Nothing stamps a college football program with an identity more than how its administrators handle hirings and firings. What LSU, Texas and Oregon said about themselves in the past week speaks volumes, and not in flattering tones.
At LSU, public support and the wishes of the locker room dictated the decision of the administration to hire a coach.
At Texas, public support and the wishes of the locker room failed to sway the decision of the administration to fire a coach.
And at Oregon, where loyalty has been prized for more than three decades, the administration took the final, graceless step to illustrate that it no longer wants to be the Little School That Could. The Ducks no longer do it their own way. They acted just like everyone else does in this win-now world.
Laissez les bon temps rouler in Baton Rouge. Ed Orgeron got the job, and we all know how well the People's Choice worked out for LSU a year ago. Public demand extended the LSU career of Les Miles for an entire four games into this season. That's when the ardor of the fan base cooled enough for the administration to extract him without burning itself.
Coach O is the new People's Choice, and he has made residents of Louisiana feel good again, being one of their own, with that Cajun-dipped voice somewhere between a growl and a diesel engine.
That warm feeling well may last beyond four games into next season. But it is apparent that LSU hired Orgeron without regard for history -- his own, and the rest of major college football's since the 1960s.
It's entirely possible I've missed someone. But I've identified only 19 Power 5 schools in the past 50 years that hired a head coach who had been fired or forced out by another Power 5 school. Of those 19 coaches, one won a national championship. One won a conference championship. They are the same man, Gene Stallings, in the same season, 1992, at Alabama. That's it.
Only one coach won more than one division championship at his second-chance school. Yep, Stallings, who won four SEC West titles in seven seasons with the Crimson Tide.
Only five of the 19 have or had a higher winning percentage at their second-chance school than the one that fired them. Only two of them finished with a winning record at the second school: Stallings and Paul Hackett, who went 19-18 in three seasons at USC and was fired for, yep, not winning enough.
To be fair, the late Dennis Green turned around Stanford in three seasons before he left for the NFL, and Mike Leach has done the same in five seasons at Washington State. But LSU isn't asking Orgeron to win. Hell, Miles was winning. LSU expects Orgeron to win championships.
And the majority of schools who hired these second-chance coaches are the schools that never win championships. But that just supports the point that LSU has colored outside the lines here. They didn't go out and hire a proven winner, the way that schools in the upper echelon of college football typically do.
LSU expects Orgeron not to be the same coach who went 10-25 at Ole Miss from 2005 to '07. The Tigers want the Orgeron who went 6-2 as an interim coach at USC in 2013 and the Orgeron who went 5-2 this season. Although if he loses to rivals as he did with the Trojans (Notre Dame and UCLA) and this season with the Tigers (Alabama and Florida), they won't want Orgeron for long.
Maybe Orgeron will be another Stallings, who entered into the perfect second marriage of coach and school. Stallings had been fired by Texas A&M in 1971, and fired again by the Phoenix Cardinals only weeks before Alabama hired him.
If Orgeron can't win championships, he will discover that support among the fans and in the locker room is a foundation of Kleenex. All he need do is look west to Austin to Charlie Strong, a warm, compassionate man in a sport that is neither.
It's hard to recall a coach who won over the public and the players without winning games in the way that Strong did. They wanted him to succeed, even as he went 16-21 in three seasons. If Texas had announced that Strong would coach the Longhorns in 2017, the public would have supported the decision.
It may have been the force of Strong's personality, unfailingly polite and positive and straightforward as the Longhorns continued to disappoint.
The Longhorns may have been young. They may have been tight, desperate to play well to save their coach. But what they were not in the last month of the season was very good. They couldn't shed blocks. They missed tackles. They couldn't create space at the goal line for D'Onta Foreman, the biggest, most prolific running back in the FBS this season.
Strong failed to hire the right assistants, judging by the way he kept replacing them. As much as Texas and its Orangebloods wanted Strong to succeed, Texas couldn't give Strong another chance. It couldn't, because it's Texas.
Texas loves saying, "We're Texas," as if that means something in college football. What it means over the past 46 seasons is a school with the same number of national championships as BYU and Georgia Tech.
In the end, Strong won some, but not enough. That will get him a second chance, perhaps even at a Power 5 school. So will Mark Helfrich, whose firing by Oregon on Tuesday night signaled the end of an era.
Loyalty at Oregon not only has been a virtue but a trumpeted virtue. The university has been proud of how it treats its coaches. Rich Brooks won two games in his fifth season with the Ducks. He won two games in his sixth season. Brooks took Oregon to the Rose Bowl in his 18th season.
Five assistants on the Oregon staff have been there at least 10 seasons, three for more than 20. We are different, Oregon said. We found good people and we stuck with them and look what it has done for us.
Only Oregon didn't stick with Helfrich. Two years ago, Helfrich led the Ducks to the College Football Playoff National Championship game. Yes, the defense has stunk in the past two years, and this year the offense didn't play well enough to cover for it. Yes, Oregon lost the Civil War for the first time since 2007. Yes, the fans ended a 110-game sellout streak.
So when times got tough, Oregon bailed on Helfrich. It chose the big-hitter's way. Oregon threw money at the problem. It will pay Helfrich $11.6 million to take a hike. That's not who Oregon has been. But that's who Oregon thinks it is now. The Ducks lost a head coach, and they lost their identity. That just may be harder to recover from than going 4-8.