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Texas A&M Football

The grass isn't always greener: Ten worst head coach firings since 2000

February 23, 2021
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Remember that old flame you doused so many years ago? That significant other you let get away because maybe everything wasn’t perfect?

Or maybe you thought you could do better. Maybe you did. But perhaps it took a while.

Still, from time to time, you might reflect with regret and wonder what might have been if you had stayed together.

Well, football coaches are like that, too.

It’s quite common for college football fans and media to analyze the coaching hires that failed, but what about the programs that may have made a mistake in firing a coach?

There is a long list of college programs that have been stuck in mediocrity after firing successful coaches. In many cases, that can be excused because of unacceptable behavior or controversy.

Ole Miss had to fire Hugh Freeze. Arkansas had to fire Bobby Petrino. Baylor had to fire Art Briles. Colorado had to fire Gary Barnett.

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With a record of 123-47-2, Slocum is the winningest head coach in A&M history.

However, many programs just became impatient or had unrealistic expectations. Other times, a coach became a victim of his own success.

Texas A&M certainly isn’t immune.

The prudence of the 2002 firing of R.C. Slocum is still often debated among Aggies, but it’s clear A&M did not get better for a long time following his termination.

Slocum never had a losing season in becoming the winningest coach in A&M history. The Aggies were 123-47-2 in 14 seasons under Slocum, winning four conference championships and enjoying five seasons with at least 10 victories.

Nearly a decade of mediocrity followed his dismissal. Dennis Franchione, Slocum’s successor, was 32-28 in five seasons. Mike Sherman, who followed Franchione, was 25-25.

A&M still hasn’t won a conference championship since Slocum’s exit, though that’s more due to moving from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference than coaching.

Firing Slocum was a mistake, but A&M is in no way alone in making such an error. Indeed, the Aggies probably wouldn’t make the Top Ten for worst firings since 2000.

Here’s ours.

10. Jeff Tedford, California: Once a national power, Cal had managed one winning season in 10 years before Tedford was named head coach in 2002. The Golden Bears went 7-5 in Tedford’s first season. That was one of nine winning seasons in 11 years under Tedford, in which he was 82-57. However, he was dismissed after a 3-9 finish in 2012. In the following eight seasons, Cal is 40-51.

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Cutcliffe has found some success at Duke and is 74-88 as the Blue Devils head coach.

9. David Cutcliffe, Ole Miss: Before Cutcliffe brought respect to a moribund Duke program, he had an impressive six-year run in Oxford. Cutcliffe was 44-29 from 1998-2004 at Ole Miss. The highlight was a 10-3 finish in 2003 when the Rebels tied for first place in the SEC West, but he was fired after going 4-7 in 2004. Cutcliffe was replaced by Ed Orgeron, who posted 10 victories in three seasons. Then, the Rebels went 24-26 in four seasons under Houston Nutt. Ole Miss finally regained consistent success under Hugh Freeze, but he was eventually fired for … uh … unsavory use of a university-issued credit card as well as recruiting violations.

Bottom line, Ole Miss had five winning seasons in six years under Cutcliffe. It has had six winning seasons in 16 years since he left.

8. Ruffin McNeill, East Carolina: Historically, East Carolina has had brief periods of success but has never been able to sustain it. Ruffin McNeill came close. He was 43-34 in six seasons. The Pirates had a three-year run from 2012-2014 in which they won at least eight games every year, but McNeill was fired after going 5-7 in 2015. Four of those losses were by a touchdown or less to the likes of Florida, BYU and Cincinnati. The Pirates have not managed more than four wins in any of the following five seasons. They’re 16-41 in that span.

7. Paul Pasqualoni, Syracuse: In 14 seasons from 1991-2004, Syracuse was 107-59-1 under Pasqualoni. That included three 10-win seasons. Syracuse opted to make a change after a 6-6 finish in 2004. It didn’t work out as planned. Greg Robinson, Pasqualoni’s successor, was 10-37 in four seasons. The Orange are 73-121 under four coaches since replacing Pasqualoni.

6. Frank Solich, Nebraska: Perhaps the greatest failing for Frank Solich was that he was not Tom Osborne. In 1998, Solich was put in the difficult position of replacing Osborne, the winningest coach in Nebraska history and a bona fide legend in Lincoln. To make matters even more challenging, Nebraska had won a share of the national champion in 1997. In six seasons, Nebraska was 58-19 under Solich. The Cornhuskers posted 12 wins in 1999 and 11 in 2001. However, Solich was fired after going 9-3 in 2003. He was replaced by Bill Callahan, who was 27-22 in four seasons. Bo Pelini had a successful seven-season run but brought off-field embarrassment to the program. Mike Riley was 19-19 in three seasons. Current coach Scott Frost is 12-20 since taking over the program in 2018.

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After a stint as an analyst for ESPN, Brown returned to North Carolina in 2019 and has the Heels rolling.

5. Mack Brown, Texas: Brown took over a moribund Texas program in 1998 and quickly transformed it into a national power. Brown went 158-48 in 16 seasons. That included a national championship in 2005, a national championship game appearance in 2009 and nine 10-win seasons. His team had just one losing season. Yet, he was forced to resign after an 8-5 finish in 2013. Charlie Strong took over and suffered through three consecutive losing seasons. Tom Herman followed with mediocre results. Texas is 48-39 since Brown’s departure.

4. Philip Fulmer, Tennessee: Only legendary coach Robert Neyland posted more victories at Tennessee than Fulmer, who was 152-52 in Knoxville over 16 seasons. Tennessee won the 1998 national championship, two SEC championships and posted at least 10 victories nine times under Fulmer. However, one year after a 10-4 finish in which the Volunteers represented the East Division in the 2007 SEC championship game, Fulmer was fired. He only had two losing seasons at Tennessee, but they were 5-6 in 2005 and 2008.

Tennessee demanded more. It got less. In the following 12 seasons, Tennessee has compiled a 73-75 record under four coaches. The Vols have not had another 10-win season since Fulmer’s ouster.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Since being bounced from Lubbock, Leach had a good run at Washington State, where he was 55-47, then joined the SEC, taking over at Mississippi State in 2020.

3. Mike Leach, Texas Tech: Texas Tech never had a losing season in ten years under Leach. In fact, the Red Raiders won at least nine games five times. They even were ranked No. 2 during Week 13 of the 2008 season. Leach was 84-43 at Tech and the winningest coach in school history. Still, Leach was fired before the 2009 Alamo Bowl one day before he was due an $800,000 tenure bonus and more than $1.7 million in guarantees for the 2009 season. Tech saved the money, but its football fortunes declined dramatically. In the following 11 seasons, Texas Tech has had three head coaches, four winning seasons and has managed no more than eight victories (twice) in a year.

2. Mark Mangino, Kansas: It seems hard to believe, but Kansas football once ranked in the final top ten. That was 2007 when the Jayhawks finished 12-1 and defeated Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Mangino was Kanas’ head coach that year. In fact, he coached Kansas for eight seasons from 2002-2009. He was 50-48 and led the Jayhawks to four bowl games. That’s no modest accomplishment in Lawrence. After a 5-7 finish in 2009, Mangino was fired for boorish behavior, profane language and poking a player in the chest. Kansas is 21-108 under five coaches since Mangino left. The Jayhawks have not posted more than three victories in any season during that span.

1. Ralph Friedgen, Maryland: Maryland had not won more than six games in any season for 15 years before Friedgen took over in 2001. His first team finished 10-2. The next season, the Terps were 11-1. In 10 seasons from 2001-2010, Maryland went 75-50 under Friedgen, yet he was fired after Terps went 9-4 in ’10. He was replaced by Randy Edsall, who was 22-24 in over four seasons. Since Friedgen’s ouster, Maryland is 43-73 and has not managed more than seven victories in any season. Still, the Terps did post victories over Texas in 2017 and 2018.

Discussion from...

The grass isn't always greener: Ten worst head coach firings since 2000

117,166 Views | 54 Replies | Last: 7 mo ago by Harry Lime
PanzerAggie06
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You're wrong. Firing RC was not a mistake. That was a reasonable course of action. The mistake was the hiring of Fran. The two are separate events and thus need to be judged separately.
ccatag
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Nice touch with the last line at the end of your article, Olin.
aalan94
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Firing RC was a mistake. I went through 5 years on campus and only saw us lose 1 game at home, and 2 of those years, we never lost any games in the regular season. RC needed a good OC he could keep, but he was the best coach we had between D.X. Bible and maybe Jimbo (the jury's still out, but looking good now).
ABATTBQ87
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aalan94 said:

Firing RC was a mistake. I went through 5 years on campus and only saw us lose 1 game at home, and 2 of those years, we never lost any games in the regular season. RC needed a good OC he could keep, but he was the best coach we had between D.X. Bible and maybe Jimbo (the jury's still out, but looking good now).


Homer Norton says look at me, I have a National Championship and am 2nd on the all time win list for coaches at A&M!!
Papa Joe
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Since Friedgen's ouster, Maryland is 43-73 and has not managed more than seven victories in any season. Still, the Terps did post victories over Texas in 2017 and 2018.

So, that means the Terps won 4.3 games per year in the last 10 years. Two of those over Texas which is NOT even in their conference. WOW! Please share this with your sip co-workers.
rab79
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aalan94 said:

Firing RC was a mistake. I went through 5 years on campus and only saw us lose 1 game at home, and 2 of those years, we never lost any games in the regular season. RC needed a good OC he could keep, but he was the best coach we had between D.X. Bible and maybe Jimbo (the jury's still out, but looking good now).
Jackie, Bear and Emory also say hi......
in order for democrats, liberals, progressives et al to continue their illogical belief systems they have to pretend not to know a lot of things' By pretending 'not to know' there is no guilt, no actual connection to conscience. Denial of truth allows easier trespass.
AWP 97
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PanzerAggie06 said:

You're wrong. Firing RC was not a mistake. That was a reasonable course of action. The mistake was the hiring of Fran. The two are separate events and thus need to be judged separately.
You took the words right out of my mouth. It drives me crazy that some Aggies can't separate the two events.
Daytripper
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RC could have been the best ever had he paid more attention to offense. I don't believe he ever completely turned the offense over to his OC. And when it was crunch time, he always turned to his defense to win it. He thought the high flying offenses, the ones dominating football today, were not real football.
Agsuffering@bulaw
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RC never figured out how to defend the spread. He was a solid coach who found himself in a very good spot for a while. The great HCs either build, win titles, or both. RC did neither.

Fran was a fraud that we bought into (me included). We could have done better, had we done our homework.


Kansas and TBAT got fat and sassy and fired winners for personal reasons.
goosespn
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PanzerAggie06 said:

You're wrong. Firing RC was not a mistake. That was a reasonable course of action. The mistake was the hiring of Fran. The two are separate events and thus need to be judged separately.
I couldn't disagree more with this take. R.C. was a damn good coach and was a consistent winner. Hiring Fran aside, the reasons to get rid of RC never made sense and they never will. Oh, and also......He was a better coach than Emory, he was better than Bear when Bear was at A&M, and he was a better coach than Jackie. Maybe not a better motivator than Jackie or Bear, but a better coach.
Goosespn
Gig Em!!!
McInnis80
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A&M let Mack Brown and Horns get a huge lead in facilities. Everyone thought Fran was a great hire. Hey, if you are able to steal a coach from Alabama, how could that go wrong? Bob Gates was a big deal for A&M but he was not a big football fan.

TxAg76
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PanzerAggie06 said:

You're wrong. Firing RC was not a mistake. That was a reasonable course of action. The mistake was the hiring of Fran. The two are separate events and thus need to be judged separately.


The same pack of wombats were at the core of both.
Wes97
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goosespn said:

PanzerAggie06 said:

.
I couldn't disagree more with this take. R.C. was a damn good coach and was a consistent winner. Hiring Fran aside, the reasons to get rid of RC never made sense and they never will. Oh, and also......He was a better coach than Emory, he was better than Bear when Bear was at A&M, and he was a better coach than Jackie. Maybe not a better motivator than Jackie or Bear, but a better coach.


Respectfully disagree. Jackie coached against some solid SWC teams. By the time RC took over the SWC was well on its way to being a complete joke.

Look at his nonconference and bowl records to tell the true story of that era.
NoahAg
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Nebraska firing Pelini was dumber than their firing Solich.
4
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NoahAg said:

Nebraska firing Pelini was dumber than their firing Solich.

Firing Bo Pelini is never a bad idea
jimmo
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the RC debate, after almost 20 years lol, never ends.
(firing RC was a big mistake BTW)

wish Panhandle Slim was here

Thanks Olin! good piece as usual
MarvsMustang
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Firing RC was not a mistake.

His high-water mark for cumulative winning percentage was 1994 at 0.822 (also, he fired the best OC of his entire tenure, Bob Toledo, after the '94 season). By the time he was let go he had a cumulative percentage of 0.721.

Everybody likes to point to his five 10-win seasons. Four of those were '91,'92,'93, and '94. The other 10-win season was in 1998.

I have a graph. He was on a slow, steady downward trend.
greg.w.h
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RC had to compete depending on stingy donations. But he also didn't have the charisma to fix the problem which left Gates making a strategic choice.

It's unknown exactly what if anything $Bill had to do with the Fran hire, but under him the rest of the sports got much better including basketball...at least for a bit. Whether that matters depends on how you view the role of intercollegiate sports. The Ivies and Stanford have more (though largely shut down right now.). Many Aggies would be satisfied with only major success in football.

The idea that intercollegiate athletics are the front porch for the university is a powerful marketing advantage. Unless you're not good at them. Then might as well not have them.

Football is unique in that it drives funding for the entire intercollegiate athletics structure. Capital expenditures are still impacted by donations of course.

We are in a good place in spite of a big huge hickey where we expected to see 2020-2021 revenue. But we likely are better off than most.

Jimbo is changing our expectations through winning. Exactly how those should change...

rab79
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goosespn said:

PanzerAggie06 said:

You're wrong. Firing RC was not a mistake. That was a reasonable course of action. The mistake was the hiring of Fran. The two are separate events and thus need to be judged separately.
I couldn't disagree more with this take. R.C. was a damn good coach and was a consistent winner. Hiring Fran aside, the reasons to get rid of RC never made sense and they never will. Oh, and also......He was a better coach than Emory, he was better than Bear when Bear was at A&M, and he was a better coach than Jackie. Maybe not a better motivator than Jackie or Bear, but a better coach.
Based on what? Bear's last team was headed for an undefeated season until he told them he was leaving for bama. Emory also had an undefeated team until letting a television schedule delay the arkansas game until the end of the season, and after the QB was injured against tu. Jackie's potential was cut short by the sips but we were headed toward the top under him. RC was a good coach but his most wins in aggie history was more a factor of longevity and not having to initially rebuild a team than outstanding coaching.

The ratio of 10 win seasons for Emory, Jackie and RC is practically identical
in order for democrats, liberals, progressives et al to continue their illogical belief systems they have to pretend not to know a lot of things' By pretending 'not to know' there is no guilt, no actual connection to conscience. Denial of truth allows easier trespass.
discosuperfly
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The body of work argument fails to recognize that many coaches cited in this piece had slipped, including RC. You cannot just assume that had each been retained that that their respective programs would have returned to prior glory. The nature of college programs is fickle and after a while new blood is necessary.

I remember watching Fran's Bama squad roll into Tiger Stadium and shutout a good LSU team coached by Saban. Too bad it did not work out for us. RC would have prevented the backslide, but it is doubtful he could have overcome rival programs coached by Stoops, Brown and Saban. Extending him would have postponed the inevitable and robbed an opportunity at finding the right coach.
Gil Renard
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discosuperfly said:

The body of work argument fails to recognize that many coaches cited in this piece had slipped, including RC. You cannot just assume that had each been retained that that their respective programs would have returned to prior glory. The nature of college programs is fickle and after a while new blood is necessary.

I remember watching Fran's Bama squad roll into Tiger Stadium and shutout a good LSU team coached by Saban. Too bad it did not work out for us. RC would have prevented the backslide, but it is doubtful he could have overcome rival programs coached by Stoops, Brown and Saban. Extending him would have postponed the inevitable and robbed an opportunity at finding the right coach.


This is spot on and a historical take when your kids ask why the 2002-2011 outlier worst run arguably ever
Gil Renard
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We already hear the best win for A&M was ____ from our Orange Bowl Championship season. Or the reason we are good is because UT-Aus is down or the sec is down. Well it works both ways.
DamnGood86
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Whew, most of that was brutal.
You may not find me funny, but I do.
W
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R.C. was killed --- absolutely killed --- in recruiting by OU & t.u. his last 3 years...2000, 2001, and 2002.

everything was trending the wrong way
Traveler
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W said:

R.C. was killed --- absolutely killed --- in recruiting by OU & t.u. his last 3 years...2000, 2001, and 2002.

everything was trending the wrong way
Yup. RC 100% had to go.

The fact that we screwed up the next two hires is a completely separate issue. Maybe we learned from them.
Meximan
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I feel like the Solich firing should be #1; with Solich, they were very close to being national title contenders. No other team on the list can say that.
Calay
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Re: Jeff Tedford. It wasn't one season.

--He went 9-18 in the Pac-12 in his final 3 seasons at Cal.

--In his final 3 seasons, Tedford had 12 blowout losses of 17 or more points. 1 out of every 3 games was a blowout loss.

--By Tedford's final years, Cal football had the worst graduation rates among Div. 1 college football programs in the *entire nation* and was in danger of suffering major penalties.

--In Tedford's final 5 games, Cal scored a total of 74 points and its opponents scored a total of 212 points.

--By the end, Tedford's teams had seemingly given up on him.

--Tedford was, as he admitted a couple years later, overworked, sleeping in his office and not getting proper sleep. He was able to recharge with time off and rebound with Fresno State after suffering a major heart ailment while working with the Tampa Bay Buccanneers.

--If Cal had not fired Tedford in 2012, he might have done irreparrable harm to the program. Sonny Dykes, despite his losing record, was able to restore the academic component to the Cal football program.


Also, Cal was maybe a national power for like 2 to 3 years under Tedford. He was amazing and did great things for the program. But you have to put his firing in context.
Haricougar
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A&M slipped under RC not because of him but because of Wally Groff.

A&M refused to spend on infrastructure and facilities became outdated.

RC's biggest flaw was not to start to offer to juniors in February as Mack Brown did.

Firing Toledo was the right thing to do. I coached HS football at A&M Consol at the time (we had gone the the state championship 3 out of 4 years at the time) and we laughed at how simplistic and predictable A&M was.
floridAG
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The RC debate will probably never end. Unlike some of the other coaches, it's hard to really confirm whether the reasons for the downward trajectory after '98 were due to RC or situations he couldn't control. It was likely a mixture of all of them. I was in the keep RC camp but could have just as easily used the same arguments that resulted in his firing.

Our facilities were terrible. The surrounding teams that impact our recruiting most (Texas, OU, and LSU) made excellent hires at HC (Brown, Stoops, and Saban). RC struggled to adapt to the changes in the game on O and D. A&M struggled in bowls throughout his tenure.

Still, he made us one of the winningest teams of the 90s. The period from Jackie through RC helped change the expectations for what Aggie football could become.
Z Team
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RC was the master of mediocrity. The number of times he said that he was glad that we were only down by ten points at the half still blows my mind. His offenses were predictable and stale and didn't cause any high school coaches to want to learn from him. He was a dinosaur who didn't adapt to the changing landscape of how college football was being played. Three yards and a cloud of dust didn't set any offensive records for his whole tenure. Not a mistake.
Daytripper
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In defense of RC, the school never gave him a grade point curriculum where recruits could survive and flourish in addition to proposed facility upgrades mentioned earlier. In other words, he received a whole lot less support from alumni and the administration than his successors have since received. Fisher would not even entertaining the thought of coming here with what RC had to work with.
Detmersdislocatedshoulder
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The story has not been written but a decade down the road I believe Gus Malhzan will be on this list.

Auburn made a big mistake.
Houstonag
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Like others have said firing RC was correct. I like him but this is business. RC failed to adapt and could not recruit the difference makers. Adapting to changes is the key in any business and HC jobs are not different. Also his assistants rattled their mounts too much back in the (90's ) when they were winning and angered the high school coaches. Being confident is ok but arrogant is not.
Showstopper
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Meximan said:

I feel like the Solich firing should be #1; with Solich, they were very close to being national title contenders. No other team on the list can say that.
I mean, if we are being honest, Friedgren being #1 isn't about metrics as much as the last line is the funniest line, so Olin wanted that to be the mic drop.

Not that I'm complaining...
ABATTBQ11
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Quote:

5. Mack Brown, Texas: Brown took over a moribund Texas program in 1998 and quickly transformed it into a national power. Brown went 158-48 in 16 seasons. That included a national championship in 2005, a national championship game appearance in 2009 and nine 10-win seasons. His team had just one losing season. Yet, he was forced to resign after an 8-5 finish in 2013. Charlie Strong took over and suffered through three consecutive losing seasons. Tom Herman followed with mediocre results. Texas is 48-39 since Brown's departure, with one of those losses being to Kansas.


Quote:

2. Mark Mangino, Kansas: It seems hard to believe, but Kansas football once ranked in the final top ten. That was 2007 when the Jayhawks finished 12-1 and defeated Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Mangino was Kanas' head coach that year. In fact, he coached Kansas for eight seasons from 2002-2009. He was 50-48 and led the Jayhawks to four bowl games. That's no modest accomplishment in Lawrence. After a 5-7 finish in 2009, Mangino was fired for boorish behavior, profane language and poking a player in the chest. Kansas is 21-108 under five coaches since Mangino left. The Jayhawks have not posted more than three victories in any season during that span. Still, Kansas managed to beat Texas in 2016.


FIFY Olin. Never forget, Texas lost to Kansas in football.
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