Don't you just hate it when a coach suddenly leaves, and your team is left in the lurch? The future of the program seems to hang in the balance without a sense of direction or leadership.
Imagine how North Carolina’s players feel. First Butch Davis was fired, and then they had to prepare for and play in a bowl game knowing interim coach Everett Withers was leaving for Ohio State.
Our “coaches we love to hate” theme continues today with coaches who have left teams in a lurch -- at unexpected or awkward times. It might have been for another job, because of a scandal, or a disagreement with the administration. Whatever the reason, they’re no longer coaching in the ACC.
Here are three of the more memorable departures in recent years in the ACC, and you'll notice a trend here: They're all in the Atlantic Division:
1. Former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden: There’s getting fired, and then there’s getting fired in October. In 2008, Bowden was fired four days after Clemson lost to Wake Forest. The Tigers were ranked No. 9 that year in the Associated Press preseason Top 25 and had been favored to win the ACC. Instead, Clemson started out 3-3, including a thud on the national stage with a 24-point loss to Alabama. Quarterback Cullen Harper added to the drama when he said Bowden deserved to be fired. After a decade of coming up short, Bowden offered to resign. Even though it happened midseason, it didn’t come as much of a surprise, considering Clemson had lost to Maryland and Wake Forest, starting out 1-2 in conference play. Dabo Swinney was named interim head coach for the rest of the season and took over the team heading into the Georgia Tech game. It was an emotional week for the Tigers, who lost to the Jackets 21-17. Swinney instituted a new tradition in the Tiger Walk. He started a new quarterback, Willy Korn. And eventually, he did what Bowden could not, and won the school’s first ACC title since 1991.
2. Former Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski:This story was about defiance. Athletic director Gene DeFilippo had specifically told Jagodzinski he could not interview with the Jets. He would be fired if he did. Jagodzinski did it anyway. And he was fired in January 2009. “I did everything in the spirit of the contract,” Jagodzinski told ESPN that year. DeFilippo said Jagodzinski was fired “without cause.” Jagodzinski lasted only two years at BC, and he had three years remaining on his contract. He was a smug coach, but he was also successful. In just two seasons, Jagodzinski led the Eagles to back-to-back ACC title games, losing both to Virginia Tech. They were 11-3 his first season, and ranked as high as No. 2 nationally. (Yes, we’re still talking about Boston College). It was Jagodzinski’s first head-coaching job. A year later, Jagodzinski was fired by Tampa Bay. The following year he was fired by the UFL’s Omaha Nighthawks. Interviewing with the Jets was one costly decision.
3. Former Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen (and his coach-in-waiting): This one is still puzzling. The ACC’s 2010 Coach of the Year was fired and replaced by the Big East Coach of the Year. The ACC’s 2010 Rookie of the Year was benched in favor of an inexperienced backup. Under that game plan, a nine-win bowl season deteriorated to a two-win disaster.
“It didn’t need to end this way,” Friedgen told Mike Wise of the Washington Post.
Ironically, it didn’t end after his 2-10 season in 2009. Instead, Friedgen was given the opportunity to pull the program together, and he managed to do that with a respectable eight-win regular season and a win in the Military Bowl, Friedgen’s final game as head coach.
Athletic director Kevin Anderson, who at the time was new to the job, originally told Friedgen he would return for 2011. Anderson had issued a written statement saying that Friedgen would be allowed to coach the final year of his contract.
Friedgen called for an extension, and Anderson called an audible and gave Friedgen his buyout notice. Meanwhile, Friedgen’s successor, James Franklin, left to become head coach at Vanderbilt. In a matter of a week, Maryland went from having the coach of the year and his successor, to having no coach at all -- intentionally.