Welcome Back! FBS Coaches coaching against teams they used to coach in 2023

By Amy Daughters -

Loving a college football program means being in a relationship with its current head coach. As in all interpersonal connections, that means being dependent on another human being to fulfill certain needs.

Where we look to a companion to be loved, protected, comforted, and supported, we look to the head coach to be well represented on a football field, to not suck, to win games, and to compete for championships.

Given the nature of human interaction, in both cases there is the very real threat of ending up disappointed – or even enraged – when promises are broken, relationships are abandoned, and everything changes.

Inevitably, after the love is gone, there’s that awkward future encounter where both you and your former coach are seeing someone else.

Now and then I think of when we were together
Like when you said you felt so happy you could die
Told myself that you were right for me
But felt so lonely in your company
But that was love, and it’s an ache I still remember

You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness
Like resignation to the end, always the end
So when we found that we could not make sense
Well, you said that we would still be friends
But I’ll admit that I was glad it was over

But you didn’t have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
And I don’t even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger, and that feels so rough
No, you didn’t have to stoop so low
Have your friends collect your records and then change your number
I guess that I don’t need that, though

Now you’re just somebody that I used to know

-Somebody That I Used to Know by Goyte (Making Mirrors, 2011)

If caring too much about college football is wrong, I don’t even want to be right.

Bret Bielema – Illinois

Wisconsin at IllinoisSaturday, Oct. 21

After serving as the DC at Wisconsin from 2004-05, Bret Bielema was promoted to head coach in 2006. He compiled a 68-24 record in seven seasons in Madison, including winning three consecutive Big Ten titles from 2010-12. That success led to an offer from Arkansas where he landed in 2013 and departed after five seasons and a 29-34 mark. After three years in the NFL, Bielema took the Illinois job in December of 2020. He is 1-1 thus far as a head coach vs. the Badgers, getting blanked 24-0 in Champaign in 2021 and winning 34-10 in Madison last season.

Mack Brown – North Carolina

Appalachian State at North CarolinaSaturday, Sept. 9

Mack Brown began his career as a collegiate head coach at Appalachian State in 1983, a one-year experiment that resulted in a 6-5 finish. From there he headed off to Tulane (1985-87), North Carolina (1988-97) and Texas (1998-2013) before landing back in Chapel Hill in 2019. This is Brown’s third game vs. the Mountaineers as a head coach, suffering a narrow 34-31 home defeat in 2019 and then earning a wild 63-61 win in Boone last season. As of now, the two schools don’t have any future plans to meet again.

Sonny Dykes – TCU

SMU at TCUSaturday, Sept. 23

Sonny Dykes’ three year run as the OC at Arizona (2007-09) was enough to earn him his first head job at Louisiana Tech in 2010. A 22-15 mark (including winning the WAC in 2011) during his three seasons in Ruston advanced him to the Cal job where he went 19-30 before being released after the 2016 season. He landed the SMU job in 2018 and, after posting a 30-18 record in five seasons, moved across town to take the TCU job last year, engineering a 13-2 run that ended with an uncharted appearance in the CFP title game. Dykes has only faced SMU as a head coach once previously, scoring a 42-34 win in Dallas last year.

Luke Fickell – Wisconsin

Ohio State at WisconsinSaturday, Oct. 28

Luke Fickell spent all but two seasons of his run as an assistant coach at his alma mater Ohio State including serving as the interim head coach (a 6-7 result) for one full season after Jim Tressel resigned in 2011. He stayed on from 2012-16 as Urban Meyer’s DC before taking the head job at Cincinnati in 2017.  He posted a 57-18 record in six seasons at the helm including back-to-back AAC titles in 2021-22, enough to earn him the Wisconsin job. This is Fickell’s second-ever meeting with Ohio State as a head coach, his first coming in 2019, a 42-0 blowout loss with the Bearcats in Columbus.

Hugh Freeze – Auburn

Ole Miss at AuburnSaturday, Oct. 21

Hugh Freeze’s single season as the head coach at Arkansas State (a 10-2 finish in 2011) was enough to land him the Ole Miss job. Freeze went 39-25 in five seasons in Oxford before resigning in 2017. He was named the head coach at Liberty after the 2018 season, earning a 34-15 record in four years, enough to get him the nod for the Auburn job. Freeze has faced Ole Miss once previously as a head coach, falling 24-17 to the Rebels in Oxford with the Flames in 2021.

Dana Holgorsen – Houston

West Virginia at HoustonThursday, Oct. 12

Dana Holgorsen’s first head coaching role came at West Virginia where he posted a 61-41 mark from 2011-18. The success made his move to Houston – where he’s gone 27-20 since 2019 – somewhat shocking as it was considered, at least by some, a “step down” given the Cougars’ AAC affiliation vs. the Mountaineers’ Big 12 membership. Both worlds collide this season with what is not only Holgorsen’s first head coaching gig vs. WVU, but the two schools’ first-ever football meeting.

Jay Norvell – Colorado State

Nevada at Colorado StateSaturday, Nov. 18

After getting his start in coaching as a graduate assistant at his alma mater Iowa, Jay Norvell spent three decades as an offensive coach at the NFL and collegiate levels before landing the head job at Nevada in 2017. He went 33-26 in five seasons in Reno, a successful run that made his decision to move on to Colorado State after the 2021 season – the first ever in-conference move by a MWC head coach – a surprise. Norvell is 1-0 vs. his former employer, scoring a 17-14 road win over the Wolfpack last season.

Nick Saban – Alabama

LSU at AlabamaSaturday, Nov. 4

Nick Saban used his 34-24-1 record in five seasons as the head coach at Michigan State as a launch pad to get the LSU job in 2000. Saban went 48-16 during his five years in Baton Rouge, a run that included two SEC titles and the 2003 BCS National Championship. It was enough for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins to offer him a job, where he lasted from 2005-06. After that it was Alabama, where Saban has done nothing but dominate – a 189-27 record (109-18 in the SEC) in 17 seasons, eight SEC titles and six national championships. He’s 12-6 vs. LSU as a head coach – all but one game (a loss to the Tigers in the 1995 Independence Bowl in his first year at Michigan State) coming during his tenure in Tuscaloosa.

Troy Taylor – Stanford

Sacramento State at StanfordSaturday, Sept. 16

Troy Taylor played quarterback at Cal in the late 1980s and, after a brief stint in the NFL, kicked off his college coaching career at Colorado in 1995. After jumping back and forth from the high school level back into college, Taylor was the OC at Eastern Washington (2016) and Utah (2017-18) before landing the head job at Sacramento State in 2019. There he put together an impressive 30-8 run that included three straight FCS playoff appearances. It was enough to earn him the Stanford job, where he’ll face his former squad in only his third game as an FBS head coach.

Historical data courtesy of Sports Reference/College Football.

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