One of the more persistently held adages in college football is that Year Four for any coach is when everything should have fallen into place.
It’s a conviction that stems from having enough of your own recruits – and fifth-year seniors from the previous staff – to foster a level of comfort with your system to win consistently.
Brian Kelly at Notre Dame and Charlie Strong at Louisville, two coaches entering their fourth seasons, have their programs on the up-tick, which could lead both to more lucrative deals in either the NFL or college. Their teams are a combined 53-25, with the Irish playing for the national championship last season while the Cardinals played in the Sugar Bowl.
The fact is Year Four is not just another season and many are coaching for job security. That brings us to Jeff Quinn.
The University at Buffalo’s successor to Turner Gill is 9-27 overall in three seasons – including FCS victories over Rhode Island and Morgan State – and 6-18 in the Mid-American Conference. He signed a three-year extension after last season, which would suggest Quinn isn’t in the line of fire of UB athletics director Danny White.
Others going into their fourth seasons are in more precarious positions.
By Year Two, Lane Kiffin of USC had led the Trojans to a 10-2 record and the No. 1 ranking heading into the 2012 season. But USC finished 7-6 last year and was relegated to the Sun Bowl, which won’t fly with the Trojans’ fan base. Meanwhile, UNLV’s Bobby Hauck (6-32) and Virginia’s Mike London (16-21) are on the hot seat as well.
Contracts are often bought out, as some members of the 2010 coaching carousel class learned rather quickly.
Gill was fired at Kansas after just two seasons of futility on both sides of the ball. His first Jayhawks team was outscored, 413-198, and finished in the bottom 10 nationally in both offense and defense. KU started the 2011 season 2-0 then lost 10 consecutive games; Gill’s time ended with a 5-19 record and 1-16 in the Big 12.
The congenial Gill eventually landed at FCS Liberty, where he’s going into his second year.
Akron’s Rob Ianello lasted two seasons, losing his first 11 games before beating UB in the 2010 season finale. His only other win was against FCS VMI in 2011 as he finished with a 2-22 record. Larry Porter’s time at Memphis was just as fleeting but it was longer than Robbie Caldwell’s stay at Vanderbilt. Caldwell went 2-10 and 1-7 in the SEC and resigned after one season.
Some coaches last at least three years, such as Tennessee’s Derek Dooley, Kiffin’s replacement, who went 15-21 before being fired. Skip Holtz was just one-win better than Dooley at South Florida before he was dismissed, although he landed a job at Louisiana Tech.
Elsewhere, Kentucky got gradually worse under Joker Phillips, who went 13-24 and 4-20 in the SEC.
There’s coaches like Louisiana-Monroe’s Todd Berry, who after back-to-back losing seasons finally experienced a breakthrough in Year Three with an 8-5 record and a trip to the Independence Bowl. ULM rewarded Berry with a four-year extension after the season.
Central Michigan’s Dan Enos finished with back-to-back 3-9 seasons before going 7-6 and earning a Little Caesars Pizza Bowl berth.
Others were gone for better jobs before Year Four, such as Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes (Cal), Cincinnati’s Butch Jones (Tennessee) and Western Kentucky’s Willie Taggart (South Florida). Some made questionable moves. Texas Tech’s Tommy Tuberville reportedly left two potential Tech prospects at a restaurant and did not return after receiving a phone call and learning he got the job at Cincinnati.
Which brings us back to Quinn, who has an opportunity to demonstrate his labor will finally bear fruit in Year Four with a highly regarded defense and stability at quarterback and among the coaching staff.
“I’ve been really pleased with the mind-set of our football team and certainly where our football program is headed at this point,” Quinn said.