10 College Football Coaches on the Hot Seat Heading into Spring Practice
Whether your team finished 0-12 or won the final BCS National Championship, the sounds of pads popping and whistles blowing gives hope that 2014 will be good.
It's the annual rite of passage known as spring football, but for a select group of coaches this is it—their final chance to get it right or ship out.
Yes, no one is getting fired on spring football alone (unless said coach is doing something wrong off the field), but the fact is spring ball sets a major tone for the year ahead. Just ask Illinois how a good spring can lead to huge improvement quickly.
As spring football gets going, here are a select group of coaches who could really use a positive change this spring. Consider these coaches squarely on the hot seat.
*All coaches' salary information courtesy USA Today Sports.
On the Lukewarm Seat
There are coaches who may end up on the hot seat at the end of the season, but for now they are safe. Let's take a look at the seven coaches who are feeling some pressure but whose seats aren't completely on fire.
Bret Bielema (Arkansas) - Season one in the SEC was a disaster for Bielema, as the Razorbacks took a ton of lumps on the way to a 3-9 (0-8 SEC) finish. It wasn't how Bielema wanted to get going at all, and with him making a reported $5.15 million, the Razorbacks need much more out of their investment. Bielema faces a new-look defensive coaching staff, and that will be key to the Razorback's improvement in 2014.
Ron Turner (Florida International) - How Mario Cristobal is not the head coach here will remain a mystery, but his replacement took this team down quickly. FIU went 1-11 and 1-7 in its new home of Conference USA. Couple that with a lack of enthusiasm in the community, and Turner has some work to do this year. However, one season shouldn't make or break a coach, and Turner will likely get some time to mold this program in his image.
June Jones (SMU) - For $1.91 million, SMU expects and should be getting better than mediocrity out of Jones and his Mustangs. After flirting with, but staying at or over, .500 since year two at SMU, Jones' Mustangs finished 2013 at 5-7. What Jones did at Hawai'i seems like a distant memory, and if he can't get the Mustangs back to winning eight or more games, this could be an uncomfortable season in Dallas.
Bill Blankenship (Tulsa) - There were few coaches leading the same team with a worse reverse-turnaround than Blankenship and the Golden Hurricane. After winning 11 games in 2012, Tulsa went 3-9 last season, and that won't cut it for a school looking to remain relevant in a state dominated by Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Injuries didn't help last season, but with a move to The American those results aren't likely to be tolerated.
Bob Davie (New Mexico) - Yes, New Mexico isn't exactly the end-all, be-all of college football coaching positions, but Bob Davie still has some pull to his name thanks to his time at Notre Dame. After investing around $750,000 dollars annually in Davie, the Lobos were looking for more than seven wins in two years. It could be time to step up or step aside for Davie depending on 2014 results.
Justin Fuente (Memphis) - Fuente led the Tigers to a three-game win streak to end the 2012 season, his first in Memphis. Hope was that it would lead to momentum heading in to the first season in The American. That didn't happen, as Memphis won one game in conference play and went 3-9 overall. While Fuente is a younger coach, and Memphis could afford to be a bit more patient, there needs to be at least a flirtation with a bowl game for Fuente to feel like he's off the hot seat.
Bo Pelini (Nebraska) - It seems like an annual tradition to say Pelini is on the hot seat. However, if all of the things that happened in 2013 weren't enough to get him fired, there's not much else that would. Pelini could finally be breathing a sigh of relief this offseason, as new athletic director Shawn Eichorst has been 100 percent behind him. As long as Pelini continues to win nine games or division titles, he will once again stay off the hot seat.
10. Paul Rhoads (Iowa State)
There may not be a more beloved coach in college football than Paul Rhoads...at least up until this past season. After taking Iowa State to bowl games in three of his first four seasons, the Cyclones had their worst season under his leadership—going 3-9 in 2013.
One season may not be a pattern, but given the fact that Iowa State is setting attendance records at Jack Trice Stadium, the fact remains that the product on the field needs to match the passion in the stands.
After five years at the helm of the Cyclones and four straight losing seasons (two came from losses in bowl games), there needs to be an upswing in results, and quickly.
Rhoads clearly saw that 2013 wasn't good on the offensive end, as he went out and hired Mark Mangino to be his offensive coordinator this season. Mangino needs to turn around this offense or Iowa State may look to invest its dollars in a coach who can be more than just mediocre for the $1.7 million they are paying to Rhoads.
9. Todd Monken (Southern Miss)
Poor Todd Monken. He inherited a program that became a mess overnight and didn't do much better himself. After suffering through an 0-12 campaign in 2012 (a year after winning the Conference USA championship), Monken was hired away from Oklahoma State to turn this team back in to a winner.
That didn't happen in 2013, as Monken only saw one victory in his first season at the helm of Southern Miss. After 23 straight losses, Southern Miss and Monken got their one win in a 62-27 beatdown of UAB to end the year.
Monken has a great offensive pedigree to his resume, but it didn't happen to matter much in year one at Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles offense scored an average of 17.1 points per game, which was 120th in the nation.
It's pretty clear that the administration has high expectations for the football team, given their reaction to Ellis Johnson's one-year tenure as head coach. Losing like they did in 2013 won't be acceptable for very long—Monken needs multiple wins, and the sooner that happens the cooler the seat under him will get.
8. Norm Chow (Hawai'i)
Norm Chow is perhaps best known for his time as offensive coordinator at USC under Pete Carroll, and his first few seasons at Hawai'i haven't helped make those days a distant memory. Chow has started his tenure at the school with a 4-20 record, and this past season was worse than the first at 1-11.
Chow faces some serious heat for that performance. It was Hawai'i's first season as a member of the Mountain West, and maybe he should get a pass for the transition year. However, given the fact that most of the WAC is now a member of the Mountain West, it isn't like Chow or Hawai'i weren't familiar with their foes.
On the positive side is the fact that Hawai'i wasn't getting blown out on a weekly basis. In fact, they lost two overtime games and had four other games that were within 10 points. A few breaks or made plays here and there, and Chow's Rainbow Warriors (yes, that name is back) could've been looking toward bowl eligibility.
Speaking of bowl games, that needs to the minimal goal for Chow in year three, or he could be on his way off the islands.
7. Troy Calhoun (Air Force)
Replacing a coaching legend and a member of the National College Football Hall of Fame is never easy, but Troy Calhoun hasn't helped himself much either. Calhoun, a former player under legendary Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry, has led the Falcons to a record of 49-41 entering his eighth year as head coach.
Overall, that's not bad. However, since going 9-4 in 2010, the Falcons have been on a steady downward spiral. Calhoun's Falcons went 7-6, 6-7 and the lowest of lows at 2-10 over the past three seasons.
Air Force may have stumbled last season thanks to some quarterback issues, including the suspension and benching of expected star Jaleel Awini (who is off to Colorado as a transfer), but the free fall of this team in one year's time should be alarming.
While loyalty will get you some leeway, Calhoun needs vast improvement in 2014 or it could be goodbye to the former cadet and player. There's also the matter of his $880,000 salary hanging over all of these discussions. That's a lot of money for the Air Force to be paying out, and given the tightening of the belt going on in the military, Calhoun may need to justify his salary.
6. Kevin Wilson (Indiana)
Indiana may not be the hotbed of college football, but there are still some expectations around the Hoosiers program. For the Hoosiers, it's pretty simple actually—all they ask is to make a bowl game once in a while.
As Kevin Wilson enters year four in Bloomington, Ind., he is still searching for that elusive goal. It has little to do with the offensive side of the football either, as the Hoosiers have been one of the highest-scoring and most explosive offenses in the Big Ten.
What has been holding this team back has been the defensive side of the ball, and after three seasons, Wilson recognized things weren't going right and made a change. He hired former Wake Forest defensive coordinator Brian Knorr to install the 3-4 scheme for his Hoosiers.
The Hoosiers have given Kevin Wilson plenty of time to get to a bowl game, but it seems as if the program has been stuck in the murky waters of close, but not close enough, under every head coach it has had. Wilson needs a bowl game berth more than anyone else on this list, and if he gets it he'll easily keep his job.
If not, the administration will have a very tough decision to make—give his defense another year to work, or move in a different direction.
5. Brady Hoke (Michigan)
Michigan football isn't a mediocre program, but under Brady Hoke that is the direction it is heading. After entering as head coach like a lion (11-2 and a Sugar Bowl win), Hoke's teams have been more like lambs over the past two years.
Hoke's teams have gone 8-5 and 7-6 over the last two years, despite three straight Top 25 recruiting classes to his credit. After the season, Hoke did some soul searching and made a change at offensive coordinator. He hired Doug Nussmeier away from Alabama in the hopes of transforming an offense that was...well, offensive, in 2013.
Will that be enough to save Hoke's job going forward? There may not be a coach with a hotter seat in the Big Ten than Hoke, and it shouldn't surprise those that have been paying attention to his coaching career.
The fact is, Brady Hoke doesn't have a history of winning football at an elite level. In his 11 years as a head coach, Hoke-coached teams have won double-digit games just twice, and his overall record is 73-63. That doesn't scream elite coach, and one has to wonder how much longer Hoke can hang his hat on recruiting class rankings.
Hoke has had a big supporter in athletic director Dave Brandon, but another mediocre year may force Brandon's hand.
4. Charlie Weis (Kansas)
Kansas splashed some serious cash (for Kansas) when it went out and hired Charlie Weis to replace Turner Gill three years ago, but the question is, have they gotten anything out of the annual $2.5 million investment?
Weis enters year three in Lawrence, Kan., with a 4-20 overall record and not much in the way of overall improvement for the Jayhawks. After going 1-11 (0-9 Big 12) in his first year, Weis' team managed two more wins last season, including one Big 12 win.
Yes, that's progress, but that team had nowhere to go but up from year one. The overall improvement just isn't there, and for an "offensive guru" like Weis, it isn't a good sign that your team is ranked No. 121 in scoring offense (15.2 points per game) last season.
Jake Heaps was supposed to be the answer at quarterback, but instead he was a disaster—completing just 49 percent of his passes for 1,414 yards and eight touchdowns to 10 interceptions.
If Weis wants a fourth year in Lawrence, it will be on him to figure out who can win him games at quarterback this spring. That needs to be jobs one, two and three.
3. Paul Johnson (Georgia Tech)
Just like Charlie Weis at Kansas, Georgia Tech has a major financial investment in its head coach, Paul Johnson ($2.5 million to be exact), and just like Kansas, Georgia Tech needs to see a turnaround this season or it could be Johnson on the way out.
The wheels came off a bit last season, just one year removed from a berth in the ACC championship game, too. The Yellow Jackets went 9-4 and 10-3 in Johnson's first two seasons, indicating that maybe the glory days of Georgia Tech football were back.
Since then it's been a string of disappointments on and off the field. After the 2009 season that ended in an Orange Bowl berth, Johnson's GT teams have gone 28-25. For $2.5 million a season, Georgia Tech administrators expect and demand more than just better than average.
Things have begun to unravel over the last few years, with a series of high-profile transfers, including the latest from sophomore quarterback Vad Lee. If Johnson wants to keep his job, he needs to address the fact that his offense has become less and less dynamic over the years.
What he needs is someone who can run his triple-option offense but can also sling the ball around a bit. It's what he had to open his career in Atlanta, and what he needs to rekindle once again.
If he does find that on the roster this spring, Georgia Tech could compete for a division crown, but the team also needs to win eight or nine games to keep the hot seat cool for their head coach.
2. Mike London (Virginia)
To be honest, it's a mystery how Mike London still has a job as the head coach of the Virginia Cavaliers. In his four years as head coach, London has a record of 18-31 at the helm of the Wahoos.
About the only thing that could be keeping him on board is a hefty $8 million buyout for him and another $3-plus million dollar buyout for some of his assistants. However, money can only be an excuse for so long, and 2014 may be the make-or-break season.
Things haven't been all bad under London. After all, there was that second year where the Cavaliers went 8-5 and had a winning record in the ACC, but that's been the exception to the rule. That 8-5 season was in the middle of two 4-8 seasons, and in 2013 things hit rock bottom at 2-10.
London needs a quick turnaround in 2014, and an influx of talented young players may do the trick this season. Virginia had the No. 32-ranked class this past recruiting cycle, and added two 5-star players on the defensive side of the ball, as well as one of the best wide receivers in the 2014 class in 4-star Jamil Kamara.
Relying on freshmen for a quick turnaround is a risky proposition, but whatever was happening on this team over the past few years clearly wasn't working to their advantage, and London is a man looking for anything to work in his favor.
London already tried the coaching hire changes before last season, and it got him the worst record of his coaching career. If there is one coach who may not survive the season, London should be on the short-list for that honor.
1. Will Muschamp (Florida)
While other coaches may have worse track records at their schools, no one enters 2014 with more pressure to win, and win big, than Florida's Will Muschamp. After getting to a BCS bowl game (and getting blown out) in year two, the Gators slipped to below .500 in year three of the Muschamp era.
To give some perspective, the last time the Gators had a losing season, it was 1980—33 years ago, if you are counting. Part of the issue in 2013 was a serious rash of season-ending injuries across the team, but those who stepped in never stepped up to the challenge in front of them.
Yet, there is proof that last season is closer to the reality of Muschamp's true nature. He ended his opening season at 7-,6 and there are serious questions as to which way the Gators are going because of the up-and-down nature of his three seasons in Gainesville, Fla.
Things haven't gotten much better in the offseason, as a flood of transfers from the program began in December. In total, six Gators have left the program to transfer, not exactly a ringing endorsement of Muschamp's program.
He has also hitched his offensive wagon to quarterback Jeff Driskel, and that hasn't really paid off. Driskel ended last season injured, and the former No. 1 quarterback recruit is also facing life with a third different offensive coordinator.
Muschamp is exhibiting classic signs of a coach in trouble, as he fired Brent Pease after two seasons as offensive coordinator and also let offensive line coach Tim Davis go as well. A spring that shows intrigue and improvement will go a long way toward taking himself off the hot seat, at least until/if he looses his first game in 2014.
*Andy Coppens is a college football featured columnist. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.
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