Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley on Tuesday lamented the recent ousting of Big 12 coaching colleagues Matt Wells and Gary Patterson, saying the timing is not good for college football.
Wells was fired by Texas Tech on Oct. 25 despite a 5-3 record, with athletic director Kirby Hocutt saying making a change was “inevitable” by season’s end. Patterson’s tenure at TCU ended Sunday after 20-plus years as coach of the Horned Frogs, with AD Jeremiah Donati saying he gave Patterson the option to remain coach through the end of the season, but he declined.
“To see two guys out in midseason like that, one with a winning record and one is undoubtedly the greatest coach in the history of his school,” Riley said, his voice trailing off. “Seeing Gary Patterson go out in the middle of the season is just — I don’t know what to think of it, man. I was sick when I heard the news, to be completely honest. I know it’s a tough business. Our jobs are scrutinized and we’re big boys and can live with big-boy decisions. But man, what he did at that place and to not even finish out the year, I don’t know.”
Patterson went 181-79 at TCU and was the second-longest tenured active head coach in the FBS, trailing only Iowa‘s Kirk Ferentz, who took over in 1999. The Horned Frogs went 51-27 between 2012-17, but were just 21-22 since 2018.
Riley said he acknowledged that getting ahead of the December early signing period would be a factor for administrators. However, he said that it’s just one signing class compared to a long-term decision on a coach, and thinks the new rush on midseason coaching changes is a bad one.
“It’s not good for our game, not good for our league,” he said. “I hope we can find a better solution than this because I’m afraid it’s going to become the trend. If you’re asking maybe a reason why, I think everybody is scared they’re going to miss out on who they want to hire.”
Donati, the TCU AD, acknowledged Tuesday that the change was made immediately because of the recruiting calendar, and a desire to hire Patterson’s replacement before the December signing period, which begins Dec. 15.
USC fired coach Clay Helton earlier this season, and LSU announced Ed Orgeron won’t return in 2022, leading schools to jockey for position for prime candidates, especially in the case of the two Texas openings.
Both Texas Tech and TCU have said they’re looking for similar candidates, especially a coach with strong Texas ties. SMU coach Sonny Dykes, whose Mustangs are 8-1, has connections to both schools, having grown up and played baseball for Tech in Lubbock when his father, Spike, was the Red Raiders’ coach, and later serving as an assistant for Mike Leach. He also was an analyst one season under Patterson at TCU in 2017 after getting fired from Cal.
UTSA‘s Jeff Traylor, a successful former Texas high school coach and prime candidate for both schools, just signed a $28 million extension with the Roadrunners that runs through 2031 with a $7.5 million buyout.
“We may have to look at something maybe like the pros do, or something like that that really draws some hard lines on when [firings] can happen and when they can’t,” Riley said. “Gary Patterson not finishing a season at a place he built? Man, that ain’t right.”