- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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When the 2011 season ended, all appeared tranquil throughout Big East coaching land.
Of the eight headed coaches in the league at the time, only Greg Schiano had more than five years at his school. The other seven had three seasons or fewer under their belt. Louisville Charlie Strong had already signed a contract extension. Cincinnati coach Butch Jones was in line for one of his own.
So maybe, just maybe, there would be a bit of stability among the head-coaching ranks.
First, Todd Graham bolted for Arizona State without so much as a good bye. Then Schiano stunned everybody when he left for the Tampa Bay Bucs. Their departures mean the Big East goes into 2012 with at least one new head coach for the fourth straight season.
But they also continued a trend that has hit the Big East harder than any other automatic-qualifying conference -- their head coaches leave for other head-coaching jobs more frequently than every league. So you see why there are many who believe the Big East is a stepping-stone league for head coaches. Here is the unvarnished numerical truth.
Since 2004, there have been 15 head-coaching changes in the Big East (including West Virginia). Of those changes, seven coaches left for another job either on the FBS level or the NFL. They comprise a who's who list of some of the most well-respected coaches in the game today. Some have gone on to great success (Mark Dantonio). Others, not so much (Rich Rodriguez, Randy Edsall).
During that same time period, only the MAC had more head coaches leave for another job, with nine. Conference USA also had seven head coaches leave for another job.
If you look at the schools in automatic-qualifying conferences, the Pac-12 was second behind the Big East in coaches leaving for another head-coaching position, with three. Of the six automatic-qualifying conferences, the Big East is the only league that has had at least one head coach vacancy at each member school since 2004.
But there is also another way to look at these coaching moves. When looking at the number of coaching vacancies during this time period, the Big East had the highest percentage of openings because coaches left for another job: 46 percent. In the MAC, that percentage was 40 percent.
The departed Big East coaches have cited many reasons for leaving -- better opportunity at a more high-profile program; NFL aspirations; better fan, institutional support; more stability. Leaving for more highly respected conferences has to play a role as well. The chance to prove yourself in the Big Ten versus the Big East may be appealing to some.
But maybe not all. As mentioned above, Jones and Strong recently signed contract extensions to stay at their respective schools. By no means does that tie them to their jobs forever, but it is a show of commitment from both -- especially when you consider their names came up for several job openings this past offseason.
"I believe in what we're building," Jones said in December. "I think there's so many great things to building a really successful football program and not just a successful team. We have great practice facilities now. We have very good facilities. We're in a conference that we can be extremely competitive in. We have a great fan base. We've got a great place to attract the top-caliber student-athletes to."
Still, it is always unsettling to see that Doug Marrone -- going into Year 4 -- is the longest-tenured coach in the Big East. At least nobody goes into 2012 on the hot seat.
But on the other hand, everybody goes into the year on high alert. This could be the year they lose their head coach, if history is any indication.