Split Loyalties: Head Coaches Coaching Against Alma Maters

    Coaching Against Alma Maters
    It must feel odd for Alabama native, former player and former assistant coach to be around so much orange these days.

    One of the things that separates college football from other sports is the personal connection many fans have to their institutions and teams. When you spend four years at a school and go to class with many of the players, you feel like you’ve got a vested interest in your team. When you play for a team, that bond is seemingly life long.

    Head Coaches Coaching Against Alma Maters

    But what happens when business gets in the way? What happens when a former player, now coaching, gets offered a job at a school that was once a rival? When business gets in the way, money often times trumps the ol’ fight song. We don’t have a Pat Dye-Vince Dooley situation in college football these days, but we do have several coaches coaching against their alma mater on a regular basis. And three rivalries where one coach is coaching against his alma mater.

    Here’s a look at the current Power 5 coaches that are coaching against their alma maters.


    Dabo Swinney OK, so Clemson isn’t in the same conference as Swinney’s alma mater, Alabama, but the teams have met in the College Football Playoff for three straight years. So, it kind of counts as a new-aged CFP rivalry. Additionally, many assume the Swinney is the heir to the throne at Alabama once Nick Saban finally decides to retire. Although people close to Clemson think Swinney has found a new home in Clemson, and claim that he’s told the administration that he appreciates their belief in him when they hired him, and will stay at Clemson as long as they want him.

    Staying at Home: Mark Richt, Miami.

    Big 12:

    Lincoln Riley. Riley didn’t have much of a playing career at Texas Tech. He backed-up current Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury for a season. He quickly made the transition to coaching while still at Texas Tech, serving as a student assistant to Mike Leach. Riley has risen in the coaching ranks quickly, and was a surprising promotion for Oklahoma after the sudden retirement of Bob Stoops. If 2017 is any indication, he’s found a new home in Norman. It’s hard to see anyone leaving Norman for Lubbock.

    Gary Patterson. Like most of the coaches on this list, Patterson’s connection isn’t a historic rivalry, but he still has to coach against his playing-days team. Being in the Big 12, he has to face the Wildcats every year. Along with Swinney, he’s arguably the most accomplished coach on this list. Patterson played at Kansas State after for two seasons (1980-1981) after starting his career at Dodge City Community College.

    Staying at Home: Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech; Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State.

    Big Ten:

    The Big Ten is the only conference where no coach is coaching against his alma mater. But they have plenty of people staying home. That says something about growing coaches in the Big Ten.

    Staying at Home: Scott Frost, Nebraska; Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern; Paul Chryst, Wisconsin; Jim Harbaugh, Michigan.


    Justin Wilcox. Wilcox is entering his second season as a head coach at Cal after five previous stops as a defensive coordinator in the previous ten years. Wilcox is in the same division as his alma mater, Oregon. As a defensive minded head coach, he’ll have to scheme against the Ducks high powered offense. Wilcox was a multi-year starter in Eugene as a safety during the Mike Bellotti era. If he can make it more than four years in Berkeley, he might find a new home.

    Kyle Whittingham. This is one of only two true rivalries on this list, joining Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee. Whittingham coaches the Utah Utes in the Pac-12, but played at arch-rival BYU with Jim McMahon from 1978-1981. “The Holy War” is one of the most spirited rivalries in college football. While they’re not in the same conference, the two teams still play each other every year, including a bowl match-up in 2015. Whittingham has been with Utah in some capacity for 25 years now, so it’s safe to say he’s found a new home.

    Staying at Home. Jonathan Smith, Oregon State; David Shaw, Standford.


    Jeremy Pruitt. New Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt is on the opposite side of the “Third Saturday in October” for the first time in his life. This is easily the biggest rivalry of any coach on this list. Pruitt grew up in North Alabama, and after spending a year at Middle Tennessee State University, transferred to Alabama and played under Gene Stallings. Pruitt has been guiding defenses at the high school and college level ever since, with multiple championships to his name as a defensive coordinator in college. He now joins a rivalry with coaches such as Robert Neyland, Bear Bryant, Nick Saban, and Phil Fulmer. Can he salvage the ship at Tennessee, or will he be yet another failed experiment on the coaching carousel in Tennessee?

    Will Muschamp. Will Muschamp’s time at South Carolina won’t nearly be as bad as his time at Florida. Not because of success, but because when he coaches against his alma mater, Georgia, he won’t be leading their blood-rivals like he was at Florida. It’s still tough to against the jersey you wore — even if you were 0-4 against Florida as a player.

    Chad Morris (Kind Of). When Chad Morris leads Arkansas on the field against Division foe Texas A&M this season, he’ll do so against his alma mater. What’s different about Morris, though, from the other coaches on this list is that he didn’t play football for the Aggies. He did earn a degree in mathematics and statistics at Texas A&M. He’s one of only five current Power 5 coaches that didn’t play college ball at some level, joining Mike Leach (Washington State), Tom Allen (Indiana), Paul Johnson (Georgia Tech), and David Cutcliffe (Duke) in that category.

    Gus Malzahn (Kind Of). Malzahn, the current head coach at Auburn, finished his playing career and graduated from Henderson State University. But before that, he spent two seasons as a walk-on at Arkansas. He spent the first 22 years of his playing/coaching career in the state of Arkansas. Like Swinney, he’s one of the coaches that many people think would strongly consider leaving any job to get back to Arkansas, although he chose to stay at Auburn after the Razorbacks fired Bret Bielema last season.

    Staying at Home. Luke Falk, Mississippi; Barry Odom, Missouri; Kirby Smart, Georgia; Ed Orgeron* (one season at LSU before transferring).

    Who Says You Can’t Go Home

    As much as some fans seem to think alumni status pulls coaches, the evidence says otherwise. For the notable exception of Scott Frost, many coaches choose not to leave their jobs when their alma mater school comes open. Gus Malzahn chose to stay at Auburn last season. Mark Richt turned down offers from Miami until after he was fired from Georgia.

    Part of it is timing — to get an alumni at your school you have to have a viable candidate and you have to have an opening. Part of it is status — you’d have a hard time imagining Lincoln Riley, Clay Helton, or Dino Babers leaving for Texas Tech, Houston, or Hawaii, respectively.

    But part of it is growing up and focusing on memories from your school, not the future. Can you imagine Mark Dantonio at South Carolina, Mike McIntyre at Georgia Tech, or Mark Stoops at Iowa?

    Probably not.

    Sometimes it’s not a question of whether or not you can go home, but much more about whether or not you want to go home.

    Schools with multiple alumni Power 5 head coaches (*did not play football in college):

    Alabama: David Cutcliffe*, Jeremy Pruitt, Dabo Swinney
    BYU: Mike Leach*, Kyle Whittingham, Kalani Strike (If you count BYU as P5)
    Drake University: Chris Ash, Dave Doeren
    Georgia: Kirby Smart, Will Muschamp
    Miami: Mark Richt, Mario Christobal
    Oregon State: Jonathan Smith, Bronco Mendenhall
    Texas Tech: Kliff Kingsbury, Lincoln Riley

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