Phil Steele Blog • August 25, 2015



2015 Coaches on the Hot Seat.


There is an average of about 20 new coaches each year. After a drop to just 15 new head coaches in 2014, there are 22 new head coaches in 2015. Today I will look at the coaches I feel are on the hot seat heading into 2015. In the last few years some big time programs have switched head coaches including Texas, Michigan, Tennessee, USC, Florida, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

In the last six years during the summer, 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 win. Both coaches were OFF the Hot Seat the next 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 the next 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.

In 2010, 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.

In 2011, I listed 14 coaches along with two other honorable mentions and again was pleased with the results. Each of my top three including #1 Rick Neuheisel, #2 Dennis Erickson and #3 Mike Stoops were all let go during the season while Erickson was allowed to coach the bowl game. My #4 and #5 coaches (Dabo Swinney & Mark Richt) both did what they had to do to keep their job while my #6 coach Jeff Tedford got Cal back to a bowl game.  My #7 coach Houston Nutt was let go while my #8 coach Greg Schiano left for Tampa Bay after a successful 9-4 season. Interim Ohio St HC Luke Fickell was #9 on the list and naturally was replaced by Urban Meyer while Fickell slid back to DC in 2012. #10 Tom O’Brien led NC State to another bowl win while my #11 (Mike Locksley), #12 (Neil Callaway) and #13 (Bob Toledo) coaches were all let go. After a losing season in 2010 my #14 HC Mack Brown got Texas to eight wins which was enough while my two honorable mention coaches (Pat Hill and Paul Wulff) were both let go suffering losing seasons. Overall, 10 of the 16 coaches I listed were let go.

In 2012, I had 11 coaches on the list and again had great success. My top four coaches all were let go or went to another job including #1 John L. Smith, #2 Derek Dooley and #4 Frank Spaziani who were fired after losing seasons. #6 Joker Phillips and #7 Robb Akey were also let go while #9 Jeff Tedford despite a long tenure at Cal, was fired after a 3-9 season. #5 David Bailiff, #8 Mike Riley, #10 Brian Kelly and #11 Mack Brown all did what they had to do to keep their job by improving their team’s record from the year prior
In 2013, I had 10 coaches on the list and had moderate success. Texas head coach Mack Brown topped the list and stepped down after a fourth straight sub-par season. Dave Christensen was #2 on my list and he was let go after a losing season. My #3 hot seat coach Randy Edsall had a winning season and saved his job but the same could not be said for my #4 coach Paul Pasqauloni, who was let go mid-season. Gary Pinkel, Bobby Hauck and Jeff Quinn all guided their teams to bowls and got off the hot seat. Tim Beckman did have another losing season, but the team did show improvement going from 2 to 4 wins. Doc Holliday guided the Herd to a CUSA East Division title and finally my #10 coach on the hot seat, Lane Kiffin was let go mid-season.

Last year I had 11 coaches on the list. Two of the coaches did not make it thru the entire regular season as both Charlie Weis and Will Muschamp were let go early. I caught a lot of heat from Nebraska fans by putting Bo Pelini on the list but he was let go after the regular season. Brady Hoke was also axed after the final game. Four of the coaches did what they had to, getting their teams to bowl games.

In the last seven years, 45 of the 86 (52%) coaches listed here have been fired or let go with most of the others doing what they had to do get off the hot seat. In fact 73 of the 86 coaches (85%) I have listed have either been fired or did what they had to do to keep their job. Only 13 of the coaches would go on to have a losing season and be retained for another year.

Here is my Coaches on the Hot Seat List for 2015

1. Norm Chow, Hawaii – Norm is a great guy and loves the state of Hawaii and has had a long and outstanding career. There are numerous factors that put him #1 on the list. First of all the team has had very little success going just 8-29 in his tenure. This is an age of the young, energetic and connected head coach. Norm is 69 years old. Hawaii has some financial problems in the sports department and if they are going to get rid of him, they would owe him just a $200,000 buyout after the season, which is very cheap by today’s standards.

2. Al Golden, Miami Florida – As I mentioned in this years magazine in the final sentence of the conference write up, “It’s time Al.” Coach Golden inherited some problems he did not expect and that is why despite a losing record and just a 4 year mark of 28-22, he is back for a fifth year. I mentioned in last years magazine that I thought Miami was a year away from competing to be a top team in the ACC and despite losing 7 players to the NFL draft, that year is here. For the record I think Al gets off this list this year and I have Miami as my #1 Most Improved Team in the country, the same label that TCU owned last year when going from 4-8 to 12-1 and nearly making the playoffs. Six or 7 wins probably won’t cut it, by I am expecting more as is the fan base and administration.

3. Tim Beckman, Illinois – Last year should have been enough to get Coach Beckman off the list as Illinois got to an unexpected bowl game and that usually buys an extra year. Upon closer inspection, he has won just 4 Big Ten games in 3 years. There is also the off field problems that surfaced in May. Illinois figures to be an underdog in at least 7 games this year. Of course last year they were a dog in 8 games and still made it to a bowl. His predecessor Ron Zook was let go after back to back 7-6 campaigns.

4. Mike London, Virginia – Coach London opened strong and in his 2nd year got them to their first bowl game in 4 years and in that 2011 season had the first of three straight Top 25 recruiting classes. Unfortunately he is just 11-25 (5-19 in ACC play) the last 3 years and this years recruiting class dropped down to #49. Playing in the tough Coastal conference is not easy nor are the tough academic requirements at Virginia. He is the 6th highest paid coach in the ACC and probably needs a bowl to be around for a 6th year. Ironically he is one play away from not being on this list as last year his team was 5-7 but lost games by 7, 1 & 3 (and two by 8 pts) and in 4 of those 5 losses they actually out gained their opponents.

5. Willie Taggert, USF – Willie came in riding high after taking an 0-12 WKU team to records of 2-10, 7-5 and 7-6. He has had some solid recruiting classes in his 3 years and was #1 in the AAC in that category again this year. He did show improvement last year going from 2-10 to 4-8 and from -94.6 ypg in AAC play to -63.6 but I think USF fans expected more. Their 4 wins last year came by a combined 17 points including a miracle 1 point win at SMU. Their losses were not close as only once all year did they lose by single digits. USF needs to show some real progress this year but could be a dog in as many as 8 or 9 games facing 3 of the leagues top teams at home.

6. Scott Shafer, Syracuse – Scott stepped into a tough situation as Doug Marrone relied heavily on JUCO’s and Shafer is trying to switch that to freshmen recruiting. He had a solid first year guiding the Orange to a bowl game. Last year his team was gutted by injuries and slipped to 3-9. This year he has just 10 returning starters and figures to be a dog in at least 7 games. Also his AD is gone and new AD’s like to bring in their own guys. His contract is a bargain (lowest in ACC) and I think he can open 3-0 and if they stay healthy they will be much more competitive, but another losing season will likely be trouble.

7. Darrell Hazell, Purdue – He has only 12 scholarship seniors this year and enters his 3rd season. Danny Hope was 13-13 in his last two seasons getting to a bowl each time. In this era of quick turnarounds, fans expect success quickly. Hazell has gone just 4-20 in his first two years and 1-15 in Big Ten play. He does have 15 returning starters but they need to show solid improvement this year.

8. Larry Fedora, North Carolina – The academic fallout that is going on is not his fault but the Heels record has dropped each year. He is under contract thru 2018 but the disturbing part of last year is how many times it seemed his team just quit or stopped trying. They had too much talent to lose to East Carolina by 29, NC St by 28 and Rutgers by 19 and they had 3 other losses by over two td’s.

9. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt – I thought he made some big mistakes in his first year. He compared his athletic talent on D to what he had at Stanford and said they could contend in the SEC. Also in a couple of games he was down two scores and just allowed the clock to run out instead of using his timeouts and fighting to the end. Vandy has 18 returning starters and must be more competitive. It’s hard to believe Vanderbilt would only give a coach two years but it is possible.

Other Potential Hot Seat Coaches that missed the list and why:

Kevin Wilson, Indiana – They gave him a 7 year contract and LY with a 5th string QB they led Ohio St. Attendence is up and they made my Most Improved list.

Kirk Ferentz, Iowa – He still has some equity from all those winning years and his buyout is $13 million.

Paul Rhoads, Iowa St – After 2012 he was given an extension thru 2021 so a buyout is costly. His teams usually overachieve.

Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech – He was a very popular hire and had a great start. I think he will be given time.

Paul Petrino, Idaho – Last year Idaho was better than their record and they out FD’d their foes 258-225 on the year. They should show a lot of improvement.

Ron Turner, FIU – FIU has 15 returning starters and a solid D. Turner also got a lot more media saavy the last two years after not making a lot of friends his first year.

Sonny Dykes, California – If he has another bad losing year he will be gone, but I don’t expect that to happen. I expect a bowl.

Brian Kelly – Notre Dame – There is talk that Kelly is not thrilled at ND and ND is not thrilled with him but I have them my #3 surprise team and a big year would make both parties happier.

Mark Richt – Georgia – This guy needs an SEC East title and more after 7 upset losses the last two years. Still, he has done so much good for Georgia it would take a disappointing year just to put him on the list.

Todd Monken – Southern Miss – This is another coach that is just 4-20 in his two years and another 1 or 2 win season and it would be time to move on but I see at least 5 wins and a possible bowl this year.

There you have my coaches on the Hot Seat for 2015 list and this should be a busy two weeks on with an updated experience chart, updated stat forecasts for 2015 and more so check back daily!


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