Memphis and Ole Miss are bitter rivals with a lot in common right now. Both are coming of two football seasons which fans want to forget with athletic directors that are stepping down in the next year. With all of these similarities between the two struggling programs the question becomes what is the better situation for an incoming coach?
Let’s start with Ole Miss, which because of unrealistic expectations and a tough division makes it easily the worst available job in all of college football. The fans are so delusional that they do not realize the best they can hope for is third or fourth place in the SEC West and maybe a bowl appearance. Every year they expect their Rebels to win the western half of the SEC, and when they do not it is time to fire the coach. So why would a coach place himself under that type of scrutiny when history suggests he will not be successful? The next head coach at Ole Miss is destined for failure, and if you do not believe me, just take a look at the Rebel’s history since the SEC split into two divisions in 1992.
Since SEC football expanded in ’92 there have been 19 seasons, with each season concluding in an SEC championship game. Ole Miss has played in none of those games. That means that Ole Miss has never won the outright SEC West title (but they do have a SEC West co-championship in 2003). In fact, the last time Ole Miss won the SEC title was nearly five decades ago in 1963. Also, the Rebels have finished in the top three of the SEC West just six times since ‘92, while finishing in last place four times with two winless years in conference (they have more seasons with no wins in conference than they do SEC West championships!). During this time span Ole Miss has only seven seasons with a conference record of .500 or better, and four of those seasons are 4-4. So the Rebels have only three seasons with five or more wins in conference, but fans expect Ole Miss to compete for SEC West championships.
As long as LSU, Auburn, and Alabama are in the SEC West the Rebels will never have a realistic shot at winning the division. With Arkansas on the rise, the addition of Texas A&M to the SEC West, and the addition of Missouri to the conference, the future of Rebel football is beginning to look bleak.
On the other hand, Memphis football is so bad that the Tigers probably couldn’t win the OVC right now, making it easily the second worst available coaching job in all of college football. Three pitiful years (one under West and the other two under Porter), combined with a leadership group that cannot run a football press conference correctly let alone a football program, and a frustrated fan base have severely crippled any incoming coach’s chances to be successful.
However, there are no national powerhouses in C-USA, whereas the SEC West alone has three. In fact, all the good teams in C-USA are leaving for AQ conferences, which should serve as an encouraging sign for Tiger fans who want wins. One would think that with Houston, UCF, and SMU leaving the Tigers will be able to win more games in conference. Alas, remember when Louisville, Cincinnati, and USF left before the 2005 season, the Tigers were supposed to dominate, but sadly they have not.
Memphis has a conference record of 18-38 in the seven seasons since C-USA split into two divisions. The Tigers have never won a C-USA championship in the leagues 15 year history, and are routinely the worst team in the conference. At least the fans know the program is bad and they only want a few wins every year, not a conference title.
The Tigers are so desperate for wins that if the next coach can average four or five wins over the next three seasons he might earn himself a contract extension. Conversely, if the Rebel’s next coach averages four or five wins over the next three seasons he will be fired. Just ask Houston Nutt who averaged six wins in his four year tenure.
Really this argument all comes down to whether you want to be a bad team in a mediocre conference (Memphis) or a bad team in a good conference (Ole Miss). However, Ole Miss is a job that pays much more than Memphis. And since both programs’ next coach will be gone by 2015, it might be best to take the millions of dollars Ole Miss is willing to pay and make off like bandit.
CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from different college football games throughout the Mid-South.