The SEC's most controversial coaching breakups
Not all college football relationships end perfectly. For every Bear Bryant or Vince Dooley, coaches who built legendary careers at a school and rode out gracefully, there are scores of firings, unexpected departures and messy divorces.
Let’s look back at some of the most public breakups in recent SEC history.
Dennis Franchione and Alabama
Franchione came to Alabama with the Crimson Tide coming off a dismal 3-8 season in 2000. The turnaround began immediately, with a 7-5 record in 2001, capped off by an Independence Bowl win. The next year was even better, with Alabama surging to 10-2 and an SEC West title, although the team was ineligible for the postseason thanks to sanctions that came down for violations committed by the previous regime.
Alabama loved the work Franchione had done and reportedly offered him a 10-year contract, which the coach turned down. Still, Franchione said repeatedly he wouldn’t leave Alabama…until he did, taking the head coaching job at Texas A&M.
The way Franchione took the job rankled many. He went to meet with Texas A&M officials, saying he owed it to himself and his family to see what the program had to offer. He accepted the job shortly after arriving, then he informed his players and staff of his decision through a video conference from College Station.
The heavy sanctions against Alabama— a two-year postseason ban, the loss of 21 scholarships over three years and five years probation — were a major factor for Franchione’s decision, even after he went to great lengths to keep his team and recruiting class together. Franchione used the slogan “hold the rope” as a rallying point for both Alabama’s current players (who could transfer without penalty to another SEC school) and recruits. When he left, that slogan made him more of a villain to the Crimson faithful, and even led to him receiving death threats.
Steve Spurrier and Florida
For 12 years, Spurrier carried his alma mater to some of the greatest heights the program has ever seen while establishing himself as one of the sport’s coaching greats. He resigned from his position in 2001 and called it a retirement but said that he wasn’t burned out; he simply felt like his career at the college level was over. Less than two weeks later, Spurrier signed a lucrative deal to become head coach of the Washington Redskins.
The resignation came out of nowhere. Florida had a shot at the national championship going into its December matchup with Tennessee (postponed due to the 9/11 attacks), and the Gators fnished the year with a 10-2 record.
Everyone knew that Spurrier had his eye on a shot at coaching in the pros, and he’d hinted at it several times, but Florida fans were still shocked at the suddenness of his departure. Spurrier’s legendary status at Florida — from his Heisman-winning playing career to the national championship and SEC titles he brought to the school as a coach — has kept him in the fan base’s good graces, even as he moved on to coach divisional rival South Carolina.
Nick Saban and LSU
LSU fans loved Nick Saban. It only took three seasons for Saban to deliver LSU’s first national championship in only 50 years, and the coach made it sound as if he planned to be in Baton Rouge for a long time. He repeatedly turned down NFL overtures, swatting away the Chicago Bears a year before as he became the highest-paid coach in college. But in 2004, Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga came calling with a five-year contract that would pay Saban $4.5 million per year and the coach couldn’t say no to the challenge.
Saban’s players were happy for him, understanding it would be impossible for the coach to turn down lucrative pro offers every year. Since then the coach has expressed some remorse over leaving, saying he left behind many relationships and that he didn’t handle his exit well — namely, being dishonest about his intentions to leave even as it became clear he was on his way out.
Saban was similarly dishonest when he left Miami for Alabama, which is what brings the most scorn from LSU fans. He was cheered when he returned in 2005, but now he’s raucously booed and cursed at every time he returns to Death Valley.
Urban Meyer and Florida
While Spurrier left the Gators on good terms, the same can’t be said for Meyer. The terms of his departure were much different and the end of his tenure left Gators fans feeling miffed and the cupboard much barer for the team’s future.
Shortly after the 2009 SEC Championship, Meyer announced that he would resign to tend to health problems; he’d been experiencing frequent chest pains and severe headaches, which turned out to be stress-related ailments. He eventually re-termed his resignation as a leave of absence, more or less taking three months off of his regular coaching duties before returning full-time for spring practice in 2010.
After the Gators stumbled to a 7-5 season in 2010, Meyer once again announced his retirement from coaching, citing the same personal health and family reasons that he pointed to in 2010. He left the Gators in a rough spot, with much rebuilding to be done after allowing an undisciplined culture to run rampant throughout the program.
After a year at ESPN, Meyer earned more scorn from the Florida fans when he took the job at Ohio State, apparently no longer concerned with the family and health issues that ended his time at Florida.