TGS 2017 COL FB PREVIEW...COACHES ON THE HOT SEAT!
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor
To kick off our summer preview portion of the upcoming 2017 college football season, we take a quick look at the coaching “hot seat” as it appears as of mid-June. Coaches are listed by school alphabetical order, with the seats graded "warm," "hot," and "red hot."
Note that TGS College FB conference previews will begin in the last week of June!
Rich Rodriguez, Arizona...There was a lot of conjecture in Tucson that Rich-Rod might not last beyond 2016 as the Wildcats collapsed to a miserable 3-9 mark and missed the bowls for the first time on his watch (which began in 2012). Though AD Greg Byrne announced in November that Rodriguez would be back in 2017, so Rich-Rod was not coaching for his job in the Territorial Cup regular-season finale vs. Arizona State, but the 56-35 romp past the Sun Devils has at least made the offseason a bit more pleasant at UA. The Cats were hit hard by injuries this past season, especially at the QB spot, which made it easier for Rodriguez to get his mulligan. But the trajectory of the program has been steeply downward the past two years, and Rich-Rod needs to reverse the direction quickly if he wants to last into 2018. 2017 STATUS...HOT
Todd Graham, Arizona State...Like counterpart Rodriguez a hundred or so miles to the south, Graham is also on thin ice in Tempe, as that aforementioned Territorial Cup result has turned up the heat on the Sun Devil mentor. ASU appeared a near certainty to reach a fifth straight bowl on Graham's watch when sitting at 5-1 in mid-October. But six straight losses to close the season, and the humiliation vs. the big rival, has put Graham in a must-win spot for 2017. Many Pac-12 insiders have long felt that Graham, who in the past has moved from two jobs (Rice and Pitt) after just one year, is destined to end up with some job in his native Texas, and might have been a candidate at Baylor had his stock not dropped so precipitously this past season. 2017 STATUS...HOT
Bret Bielema, Arkansas...After the Razorbacks had already suffered several late-game collapses in 2016, the last thing Bielema needed was for the Hogs to blow a 24-0 lead in their bowl game. Which is exactly what Arkansas did in the Belk Bowl vs. Virginia Tech. Bielema's 4-year SU mark at Fayetteville stands at only 25-26, not the return on investment that Razorback boosters envisioned. 2017 STATUS...RED HOT
Gus Malzahn, Auburn...Some SEC sources reported that Malzahn was looking for an escape hatch out of Auburn a year ago and had interest in openings at Miami and South Carolina. It's no fun to compete against Nick Saban in Alabama, and Malzahn's star had fallen so quickly since his smashing 2013 debut that Tiger backers were said to be ready to hit the eject button if Auburn lost to LSU last September 24. LSU lost, and Les Miles was fired instead in what might have been the first college football loser-coach-leaves-town midseason game. Malzhan rehabbed his status in October, but three losses in the last four games have given Gus little wiggle room for 2017 unless he can get his offense humming as it did in 2013. In Malzahn's favor is super-agent Jimmy Sexton, who can probably find Gus a landing spot before the posse forms at Jordan-Hare Stadium. 2017 STATUS-HOT
Steve Addazio, Boston College...After a brutal 2015 in which his team didn't win an ACC game, Addazio helped his case with a recovery to 6-6 in the regular season and a bowl win over Maryland. But how much goodwill can be generated in a matchup between a pair of 6-6 teams in Detroit the day after Christmas? The Eagles have been mostly unwatchable on offense the past two seasons, and Addazio has needed graduate transfer QBs (Tyler Murphy from Florida in 2014, and Patrick Towles from Kentucky in 2016) to squeeze into recent minor bowls. There is already some chatter in New England that BC might be a landing place for Brian Kelly should he leave Notre Dame, so the pressure will be on Addazio this fall. 2017 STATUS-WARM
Scottie Montgomery, East Carolina...The Pirates generated a lot of bad press in the region when running off the capable Ruffin McNeill after 2015 and hiring Montgomery. After a couple of wins to begin the season, including a rousing one over NC State, ECU would lose 9 of its last 10 and looked awful most weeks. Montgomery has a bit of rope remaining, but anything close to the 2016 debacle could make the Pirates admit they made a mistake sooner than they could have anticipated. 2017 STATUS...WARM
Kirby Smart, Georgia...Smart is probably in no immediate danger as he enters his second year, though things might have been worse if the Bulldogs missed a bowl, which appeared a possibility into November. Nonetheless, the 8-5 debut was not what Georgia backers had in mind after making Mark Richt walk the plank for lesser transgressions. Because it's the SEC, and because Smart underachieved in his maiden run, sources say he could find himself in the soup if the Dawgs regress this fall. 2017 STATUS-WARM
David Beaty, Kansas...Hard to believe the Jayhawks were a national title contender a decade ago (in 2007). By the time Beaty arrived in 2015, the program had been ruined (with Charlie Weis doing the most damage), so the bar was set low in Lawrence. And Beaty is probably not under immediate pressure to win big in 2017. But little improvement has been made over two seasons in which the Jayhawks are 2-22 SU. Regional sources say that Beaty likely gets at least two more years to forge a turnaround, unless he slips back to 1-11 or, God forbid, another 0-12 like his debut season in 2015. Which would suggest no progress is being made and cause KU to rethink yet another possible botched hire. 2017 STATUS-WARM
Paul Haynes, Kent State...Life at the lower levels of the FBS means that a coach can be saved by a favorable contract. Thus, Paul Haynes remains at Kent State for a fifth year, the final season of his contract, a document that caused the cash-strapped program to decide against triggering a buyout after the latest disappointment in 2016 (3-9). That dropped Haynes’ four-year mark to 12-36, with no more than four wins in any of the terms. At Kent State, that gets a coach on a five-year contract one more season. Safe to say that if Haynes wants a new contract, the Golden Flashes probably have to get above .500 and to a bowl this fall. Keeping playmaking sr. QB Nick Holley healthy for an entire campaign might help. But Haynes’ safety blanket is soon to disappear, as he won’t have another year of a contract to be bought out if he loses again this fall. 2017 STATUS-HOT
Ed Orgeron, LSU...Make no mistake, Orgeron is under as much pressure as predecessor Les Miles to win immediately in 2017 or face the consequences. Orgeron rallied the troops in his interim stint, but most Tiger backers thought there was no way Ed could hang around after the team's ugly 14-10 loss to Florida on Nov. 19. Yet a rousing win over Texas A&M in the finale and meeting a dead-end in pursuit of top target Tom Herman forced LSU to settle upon Orgeron, who will get his chance in 2017, but is working without a safety net. Remember, this is the SEC! 2017 STATUS-WARM
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss...The shine is off the apple from the Freeze regime, which dealt with off-field issues and still has possible penalties looming from an NCAA investigation. It was thus a bad season for the Rebs to sink below .500 and miss a bowl for the first time on Freeze's watch (since 2012). Compounding things was a 55-20 Egg Bowl humiliation, in Oxford, no less, courtesy hated Mississippi State. Now the Rebs have placed a self-imposed bowl ban on themselves for 2017, hoping that will lessen the eventual blow the school is bound to receive from the NCAA. Would jettisoning Freeze send another message to the NCAA that Ole Miss is trying to clean up his act? Thus, it’s possible Freeze could be forced to walk the plank before any other coach on this list...perhaps even before the season begins. 2017 STATUS-RED HOT
Dave Doeren, NC State...Though this one didn't seem as apparent during the 2016 campaign, ACC sources suggest that Doeren probably needed the reg.-season-ending 28-21 win over rival North Carolina to save his job. Doeren's Wolfpack had somewhat underachieved the past two seasons, especially a year ago when more was expected with QB Jacoby Brissett in the fold. The bowl win over Vanderbilt will help in the short-term, but it's apparent that they are getting a bit antsy in Raleigh. 2017 STATUS-HOT
Brian Kelly, Notre Dame...The days of the Fighting Irish sitting around and waiting for a contract to run its course (as was the case with Gerry Faust in the '80s) are no more. Ask Bob Davie, Ty Willingham, and Charlie Weis, all fired since 2001. Now the Kelly regime appears to have run its course after ND collapsed to an unacceptable 4-8 this past season. Some Domers believe Kelly would have jumped had another acceptable job opened up after 2016, though jobs like Purdue had little appeal. With a few better landing spots perhaps on the horizon after 2017, don't be surprised if Kelly beats the forming lynch mob and gets out of South Bend. 2017 STATUS-RED HOT
David Bailiff, Rice...Though some regional observers believe that Bailiff deserves a lot of rope for getting the Owls to three straight bowls (for the first time in program history) not long ago, in the what-have-you-done-lately-for-me environment of 2017, Bailiff enters the fall in a bit of trouble after back-to-back losing seasons (5-7 & 3-9). Moreover, Rice has suffered numerous unsightly defeats since 2015, and there is a train of thought in Houston that Bailiff progressed the Owls as far as he could a few years ago, and the program is now regressing. Injuries didn’t help a year ago, and some C-USA sources believe Bailiff deserves a mulligan for last fall, but entering his eleventh season and with only two years remaining on his contract, 2017 is a fork-in-the-road campaign for Bailiff. A tough opening schedule with four of the first five on the road, including the opener against Stanford in Sydney, Australia, is not the sort of situation that will do Bailiff any favors. 2017 STATUS-HOT
Butch Jones, Tennessee...Though Jones continued to wave his magic bowl wand once again (the 38-24 romp past Nebraska in the Music City was the Vols' third straight big bowl win for Jones), Tennessee was a significant disappointment in 2016. Moreover, it was with a largely senior team, and Jones' shortcomings as a game coach have too often been highlighted the past couple of years. Beyond the surface, the Vols' 9-4 SU mark did not look so good, with some unexpected narrow escapes. UT also failed again to take the very winnable SEC East, was destroyed by Alabama, and couldn't even beat in-state foe Vanderbilt. Not all 9-4 marks look the same. 2017 STATUS-HOT
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M...There are some SEC observers who were a bit surprised that a) Sumlin wasn't fired after the Aggies once again collapsed in November and lost another bowl, and b) Sumlin didn't find an escape hatch out of College Station. There was talk in late November that the Ags were in the Tom Herman derby, but Texas always had that inside track. And in the offseason, AD Scott Woodward has all but delivered a win (big)-or-else edict to Sumlin. The merry-go-round at QB at Kyle Field in the post-Johnny Manziel era has created more problems for Sumlin, who is another coach likely to find a landing spot before the axe would fall...and whose buyout drops $5 million after this season. 2017 STATUS-RED HOT
Jim Mora, UCLA...Pac-12 sources are still a bit stunned that Mora decided to ditch the sporty offense used in his first four years in Westwood, and the consequences were disastrous in 2016 as Mora's new "Stanford style" power-emphasis did not resonate, resulting in the dismissal of overmatched o.c. Kennedy Polamalu (known as Pola during his USC playing days), who was an ill-advised promotion after Noel Mazzone moved to Texas A&M last year. Mora has since hired Michigan passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch to take the place of Polamalu. But there are also concerns about QB Josh Rosen, whose shoulder injury that kept him out after early October might be more serious than first envisioned, not to mention Rosen's maturity issues. The Bruins became unwatchable as 2016 progressed and have meekly ceded control of Los Angeles back to USC after Mora appeared to have the deck stacked in his favor when beating the Trojans three straight during the Brett Hundley era. In Mora’s favor is a pricey buy-out clause that would currently cost the school a reported eight-figure amount, so unless 2017 becomes a complete disaster, Mora likely rides out the storm into 2018. (The buyout, however, begins to drop next year.) Nonetheless, the topic of replacing Mora is a hot one with UCLA "cigars" who will not tolerate another 4-8 or a miserable offense, with Chip Kelly's name already being mentioned by a few in Westwood. 2017 STATUS-HOT
Sean Kugler, UTEP...Though Kugler, with NFL coaching roots, appeared ticketed for bigger destinations when his second UTEP team qualified for a bowl in 2014, the Miners have sagged since. And at 18-31 entering his fifth season, Kugler is not yet providing much of an upgrade from predecessor Mike Price. It has helped Kugler that he is an alum of UTEP and has roots at the Sun Bowl, but this is the season a turnaround has to occur, especially in the second years of offensive and defensive systems under vet coordinators Brent Pease (offense) and Tom Mason (defense). Even the Miners have modest expectations these days, and a third straight losing season by Kugler might be too much for the locals to take. 2017 STATUS-HOT
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