Daily Blog •July 29, 2011

2011 Coaches on the Hot Seat

The last three 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 the next year and all were fired during or after the 2009 season.

In 2009 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 last year. My #1 coach on the hot seat in 2009 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.

Last year I again had 13 coaches on the list and had great success. My #1 coach on the hot seat was Rich Rodriguez and I mentioned that his magic number for wins was 8 and after a 7-5 regular season then an embarrassing bowl loss he was let go. Ron Zook and Les Miles rounded out my top 3 but both did what they had to do to keep their jobs with Zook guiding the Illini to an unexpected bowl and Miles getting LSU back in the top 10. My next 5 coaches were all let go including #4 Dan Hawkins, #5 Tim Brewster and #6 Todd Dodge who were all gone in the middle of the season. #7 Ralph Friedgen was named ACC COY but was still let go while #8 Bill Lynch despite improving the Hoosiers win total was let go as well. Two other coaches were also fired in #10 Doug Martin and #12 Steve Roberts.

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 2011.

*Quick note: I have been compiling my Coaches on the Hot Seat Article for the past couple of weeks and Butch Davis was set to be listed in my top 5 but naturally before I was able to release my list, he was let go earlier this week due to several off-the-field problems.

1. Rick Neuheisel, UCLA – When Neuheisel returned to his Alma Mater, he brought in a great coaching staff and the expectations were that the Bruins were going to be competing with their crosstown rivals in the very near future. However, after three underwhelming seasons including two 4-8 campaigns (0-3 vs USC), the heat is on Neuheisel to finally close the gap. They have 17 returning starters and make my Most Improved List but if the Bruins suffer another losing season Neuheisel will depart UCLA with a worse record than his predecessor Karl Dorrell. 

2. Dennis Erickson, Arizona St – Last year Erickson made this list and I wrote if I were the AD, I would not have him on the hot seat but three straight losing seasons would make him a possibility. The Sun Devils made it to 6-6 and got a win over their in-state rival in the season finale. I mentioned last year that I thought 2011 would be their year and with 15 returning starters and a favorable schedule, the Sun Devils should be back in the Top 25 for the first time since 2007 but another losing season would spell doom for Erickson.

3. Mike Stoops, Arizona –Stoops is used to receiving some heat here after going 3-8 his two first seasons but after back to back 8 win seasons in 2008-2009 things looked up for the Arizona program. Last year they started 4-0 and were ranked #9 (first top 10 appearance since 1998). After a loss to Oregon St they won 3 straight and moved to 7-1 but then the bottom fell out and they lost their last 5 games on the season. I’m not hearing a lot of heat on Stoops but I have to feel that in the “weaker” Pac-12 South division, surviving a losing season will be tough to overcome. The start of the season will be brutal and I could see them starting 1-5 with road games at Oklahoma St, USC, Oregon St with home games vs Stanford and Oregon. If that happens his seat will definitely be hot come mid-October and therefore he makes my list.     

4. Dabo Swinney, Clemson – In 2008 the Tigers were the preseason ACC favorite but Tommy Bowden was fired after a 3-3 start. Then WR coach Dabo Swinney surprisingly got the interim job and was then named the permanent coach after leading the Tigers to a Gator bowl bid. The Tigers then won 9 games in his first full season and things looked up but last year the Tigers slumped to 6-7 and had their first losing season since 1998. Swinney is a fabulous recruiter and this year brings in the best LB corps in the country but I do not believe he will survive another losing season. 

5. Mark Richt, Georgia – Last year I did not put Richt on my “Coaches On The Hotseat” as I figured he could survive a losing season and that proved accurate as the Bulldogs went 6-7. Their best offensive player, WR AJ Green was suspended the first four and the offense struggled losing close ones to Arkansas, Mississippi St and Colorado and they actually opened up 1-4. They were able to get to a bowl game at 6-6 but suffered a disappointing loss to CUSA champ UCF. The Bulldogs had won at least 10 games in 6 of 7 years from 2002-2008 under Richt so he did build up some good will but the last two years he has gone just 14-12. I am expecting big things from the Bulldogs this year as they are my pick to win the SEC East and if expectations are not met and Georgia has another 5+ loss season, Richt will not be around for 2012.

6. Jeff Tedford, California–Another Pac-12 coach makes my list as it seems half of the conference is on the hot seat. Tedford has done great things at Cal leading them to 8 straight winning seasons in his first 8 years and he was twice named Pac-10 COY. Last year he suffered his first losing season and Tedford who is the primary play-caller saw his offense finish last in the Pac-10. When you add the fact that the Bears despite the success have never made a BCS game under Tedford adds to his seat getting warmer and it will be tough for him to endure another losing season.     

7. Houston Nutt, Mississippi–After taking over a program that was just 10-25 the prior three years, Nutt started off his tenure here with B2B 9-win seasons and Cotton Bowl victories. Last year the Rebels opened the season with a loss to FCS Jacksonville St and ultimately finished 4-8 and naturally in the SEC, his seat got a little warmer. This year Ole Miss could be a dog in as many as 8 games but Nutt usually thrives when expectations are low. I have them on my Most Improved List but if the Rebels suffer another 4-8 season Nutt could be on the chopping block

8. Greg Schiano, Rutgers–Schiano has done a good job here taking over a program that was a constant cellar dweller. After 5 straight winning seasons the bottom fell out last year at 4-8 which dropped Schiano’s record here to 59-63 in his 10 seasons. The Knights were by far a Big East worst -131.6 ypg in conf play last year but they bring in a great recruiting class and have 4 Big East home games. After avg 9 wins a season from 2005-2009, I have to think a second straight losing season would not sit well with Scarlet Knight alums who have raised expectations for the program.

9. Luke Fickell, Ohio St–Naturally a tough situation for Fickell as he takes over for Tressel as the interim coach with all the off-the-field concerns and suspensions. There have been a lot of rumors already that OSU will look to contact Urban Meyer when the season is over and naturally that adds fuel to the pressure-cooker that Fickell will deal with in Columbus this year. I do think if he is able to rally the troops and get the Buckeyes to a Big-12 title game and double digit wins he should be given the benefit of the doubt in possibly being named permanent head coach but even a 4 loss season could spell doom for his chances. 

10. Tom O’Brien NC State – Last year O’Brien made the list because big things were expected when he came over from Boston College but he had opened with 3 straight losing seasons. Last year they brought in a new AD and that always makes a coaching change a higher possibility but O’Brien was able to get them to 9 wins and a bowl victory thanks in large part to QB Wilson. Despite the success from last year O’Brien again makes the list this year because not many are happy in Raleigh of how he handled Wilson this year and allowed him to transfer to Wisconsin. If QB Glennon does not perform well and the Wolf Pack stumble to a losing season while Wilson leads Wisconsin to a lot of success his seat will be very warm and he may not survive.

11. Mike Locksley, New Mexico –If my coaches on the hot seat list did not involve the national awareness of the program then Locksley may be listed #1. Taking over a program that had won at least 6 games in 7 of the previous 8 years, Locksley has gone just 2-22 in two years and has had several off-the-field incidents. Without significant improvement, I have to feel Locksley will be let go.

12. Neil Callaway, UAB-There are a lot of issues that are working against Callaway. For starters he is the lowest paid coach in CUSA, UAB also has the lowest recruiting budget  and have arguably the worst facilities in the conference. He has suffered through 4 straight losing seasons but this is by far Callaway’s best team yet and they are capable of getting to their first bowl since 2004. However, if the Blazers do not get to a bowl Callaway may not survive a 5th straight losing season.

13. Bob Toledo, Tulane-Only one coach since 1982 has had consecutive winning seasons here and Toledo has suffered through four straight losing seasons in his tenure. While there is not much national awareness of Tulane the pressure is on Toledo as they released his predecessor who had more success. This is Toledo’s best team yet and they have went from 2 to 3 to 4 wins the last three years. Anything less than continuing that trend may have him not on the Superdome sidelines in 2012.

14. Mack Brown, Texas-It’s tough putting a coach who has won a national title and had 10 straight 10-win seasons or more here but the reality is after a 5-7 season Brown is feeling the heat and he now has two new coordinators. While some may think he deserves to be higher on this list, I have Texas on my most improved list and think they will have a much better year than most expect. Also I do not think Texas will fire Brown but it is more likely that he just steps down if they “only” win 7 games or less.

Honorable Mention:

Paul Wulff, Washington St-In other “hot seat” lists I have seen Wulff much higher but he does not make my top 14. Even though his seat is warm, I think Washington St could suffer a losing season with 5 wins and he would still keep his job because that would equal his combined win total from his first 3 years.

Pat Hill, Fresno St-I appreciate the “Anybody, Anytime, Anywhere” mantra that Hill has lived by in his 15 seasons here but it is very surprising to me that they have not finished higher than 2nd in the WAC since 1999. After last season’s embarrassing bowl loss to a Northern Illinois team that was coached by an interim, in normal circumstances Hill would make my top 14 but last year he did sign a contract extension and took a pay cut which would add to his good will that he has already built up here. A losing season this year and the seat is hotter than ever. 

Only 34 Days Until the First College Football Game!!!