Florida coach Dan Mullen tried to kickstart a Gators turnaround by firing defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive line coach John Hevesy last week.
If — and it’s a big if — Mullen gets a fifth season in Gainesville, will changing assistants be enough to rescue his tenure? To find out, we looked at some recent high-profile examples of embattled coaches shaking up their staffs.
Background: After winning 10 games and going to the Fiesta Bowl in Year 6, Brian Kelly’s Irish started 2016 ranked No. 10 nationally. They collapsed, finishing 4-8 with losses to rivals Navy and USC.
What Kelly did: He fired defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder after a 1-3 start and replaced five other assistants in the offseason, including his offensive and special teams coordinators.
Did it work? Yes. Kelly’s Irish are 52-9 since the shakeup. They went 10-3 the first year, have made the College Football Playoff twice since then and are in the mix to make it again this fall. This is the best-case scenario for Mullen and UF.
Background: Ron Zook was in trouble after going 8-5 in his second year (2003). Will Muschamp was fortunate to get a fourth season after going 4-8 in 2013.
What they did: Zook demoted offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher and promoted Larry Fedora to that role. Muschamp fired two offensive coaches, including coordinator Brent Pease, a day after the regular season. Kurt Roper became his new coordinator.
Did it work? No. Zook was fired the next year after a 4-3 start and a bad loss at Mississippi State. UF canned Muschamp after a 5-4 start punctuated with an overtime loss to South Carolina. This is the worst-case scenario for Mullen and UF.
Background: After finishing in the top six and winning two Big Ten titles from 2013-15, Mark Dantonio’s Spartans went 3-9, 10-3 and 7-6 over the next three seasons.
What Dantonio did: He moved his assistants around. His quarterbacks coach and running backs coach switched roles. So did his offensive line coach and tight ends coach, and his defensive backs coach and receivers coach. “I just think that we need a change to stimulate growth and really to stimulate circulation,” Dantonio told the Detroit Free Press.
Did it work? No. Michigan State went 7-6 the next season, and Dantonio retired that February.
Background: Jim Harbaugh’s future was in question last offseason thanks to an 11-8 mark over the last two years and his winless record against Ohio State.
What Harbaugh did: He fired defensive coordinator Don Brown in the offseason and ended up replacing five other assistants, too. Five of his six hires were under 40 as part of a desire to boost energy in the program and, perhaps, help recruiting.
Did it work? Yes (so far). No. 8 Michigan is a playoff contender after beating Penn State last week to improve to 9-1.
Background: Charlie Strong’s 11-14 record through two seasons put him on the hot seat entering Year 3 (2016). His successor, Tom Herman, was under similar scrutiny going after following up a Sugar Bowl victory with a 7-5 regular season in 2019.
What they did: Strong shed five assistants in the offseason, poaching Sterlin Gilbert from Tulsa to become his offensive coordinator. He also demoted his defensive coordinator during the ‘16 season. Herman lost seven of his assistants, including his co-defensive coordinators and his offensive coordinator, going into 2020.
Did it work? No. Texas fired Strong after he went 5-7 the next year, leading to his hiring at USF. The Longhorns fired Herman after he finished 7-3 with a top-20 ranking. They hired Alabama assistant Steve Sarkisian, who’s on a five-game losing streak.
Background: Clay Helton never seemed to click with the Trojans, but things were especially hot after USC tumbled from the Cotton Bowl to 5-7 in 2018.
What Helton did: Helton fired offensive coordinator Tee Martin. When Helton’s first replacement (Kliff Kingsbury) left for the Arizona Cardinals, Helton hired another Air Raid coordinator, Graham Harrell.
Did it work? No. USC went 8-5 in ‘19. After that flop, Helton fired his defensive coordinator and special teams coach. That didn’t work, either. USC axed Helton in September after losing 42-28 to Stanford.
• • •