by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

There was a time when midseason coaching dismissals in college football were about as rare as coming across an old buffalo nickel. Indeed, for the first couple of decades in our TGS publishing annals, those instances could almost be counted on one hand. We recall those few situations because their uniqueness was so easy to recall. One of those happened at Ole Miss in late September of 1973 in what was eventually described as the “Midnight Massacre” in Oxford (the Rebs’ version of Richard Nixon’s subsequent and infamous “Saturday Night Massacre” at the White House a few weeks later), when both HC Billy Kinard and his older brother, AD Bruiser Kinard, were summarily dismissed after Ole Miss’ third game of the season, a painful 17-13 loss at Jackson against Memphis State. (Longtime HC Johnny Vaught, left, whose retirement two years earlier had prompted Billy Kinard’s appointment, would succeed his former player on the sidelines.)

Almost 20 years later, Arkansas AD Frank Broyles, seething after his Razorbacks opened their 1992 season with a 10-3 shock home loss to The Citadel, immediately dismissed HC Jack Crowe, who had been on the job for only two seasons. But probably the biggest-name head coach who was dismissed during the course of the season in our first 25 years of publishing was Arizona State’s Frank Kush (right), who became embroiled in an abuse scandal and lawsuit involving punter Kevin Rutledge. When the situation deteriorated, AD Fred Miller pulled the plug on Kush midway in the 1979 season.

But while those instances were the rare exceptions in a past era of college football (when such midseason moves were in fact more associated with the NFL), it has become almost standard operating procedure these days for colleges to say "sayonara" to under-fire head coaches before the regular season is complete. Already in 2013, three (Southern Cal’s Lane Kiffin, UConn’s Paul Pasqualoni, and Miami-Ohio’s Don Treadwell) were forced to walk the plank before the campaign reached its midway point. It would be a surprise if at least that many more coaches weren’t also dismissed before the end of the regular season. Meanwhile, in a curious twist of roles, it’s the NFL where in-season changes have become rather scarce in recent years.

The recent Southern Cal opening, in particular, really got the rumor mill whirring before we hit October, and speculation as to who might be Kiffin’s successor is a daily topic in not only the Los Angeles sports media, but around most of the college football map. Before we identify some other coaching situations to watch in the next few weeks, a quick update on the Trojan situation is in order, with potential coaching candidates already the subject of much speculation. Following is a brief look at those coaches who seem to be getting the most mention regarding the SC job.

Jack Del Rio, Denver Broncos defensive coordinator...The obligatory first name mentioned these days for the SC job, Del Rio is an easy sell to the Trojan Nation from his playing days at the school. His experience in the NFL as head coach of the Jaguars has some SC honks believing that Del Rio could be the second coming of another dismissed and defense-oriented NFL coach, Pete Carroll. But sources suggest that Del Rio is hardly a sure thing for the SC job, as he is likely to be on short lists for any NFL head coaching opportunities at the conclusion of this season as well. Del Rio would not be the first coach to much prefer the NFL's luxuries to the added duties associated with college coach (which, sources suggest, precludes another Trojan alum, current Rams HC Jeff Fisher, from contemplating a move to his alma mater or the college ranks).

Steve Sarkisian, Washington HC...Not often do schools poach coaches from a rival within their conference, although it has happened before (once involving none other than SC, which stole Larry Smith from league rival Arizona after the 1986 season). But several insiders suggest watching closely for a potential candidacy of Washington’s Sarkisian, So Cal born and tutored as both a player and as a young assistant by the sage Norm Chow and part of the wildly-successful Carroll SC staffs in the last decade before accepting the U-Dub job in 2009. “Sark” also left SC on extremely good terms and is also represented by super-agent Jimmy Sexton; sources close to Sexton tell us that if SC calls, Sarkisian would be more than willing to listen. Some Pac-12 sources, however, suggest that Trojan AD Pat Haden might be reluctant to hire a new coach with connections so close to the Carroll regime, which was at the center of some of the myriad NCAA problems the school has endured in recent years. And while Sarkisian’s current senior-laden team in Seattle looks to be his best, he has yet to win big with the Huskies, with modest, lower-level bowl qualification the high-water marks (he’s also still never won more than 7 games in a season at Seattle). If Sarkisian doesn’t get to at least 9 or 10 wins this season (which now looks harder after back-to-back losses to Stanford & Oregon), would Haden call?

Al Golden, Miami-Florida HC...Here’s a stealth candidate some insiders are suggesting to watch closely. While associated mostly with different regions of the country, Penn State alum Golden was nonetheless in the mix (reportedly in the final three) for the cross-city UCLA job that eventually went to Rick Neuheisel in 2008. Since then, Golden’s reputation has grown much stronger. Especially as his successes at Temple are now more impressive in retrospect, considering how the Owls have faltered since his departure, while he has held the Miami program together despite enormous distractions and school-imposed bowl sanctions immediately upon his arrival. Some ACC sources believe that Miami might have a hard time keeping Golden in tow.

James Franklin, Vanderbilt HC...The brash and energetic Franklin seems to check most of the boxes that Haden and many ADs are filling out for similar openings. Franklin, who could be in the midst of taking the Commodores to an unprecedented third straight bowl, has quickly resurrected one of the nation’s more moribund programs. A Pennsylvania native with recruiting ties up and down the eastern seaboard and in the South, Franklin has already been targeted by other suitors, but has so far rebuffed those advances. And Vandy has been doing all it can to appease Franklin. Still, most SEC insiders do not expect Franklin to hang around Nashville too much longer.

Greg Roman, San Francisco 49ers o.c...Pac-12 sources believe Roman is a longshot candidate worth watching. His star has risen alongside Jim Harbaugh at both Stanford and the 49ers, and he fits some of Haden’s likely criteria, including a shrewd offensive mind.

Elsewhere, expect SC to make obligatory calls to the likes of Boise State’s Chris Petersen and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, though no one expects either of those two are ready to move anytime soon. Then there is interim HC Ed Orgeron, who seems to have the support of the players (most of whom not liking Kiffin). But anything short of SC running the table with Orgeron in charge would probably scuttle his very remote chances of entering the mix. Stay tuned.

Here are some other “hot seat” coaches we would watch closely in the next month.

Mack Brown, Texas...Yes, Brown beat Oklahoma last week for the first time since 2009. But, no, that result hardly saves his job, especially as it was on the heels of a game the Horns should have lost (if not for the grace of an incompetent group of referees) the previous week at Iowa State. Most Big 12 sources believe the upcoming retirement of long-time AD DeLoss Dodds, who has been Mack’s safety blanket, makes it harder to envision Brown surviving unless the Longhorns can pull a BCS trip out of their pockets. Sources also say the Texas Exes and school administrators are livid that old Lone State State rival Texas A&M has been running ahead of Texas on donations, related largely to the Aggies’ recent success in the SEC and last year’s Heisman winner, Johnny Manziel. Don’t dismiss rumors that Nick Saban is a top target for the Austin crowd.

Charlie Weis, Kansas...The Weis hire prior to the 2012 season was hardly well-received in Jayhawk Nation; apparently, AD Sheahon Zenger was the only one in the Sunflower State who thought bringing in Weis was a good idea. Now, the Jayhawks are 3-14 SU since Weis arrived, with only one win (a 3-pointer) over an FBS foe, lightly-regarded La Tech. If Weis can’t win a conference game for the second straight year, sources say Zenger might have no choice but to pull the plug on this experiment.

Ron English, Eastern Michigan...In English’s defense, the EMU job might be one of the most thankless in the country. No matter, it is hard to believe that English was once considered the heir apparent at Michigan (where he was d.c) in the middle of the last decade before the Lloyd Carr regime imploded. Now English looks as if he could be the next coach to get the boot before this season is compete, as his EMU has failed to capitalize on some momentum it developed in 2011 when finishing 6-6. But last year’s regression to 2-10 and another slow start this season (including an embarrassment last week at Army) indicates no turnaround is on the horizon. At 11-43 in his fifth season at Ypsilanti and with a contract reportedly about to expire, don’t expect English to hang around into 2014.

Mike London, Virginia...London’s to-do list, in no particular order, when hired in 2010 at Charlottesville was to put a more-exciting product on the field (not hard after the preceding Al Groh regime), make the Cavs a consistent bowl qualifier, and end what has become a decade-long losing streak to in-state Virginia Tech. So far it looks as if London is 0-for-3 on those counts, and sitting at 2-4 with the teeth of the 2013 schedule still to come, his prospects are looking rather gloomy as Wahoo Nation notes the Cav program falling further behind several established and emerging ACC powers. Last year’s regression to 4-8 after the Chick-fil-A Bowl season of 2011 was a red flag for Cavalier backers, some of whom now believing that London’s previous success at Richmond had more to do with the Spider powerhouse he inherited from Dave Clawson.

Bo Pelini, Nebraska...Pelini dug himself a bit deeper hole earlier this season when a two-year old tape recording of him being critical of Husker Nation was “leaked” to the media. The firestorm could not have come at a worse time for Pelini, whose regime had already been under some fire in Lincoln for failure to win big games as well as some embarrassing letdowns on defense (supposedly a Pelini specialty) in recent campaigns. The Huskers have not lost since an early-season home collapse vs. UCLA, but the meat of the schedule is still to come. Big Ten sources suggest that Pelini’s fate is probably determined in November, when the Huskers face Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State in succession before finishing the regular season against Iowa. The bar is still set pretty high in Lincoln from the Bob Devaney & Tom Osborne decades, as Pelini predecessors Frank Solich and Bill Callahan have found out.

Norm Chow, Hawaii...Though Mountain West sources suggest the Rainbow Warriors are an improved bunch this season, they’re still 0-6 at the halfway mark, which means Chow is now 3-15 since taking over in his native state a year ago. This from a program that was in the BCS during June Jones’ final season in 2007 and was usually a bowl qualifier in the subsequent Greg McMackin regime. Chow has coached in a bit of bad luck with injuries, but the offense has looked nowhere near as potent as the Jones/McMackin Red Guns of the past decade. Remember, the Hawaii job is one of the nastiest fish bowls in college football, as there is nowhere for a coach to hide in Honolulu, and Chow’s honeymoon has long since ended with the Rainbow Warrior fan base.

Bobby Hauck, UNLV...While not completely off of this list just yet, Hauck has at least moved away from the immediate trouble he seemed to be in a month ago when trailing 21-0 at home to Central Michigan on September 14. Some Mountain West sources believe Hauck, 6-32 in his previous three seasons at UNLV and under a 6-win and bowl or else edict from AD Jim Livengood before the latter’s resignation last May, would not have survived a loss to the Chips and an 0-3 start. But Hauck rolled the dice that night at Sam Boyd Stadium, yanking ineffective and confidence-shaken QB Nick Sherry in the 2nd Q vs. the Chips, and turned to former starter Caleb Herring, who immediately ignited the offense and sparked a 31-21 comeback win. It’s been full speed ahead since as the Rebs have forged a 4-game win streak with Herring at the helm, although the Rebs have not exactly beaten a bunch of BCS contenders (and blew a 19-point 4th Q lead last week vs. Hawaii before rallying to a 39-37 win), and the schedule starts to get tougher this week at Fresno State. Hauck’s best news is that an expected change in the school's AD position has been delayed at least a year, as interim AD Tina Kunzer-Murphy has had her contract extended to December 2014. Though sources say not to assume that Kunzer-Murphy won’t pull the plug if the Rebs fade down the stretch, Hauck’s chances of survival have been improved, especially if the Rebs get to 6 wins and a bowl.

Jim Grobe, Wake Forest...Though Grobe has been the best football coach in Wake Forest history, there are indicators that his regime might have run its course. Grobe’s Deacs took advantage of a power vacuum in the ACC in the middle of the last decade to briefly emerge as the league’s team to beat but have regressed to the middle and lower portions of the ACC pack since. A recent home win over NC State has lifted Wake to 3-3, but several tough games remain, and the Deacs will miss the postseason for a 4th time in 5 years if they don’t go “bowling” this season. Many ACC sources believe Grobe does not return in 2014 unless Wake gets to a bowl.

Charley Molnar, UMass...Though expectations were modest for the Minutemen as they transitioned to the FBS level and Mid-American Conference last season, the program was not aiming as low as the 2-17 overall mark Molnar has fashioned since his hiring. Regional sources say the Minutemen need to win a few more games the rest of the season for Molnar to get another chance next season; in his defense the efforts have been mostly better in recent weeks, and the Minutemen did finally get their first win of the season last week vs. Miami-Ohio.

Return To Home Page