College football is defined, in large part, by legendary coaches who become institutions in the schools they call home. But in many cases, these coaches have come within an inch of never ending up in these schools in the first place. How different would the game landscape be if Bob Stoops had gone to Iowa instead of Oklahoma? Or what if he took the job in Florida in 2002 and it was never opened for Urban Meyer a few years later? What if the head coach made a name for himself at LSU or even Tennessee instead of The Swamp?
We chat with these coaches to find out how close they were to taking different jobs and how things would have changed if they had.
Go to: Bob Stoops and Iowa | Steve Spurrier and LSU
Urban Meyer and Notre Dame | Ed Orgeron and USC
Miles and Michigan | Frank Beamer and North Carolina
What if Iowa had offered Bob Stoops his job?
This is a question that Bob Stoops does not have to answer now, and probably not anyway.
But what would happen if his alma mater offered him the job of head coach in 1998 when he was looking for a replacement for the Hall of Fame retiree Hayden Fry, for whom Stoops played and coached under the ‘Iowa? Would Stoops have taken it, and if so, carved out the same legendary career in Iowa as he did in Oklahoma? And where would Kirk Ferentz have landed?
It’s an interesting question, considering the fact that Ferentz was an institution in Iowa City. He is about to enter his 22nd season in Iowa and surpassed Fry in 2018 as the most successful coach in school history.
“Sometimes things have a way of working for the best for everyone involved,” Stoops told ESPN.
Throughout his coaching career, Stoops has been a hot commodity. He was also one of the few: Stoops stayed in Oklahoma for 18 seasons before retiring before the 2017 season, and worked for the same president (David Boren) and the same sporting director (Joe Castiglione) every 18 seasons.
“I’m willing to bet that you’ll never see that happen again,” said Stoops.
Stoops was only 38 when he took over what was a broken program in Oklahoma on December 1, 1998 and led the Sooners to a national championship in his second season in 2000. But before saying yes to Oklahoma, he delivered on his promise he had Iowa interviewed. Oklahoma had already offered the job to Stoops a day earlier and did not want him to visit Iowa.
“I guess it was some kind of nave on my part,” said Stoops. “Looking back, I would say to any young coach, ‘Take the job in Oklahoma and don’t take the chance to spoil it.'”
Stoops, who had just completed his third season as Florida defensive coordinator under Steve Spurrier, realized halfway through the Iowa interview that he was not going to be offered the job . At least not at that time.
“And I don’t know if they would have ever done it,” said Stoops.
So he politely apologized and went to call his agent, Neil Cornrich.
“I’m almost sure it was a pay phone. Heck, it was 1998,” joked Stoops. “I just said to Neil, ‘Get your hands on Oklahoma and make sure they know the second I get out of this interview that I’m going to take the job.'”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
It was hardly the first or last time that Stoops was courted by another school or by an NFL organization.
After its first season in Florida – in 1996, the year the Gators won the national championship – Minnesota attempted to hire him as head coach, but there was no university president in place at the time.
“Coach Spurrier’s point of view for me was,” Look, we’re not going bad here. If that doesn’t suit you perfectly, stay. You are young and will have other opportunities that will suit you, “” said Stoops. “And he was right.”
As fate would have done, the closest Stoops said it never came to leave Oklahoma after Spurrier left Florida after the 2001 season to take over. Washington Redskins’ head coaching position. Jeremy Foley, then Florida sports director, traveled to Norman to meet Stoops.
“We had just won the national championship in Oklahoma [in 2000], but I also had a close relationship with Jeremy Foley and [wife] Carol and I loved our stay in Florida, “said Stoops.” It was hard to say no, but all the positive feelings I had about Florida were countered by the positive feelings I had about Oklahoma. They gave me my first hit.
“And without the leadership and faith I had in Joe Castiglione and David Boren, I would probably have gone to Florida.”
With Stoops saying no thank you, Florida turned to Ron Zook, who managed three years before being fired, which led the Gators to hire Urban Meyer. Meyer won the national championships in 2006 and 2008 in Florida, then resigned after the 2009 season to change his mind and return for the 2010 season. He then resigned definitively after the 2010 season.
Once again, Foley made a big effort for Stoops, which was the epitome of Norman’s consistency. He has won 10 conference championships at OU, and only four times in 18 seasons under his leadership has the Sooners won less than 10 games.
“I remember Coach Spurrier always said that after eight or ten years you lose a certain percentage of the people who support you,” said Stoops. “After a while, people just want a change. I guess at some point, you feel it’s time to do something different after so many years, or you can also say it’s easier to do something different. But the hardest thing sometimes remains and continues and continues to be successful as we have done. “
Stoops has also never been the type to swap his family. His twin sons Isaac and Drake were entrenched in their school in Oklahoma when Florida came to call for the second time, and he just didn’t want to uproot them.
“For my family and where we were in life … I just couldn’t leave,” said Stoops.
Stoops, the general manager and head coach of the Dallas Renegades of XFL, is well aware that his name will continue to appear for each high-level coaching position that opens, especially now that the future of XFL is in the air after the league suspended operations on Friday and laid off almost all of its staff.
So yes, there is still a “what if” for Stoops, as in what would happen if the good coaching situation arises in the next two years?
“Who knows?” Said Stoops. “What I am doing right now is my family and what I want to do. It has been nice, and who knows what the good Lord is going to bring you?
“Everyone wants you to define the rest of your life at every stage of your life. You just can’t do it.”
What if Steve Spurrier hadn’t gone to Florida?
In 1986, when Steve Spurrier had left his coaching post following the disappearance of the USFL, he was, in his own words, a free agent looking for a job that “few people were very interested in. to hire ”.
But he received a call from the LSU off-season after Bill Arnsparger left as coach to become Florida’s sporting director, a decision that would end up paying large sums for the Gators.
Not so much for LSU, however.
“Yes, I spoke to LSU about the job, but I couldn’t even cut it for the second round,” said Spurrier. “I guess I was one of those coaches who didn’t work hard enough, or at least didn’t brag about how hard I worked.”
Spurrier was hardly the only possible big name that LSU spoke with during the process. Among the others were Mack Brown, Frank Beamer, Mike Shanahan and Sam Rutigliano, but the Tigers ended up promoting the interior. Defensive coordinator Mike Archer was elevated to the position of head coach.
“I said,” Man, they wasted a lot of money stealing all these people when they hired a guy who was already there, “joked Spurrier, who also met with officials from the state of Mississippi about his job as head coach a few weeks earlier.
The Bulldogs ended up hiring Rockey Felker.
Clearly, Spurrier has finally returned to the SEC, having been hired in 1990 by Florida. The Gators ‘sporting director at the time was Arnsparger, who had argued on his way out that Archer replaced him at LSU when Spurrier was available and wanted the Tigers’ job. With prominent Florida power brokers in mind, Arnsparger brought Spurrier back to his alma mater, but not before Spurrier spent three seasons as Duke’s coach and led the Blue Devils to the ACC championship in 1989, which remains their only conference title in football since 1962..
“What a great experience it was for Duke, but it certainly wasn’t a place to go to climb the coaching ranks,” said Spurrier. “Everything worked as it was supposed to.”
One thing is certain. The head coach never let LSU forget his colossal whiff and was 11-1 against the Tigers while coaching in Florida. In the process, he changed the way soccer was played in the SEC. The Gators have won six SEC championships and a national title on his watch.
LSU, meanwhile, won 10 games in Archer’s first season, but it was downhill from there. Beginning with Archer’s last two seasons, Curley Hallman’s four seasons and Gerry DiNardo’s five seasons, LSU suffered eight lost seasons in the next 11 years before Nick Saban was hired in 2000.
When work in Florida was opened before the 1990 season, Spurrier seemed like a natural choice, especially considering what he had accomplished at Duke.
But there was another SEC school that had wandered over to Spurrier a year earlier. Tennessee started the 1988 season 0-6 before winning its last five games and finishing 5-6. Spurrier and Duke came to Neyland Stadium that season and beat Tennessee 31-26 the second week.
If Johnny Majors and the Volunteers had not turned the tide that season, Spurrier said he had been informed a few years later by people linked to the administration when Tennessee was going to pursue him.
“It could have been a Theft,” said Spurrier, who attended high school in Johnson City, Tennessee, and enjoyed the Flights when he was in Florida. “But Johnny did it again, and I’m glad it happened like that because this 1989 Duke season was great and the springboard for what we did in Florida. There’s no question about it.”
And the more Spurrier won in Florida, the more he became a prime target for NFL clubs. He almost decided to take the The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ job after the 1995 season, but after a visit the next morning to Florida sports director Foley and school president John Lombardi, Spurrier changed his mind and decided to stay in Gainesville. Then, after winning the national championship in 1996, Spurrier refused to coach the New Orleans Saints.
Finally, after the 2001 season, Spurrier could no longer resist the allure of the NFL and accepted the position in Washington after the Redskins also succeeded him the previous year. Spurrier always kicks the decision. It wasn’t so much that he shot the NFL, but went against his instincts and chose the Redskins for another opportunity with the Buccaneers.
“Daniel Snyder has offered a lot more money, about a million dollars more,” said Spurrier. “So like an idiot, I took the money instead of the best situation and the best organization. Then the Bucs won the Super Bowl the following year. They hired [Jon] Gruden and won the Super Bowl.
“I became greedy and got what I deserved.”
What if Urban Meyer chose Notre Dame?
After leading Utah to an unbeaten season in 2004, Urban Meyer was the toast of college football and had two of the best programs in the country in pursuit.
He had the choice between Florida or Notre Dame. The Irish had just dismissed Tyrone Willingham, while the Gators had separated from Ron Zook. Charlie Strong was the Gators’ defensive coordinator at the time and remembers talking to Meyer on the phone around 4 a.m.
“He told me he had both jobs and asked me what I thought,” said Strong. “I just said,” If you want to win a national title, go to Florida, “because I knew what kind of talent we had.”
Strong, who remained Meyer’s defensive coordinator, proved to be prophetic. Meyer won his first national championship in Florida in his second season in 2006, and then won another in 2008.
Notre-Dame, for its part, hired Charlie Weis from New England Patriots. Weis won nine games in his first season and 10 his second season in South Bend, Indiana, but never won more than seven thereafter and was fired by the Irish after five seasons.
One of the most intriguing “what ifs” if Meyer had chosen Notre Dame over Florida is whether the Gators could have finally driven Stoops out of Oklahoma. The timing could have been right. Stoops had been in Oklahoma for only three years when Florida came to call in 2002 and had just guided the Sooners to the national title in 2000. And after the 2010 season, when Meyer resigned and Florida returned, the two sons of Stoops were old enough that he didn’t want to uproot them from their school.
What if the USC kept Ed Orgeron?
Ed Orgeron led LSU to a national championship last season thanks to one of the most dynamic offensive seasons in college football history, so things certainly worked for him. But in 2013, he was convinced that he had obtained the full-time position at USC.
He was not alone.
As the acting USC coach that season after the layoff of his friend Lane Kiffin, Orgeron led the Trojans to a 6-2 finish, including a spectacular 20-17 victory against the n ° 4 Stanford. He had wide support among players and many fans of the USC to get the job full time. Pat Haden, then USC sports director, thought otherwise and passed on the man they took to call Coach Oeaux on the Bayou.
“I never felt in my heart that they wanted me at USC until the very end, then Haden disconnected,” Orgeron told ESPN a few years ago. “I always thought that I was fighting a tough battle. They always saw me more as a stopping hole.”
This “stopgap” now has LSU above the college football world after the 2019 Tigers magic season, and Trojans have struggled to stay above the 500 mark in the past two seasons. Trojans repelling Orgeron in 2013 and hiring Steve Sarkisian from Washington knocked down the dominoes.
On the one hand, Sarkissian leaving Washington opened the door to the Huskies to hire Chris Petersen. And after Sarkissian’s dismissal, USC hired Clay Helton, first as an interim coach, and then appointed him a permanent coach at the end of the 2015 season. The Trojans won the Rose Bowl in 2016 and the Pac-12 championship in 2017, but Helton has come under fire lately after the USC has dropped to a 13-12 record in the past two seasons.
Meanwhile Orgeron, Kiffin and Sarkisian are all back together in the SEC – Orgeron as head coach of LSU, Kiffin as head coach of Ole Miss and Sarkisian as offensive coordinator of ‘Alabama.
What if Les Miles went to Michigan?
The image of Les Miles speaking of his “damn strong football team” at the hastily called press conference just before leading LSU to a 21-14 victory over Tennessee in the 2007 SEC championship game at the he former Georgia Dome of Atlanta will forever endure college football.
This team won the national championship, but not before Miles refuted an ESPN report on the day of the SEC title match that he had returned to his alma mater to be the Michigan coach.
In the end, Rich Rodriguez ended up getting the job in Michigan – the same Rich Rodriguez who turned down Alabama a year earlier. Miles has since stated that he never received an offer to return to Ann Arbor when he ended his press conference that day in Atlanta by stepping off the podium and blowing “Good day”.
Last year, Miles told ESPN that he was actually much closer to going to Michigan before the 2011 season than ever for the first time.
“I will always love Michigan and I don’t want to say that I was offered. Let’s just say that I had the opportunity to come back [in 2011]”Miles told ESPN.
His wife, Kathy, says categorically that Miles was offered the job and has since been supported by Skip Bertman, the LSU sport director who hired Miles. Bertman said Michigan officials flew to meet Miles and refused them.
Either way, the Wolverines ended up hiring Brady Hoke, who was fired after four seasons, opening the door for Jim Harbaugh to return to Ann Arbor.
Miles brought LSU to the door of another national championship this 2011 season before losing to Alabama 21-0 in the title match in New Orleans. It was after beating the Crimson Tide earlier this season in Tuscaloosa, winning the SEC title and winning 13 straight before losing the rematch to the Tide.
In many ways, it was never the same for Miles in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after this defeat against Alabama in which LSU was anemic offensively, and he was laid off in the first month of the 2016 season and replaced by Orgeron on an interim basis.
Later that season, Orgeron was promoted to permanent coach and led the Tigers to an undefeated national championship in 2019. Miles, after being without coach for three seasons, returned in 2019 as coach of Kansas.
What if he had seized the “opportunity” and / or “offer” of his alma mater in 2011? Would he still be in Michigan, and if so, where would Harbaugh be?
“I just remember sitting outside with Kathy [in 2011] and thinking of ourselves, “We can pay Michigan back for doing a great job here at LSU,” Miles told ESPN last year. “And we decided to stay.”
What if Frank Beamer went to North Carolina?
Frank Beamer calls it one of the worst moments of his career.
He had built Virginia Tech’s program from scratch and made the Hokies nationally relevant during his Hall of Fame career. But at the end of November 2000, he flew to Chapel Hill, in North Carolina, and accepted an agreement with the sporting director of the UNC, Dick Baddour, to become the next trainer of the Tar Heels.
“I always believed that if you gave your word to someone, you stood by it, and I intended to do so,” said Beamer.
It was until he returned to Blacksburg.
North Carolina wanted him to stay overnight and have a press conference the next day to announce his hiring, but Beamer insisted on going back and telling his coaches and players himself.
“And when I got there, I just never got back on this plane,” said Beamer. “The worst thing about the deal was going back on my word, but Virginia Tech was my home.”
About a week later, Georgia also contacted Beamer about his job after firing Jim Donnan. The Bulldogs ended up hiring Mark Richt.
“I told them, ‘Look, I just went through this thing with North Carolina. There is no way I can get involved in any other work at this point,'” Beamer recalls.
North Carolina, following Beamer’s change of heart, offered the job to David Cutcliffe, but Cutcliffe chose to stay at Ole Miss after being at Oxford for only two seasons and having a quarterback named Eli Manning who would return for its second season.
“I just couldn’t leave Eli. Of course I didn’t know I was going to be fired a few years later,” said Cutcliffe, who led the rebels to 10 wins and a share in the SEC’s SEC championship. West Division in 2003. and was then laid off after the 2004 season.
North Carolina ultimately chose John Bunting, who was sacked after six seasons and replaced by Butch Davis. The Tar Heels, who haven’t won an ACC title since 1980, are now in their fifth different coach (Mack Brown) since Beamer’s change of mind and have won more than eight games only once since Brown left at the end of 1997. season to take up work in Texas.
Beamer, on the other hand, has won 10 or more games in nine of its last 14 seasons, including eight consecutive seasons of 10 or better wins from 2004 to 2011, and it has won four CCA championships in that season. period.
“I will always hate the way everything went with North Carolina,” said Beamer. “I thought you could do very well there and still do it, but things went pretty well for me here too.”
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