Big Ten Football: 5 Coaches on the Hot Seat in 2014
College football is filled with pressure, and there's no single person in any program that feels that pressure more keenly than a head coach.
A coach is usually one of the last to get the lion's share of the credit for a season's success, but he's often first on the list of public enemies when things go wrong.
Some coaches seem to relish their positions and feed off of the pressure. These guys are usually pretty successful. But sometimes a coach just doesn't fit into his own program—think Rich Rodriguez at Michigan—and the pressure soon becomes an uncontrollable, runaway chain reaction.
The first signs of that chain reaction really becoming uncontrollable is the "hot seat." Coaches hate it, pundits love it, and fans sometimes can't wait to get it over and done with so they can see their team move on to the next coaching era.
The Big Ten—like every other conference—will have its fair share of coaches beginning the 2014 college football season on the hot seat. The temperature of those seats may vary somewhat, but one thing is certain: These five Big Ten coaches have a make-or-break 2014 heading their way.
Brady Hoke, Michigan
Career Record: 73-63 (11 seasons)
Record at Michigan: 26-13 overall, 15-9 in Big Ten (three seasons)
Best Finish at Michigan: 2011, 11-2 (6-2 Big Ten), second in division, won Sugar Bowl
Worst Finish at Michigan: 2013, 7-6 (3-5 Big Ten), fifth in division, lost Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
We'll get things started with Michigan's Brady Hoke. Of the coaches we've placed on this list, Hoke's seat temperature is probably the least hot. In fact, it might just be starting to warm—slightly.
But that doesn't mean 2014 isn't going to be a critical year for the Hoke era in Ann Arbor. Like most head coaches, the fourth season is where we really see a transition from "the last guy" to the current head coach. Only a small handful of Rich Rodriguez recruits remain, and Hoke has made some coaching personnel changes recently that many hope will revitalize the Wolverines' offense.
If, however, Michigan stumbled through another season like last year, no amount of Lloyd Carr letters of recommendation or diplomas from the Schembechler School of College Coaching will save Hoke from thunderous calls for his replacement.
Michigan expects to compete for a Big Ten title each and every season. Hoke has one, possibly two seasons remaining before the administration, alumni and fanbase all run out of patience.
Kyle Flood, Rutgers
Career Record: 15-11 (two seasons)
Record at Rutgers: 15-11 overall, 8-7 in conference (Big East and AAC) (two seasons)
Best Finish at Rutgers: 2012, 9-4 (5-2 Big East), Big East co-champions, lost Russell Athletic Bowl
Worst Finish at Rutgers: 2013, 6-7 (3-5 AAC), tied for sixth in AAC, lost Pinstripe Bowl
When a head coach is starting to feel some pressure, we often see coaching personnel changes. When we see massive personnel changes, like we have at Rutgers, it can often be the beginning of the end of a head coach's tenure—unless the hoped-for turnaround materializes during the next season.
Rutgers has reached a bowl game in eight of the last nine seasons, and a bowl-less 2014 could spell the end of Flood's reign at Rutgers.
Of course, the administration and Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann must remember a few important points (which Flood will only be too happy to point out). First, Rutgers is making a massive leap up in level of competition. Not only do the Scarlet Knights find themselves in the very deep East Division, but Rutgers also finds itself with crossover games against presumptive West Division contenders Nebraska and Wisconsin.
The level of competition may save Flood's job in the short term, but don't expect Rutgers to tolerate too much adjustment time.
Randy Edsall, Maryland
Career Record: 87-94 (15 seasons)
Record at Maryland: 13-24 overall, 6-18 in ACC (three seasons)
Best Finish at Maryland: 2013, 7-6 (3-5 ACC), fifth in division, lost Military Bowl
Worst Finish at Maryland: 2011, 2-10 (1-7 ACC), sixth in division
Another Big Ten newcomer, Maryland, may also soon be in search of a new head coach. Randy Edsall was hired away from Connecticut after leading the Huskies out of the FCS and into a BCS bowl game 11 seasons later. Edsall finished his time at UConn winning a share of two Big East titles over his last four seasons, all of which included at least eight wins.
After taking over in College Park in 2011, Maryland promptly went 2-10 under Edsall and never finished above fifth place in the ACC's Atlantic Division.
The good news? The Terrapins have been improving every single season under Edsall. The bad news? When you start at 2-10, there's a long way to go—and there aren't a ton of people willing to wait much longer in today's era of "win now."
Maryland has had some excuses over the previous couple of seasons when it comes to injuries. But people eventually tire of hearing the excuses, and Maryland can't be that hurt forever, can it? The last thing Edsall and the Terps can afford now is a setback. If Maryland can't at least make a bowl trip after its first season in the Big Ten, Edsall may be searching for a new job come 2015.
Tim Beckman, Illinois
Career Record: 27-34 (five seasons)
Record at Illinois: 6-18 overall, 1-15 in Big Ten (two seasons)
Best Finish at Illinois: 2013, 4-8 (1-7 Big Ten), fifth in division
Worst Finish at Illinois: 2012, 2-10 (0-8 Big Ten), sixth in division
What is Illinois to do? After several disappointing seasons under Ron Zook, the Illini went out and snagged a coach from the "cradle of coaches," the MAC. Unfortunately, not every head coach that emerges from the MAC turns into Woody Hayes or Bo Schembechler (both coaches at Miami University immediately preceding the jobs for which they became legends).
Beckman took over an Illinois program that wasn't quite a Big Ten contender, but wasn't really a laughing stock, either. Since Beckman's arrival, the Illini have won just a single conference game and only six overall.
Illinois did show some improvement last season, but the only conference victory came against a Purdue team that put together a 1-11 record. That lone win for Purdue came by six points against an FCS team that had a single 2013 victory—against a 2-9 Division II team.
Beckman was 21-16 in three seasons at Toledo, winning a share of the MAC's West Division in 2011 before bolting for Illinois. So far, the moderate success Beckman had at Toledo isn't translating to Champaign.
No one expects Illinois to be a conference contender overnight. But Illinois fans do expect their team to at least earn a bowl berth each season. If Beckman can't figure out how to avoid missing a bowl for the third consecutive season, his seat may become too hot to bear any longer.
Bo Pelini, Nebraska
Career Record: 58-24 (six seasons)
Record at Nebraska: 58-24 overall, 34-14 in conference (six seasons)
Best Finish at Nebraska: 2009, 10-4 (6-2 Big 12), first in division, won Holiday Bowl
Worst Finish at Nebraska: 2011, 9-4 (5-3 Big Ten), third in division, lost Capital One Bowl
Of all of the coaches on our list, Bo Pelini has the best career win percentage (.707) by quite a margin. But we've included Pelini for a couple of reasons, the first of which should be pretty easy to understand.
Unless you've been living under a rock somewhere for the past eight months, you're fully aware of Pelini's NSFW rant directed at none other than the Nebraska fanbase. The recording was made quite some time ago, but it was released right when it could do the most damage: on the heels of a demoralizing early-season loss.
Pelini has since, somewhat inexplicably, found his way back into the good graces of the Huskers faithful. Apparently some witty Twitter banter is worth its weight in football gold in Nebraska these days. But the underlying problems still remain.
Is anyone else concerned that Nebraska is getting more play (outside of the Nebraska market, that is) during April than it is during November? If you're a Nebraska fan, you should be.
Over Pelini's six seasons as a head coach, he's never lost more than four games in a single season. Of course, he's never lost fewer than four games in a season, either. Some other things he's never done? He's never won a conference championship. He never guided his program to the BCS. He's never seen his team finish in the Top 10 in a final poll.
Sooner or later, Nebraska is going to have to ask the really tough question: Are we satisfied with losing four games every single season?
There's also the possibility that some other ranting skeleton could fall out of Pelini's closet; it's not like we're shocked the guy has a temper off the field, too, but it does create some PR headaches for the athletic department. Any new revelations could lead to a very quick exit for Pelini—which will keep his seat hot, at least from an off-the-field perspective.
So let's assume for a minute Pelini keeps his nose clean. Being on thin ice within the athletic department means if he can't make gains toward delivering that long-elusive conference championship, the powers that be will start counting the days until 2018.
Either way, it can't be very comfortable for Bo Pelini at Nebraska.
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