end, as the Bulldogs held on to win, 44-41.

Most overrated game: Michigan-Notre Dame (12). It hogged the national spotlight on Sept. 7, but now everyone is free to wonder what all the excitement was about. The Fighting Irish are 3-2 and unranked. The Wolverines are still unbeaten but looked so bad while beating lightweights Akron and Connecticut that they have dropped from No. 15 to No. 19 in the AP Top 25.

Most underrated game: Northern Illinois-Iowa (13). When the Huskies rallied to beat the Hawkeyes in Iowa City on opening weekend, the consensus reaction was to bash Iowa. (The Dash included.) This looked like another bad loss for a program that had lost its way, as opposed to another impressive victory for a Northern Illinois program that won 12 games last year. Since then, neither team has lost. NIU (4-0) should be 9-0 before it is challenged again. Iowa (4-1) will face many challenges in a rigorous Big Ten slate – the only truly weak link left is Purdue – but looks much improved over 2012.

Biggest bust: USC (14) narrowly earns the dishonor over Texas, mostly because the Trojans got their coach fired first. USC is 0-2 in Pac-12 play, displaying offensive ineptitude in one loss (10-7 to Washington State) and defensive ineptitude in the other (62-41 to Arizona State). This would qualify as a full-system meltdown.

Most improved player: Zach Mettenberger (15), LSU. His pass-efficiency rating is up 60 points over last season, and his draft stock and confidence have soared along with it. A big guy with a big arm, Mettenberger struggled with reading defenses and pocket awareness last year in a clunky LSU passing scheme. This year his understanding of the game is catching up with his physical talent, and the result was dazzling Saturday in the loss at Georgia. New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron looks like the Broyles Award favorite for overhauling the LSU attack and helping Mettenberger reach his potential.

Most maligned coordinators: Jim Bollman/Dave Warner (16), Michigan State. The first-year tandem has taken a bad offense from 2012 and made it worse in '13. The Spartans are 3-1 on the strength of the No. 1 defense in America – decidedly not because of the nation's No. 103 offense. Only 12 teams are averaging less than Michigan State's 4.65 yards per play, and the Spartans have zero plays longer than 40 yards. 

Heisman Trophy disappearance: Marqise Lee (17), USC. A knee injury against Arizona State was only the latest travail for the guy who finished fourth in the 2012 Heisman voting. Even before that, Lee had only made it into the end zone once all season, and it took until the third game of the season to catch a pass for more than 20 yards. Combine the unspectacular stats with the Trojans' brutal start, and his Heisman hopes are gone.

Heisman Trophy emergence: Jameis Winston (18), Florida State. Now that we know being a redshirt freshman is no barrier to winning the award, watch out for Winston. His debut game at Pittsburgh was ridiculous: 25 of 27 for 356 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions, plus a rushing TD. He's No. 2 nationally in efficiency, and had the most spectacular play of the month: a 55-yard Hail Mary bomb to Kenny Shaw at the end of the first half after scrambling away from Boston College tacklers.

Most interesting state: Texas (19). There has been angst in Austin. Controversy in College Station. Scoreboard pyrotechnics in Waco. An undefeated heartthrob coach in Lubbock. Continued Big 12 transition issues in Fort Worth. Two plucky teams in Houston. New conference affiliations in Dallas and Denton. A new coach in El Paso. And official FBS status in San Antonio and San Marcos. So much drama.

National championship contenders (20), in order of importance: Alabama; Pac-12 champion (Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, Washington); ACC champion (Florida State or Clemson); Ohio State; Louisville; Big 12 champion (Oklahoma or Baylor).


What you need to know to understand and enjoy the month ahead:

Toughest month for an unbeaten: Washington (21). The Huskies' next three games are at No. 5 Stanford, home against No. 2 Oregon, at No. 22 Arizona State. Not only are all three of those teams ranked, they've had their way with Washington in recent years. The Cardinal has won six of the last eight meetings with the Huskies. The Ducks have won nine straight. The Sun Devils have won seven straight. October ends with a relative breather against California in Seattle. 

Easiest month for an unbeaten: Fresno State (22). The Bulldogs are at Idaho, home against UNLV and at San Diego State. Average Sagarin Rating of those titans: 129th.

Team we'll all be talking about Nov. 1: Baylor (23). The Bears are 3-0 right now and averaging 69.7 points per game. With an October slate of West Virginia, at Kansas State, Iowa State and at Kansas, they figure to be 7-0 for the first time since 1980. If that happens, the Thursday night home game against Oklahoma on Nov. 7 may be the biggest in school history.

Dashette who will still look great Nov. 1, even if she's a depressed USC fan these days, according to her Twitter account: Jessica Burciaga (24).

Team that will have faded from contention: Maryland (25). The Terrapins are 4-0 for the first time since 2001 and looked sensational in routing West Virginia, 37-0. They've even had two weeks to prepare for their trip to Florida State on Saturday. But Maryland has only beaten the Seminoles twice in 23 meetings, and has never won in Tallahassee. Combine that game with one at the end of the month against Clemson, and the Terps should be out of the Atlantic Division race heading into November. (Tough luck they're not in the easier Coastal Division.)

Team in position to play spoiler: Missouri (26). The only undefeated team in the SEC East: The Tigers, who look much better than last year's 5-7 team. They'll have three chances to play season-wrecker against a ranked divisional opponent: at Georgia on Oct. 12; home against Florida on Oct. 19; and home against South Carolina on Oct. 26. First up is a trip to Vanderbilt on Saturday. Of course, the Tigers also could go winless in October and be fighting for a bowl bid in the final month.

Team in position to demolish four opponents without breaking a sweat: Alabama (27). The Crimson Tide has a month of walkovers. First is Georgia State, which at No. 208 is the lowest-rated FBS team in the Sagarin Ratings. Then come the three lowest-rated teams in the SEC: No. 89 Kentucky, No. 49 Arkansas and No. 58 Tennessee. Coming off the shutout of Mississippi, expect Alabama to be working on a streak of three straight bagels when Arkansas visits Oct. 19.

Five biggest games:

Ohio State-Northwestern (28), Oct. 5. So many people (including The Dash) have labeled this a trap game that it'll be shame on the Buckeyes if they walk into it unaware. But even without the element of surprise, the unbeaten Wildcats could make things interesting – especially if versatile back/return man Venric Mark is back at full speed after an injury in the first game of the season. Northwestern's mediocre defense will have to rise to the occasion as well. If Ohio State prevails, it may not face another serious test until Michigan in Ann Arbor on Nov. 30. 

Oklahoma-Texas (29), Oct. 12. This could be Mack Brown's last stand. He's lost three straight to the Sooners, the last two of them embarrassing blowouts. It would be impossible to envision a coach of his stature stepping down or being forced out at midseason, but another beatdown in this rivalry game could make the rest of the season a moot point. However, if Texas wins at Iowa State on Thursday night and then upsets the Sooners, Brown has new life. Big stakes in Big D for this one.

Florida State-Clemson (30), Oct. 19. If both remain unbeaten, this will be the biggest ACC game in many years. Winner remains in serious national title consideration, especially if it's homestanding Clemson, which already has a huge victory over Georgia on its résumé. Loser is effectively knocked out of the division, conference and national title race.

UCLA's tour of Hell (31), at Stanford on Oct. 19 and at Oregon on Oct. 26. The Bruins are unbeaten, ranked 12th and looking great. Before the gauntlet is a road trip to Utah and a home game against California. A split of the two big games would be good. A sweep would be unbelievable, probably launching the Bruins into the top five. But two losses looks like the most likely outcome right now.


It's been roughly 48 hours since Pat Haden whacked Lane Kiffin. That's plenty of time for the most enthusiastic of job applicants, Arizona State coach Todd Graham (32), to get busy. After a deeply committed 17 games at ASU, The Dash can only imagine his eagerness to upgrade to USC …

Email From: Todd Graham
To: Pat Haden
Date: 9/29/2013
Time: 1 a.m., PDT

Hey Pat,
Just wanted to say it was an honor to have a class program like USC and a class guy like yourself in our stadium – which is nowhere near as nice as your stadium, I must say. I'm sorry we didn't get a chance to catch up in person last night, but don't be a stranger, OK? Let's stay in touch. My cell number is below. Talk soon. I mean, real soon. Like, anytime. Call me, Pat.

Join the Todd Squad,
Todd Graham

Email From: Todd Graham
To: Pat Haden
Date: 9/29/2013
Time: 9:05 a.m., PDT

Hey Pat,

Wow, I feel silly. I just read that you fired Lane Kiffin. Sorry to see it come to that – but hey, you did what you had to do, right? I just want to reiterate what a CLASS guy you are and what a CLASS institution USC is, and to let you in on a little secret – my REAL dream job is USC!

I know I said Arizona State was my dream job last year after I came over from Pittsburgh, which was after I left Tulsa, which was after I left Rice. But that was taken out of context and blown out of proportion and misquoted, among other things. Really, I grew up in Mesquite, Texas, dreaming of Student Body Right, Student Body Left and Pat Haden touchdown passes. I even nicknamed our family horse Traveler. Honest!

Again, my cell number is below. Don't let it go to waste, haha. Call me, Pat.

Hotty Toddy,
Todd Graham

Text message from: Todd Graham
To: Pat Haden
Date: 9/29/2013
Time: 3:15 p.m. PDT

Watched ur press conference online, amazing job. Ur a class guy, just the type of leader I would love to work for someday. Call me!

Voicemail from: Todd Graham
To: Pat Haden
Date: 9/29/2013
Time: 10 pm PDT

"Hey Pat, it's Todd. Realize it's been a long, difficult day for you, pardner, so you might not have been checking your emails. Or text messages. But hopefully you get this voicemail before going to bed, because I just wanted to reiterate that USC is the dream job for me! I'll be up for a while watching a rerun of that 1974 comeback against Notre Dame, so give me a call. Fight on!"

Email from: Todd Graham
To: Pat Haden
Date: 9/30/2013
Time: 9 a.m. PDT

Hey Pat,

I hope you got the fruit basket the Graham family sent to your office this morning. If you look between the pear and the grapefruit, you will find a small laminated card with my career win-loss record, which is not too shabby. Just think what I could do with USC talent! Call me!

Good to Great with Graham,
Todd Graham

Text message from: Todd Graham
To: Pat Haden
Date: 9/30/2013
Time: 3 p.m. PDT

Please look out ur office window. I am told there is a plane circling the McKay Center with a banner that expresses the true wishes of the Trojan Family. In case u can't see it, it says "Todd Graham: The Best Man for the Job." I had nothing to do with this, just heard about it through the grapevine. Call me!

Voicemail from: Todd Graham
To: Pat Haden
Date: 9/30/2013
Time: 10 p.m. PDT

"Hey Pat, just wanted to let you know that I think your pass to Shelton Diggs to win the 1975 Rose Bowl was great. I know he had to dive to catch it and all, but you put it where only he could get it. Let's talk ball sometime soon. Gimme a holler!"

Email from: Todd Graham
To: Pat Haden
Date: 10/1/2013
Time: 12:01 a.m. PDT

Hey Pat,

You've been busy, I've been busy – I understand why I haven't heard from you. No big deal at all. When you're ready. Which is hopefully soon, haha.

But listen: I know you have Arizona on Oct. 10, and I beat those Wildcats last year. I can be in L.A. by dawn Oct. 6, after we play Notre Dame, to give you my gameplan. And heck, if you want to just hire me on the spot, well, let's make it happen! I can get to know the players that day, do the introductory press conference that night and be on the practice field with the team Monday afternoon.

I know changing teams in mid-season might ruffle a few feathers, but I can handle it if you can. This is my dream job, really. I know all the words to "Conquest." Hire me, Pat. Now.

In Todd We Trust,
Todd Graham


Programs in a perplexing free-fall, with no end in sight: 

Southern Mississippi (33). They might have been the most consistently successful mid-major program in America, racking up 18 straight winning seasons from 1994-2011. But since Larry Fedora left Hattiesburg, the Golden Eagles are winless in their last 16 games under two different coaches. Relief is in sight, though: winless and even more hapless Florida International visits Saturday.

South Florida (34). Almost impossible to believe, but the Bulls were ranked No. 2 in the nation at one point in 2007, in the midst of a five-year streak with at least eight wins per season. Today they are almost unrecognizable, having lost 13 of their last 14 games and failing to even be competitive this season. And here's the worse news: USF doesn't get to play comparably inept Temple this year.

Miami (Ohio) (35). Known as the "Cradle of Coaches," the Redhawks program now more closely resembles a graveyard. They closed last season with four straight defeats and have started this season the same way. Miami went 10-4 in 2010, but that was a blip of brightness amid a gloomy new era: this looks like it will be the seventh losing season in the last eight.

Florida International (36). Much of this was detailed in the Ron Turner note above, but The Dash has to add these misery statistics: the Panthers are averaging a feeble 2.82 yards per play, by far the lowest in the nation. They have scored three touchdowns all year. Someone help them, please.

Directional Michigan (37). Eastern Michigan has always been bad, and that isn't changing this year. But the declines at Central and Western Michigan are precipitous. CMU went 38-17 from 2006-09 and won three bowl games; since then it is 14-28 and has not beaten an FBS team yet this year. WMU had five winning seasons in the previous seven years but is 0-5 under first-year coach P.J. Fleck. Ugly turn of events.


Dana Holgorsen (38), West Virginia. One week after being put on the bus by The Dash following a shutout loss to Maryland, Holgo bounced back with an upset win over Oklahoma State. Starting its third different quarterback of the season in Clint Trickett, the West Virginia offense revived enough to score 23 points – plus seven from the defense on a pick-six. The Mountaineers will need more points than that Saturday at Baylor.


The choice would be Kiffin or Pasqualoni, but they have nowhere to go. So instead The Dash bestows this cherished honor upon Skip Holtz (39) of Louisiana Tech. After being fired at South Florida, Holtz wound up in Ruston on the rebound – and it's been a struggle so far. The Bulldogs were outrushed 414-57 by Army in a 19-point loss, dropping to 1-4 after going 9-3 last year under Sonny Dykes. Much like Derek and Vince Dooley, the father-to-son Holtz coaching magic does not seem to have rubbed off.


When hungry and thirsty and in need of late-night college football watching in downtown Atlanta, The Dash recommends Hudson Grille (40). If nothing else, it will go down in history as the place where The Dash watched the Lane Kiffin Era come to an end at USC.

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