Pop quiz - when was the last time you can remember a college football head coach leaving his job on a truly positive note?
It just doesn't happen anymore, and if it does it's extremely rare.
Looking back over the last decade, since and including the 2000 season, there have been 215 head coaches who have not come back to their team the following season. That's an average of about 20 per season, or 1/6 of the FBS coaches out there. Breaking down the numbers into groups...
Fired/Resignation = 145 (67%) I'm combining these two together because often there's little difference between them when it comes to the reasons behind the coach leaving, whether it's a bad season, a scandal, or just not getting the job done. This is the biggest group, made up of more than two thirds of those 215 coaches.
Those 145 had an average winning percentage in their final season of just .356, and only 30 of them were over .500. So you're dealing with a losing record and probably not making a bowl game - not a good way to keep the fan base (and administration) happy. Some of the coaches who were fired/resigned and who did have winning records were brought down by scandals, including recent ones such as Butch Davis at UNC, Bill Stewart at West Virginia, and Mike Leach at Texas Tech. (Jim Tressel at Ohio State has the distinction of being the winningest coach (12-1 last season) to be dropped by his team since 2000.) That's never fun for a fan to go through. And some winning coaches were fired for not winning enough, such as Frank Solich at Nebraska, John Cooper at Ohio State, Rich Rodriguez at Michigan, and Larry Coker at Miami. When you've got a winning tradition, sometimes even 8-4 isn't good enough to keep people happy.
Took Better Job = 47 (22%) While you might be happy for your coach when he chooses to leave and go to another team, it still hurts.
The majority of these coaches ended with a winning season (41 of them), which is good in some ways because it means they were victorious at your school. It's also bad in some ways because the chances of your new coach improving that winning record right away the next year is slim. Some were fired at their new job before coaching at game (Mike Price at Alabama, Michael Haywood at Pitt, and George O'Leary at Notre Dame) and some left under a cloud with issues in their wake (Pete Carroll at USC, Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia). Others left to try out the NFL (Bobby Petrino at Louisville, Steve Spurrier at Florida, and Nick Saban at LSU). Even if a coach leaves scandal-free though, there's always the sting that your team just got rejected.
Retired = 20 (9%) Retirement in general doesn't have a lot of negatives associated with it, especially for legendary coaches. But it's not all riding off into the sunset - in fact, most of the time it's not on a very high note.
Of these 20, only 7 of them had winning last seasons. The two winningest retirees ended on good notes, moving to their school's AD position (Mike Bellotti at Oregon and Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin, both 10-3 in their final season). Of the other five...
...Lloyd Carr at Michigan lost 6 of 7 to Ohio State, 5 of 6 bowl games before winning his last, and to I-AA Appalachian State in his last season;
...Don Nehlen at West Virginia lost 7 straight bowl games before winning his last, and had never finished better than 2nd in the Big East since winning it in 1993;
...Lou Holtz at South Carolina was 5-7 in 2002 & 2003, and the last game he coached was the infamous brawl with Clemson in 2004;
...Bobby Bowden at Florida State was an institution, but the Seminoles weren't able to continue their huge success of the 1990's, averaging 7.6 wins in his last five seasons mainly as the figurehead of the team;
...Rich Brooks at Kentucky was never able to compete in the SEC, never finishing better than 3rd in the East in any of his seven seasons.
13 other coaches retired after a .500 or worse season, including Lavell Edwards at BYU, Joe Tiller at Purdue, Fisher DeBerry at Air Force, and Bobby Johnson at Vanderbilt. Not the way neither they nor the fans wanted their tenures to end, I'm sure.
Health Reasons = 3 (1%) Not much to say about this one. Includes Urban Meyer at Florida, Randy Walker at Northwestern, and Terry Hoeppner at Indiana.
Kinda depressing, isn't it? Yeah... Knowing those odds, it seems that if you like your coach and think you've got one of the greats (or even a good one), the best thing you can do is enjoy it while you can and treasure them while they're still roaming the sidelines.