May 25, 2024

Recapping the most disruptive cycle of the playoff era


Every year seems to bring with it another challenge, another bothersome trend, that forces coaches to retire or seek other opportunities outside of college football.

This year was the most tumultuous of the College Football Playoff era. One in three coaches in the sport changed jobs, a record 31 new head coaches were hired and 529 coaches across 134 FBS teams changed jobs during the 2023-24 cycle, according to 247Sports’ research. 

Alabama’s Nick Saban, the greatest coach of all time, is this year’s poster child for The Great Change. The proliferation of name, image and likeness contracts and unlimited transfers for players had worn down the six-time national champion. Nine days after losing to Michigan in the College Football Playoff, Saban retired and ended his 17-year career leading the Tide.

“A legend who was always there and consistent,” said Marshall head coach Charles Huff, who worked for Saban at Alabama. “You talk about what he was able to do by adapting to his time and changing the game himself in recruiting, and he gets to the point to where, OK, he’s stepping away? We are truly stepping into that next phase of what college athletics is going to look like.”

Unsurprisingly, dominoes toppled in the job market when Saban stepped down at Alabama. Five more head-coaching jobs opened, including Washington when Kalen DeBoer took over at Alabama, and two head coaches left their schools to become assistants for the Tide. 

Saban wasn’t the only veteran coach to leave his job. The longest-tenured coaches in four conferences left their posts, including Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott, who left the Sun Belt to become a position coach at South Carolina

Four head coaches left their posts to become assistants. The strangest departure occurred in the Big Ten, where UCLA head coach Chip Kelly stepped away to become the offensive coordinator at Ohio State.

Weird? Wild? Not in 2024. This is the business of the ever-changing world of college football, where conference realignment has defied geographics and lawmakers have practically rendered the NCAA toothless in its pursuit of preserving amateurism. 

“This next chapter is going to look a lot different than previous chapters,” Huff said. “This next chapter is not going to include some of the constants that we’ve had for many years.”

Overall, 35.9% of 1,474 positions in the FBS changed via new hires or promotions — compared to 34.8% during the 2022-23 cycle. The 134 teams averaged 3.9 new coaches on their staffs,, a slight jump from 3.8 last year.

247Sports’ annual audit of the coaching carousel uncovered a few trends and hot topics among the 529 coaching changes. Let’s dive into the numbers.

Note: Remaining Pac-12 members Oregon State and Washington State are identified as Group of 6 programs.

2023-24 Coaching Carousel

  • Hires/Promotions: 529
  • Head coaches: 31
  • Offensive coordinators: 60
  • Defensive coordinators: 60
  • Average hires per team: 3.9 per team
  • FCS to FBS: 70
  • High school to FBS: 2
  • Division II/III or NAIA to FBS: 3
  • Support staffer promotions: 106 

MORE COLLEGE COACHES ARE LEAVING FOR THE NFL 

More coaches than ever are leaving college football for the NFL, according to 247Sports’ research.

The number of departures for the NFL rose for a second straight year with a record 34 college coaches now in the NFL following the 2023 season. That’s a jump of 88.9% compared to two years ago. Twenty-three NFL coaches were hired in the FBS, a slight drop from the 24 a year ago. 

While NFL-to-FBS hires have remained stable over the last three years, the FBS-to-NFL pipeline continues to grow.

(Jim Harbaugh and several UM coaches went to the NFL’s Chargers; Photo: Getty)

Why is it happening? Many coaches have complained about work-life balance, particularly with the transfer portal and recruiting calendar overlapping throughout the year. The longest dead period for recruiting is July, which also falls outside the two windows for the transfer portal. Most head coaches provide assistants with extended vacations in July but even those dates have dwindled in recent years as coaches are asked to prepare for preseason camps in August.

“I heard all the horror stories of coaches saying I never see my own kids, so when I took over, I was like, I’m gonna see my own kids,” Nebraska coach Matt Rhule said. “We’ve taken that approach. The guys who do have kids, they’re gonna see their kids play games, they’re gonna go see their kids do little league, they’re gonna do all those things. I’m hoping that if they change the rule with analysts, that’ll help in many ways to take some of the pressure off of coaches.”

The workload has always been heavy for college coaches as they recruit and coach players, and develop relationships with their players as educators, but the hustle-and-bustle has never been this frantic with the transfer portal and the constant need to re-recruit players on the roster.  

Evidence suggests more coaches than ever are trying to find new jobs outside the FBS.

“It’s not necessarily the the quality of life that drives some coaches to the NFL or out of the business,” Huff said. “It’s the change in the landscape now because of NIL, the transfer portal. Head coaches are now transforming more into CEOs instead of play-callers and football-only guys. You have to be able to wear multiple hats.”

THE COACHING EXCHANGE

  • CFB to NFL: 34 (+21.4%) ↑
  • NFL to CFB: 23 (-4.2%) ↓
  • USFL to CFB: 1 (-50%) ↓
  • FCS to FBS: 70 (-4.1%) ↓
  • DII to FBS: 3 (-57.1%) ↓
  • DIII to FBS: 0 ↓
  • Preps to FBS: 2 (-77.8%) ↓
  • JUCO to FBS: 0 ↓
  • G6 to P4: 78 (+30%) ↑
  • P4 to G6: 76 (-10.6%) ↓
  • P4 to P4: 141 (+6%) ↑
  • G6 to G6: 97 (+6.6%) ↑

SUPPORT STAFFERS ARE HOT COMMODITIES (FOR NOW)

Programs continue to look to the power programs to poach support staffers as full-time assistant coaches. For the third year in a row, the hiring rate jumped. Twenty percent of all on-field jobs were filled by support staffers (analysts, graduate assistants, quality control, strength coaches, etc.), which represents an increase of 1.7% last year. The most common job title that led to promotions was analyst. Eighty-six analysts moved into on-field roles, an increase of 32.3% from 2023.

A total of 106 support staffers were hired in the FBS in this cycle. Support staffers comprised 25 hires as coordinators, with special teams leading the way (15). Among support staffers, eight were hired as offensive coordinators and three are now defensive coordinators. 

Simply put, support staffers have a much better chance for promotion than a full-time assistant in the FCS. Over the last three hiring cycles, 298 support staffers have been hired as on-field coaches. Their promotions represent 18.5% of all on-field hires over the last three years.

Will that trend continue as rule changes potentially lead to unlimited staff sizes?

The NCAA Football Oversight Committee in mid-May will discuss a proposal allowing an unlimited amount of on-field coaches starting with the 2024 season. If the proposal passes and is approved by the Division I Council, many “analyst” titles will likely change to mirror NFL jobs like “assistant offensive line coach” or “assistant quarterbacks coach.” Currently, 10 assistant coaches are allowed to teach at practices and coach during games.

“It’ll be interesting to see how the bigger schools spend their resources,” said first-year Nevada head coach Jeff Choate. “Are they going to continue to expand staff and pay more, or are they going to start shrinking so that they can pay better players with NIL? And is that going to be the breaking point?”

Most coaches don’t expect a hiring spree among the big schools. Nebraska coach Matt Rhule said he may only add one more staffer to his roster if the rule is approved. He prefers to have a veteran coach leading a position group with a younger assistant (graduate assistant or analyst) sharing responsibilities. He said Nebraska has four analysts.

“If you have 15 veteran coaches, they’ll just talk over each other,” Rhule said. “To me, it’s about having young coaches who can help older coaches and make sure your roster is getting developed.”

Remember, if the proposal is approved, recruiting rules do not change. Only 11 coaches, including the head coach, will be allowed to recruit players off campus.

MOST IN-DEMAND COACHES ARE IN THE BIG TEN, SEC 

The Big Ten and the SEC have long been the Big 2 in the sport, even before conference realignment rattled the landscape and shifted geographical lines. 

The best coaches are in the Big Ten and SEC, and it’s clear that those within those conferences desire to stay in the big time. 

No conference had more intraconference hires than the SEC with 19 coaches changing jobs among the 16 schools. The Big Ten was close behind with 14 coaches switching jobs within the conference — none was bigger than UCLA head coach Chip Kelly leaving to become Ohio State’s offensive coordinator.

The 33 combined intraconference hires in the Big Ten and SEC out-paced the other eight conferences, which combined for only 24 hires among their conference rivals.

INTRACONFERENCE HIRES

  • SEC: 19 (+11.8%) ↑
  • Big Ten: 14 (-12.5%) ↓
  • Big 12: 7 (+40%) ↑
  • MW: 7 (-12.5%) ↓
  • ACC: 3 (-22.2%) ↓
  • CUSA: 3 –
  • MAC: 2 (-12.5%) ↓
  • Sun Belt: 1 (-85.7%) ↓
  • AAC: 0 ↓
  • Pac-12: 0 ↓

G6 GOBBLES UP P4 OFF-FIELD COACHES

Most coaches who departed jobs in the Power 4 for new gigs in the Group of 6 were former support staffers.

Forty-one support staffers from power conferences last season are now on-field assistants in the Group of 6, according to 247Sports’ data. The Big 12 led all power conferences with 17 support staffers elevated to on-field jobs in the Group of 6. The SEC was second with 11 and the Big Ten had eight former off-field coaches land on-field gigs in the Group of 6.

Two SEC assistants (South Carolina’s Pete Lembo at Buffalo and Texas’ Jeff Choate at Nevada) became head coaches.

G6 TO P4 (77)

  • Sun Belt: 19 (+111.1%) ↑
  • AAC: 17 (-19%) ↓
  • CUSA: 11 (+175%) ↑
  • MW: 11 (-8.3%) ↓
  • MAC: 9 (+28.6%) ↑
  • Pac-12: 9 (N/A)
  • UMass: 1
  • P4 TO G6 (73)
  • ACC: 11 (-8.3%) ↓
  • Big 12: 24 (+84.6%) ↑
  • Big Ten: 20 (+17.6%) ↑
  • SEC: 18 (-43.8%) ↓

SMALL-SCHOOL ANALYSTS STRUGGLE TO MOVE UP

Support staffers at Group of 6 schools have struggled to land full-time gigs as position coaches and play-callers. Seventy-six support staffers from Power 4 schools were promoted to on-field coaches in the FBS, while only 30 from the Group of 6 and FCS were hired as on-field coaches in the FBS. The AAC led the smaller conferences with 14 promotions, followed by Conference USA (5) and the Mountain West (4).

The most desirable support staffers live in the Big 12 (26) and Big Ten (20). Twelve Big Ten support staffers were hired as on-field coaches within the Power 4 and nine support staffers in the Big 12 were hired. Texas led the Big 12 with five support staffers landing on-field gigs, including three following Jeff Choate to Nevada. Oklahoma wasn’t far behind with four staffers all landing gigs within the Power 4, including two as co-offensive coordinators (Matt Wells at Kansas State; Seth Littrell at Oklahoma). Granted, Wells and Littrell are each former head coaches. 

Penn State led The Big Ten with four support staffers landing on-field gigs, including three in the Power 4.

The SEC experienced a sharp drop year over year, with only seven support staffers landing on-field gigs in a power conference. One year ago, support staffers in the SEC landed 16 jobs in a power conference, including eight coordinator positions. Only two SEC support staffers in this cycle landed coordinator jobs — Texas A&M’s Jim Chaney, a veteran play-caller now at Georgia State; and Tennessee’s Kyle Blocker, who is now special teams coordinator for Miami (Ohio). 

SUPPORT STAFFERS (ORIGIN CONFERENCE) to ON-FIELD COACHES (106)

  • Big 12: 26 ↑
  • Big Ten: 20 ↑
  • SEC: 19 ↓
  • AAC: 14 ↑
  • ACC: 8 ↓
  • CUSA: 5 ↑
  • Independent: 4 ↓
  • MW: 4 ↑
  • Sun Belt: 3 –
  • FCS: 1 ↑
  • MAC: 1 –
  • Pac-12: 1 ↓

JUCO, PREP COACHES SUFFER

The FBS is becoming more insulated in its hiring practices, opting to stay within its ranks for new staffers.

Fewer and fewer coaches from the high school and junior college levels are making the jump to the FBS year over year. Two years after 12 prep coaches landed jobs, only two landed FBS gigs in this cycle. Both of those coaches were hired at ECU. Last year, nine high school coaches were hired in the FBS. 

Only three coaches from the NAIA, Division II and Division III levels were hired in the FBS compared to 10 last year and eight two years ago.

Meanwhile, the numbers for FCS-to-FBS remain steady with 70 making the jump to the FBS this year. 

Much like the transfer portal has taken away opportunities for junior college players to land in the FBS, it appears JUCO coaches are experiencing the same alienation, even with more jobs available.

POWER 2 COACHES HAVE THE SHORTEST CAREERS

Hirings and firings in conferences ebb and flow, and conference expansion usually leads to more knee-jerk reactions by athletic directors and head coaches, so it’s not shocking to see the Big Ten and SEC lead the way this year as those conferences prepare to add a combined six teams.

The biggest changes, however, occurred in the Mountain West, which led the way with six head-coaching changes alongside the Big Ten. The MW’s hirings jumped 77.1% year over year with 62 new coaches overall. The Sun Belt also had 62 jobs open thanks to five new head coaches.

(Boise State fired Andy Avalos 10 games into his third season; Photo: Getty)

The Big Ten has experienced the most turnover in the sport over the last three years and led the nation with 87 changes in this cycle, a rise of 33.8% from last year. The Big Ten ranked No. 2 in turnover in 2023.  

The job market in the SEC was much more active than last year, as turnover rose 57.1%, with 77 changes, including three new head coaches.

The AAC ebbed, dropping 54.9% with 41 hires after leading the nation in staff turnover in 2023. Half of the AAC had new head coaches last season, which led to a substantial changing of the guard with six new teams in the conference.

HIRES AND PROMOTIONS (529) (3.9%+) ↑

Big Ten: 87 (33.8%) ↑

SEC: 77 (57.1%) ↑

MWC: 62 (77.1%) ↑

Sun Belt: 62 (37.8%) ↑

Big 12: 50 (38.9%) ↑

CUSA: 48 (60%) ↑

ACC: 45 (-8.2%) ↓

AAC: 41 (-54.9%) ↓

MAC: 38 (-20.8) ↓

Pac-12: 11 (-77.1%) ↓

Independent: 8 (-38.5%) ↓

BIG 12 JOBS ARE THE MOST STABLE IN FBS

The best job security in the sport is in the Big 12 despite experiencing the biggest membership changes in the realignment era.  Big 12 teams have experienced a combined 120 staff changes over the last three cycles, according to 247Sports’ data. 

The conference has somehow bucked rapid hiring/firing trends among the power conferences despite constant turmoil with its mmebership. The Big 12 added four teams last year and is preparing to add four more — the Pac-12’s Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah — this fall with Oklahoma and Texas departing for the SEC. 

That’s good news for coaches, right? Not necessarily. There are signs a churn is coming. Staff turnover jumped 38.9% in this cycle with 50 changes, including two new head coaches (Arizona and Houston).

We projected a jump in turnover for 2024 in this space last year, but that didn’t necessarily happen because of the consistency at the top of the 16 programs. The average lifespan of a head coach in the Big 12 is 5.7 seasons, well above the three-season average across the country. Nine of the conference’s 16 head coaches have been at their school for at least four years. Four coaches have led their programs for nine years or longer, including Kyle Whittingham (21 years at Utah) and Mike Gundy (20th year at Oklahoma State).

The Big 12 has been home to the nation’s most consistent and successful head coaches over the last decade. The conference has also featured the nation’s best rebuilding projects. Lance Leipold lifted Kansas out of the cellar, Matt Campbell turned Iowa State into a conference contender, and Kansas State and Oklahoma State have been models of consistency with Chris Klieman and Mike Gundy, respectively. 

Enter Utah’s Kyle Whittingham, who has long been the most underrated coach in the country. He led Utah to two Pac-12 titles over the last three years and his veteran team should be in contention in the new-look Big 12.

It’s no wonder so many experts project a wide-open championship race in the Big 12 this fall.

Only three head coaches in the Big 12 have changed in the last two cycles, and two of them left voluntarily (Jedd Fisch departed Arizona for Washington and Jeff Brohm left Cincinnati for Louisville).

We’ll project once again that this trend will not stand and a massive exodus could come as soon as the 2024-25 cycle. Still, it’s impressive how steady the conference’s leadership has been as it faced stiff winds of change.

The ACC hasn’t been far behind the Big 12 in terms of stability. There have been 94 combined staff changes in the last two cycles. Turnover dropped 8.2% in the ACC for this cycle, with 45 staff changes the fewest among the power conferences. That’s a great number to circle with the conference expanding with Cal and Stanford this year.

2023-24 Coaching Carousel

  • Hires/Promotions: 529
  • Head coaches: 31
  • Offensive coordinators: 60
  • Defensive coordinators: 60
  • Average hires per team: 3.9 per team
  • FCS to FBS: 70
  • High school to FBS: 2
  • Division II/III or NAIA to FBS: 3
  • Support staffer promotions: 106 

Numbers from Previous Cycle: 2022-2023 Coaching Carousel

  • Hires/promotions: 509
  • Head coaches: 24
  • Offensive coordinators: 64
  • Defensive coordinators: 49
  • Average hires per team: 3.8
  • FCS to FBS: 73
  • High School to FBS: 9
  • Division II/III, NAIA, Prep, JUCO to FBS: 10
  • Support staffer promotions: 93

Numbers from Two Cycles Prior: 2021-22 Coaching Carousel

  • Hires/promotions: 575
  • Head coaches: 29
  • Offensive coordinators: 68
  • Defensive coordinators: 76
  • Average hires per team: 4.4
  • FCS to FBS: 68
  • High School to FBS: 12
  • Division II/III or NAIA to FBS: 8
  • Support staffer promotions: 99 

HEAD COACHING CHANGES BY YEAR

  • 2023: 31
  • 2022: 24
  • 2021: 29
  • 2020: 18
  • 2019: 20
  • 2018: 27
  • 2017: 20
  • 2016: 23
  • 2015: 28
  • 2014: 15
  • 2013: 20
  • 2012: 31
  • 2011: 28
  • 2010: 24
  • 2009: 23
  • 2008: 22

NEW HEAD COACHES (31) (29.2%+) ↑

  • Big Ten: 6 (100%) ↑
  • MW: 6 (500%) ↑
  • Sun Belt: 5 (150%) ↑
  • ACC: 3 (50%) ↑
  • CUSA: 3 (200%) ↑
  • SEC: 3 (50%) ↑
  • Big 12: 2 (100%) ↑
  • AAC: 1 -85.7%) ↓
  • MAC: 1 (-50%) ↓
  • Pac-12: 1 (-80%) ↓
  • Independent: 0 (-)

NEW OFFENSIVE COORDINATORS (60) ↓

  • Big 12: 10 ↑
  • Big Ten: 10 ↑
  • SEC: 9 ↓
  • CUSA: 6 ↑
  • ACC: 5 ↓
  • MW: 5 –
  • AAC: 4 ↓
  • Sun Belt: 4 –
  • Independent: 3 ↑
  • MAC: 3 ↓
  • Pac-12: 1 ↓

NEW DEFENSIVE COORDINATORS (60)

  • Big Ten: 10
  • Sun Belt: 9
  • SEC: 8
  • MW: 7
  • Big 12: 6
  • CUSA: 6
  • ACC: 5
  • MAC: 5
  • AAC: 2
  • Independent: 1
  • Pac-12: 1

SPECIAL TEAMS COORDINATORS (27)

  • Big Ten: 5
  • MAC: 5
  • MW: 4
  • SEC: 4
  • ACC: 3
  • CUSA: 3
  • AAC: 1
  • Big 12: 1
  • Sun Belt: 1

POSITION COACHES (351)

  • Receivers: 44 ↓
  • Defensive line: 42 ↑
  • Offensive line: 44 ↓
  • Running backs/fullbacks/slot backs: 45 ↓
  • Tight ends: 28 ↓
  • Cornerbacks: 24
  • Defensive backs: 20
  • Safeties: 16
  • Secondary: 7
  • Quarterbacks: 22 ↑
  • Linebackers: 37 ↓
  • Defensive ends: 10
  • Defensive tackles: 5
  • EDGEs: 5
  • Bandits: 1
  • Rush ends: 1



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