ESPN college football (amongst other sports) numbers wizard extraordinaire Bill Connelly has an interesting perspective. Connelly was recently a guest on The Solid Verbal podcast, and to paraphrase- Bill said that if a college football head coach’s tenure isn’t producing by year three, it’s probably not going to work out. I found that really interesting and as someone that enjoys the coaching carousel to an extent, I’m surprised I hadn’t thought of it myself.
First, let’s look nationally at a few coaches who have seen year three come and go and are either gone from those jobs, or are likely to be gone soon.
National year three’s
Jim Harbaugh at Michigan finished 8-5 in year three in Ann Arbor, lost the Outback Bowl, and has never beaten Ohio State. Sure, Michigan bounced back the next season in 2018 with a 10 wins but is 1-4 in bowl games and has still never knocked off OSU. His time as the head coach of the Wolverines is coming to a close soon.
Will Muschamp has had two bad year three’s. At Florida in 2013, Muschamp followed his 11-2 season with a 4-8 showing. A smidge north up at South Carolina, Muschamp finished 7-6 in year three before bottoming out in year four at 4-8.
Chris Ash at Rutgers finished year three with a record of 1-11 in 2018. He has been replaced by Greg Schiano who won more games in 2020 than Ash did in 2018 and 2019 combined (just three, but still!).
Ed Orgeron, on the other hand, used his year three in 2018 as a building block to the LSU Tigers championship run in 2019. Coach O’s Tigers finished ‘18 with a 10-3 record including a Fiesta Bowl victory over UCF. Orgeron’s three losses in ‘18? Top rated Alabama, a top25 Florida Gators team, and that 73-72 seven OT game against Texas A&M.
And what about Jimbo Fisher? His Florida State team in 2012, year three, finished 12-2 and with a win in the Orange Bowl before his 2013 championship season. At Texas A&M, Fisher just completed year three which was a 9-1 season and another Orange Bowl win, this time over UNC.
Mario Cristobal’s year three at Oregon was a 12-2 season with a Rose Bowl victory. The Ducks took a step back during 2020’s COVID season to 4-3, but are expected to be a College Football Playoff competitor in ‘21.
Brian Kelly has had three phenomenal year three’s in his head coaching career. At Central Michigan, Kelly finished the 2006 season with a 9-4 record. At Cincinnati, Kelly’s 2008 squad finished 11-3 with an Orange Bowl appearance before finishing 12-0 in 2009. At Notre Dame, Kelly got the Fighting Irish into the BCS National Championship Game where they were curb stomped by Alabama 42-14.
College football’s greatest coach of all time, Nick Saban, finished 14-0 at Alabama in 2009, winning the BCS National Championship in the process. Compared that to Kevin Sumlin’s run at Arizona which was a complete disaster. He finished 9-20 including an 0-5 showing in 2020 which was his third season in Tuscon, AZ.
Historically, Lou Holtz’s year three at Notre Dame was his 12-0 team in 1988 that won the National Championship. Joe Paterno’s year three at Penn State was an 11-0 team that won the Orange Bowl in 1968. Bear Bryant’s year three at Texas A&M was a 10-0-1 team that finished 5th in the nation, while his year three at Alabama was an 8-1-2 team that lead to Bama’s 11-0 national title squad in 1961.
It only took Bob Stoops two seasons to win the national championship at Oklahoma back in 2000, and Jim Tressel two seasons to win it all at Ohio State in 2002*. Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer made things happen in year one and two and three. Meyer’s runs at Bowling Green and Utah say 9-2 and 12-0 records in year two, his 2006 Florida Gators squad won the BCS title in 2006, and his OSU team finished undefeated in 2012 (couldn’t participate in the post season), and he won the College Football Playoff in 2014, year three.
The Miami Hurricanes
A mixture of history and recency, Miami has seen both peaks and eventually valleys in year three for the ‘Canes head football coaches. Dating all the way back to 1928, head coaches at The U have had some telling year three’s.
Howard P. Buck’s final season in Coral Gables came in ‘28 after a 4-4-1 season of the new Hurricanes program. Tom McCann had some success at Miami, his year three was a 5-1-2 season in ‘33 and by ‘34 the ‘Canes were Orange Bowl bound.
Jack Harding finished 5-5 in his first run at Miami in 1939, but then bottomed out with a 2-7-1 record in his 2nd year three in 1947. Andy Gustafson, Miami’s longest tenured head coach, hit his peak in year three. Gustafson’s 1950 team finished 9-1-1 with an Orange Bowl loss. Charlie Tate’s 1966 team finished 8-2-1 and with a Liberty Bowl victory. Tate’s peak season saw his record get progressively worse afterwards.
Miami went through four head coaches who only lasted two seasons before Howard Schnellenberger took over in 1979. Howard’s year three was a 9-2 effort in 1981 which saw Miami finish 8th overall in the nation. By 1983, The Miami Hurricanes were starting their Decade of Dominance over the college football world with a title win over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
Jimmy Johnson’s year three at Miami, the 1986 season, was an 11-1 final and loss to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. In 1987 Johnson won the national championship with a 12-0 season and Orange Bowl victory over Oklahoma.
Dennis Erickson, like Urban Meyer, saw immediate success at Miami. Coach E won the national championship in year one which was an 11-1 season in 1989. By year three the ‘Canes were back on top with Miami’s second undefeated season. The ‘Canes finished ‘91 with a 12-0 record and Orange Bowl win over Nebraska.
The tables started to turn with Butch Davis’s year three. Year three for Coach Davis was the 1997 scholarship restricted season at Miami. The Hurricanes finished 5-7, the team’s first losing season since 1979, Schnelly’s first at Miami. However, that was a building block season that saw players like Dan Morgan, Santana Moss, Ed Reed, Reggie Wayne and others come to Miami with dreams of winning the national championship.
Larry Coker won the BCS National Championship in year one at Miami in 2001. The Hurricanes finished 12-0 with narrow escapes against Virginia Tech and Boston College. Coker’s year three might’ve spelled the writing on the wall. Miami finished 2003 11-2 and with an Orange Bowl win, but Miami lost back-to-back poor outings against Virginia Tech and Tennessee. By year four Miami was out of the national title picture and and Coker was gone after year six.
Miami’s hiring process had gotten lazy and Randy Shannon was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach, much like Coker had been promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach in 2001. Miami could’ve gotten creative and hired from outside of the circle but refused to spend money like the big boys were. Shannon’s first season in 2007, saw a 5-7 record, Miami’s first losing season since Davis a decade earlier.
Shannon’s year three was a 9-4 effort and a Champs Sports Bowl loss to Wisconsin. Shannon then finished 7-6 in 2010 before being fired. Al Golden took over Miami, once again on probation. Golden also finished 9-4 in year three, which was also his best season at Miami. Golden lost the Russell Athletic Bowl, also in Orlando, before being fired during the 2015 season. Both Shannon and Golden saw their careers end with a Sun Bowl loss (Golden did not coach the Sun Bowl).
Mark Richt had success at Miami in year two, a 10-3 season that saw the ‘Canes collapse and lose their final three games of the season. Miami finished 7-1 in the ACC before the ACC Championship Game blowout to Clemson. By year three Richt looked exhausted and finished 7-6, including a Pinstripe Bowl loss to Wisconsin, before retiring.
Manny Diaz’s year three
Now Manny Diaz enters year three in 2021. This will be Coach Diaz’s make-or-break year. Miami isn’t on probation, he’s had a nearly complete roster turnover. The Hurricanes return their starting QB in D’Eriq King, and a slew of other talents. Miami lost TE Brevin Jordan, defensive ends Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche, but return nearly everyone else with meaningful playing time in the starting 22.
Diaz’s first season at Miami, in 2019, was a 6-7 disaster. Miami was shutout in the Independence Bowl by Louisiana Tech to send OC Dan Enos packing. Diaz then hit the transfer portal hard again and rebounded in 2020. The ‘Canes finished 8-3 but lost to Clemson and UNC in blowouts, plus a bowl loss to Oklahoma State in the Cheez-It Bowl.
After replacing his offensive staff after 2019, Diaz replaced his defensive staff after 2020. The Hurricanes have a nearly all new staff heading into year three from the Week One in 2019. Miami returns a ton of production in King, Cam’Ron Harris, Will Mallory, Mike Harley, and upgraded the cornerback and wide receiver rooms with Tyrique Stevenson and Charleston Rambo transferring via the portal.
The Hurricanes only have two reasonable losses on the schedule in Week One against the Alabama Crimson Tide and against the UNC Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. If Bill Connelly is right, and year three is the ultimate sign, this is Manny Diaz’s season to win the Coastal and put up a fight against Clemson in Charlotte. Miami also needs to win a New Year’s Six bowl game and position itself as potential title contenders in 2022.