Daily Blog • July 15, 2010

The last two years in July I have posted my Coaches on the Hot Seat. Here is a quick recap of how those coaches fared. In 2008, my #1, #2 and #3 coaches on the hot seat were all fired BEFORE the end of the season! My #5 and #9 coaches on the hot seat were also fired before the season ended. Two more coaches were let go after the year, so 7 of the 12 lost their jobs. Two coaches in Kirk Ferentz and Mike Stoops did what they needed to do as Ferentz got the Hawkeyes to a New Year’s bowl winning in blowout fashion and Stoops guided Arizona to a bowl and then won it. Both coaches were OFF the Hot Seat last year. The three remaining coaches who kept their jobs all made my hot seat list again last year and all were fired during or after the 2009 season.

Last year I had 13 coaches on the list and this time actually missed on a couple but a lot of that had to do with the Economy. It was tough times for a lot of schools financially after the season and that made paying off a coach for multiple seasons on his contract and then having to pay a new coaching staff unpalatable. Therefore six coaches who were on the list and had losing seasons, all kept their jobs in Dan Hawkins, Doug Martin, Todd Dodge, Rich Rodriquez, Bill Lynch and Mike Price. Naturally all those coaches remade my list this year. My #1 coach on the hot seat last year was Steve Kragthorpe of Louisville and he was let go after the season as were the #3 coach Al Groh, #5 Mike Sanford, #11 Charlie Weis and even my #6 coach Mark Snyder was let go after guiding Marshall to a bowl.

Here is this year’s list of coaches on the hot seat. I want the coaches to know that I am rooting for every one of them to have a good season and get off the hot seat. I know that coaches can do all the preparation and have a team poised to win, but costly turnovers or injuries can result in some tough losses and the fans usually only look at the wins and losses. My rankings factor in how hot a seat the coach is on, the national awareness of the program and in some cases my chances of the team having a big year for 2010.

1. Rich Rodriguez, Michigan – Rich Rod inherited a program with 40 straight winning seasons and they have now had back-to-back losing seasons! At one point last year they were 5-2 but the bottom dropped out and not only did they finish tied for last in the Big Ten standings but they were also the worst team statistically at -107 ypg and I never thought I would see that from a Michigan football team. I believe his magic number to stick around next year is eight. A 7-win season would mean 7-5 and a bowl loss or 6-6 and a bowl win and that would probably not be enough. While I have him #1 on the list, I do think he has a very good chance of reaching that 8-win level.

2. Ron Zook, Illinois – In his head coaching career at both Florida and Illinois, Zook has been known as a great recruiter but the results on the field with the exception of his 2007 Rose Bowl trip have been below expectations. After a very disappointing 2009 season Zook needs a winning year this season. For the record I do have Illinois as one of my Most Improved teams and with much lower expectations this year, he would be retained if the Illini get to a bowl as I expect. Any thing less than a bowl and I think Bill Cubit of Western Michigan would be a good fit as he is a solid recruiter in Florida (like Zook) and his disciplinarian style would get the most out of a talented team. Keep in mind that 69% of the teams on my most improved list the last two years have gone from losing seasons to bowl eligibility so I expect him to get the job done this year.

3. Les Miles, LSU – What have you done for me lately. Les guided the Tigers to the 2007 National Title and just 3 years later is on the hot seat? No doubt the talent is there at LSU but Tiger fans are not content with non-Top 15 finishes. In his first 3 years his teams finished #6, #3 and #1 but were actually unranked in 2008 and “just” #17 last year. There were some questions about late game clock management last year and they do face the #10 schedule in the country. Tiger fans are restless and once again they expect to be a national title contender EVERY year so a three-year absence from that may be too much.

4. Dan Hawkins, Colorado – I do a weekly radio show in Denver and they asked me each week at the end of the year if I thought Hawk would be around after they spiraled to a 3-9 record. I said “no way”, but the economy had a big factor in his sticking around. With the Pac-10 on the horizon, if the Buffs suffered another losing season it would be time to go with a new head coach and optimism for the new league. With that said, Colorado made my most improved list this year. In the last 8 years there have been 424 teams that finished with a losing record and of those 424 only 26% have managed a winning record the next year. Teams on my most improved list have landed 69% bowl eligibility the last 2 years and that would be enough for him to stick around.

5. Tim Brewster, Minnesota – This is the first of the coaches that I have on the hot seat that I think will have a losing record this year. Tim came in talking Big Ten titles raising the hopes of the alumni. He did get them to a bowl in 2008 as one of my most improved teams going from 1-11 to 7-5! Last year it was a second straight bowl but only a 6-7 record after the bowl loss. There were rumors about him leaving for another job and it seemed the school was willing to let him go. This could be a tough year as they only have 2 returning starters on defense (#115 in % of tackles returning) and figure to be weaker on that side of the ball.

6. Todd Dodge, North Texas – When coach Dodge took over at North Texas he inherited a team that had played conservative offense and great defense that had played in 4 straight bowls from 2001-’04. They were off a pair of “hard luck” losing seasons but everyone was excited about his more “wide open” pass offense. They have avg just 24.8, 20.0 and 26.6 ppg in his first three years and gone 5-31! This year, I feel he has the horses to make a bowl and they are my #7 Most Improved team in the country. North Texas actually has one of the largest enrollments of any university in Texas and fans have high hopes each year. I feel he needs to having a winning year this season to stay in charge as he has 17 returning starters to work with and while I have him on the list as you can tell by them making my Most Improved List, I feel they will have the type of season they need to keep him around.

7. Ralph Friedgen, Maryland – The question is not if the Fridge is leaving but when. His eventual successor is already on the staff in James Franklin and he has been the coach in waiting for a while. Friedgen’s contract runs thru 2011 and last year perhaps due to the economy they opted to keep him. This year they do lose just 15 letterman (54 return) and draw both Duke and Virginia out of the Coastal and make my most improved list which means they will become bowl eligible and reduce the pressure on Friedgen.

8. Bill Lynch, Indiana – The Hoosiers were MUCH better than their final record last year and I love the passion that Lynch showed in some of their tough hard luck losses last year like Michigan, Iowa and Northwestern. I think he has done a good job in his tenure and the defense is my main question this year as they have just 39.8% of their tackles returning which is #117 out of 120.

9. Tom O’Brien NC State – Big things were expected when OBrien came over from Boston College but he has opened with 3 straight losing seasons. This year he has just 12 returning starters and 20 lettermen lost with only 29 lettermen returning. Their schedule is also a lot tougher than last year (14th toughest). They will also have a new AD and that always make a coaching change a higher possibility.

10. Doug Martin, Kent St – The MAC has been going thru a lot of coaching changes and his long time AD steps down and new AD’s like their own coaches. While I have him as being on the hot seat, I think Kent will have a winning season this year as they lose just 14 lettermen and that should get him off the hot seat.

11. Dennis Erickson, Arizona St – If I was the AD, I would not have him on the hot seat but three straight losing seasons would make him a possibility. When I look at this years squad I see just 3 senior starters which means 2011 is their year. They have just 9 returning starters this year and only have 53% of their tackles returning from last year. Fans at ASU have high expectations each year and that is why he is on this list.

12. Steve Roberts, Arkansas St- Roberts enters his 9th year here and has the 5th most victories among ASU’s 26 all-time head coaches with 41. Roberts has a contract, which runs through 2011 and was named SBC COY in ’05. However, after a disappointing 4-8 season last year, Roberts is feeling some heat and was forced to let his Off Coord go who had been with him for 8 years. This year the Red Wolves have just 11 returning starters but had two net close losses last year, 37 starts lost to injury and the last two times Roberts had 11 ret starters, they finished bowl eligible.

13. Mike Sherman, Texas A&M-I put Sherman on here only on the chance that if he suffers a 3rd straight losing season this year, I could see the possibility of him being let go. Naturally, no way do I expect a losing season for the Aggies this year as they make my most improved list and will make their way into the upper half of the Big 12 South standings after a 2-year absence.

On the PhilSteele.com homepage, I have listed these 13 coaches and a few others in the poll and make sure you vote on which coach you think is on the “hottest” seat this year.

Also please check PhilSteele.com everyday to get my FCS Top 25 Countdown, which continues with #6 Elon. Thru July 20th, I will post both magazine pages on a new team ranked in the Top 25 and you can get an early look on how I breakdown your favorite FCS team. Remember those magazine pages are available for only 24 hours for you to download as the next team will be posted the following day.

I will be back tomorrow with a look at all the players who have left, transferred or will be out for the 2010 season due to injury since our magazine went to press in Mid-May.

Only 49 Days Until the First College Football Game!