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Ranking the SEC West’s 17 strangest coach exits since 2000

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Seriously, almost every time a coach leaves this division, it’s under the strangest circumstances.

Freeze, Nutt, Franchione, Chizik
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In college football’s loudest division, you can make $4 million for finishing in last place. You probably can’t do it again, though, because somebody will have fired you by then, probably in a way that no human had ever been fired before.

With yet another ludicrous transaction in the news — this time, Hugh Freeze’s Ole Miss exit — it’s time to look back.

17. John L. Smith, Arkansas, 2012: One of the oddest coaching tenures ever, but the end? When the coach who knew all along he was a one-year rental wasn’t retained after losing to ULM and Rutgers? Nothing has ever made more sense than that part.

Still, the man who shouted “SMILE!” at Arkansas reporters must be mentioned on any list of weird coach stuff, so he’s the cutoff point.

16. Houston Nutt, Ole Miss, 2008-2011: His promising start had led to two huge decline years and an 0-8 SEC record in 2011, with festering issues similar to those at the Arkansas program he’d built into a house of frustrating madness. That’ll do it.

15. Ed Orgeron, Ole Miss, 2005-2007: His tenure was bizarre, and it’s even weirder to think of that wild dude as the sport’s newfound Uncle O, but his firing made sense at the time. He’d gone 10-25 despite impressive recruiting.

14. David Cutcliffe, Ole Miss, 1998-2004: Fired after five decent winning seasons, a Cotton Bowl win, and one 4-7 year. How many times in the past 50 years would the Rebels have traded in their chicanery for boring, seven-win seasons?

13. Mike Sherman, Texas A&M*, 2008-2011: Maybe a slightly hasty firing after a 26-25 record, but here’s the stupid detail: where he was when he learned the news.

He had just pulled into the driveway of a recruit's home Thursday night when Athletic Director Bill Byrne called to dismiss him. Sherman was disappointed the news leaked to his family and players before he was told.

"I think we're better than that," he said.

12. Les Miles, LSU, 2005-2016: A carnival of chaos, from beginning to end. Firing him despite a national title and a great overall record was fair, because of issues on offense that showed no signs of ever being addressed.

We’re just ranking the endings, though, and Miles had a strange one. The coach who’d built a career out of stumbling through time-management portals and winning games at the last second literally ran out of time for a change.

8. (tie, or something like it) Dennis Franchione, Alabama, 2001-2002
Jackie Sherrill, Mississippi State, 1991-2003
Mike Shula, Alabama, 2003-2006
Mike DuBose, Alabama, 1997-2000

Lots of NCAA stuff, whether courting or avoiding or both.

7. Tommy Tuberville, Auburn, 1999-2008: A bonus point or two for his Ole Miss exit to Auburn, when he’d swore he’d have to be dragged out of Oxford “in a pine box,” then scooted to a division rival anyway.

At Auburn, one of the most successful coaches in school history resigned a couple of months after firing his new offensive coordinator, Tony Franklin, six weeks into the season.

6. Gene Chizik, Auburn, 2009-2012: They say he’s the first-ever coach to be fired by a school he’d won a national title for two years prior. With Cam Newton and Gus Malzahn gone, the decision was justifiable, but it’s still wild.

5. Dennis Franchione, Texas A&M*, 2003-2007: These days, coaches don’t like to reveal the depth chart orders of their backup kickers.

Franchione was out there distributing injury secrets ... for a price. An athletic department assistant was running the coach’s newsletter for boosters, landing Franchione in university trouble for the whole season. He stepped down immediately after beating Texas.

Yeah, he’s on here twice.

4. Mike Price, Alabama, the 2003 offseason: Five months after being hired from Washington State:

He was set for a seven-year, $10 million contract when he admitted he drank heavily and went to a strip club after attending a golf tournament in Florida in the spring of 2003.

Price sued the school for $20 million over his firing, but a judge threw out the lawsuit, noting the fact that Price never signed the contract. He also sued Sports Illustrated over a report that alleged he had sex with two women in his hotel room. That lawsuit was settled.

3. Houston Nutt, Arkansas, 1998-2007: Deeply abnormal, and in any sensical universe, this would be our No. 1. But it turned out to be just one part in a saga.

Arkansas fans who were tired of Nutt took up internet sleuthing over the summer, eventually uncovering extensive phone records between Nutt and a local journalist. Nutt’s wife wrote a blog post insisting on his fidelity.

Months later, Nutt’s team beat No. 1 LSU, and he resigned to leave for Ole Miss the following Monday.

Yeah, Nutt’s on here twice.

2. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss, 2012-2017: Includes all the weirdness of Nutt’s Arkansas exit, because Nutt ended up getting Freeze booted via the same methods that’d cost Nutt a decade earlier. Nutt’s lawyer was looking into Freeze’s phone records, to try and handle some NCAA business, and tipped Ole Miss off to a call made by Freeze to an escort service.

1. Bobby Petrino, Arkansas, 2008-2011: Only the god of sour breakups could top this list. The crowning achievement in a career full of shenanigans:

USA Today

* — A&M wasn’t even SEC at the time of either of these divorces, but I think behavior like this proves the Aggies were ready all along.