Top 10 Most Hated College Football Head Coaches
You need thick skin to be a college football head coach, as you are constantly criticized by fans, the media and sometimes even opposing coaches. And if you’re a coach at one of the best programs in the nation, chances are you have been vilified across the country. In fact, being disliked might be part of what makes some college football coaches so successful.
But the following 10 will certainly never when a popularity contest, as these are the most hated coaches in the FBS based upon the combined opinions of the fans, the media and the coaching community.
10. Gene Chizik (Auburn)
Steve Spurrier has softened over the years, Les Miles is like a cartoon character and Chip Kelly isn’t quite despised enough to make the list despite allegations swirling around his program. Two coaches who definitely would have made the cut, Urban Meyer and Rich Rodriguez, aren’t on the sidelines this season.
It might not be fair, but Chizik makes this list because his Tigers’ made it to the top of the championship mountain last season amid controversy. As this story points out, nobody really hates Mark Richt, the struggling coach of Georgia, and that’s not a good thing for the Bulldogs. Chizik has his supporters - including many in the media - but it’s clear that he’s not a favorite among those from fellow SEC teams as expected.
Among fans and probably some fellow coaches, he is seen as complicit in the Cam Newton scandal, in which many think that the Heisman-winning quarterback was paid to come to Auburn. Of course, nothing has been proven - and the Tigers have yet to be accused - but that doesn’t stop the hate toward Auburn’s coach. And then there was the fact Chizik never suspended Nick Fairley while cheap-shotting his way to a crystal ball. Is Chizik a great coach with a bad rap due to jealousy or just a decent coach who bends the rules to get ahead? It depends who you ask.
9. George O’Leary (UCF)
When O’Leary’s name comes up, he inevitably is linked to his short - and that’s an understatement - 2001 stint at Notre Dame, which forced him to resign five days after hiring him. It was revealed that O’Leary provided inaccuracies on his resume, allegedly about his academic and athletic accomplishments. While this is a small snapshot of O’Leary’s coaching career, he was deemed dishonest - and it’s not the only time he has rubbed people the wrong way.
O’Leary also was embroiled in a feud with the Orlando Sentinel, which he felt sensationalized details surrounding the 2008 death of UCF football player Ereck Plancher, who died after conditioning drills. O’Leary temporarily boycotted the newspaper, the only major publication that follows the Knights home and away. Throw in an accusation by a former player during Plancher’s trial that O’Leary took water away from practice - which he denied - and the portrayal of O’Leary isn’t very rosy.
8. Mike Locksley (New Mexico)
Here’s all you need to know about Locksley: He was accused of allegedly choking and punching wide receivers coach J.B. Gerald in 2009. He’s also accused of getting into a verbal confrontation at a bar last year with a student reporter whose article Locksley did not agree with. Surveillance tapes reportedly were destroyed of that incident. To top it off, Locksley was accused of alleged sexual harassment by an administrative assistant in 2009.
While these incidents all are based on allegations, it’s clear that New Mexico’s coach has had a rocky tenure since taking over the Lobos in 2009. Oh yeah, he has won just two games at the school since his hire - not exactly helping his approval rating.
7. Bo Pelini (Nebraska)
Pelini is a wild man on the sideline, and that’s an understatement. Just peruse YouTube and you can find plenty of examples of Nebraska’s coach blowing his top. Even Pelini admitted in 2008 that he needs to tone it down. He suggested last year that his temper was characterizing both himself and his school in a negative light.
One of the coach’s famous controversial moments came in 2010, when he screamed in the face of struggling freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez on the sideline - pointing his finger into the QB’s chest with a maniacal look on his face. It was rumored that Martinez was affected enough to consider quitting the team. While the talented quarterback remains on the Huskers, Pelini’s nuclear temper doesn’t win him any friends in college football.
6. Dennis Erickson (Arizona State)
Erickson is known as a coach who lets his players get away with a lot, a reputation that was formed mostly from his time at Miami (FL), where he won two national championships. However, the ‘Canes were hit with NCAA sanctions after he left. Erickson has never run a tight ship; his Miami players also were known as aggressive bad boys, and that has continued at Arizona State, where he coaches Vontaze Burfict, a talented but hot-headed linebacker who once head-butted Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz for no good reason with little repercussion. A coach who has regularly hauled in junior-college transfers like Chad Johnson at Oregon State, it’s perceived that Erickson will do anything to win - for better and worse.
Erickson’s reputation always has been cloudy, especially after a 1995 incident in which he was pinched for DUI. He told the Associated Press in 2006 that it was “an awful mistake, and it’s something I’ve dealt with all my life.”
5. Houston Nutt (Ole Miss)
The famous 2010 rant by Nutt characterizes why he is disliked in a nut shell. Heading toward a 4-8 season and coming off an embarrassing performance at Tennessee, Nutt felt it was a good time to point out why Rebels fans should be thankful for him. Did you know it had been 50 years since the Rebels had won consecutive January 1 bowl games? If you didn’t, Nutt would certainly tell you he guided the school to that feat. For that 2010 season, the coach also took on quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who had been kicked off Oregon’s team. How did that work out?
Nutt’s definitely not Mr. Popularity.
4. Rick Neuheisel (UCLA)
Oregon coach Mike Bellotti felt that the better team lost in 1998, when Neuheisel’s Colorado team beat Oregon in a close Aloha Bowl. And that came after the Buffs ran up the score on the Ducks in the 1996 Cotton Bowl. Most coaches would respond with a diplomatic answer so not to create headlines - cooling the feud between the schools - but not Neuheisel.
“Scoreboard, baby,” he said.
OK, then. Now you know what we are dealing with here. Neuheisel has had his successes in college football, winning big at both Colorado and Washington. In fact, he guided the Huskies to a Rose Bowl win. But Neuheisel ran into NCAA compliance issues at both schools. He even has been derided for his recruiting practices, which reportedly have included calling a player on his cell phone outside the player’s window at home when he was prohibited from visiting with them.
Could anyone nicknamed “Slick Rick” be well-liked?
3. Nick Saban (Alabama)
No one likes a guy with a Napoleon complex, and many say the diminutive Saban makes up for his lack of height with an outsized and extremely sour personality. His press conferences make Bill Belichick look like Mr. Sunshine. This season, he opened an August 2011 presser by ranting about Internet rumors over injuries to Crimson Tide players without being prompted by a question. Welcome back, everybody!
Saban’s track record includes leaving LSU, where he won a national championship, for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, then leaving the Dolphins abruptly to take the Alabama job - making him an enemy with both fanbases. To make matters worse, Saban wasn’t exactly forthcoming about about his planned departure from South Florida.
“I’m not going to be the Alabama coach,” Saban told the media in 2006. He was named Crimson Tide coach in January 2007.
2. Bobby Petrino (Arkansas)
Petrino hasn’t come off as one of the most-trustworthy guys in the coaching world, to say the least. He was involved in the infamous “Jetgate,” in which the then-Auburn president, trustees and the athletics director flew to talk to Petrino about replacing Tigers coach Tommy Tuberville - Petrino’s former boss, who hadn’t been fired - while Petrino was the head coach at Louisville.
He didn’t help that reputation during his short NFL stint, in which he left the Atlanta Falcons with three games remaining in the 2007 season to take over for Houston Nutt at Arkansas. Said his former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer later: “He’s a gutless b******. Quote that. I don’t give a s***.”
Oh, and then there was the incident last year in which Petrino became agitated with a woman working for Hog Sports Radio for wearing a Florida Gators hat during a presser, for which she was ultimately fired. Whether Petrino was responsible for her ouster is anyone’s guess, but in the court of public opinion, he was naturally found guilty.
1. Lane Kiffin (USC)
It was an easy decision to slot Kiffin as the most-despised coach in the land. Who likes this guy besides his father, who has followed him around the country as an assistant? It’s certainly not Tennessee fans, who rioted after the news broke that the head coach was bolting Knoxville for USC after just one season. And that’s the most-tame reaction to his departure. UT fans burned stuff, and Kiffin has inspired a firing range to create a “Shoot a Lane Kiffin Bobblehead” promotion. It was thankfully cancelled.
But his departure wasn’t his only downfall. Kiffin was accused of minor NCAA violations while at Tennessee, then accused former Florida coach Urban Meyer of breaking rules himself. Yeah, that didn’t go over well.
How has he tried to smooth things over with the Vols? Well, he tried to schedule Tennessee as USC’s head coach, and even nabbed an assistant off ex-Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher’s staff, reportedly without discussing it with Fisher first. Oh yeah, Fisher is a USC alum.
And yet, Kiffin was still able to nab blonde bombshell Layla as his wife. Naturally, fans hate him for that too.