Firey Pair

CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Coaching Hot Seat

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Like death and taxes, another certainty in life is that, somewhere, a coach’s backside is feeling a little toasty.

Such is the case as we get set to embark on a sparkling new football season, with a handful of coaches feeling the heat from folks off the field for their collective failures on it. Fair or not, it’s a fact of life in the coaching profession: win or you’re gone, ofttimes with a multi-million buyout serving as a parachute.

So, just who is possibly looking at a spot in the coaching unemployment line at season’s end, or sooner? Recent history suggests that at least 20 of the head coaches who are on the sidelines when the season begins won’t be there when the calendar flips to 2015.

Below are but a few of the coaches who could be entering a make-or-break season at their respective schools, in order from hottest to slightly less hot.

WILL MUSCHAMP, FLORIDA
2013 RECORD: 4-8
OVERALL RECORD AT UF: 22-16 overall, 13-11 in SEC
By now, everyone’s aware of the carnage wrought by the Gators last season, but we’ll repeat them for those who’ve been in a coma and/or living under a rock.  The 4-8 record was the worst for the football program since 1979; a bowl-less postseason was the first for a non-sanctioned Gators team since 1986; a second 3-5 record in SEC play in three years showed just how far behind the conference elite they currently are; and, arguably the most embarrassing facet of the woeful season, UF lost to FCS Georgia Southern in The Swamp as the latter didn’t complete a forward pass.  The calls for Muschamp’s head on a platter from the media and fans alike were coming fast and furious.  So much so that the athletic director had to offer his beleaguered head coach an in-season vote of confidence. While Jeremy Foley has publicly supported the coach, there is growing concern behind closed doors that Muschamp may not be the man to lead the Gators back to national prominence.  If 2014 is even remotely close to a repeat of 2013, the outcry will be so great that Foley may have no choice but to make a change and go in a different direction.

BRADY HOKE, MICHIGAN
2013 RECORD: 7-6
OVERALL RECORD AT UM: 26-13 overall, 15-9 in Big Ten
I’ll just go ahead and copy & paste what I wrote in an earlier preview as it pretty much covers it all:

Early on, it was all chili puppy dogs and pizza rainbows for Hoke in Ann Arbor.  In his first year at Michigan, the Wolverines went 11-2 and beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.  Most importantly, and even as it came between the tenures of Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer, UM ended a six-game losing streak against hated rival Ohio State.  The honeymoon was hot, steamy and sweaty; the marriage since?  Ankle-length robes and open bathroom doors.  The Wolverines have gone a pedestrian 15-11 the last two years — two losses in minor bowls included — and returned to their losing ways in The Game.  Not only that, but UM has watched as “little brother” Michigan State has leapfrogged them, with the Spartans not only turning themselves into a force in the conference but a factor on the national stage as well.  Throw in some coaching changes, uncertainty at the quarterback position, an offensive line that’s subpar and suspect, just add everything all up and this could very well be a make-or-break year for Hoke.

DANA HOLGORSEN, WEST VIRGINIA
2013 RECORD: 4-8
OVERALL RECORD AT WVU: 21-17 overall, 11-14 in Big 12/Big East
The move to the Big 12 from the old Big East hasn’t been kind to West Virginia in general and Holgorsen specifically.  During his first season in the lesser football conference, Holgorsen’s Mountaineers won 10 games and put a 70-spot up on the scoreboard in the Orange Bowl romp over Clemson.  Since then?  The honeymoon is officially over.  A 7-6 record (4-5 conference) in the first year in the Big 12 gave way to an abysmal four-win season that saw the Mountaineers go just 2-7 in conference play, ahead of only woebegone Kansas.  It was the program’s worst record since 2001 and, more embarrassingly, WVU gave the Jayhawks their lone league win.  Then there’s this sobering statistic: in 38 games under Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia has lost nine of them by 21-plus points.  In 126 games under Rich Rodriguez and Bill Stewart, which spanned 10 years, the Mountaineers were beaten by 21 or more points a total of eight times.  Another sobering fact?  WVU was 15-3 in its first 18 games under Holgorsen, 6-14 since.  Were it not for a sizable buyout, Holgorsen very well could’ve lost his job last year; another season of subpar results, the size of the buyout won’t matter.

MIKE LONDON, VIRGINIA
2013 RECORD: 2-10
OVERALL RECORD AT UVA: 18-31 overall, 8-24 in ACC
London was the toast of Charlottesville in 2011, with the Cavaliers’ 8-5 mark coming after the program won just 12 games total the three previous years combined.  Then 2012 and 2013 happened.  UVa. won just six games total those two seasons, hitting rock-bottom with a 2-10 collapse in 2013 that was the school’s worst showing since 1982.  Take out the eight-win season, and the Cavaliers are just 10-26 under London.  Wholesale changes made to the coaching staff showed London realizes and understands just how tenuous his hold on the job is.  It was a miracle that London returned for a fifth year; it’ll take even more of a miracle for London & Company to navigate a scheduling gauntlet of death that includes UCLA, Louisville, BYU, Duke, North Carolina, Florida State and Miami and come out on the other end with his job.  In other words, godspeed, Coach London.

TROY CALHOUN, AIR FORCE
2013 RECORD: 2-10
OVERALL RECORD AT AF: 49-41 overall, 29-27 in MWC
Three years ago, it would’ve been preposterous to put Calhoun on a list like this.  The Falcons were in the midst of a run that saw Calhoun start his coaching career at the service academy with a pair of nine-win seasons and a pair of eight-win years as well.  The bottom has, however, dropped out the past three years, with the win totals going from seven in 2011 to six to two in 2013.  The two wins last year represents the football program’s worst showing since 1980.  Add in the scandal that’s rocked the service academy to its core and is expected to result in a monumental shift in athletics at the academy, and Calhoun, who was a Falcons quarterback in the mid- to late-eighties, could find himself on the outside looking in come December if things aren’t turned around post-haste.

TIM BECKMAN, ILLINOIS
2013 RECORD: 4-8
OVERALL RECORD AT UI: 6-18 overall, 1-15 in Big Ten
Most times when a head coach sees his team double its win total from the year before, you’d say he did an outstanding job.  When the previous year was just a two-win season, however, questions concerning the coach’s ability to make it to a third season grow louder and more forceful.  That’s the situation Beckman finds himself in, one that includes an embarrassing one win in conference play in his two seasons with the Illini.  Beckman’s wins in non-conference play have come against teams from the MAC (twice), the AAC and a pair of FCS schools.  His lone conference win?  A four-point squeaker last season over a Purdue team that went 1-11.   If Beckman is unable to push the Illini above the .500 mark and into a bowl game, there’s a very good chance he won’t see another year in Champaign.

CHARLIE WEIS, KANSAS
2013 RECORD: 3-9
OVERALL RECORD AT KU: 4-20 overall, 1-17 in BIG 12
What we have here is arguably the worst Power Five conference football team in the country, although there were slight signs of improvement in 2013.  In 2012, Weis’ first season in Lawrence, the Jayhawks won just one game, the first time that had happened since 1988; in 2013, Weis tripled the win total to three, although the three wins did come at the expense of an FCS team as well as two teams that were a combined 8-16 (hello WVU, Louisiana Tech).  Weis is in the third year of a five-year contract, and it’s hard to gauge whether the KU administration would be willing to pull the plug on this experiment with two years remaining and a substantial buyout in the offing.  Here’s one thing I do know: the Jayhawks won 20 games over a two-year stretch with Mark Mangino in charge just a few years ago, so it is possible to have football success at a basketball school.  Whether Weis, who’s been an abject failure as a college coach by just about any measure, is the man to lead them back to respectability remains very much up in the air.

NORM CHOW, HAWAII
2013 RECORD: 1-11
OVERALL RECORD AT UH: 4-20 overall, 1-15 in MWC
What was supposed to be a dream job for Chow has turned into an utter nightmare.  After getting his tenure started off with a 3-9 record in 2012, Chow’s Rainbow Warriors plummeted to a one-win season in 2013, with that one win coming in the regular-season finale against three-win Army.  The single win was the least for the program since 1998.  The schedule this season doesn’t bode well for Chow and his future at the school, with the Rainbow Warriors staring back-to-back one-win seasons square in the face — and that’s provided UH can get past FCS Northern Iowa, which beat Iowa State in Ames last season.  A winless season with a loss to an FCS program would seal Chow’s fate in his first head-coaching job.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

FCS may rebrand its championship game as a bowl game

Members of the North Dakota State football team hold the championship trophy following their FCS Championship NCAA college football game against Illinois State, Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015, in Frisco, Texas. North Dakota State won the game 29-27 for their fourth straight national championship.  (AP Photo/Tim Sharp)
AP Photo/Tim Sharp
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As if there were not enough bowl game sin college football, we could be on our way to adding one more. Well, at least in name.

The Football Championship Subdivision national championship game could be rebranded as a bowl game in an attempt to spark more interest from the casual college football fans. Inspired by the relative success of the inaugural Celebration Bowl, played between the champions of the MEAC and SWAC, the Missouri Valley Conference is reportedly leading the charge to rename the FCS national championship game in a marketing ploy to generate more buzz with the help of the NCAA and television partner ESPN, which broadcast the national championship game in addition to providing coverage for additional playoff game sin the FCS postseason.

“The public understands playoffs, so we benefit from that for the first rounds of the championship,” said Patty Viverito, commissioner of  the Missouri Valley Football Conference and the Pioneer League (just imagine if Jim Delany was the commissioner of the Big Ten and the MAC). “But then when it comes time for the championship game, because it’s in the mix of what is the bowl frenzy, it gets lost. So we think we can have the best of both worlds by having the playoffs leading up to the ‘Football Championship Bowl’ – however it is branded, but with the name ‘bowl’ so that we become part of the bowl lineup.”

This past season’s FCS national championship game was played on January 9, 2016. The championship game moved to January starting during the 2010 season. Previously the game had been played in mid-December. The move to push the championship game back closer to the BCS Championship Game was a strategic move to draw more attention to its national title game. This occurred a year after the game relocated to Frisco, Texas from Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“To be in the same space, if you will, as the FBS bowls was absolutely tremendous,” MEAC commissioner Dr. Dennis Thomas said, referring to the Celebration Bowl, which preceded the New Mexico Bowl and its official kickoff to the FBS bowl season. “We were the first game on ABC to start the bowl season. It was branded that way, it was marketed that way, it was promoted that way.”

Changing the championship game’s name to a bowl could have a downfall attached to it. While bowls certainly spark interest for some, it could also lead the game to fall under the radar amid a full slate of bowl games during bowl season. Having the game defined in title as being a national championship game could have a more positive effect on how the game is viewed by the casual fan.

VIDEO: Pitt RB James Conner working out with Panthers

James Conner
AP Photo/The News & Observer, Robert Willett
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Pittsburgh running back James Conner is continuing tow work out with his Panther teammates despite an ongoing battle with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his neck and chest. If you need video evidence to serve as a reminder just how tough Conner is, here he is putting work in, complete with a summersault at the end of his drill.

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi previously said he believes Conner will be able to play for the Panthers in the fall.

“I saw him yesterday in the hallway and he’s been working out with our kids to keep his sanity and he’s having fun doing it,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said last week. “That’s the key is he’s having fun beating cancer and he’s got a great attitude and he looks good right now. He’s doing well and looks well. Doesn’t look like he lost weight. Looks like he could still play. He doesn’t look like he has cancer.”

Judging by that one short video clip shared on Narduzzi’s Twitter account, Conner certainly doesn’t look as though he has missed a beat.

LSU adds RB coach Jabbar Juluke from Texas Tech

LSU running back Leonard Fournette (7) scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. LSU won 19-7. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)
AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman
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If there ends up being college football in the state of Louisiana in 2016, LSU has a running backs coach lined up. LSU announced the hiring of running backs coach Jabbar Juluke Saturday morning. Juluke joins LSU after previously coaching at Texas Tech. He fills the vacancy left on the staff by Frank Wilson, who accepted a position as head coach at UTSA.

“Jabbar is a veteran running backs coach with strong ties to New Orleans,” LSU head coach Les Miles said in a released statement. “He has a proven track record of success at both the college and high school level and he’s going to do a great job of continuing to develop our players both on and off the field. Jabbar is a great fit for us and we are excited to have him join our program.”

Juluke spent three years coaching running backs at Louisiana Tech before heading to Texas Tech. The New Orleans native was  a high school head coach for nine years and graduated from Southern University, so it goes without saying he has a good feel for the landscape in Louisiana, which has clearly been a big recruiting factory for LSU over the years. At Louisiana Tech, Juluke coached Kenneth Dixon, who would go on to set NCAA all-time rushing records for touchdowns (which was then topped by Navy’s Keenan Reynolds), points scored and games with a touchdown scored. Now he will get the opportunity to coach one of the nation’s best running backs, Leonard Fournette.

LSU also announced the departure of wide receivers coach Tony Ball, who is leaving to pursue other coaching opportunities.

Urban Meyer speaks out against early signing period in recruiting

FILE - In this Nov. 28, 2015, file photo, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer leads his team onto the Michigan Stadium field before an NCAA college football game against Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich. Ohio State University has extended its current sponsorship contract with Nike by 15 years in a deal worth $252 million. The university and the Beaverton, Oregon-based athletic apparel company announced the deal on Thursday. The current partnership had been scheduled to end in July 2018. It will now continue to 2033. (AP Photo/Tony Ding, File)
AP Photo/Tony Ding, File
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Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is no fan of the idea of signing recruits earlier than the traditional signing day in early February. Having pulled in the top classes in the Big Ten each season since his arrival in Columbus, what reason would he have to change the recruiting guidelines? With the topic of a possible early signing period continuing to be discussed at multiple levels, Meyer is standing firm on his stance.

I’m not a fan of that,” Meyer said this week, according to Cleveland.com. “You’re moving it just forward and forward, what if a kid wants to change his mind? (If) he wants to change his mind because of coaching changes or other circumstances, the player should be allowed to change his mind.”

Meyer knows all about recruits changing their minds. In the weeks leading up to National Signing Day, Meyer and Ohio State managed to flip a pair of four-star players previously committed to Maryland on the same day; quarterback Dwayne Haskins and linebacker Keandre Jones. Had either of those two been locked to a commitment with Maryland by way of an early signing period, Ohio State never would have benefitted from the late switches. That also addresses another concern over the early signing period. What happens when a kid commits early only to see the head coach fired or accept another job elsewhere? Should that player be bound to his agreement or be allowed to reopen his recruitment later in the recruiting cycle? That in itself opens a door for concerns, as time could be running out on a recruit as scholarships fill up and programs may be lacking the interest they once had for a variety of reasons (of course, if a four or five-star athlete goes back on the market it is doubtful that kid would not find a decent landing spot even late in the recruiting cycle).

Meyer also addressed another concern with an early signing period that delves into the shadier aspects of recruiting, including contacting high school juniors.”Also, if you’re going to let people contact a junior in a high school in spring, just visualize a great player, what that will look like,” he said. “So don’t go to class the month of May because you’re going to be meeting with coaches all day long.

“Also, if you’re going to let people contact a junior in a high school in spring, just visualize a great player, what that will look like,” Meyer said. “So don’t go to class the month of May because you’re going to be meeting with coaches all day long.”

That could potentially be a tad extreme, but Meyer knows this stuff happens already.

“And they say, well, coaches are doing it anyways. Well fire the coaches, fine the coaches, and then put the schools on probation for the schools that are doing that,” Meyer continued. “So that’s just not the Ohio State — I don’t want to speak for Gene Smith — but I speak for our coaching staff. We feel very strongly about strong regulation and keeping the recruiting calendar as is.”

It would be interesting to know if Meyer felt the same way about this early signing period topic if he were still the head coach at Bowling Green or Utah, but given his current situation — a mighty fine position indeed — as a head coach with a national championship and in charge of one of the true recruiting giants in the game right now, it is only natural Meyer would prefer the status quo. Have no doubt, however, that if an early signing period is adopted and implemented, Meyer and the Buckeyes will be one of the more aggressive programs in the game. Ohio State is already doing a fine job lining up top recruits (Ohio State already has seven four or five-star commitments for the Class of 2017), and a chance to get some of those commitments signed earlier would most certainly be welcomed in Columbus.