With Charlie Weis no longer at Notre Dame it’s no longer quite as easy to spot the worst coach in major college football. If there were an award for the dubious distinction of being less of a coach than everyone else who paces the college football sidelines it would be called the Marvin Lewis Trophy in honor of the Cincinnati Bengals’ coach who is unquestionably the worst coach in all of football. If that award existed then these four guys would be this year’s preseason favorites:
Ralph Friedgen, Maryland – Friedgen won ten games in each of his first three seasons after taking the Maryland job in 2001 to give fans hope, but things have gotten increasingly dismal since then. Since then, though, things have gotten increasingly bleak – he’s 35-38 over the last six years, and capped that with an absolutely brutal 2-10 season last year. It’s impossible to find a single nice thing to say about the team last year. Their offensive line was brutal, their offense was non-existent, the defense was pathetic, they turned over the ball almost every time they touched it, and they scared virtually no one. Most significantly, despite nine years in the job and four bowl game wins Friedgen recruited so impossibly badly that it almost can’t be believed. He was at the head of a BCS conference team with Division II talent, and it showed. The team tried to find a way to get rid of him, but the required buyout was too rich for a public school, so all the supporters of the team can do now is wait until 2011 when he is expected to retire.
Bill Stewart, West Virginia – Stewart is so uninspiring that I’m not sure he could convince me to eat even if I was starving to death. He’s like a bowl of plain oatmeal. He got the job at West Virginia on an interim basis because he was basically the only guy that Rich Rodriguez didn’t want to take with him when he left. I think he managed to keep the job partly because he came cheap, and partly because everyone forgot that he was there. He was lousy at VMI in his only other head coaching gig, and hasn’t shown any progress or spark at West Virginia in his two full years at the helm. The problem for the Mountaineers is that he’s at that dangerous level of competence – just good enough to justify keeping him around, but not nearly good enough to make anything meaningful happen.
Rick Neuheisel, UCLA – Neuheisel looks and sounds good, but he’s far more bluster than performance. As head coach at Colorado he started strong – 10-2 in his first two years, but was hopelessly average in his final two. He pulled a Pete Carroll – leaving town for Washington before the NCAA caught up to him and his violations. He had used an ineligible player in 1997, and was forced to vacate all of the wins that year – though he only had five. At Washington Neuheisel again started strong – he won the Rose Bowl in his second season. Once the players he recruited caught up to him, though, things weren’t so rosy, and his last two seasons were increasingly underwhelming. He was against chased out by the NCAA after it was ruled that he had broken rules by betting on the NCAA basketball tournament. After a stint with the Baltimore Ravens he headed back to college at UCLA. The story was the same as his past stops with one big difference – he skipped the strong start and was just lousy form the outset. The Bruins haven’t been relevant in his two years there, and they won’t be relevant again this year. Neuheisel is one of those guys who can keep finding good jobs regardless of the carnage he leaves behind – he must be Lane Kiffin’s role model.
Bill Lynch, Indiana – Bill Lynch is, I’m certain, a very nice man. He’s been coaching for 33 years, and all but one have been spent in the state of Indiana. He’s even an inductee in the state’s Football Hall of Fame. There’s only one problem, though – he shows no real ability to run a major college program. Indiana isn’t likely to ever be a major football power, but there is no reason for them to be as lifeless and hopeless as they are right now. Lynch took over the job in 2007 in sad circumstances – Terry Hoeppner had to take a leave due to the brain cancer that quickly killed him. Hoeppner was making progress at the school in just two years, and Lynch rode that progress into the Insight Bowl in his first season. From that 7-6 start, though, Lynch quickly crashed down to earth. His next two seasons have been 3-9 and 4-8, and as many of those wins (two) have come against FCS teams as BCS schools (and those BCS wins hardly count because they were only over Northwestern and Illinois). He only has one road win in the last two years as well. Lynch is absolutely and decidedly not making any forward progress with this team, and it’s hard to imagine that he ever will.
Honorable mentions: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State and Paul Wulff, Washington State
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