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)

Texas QB Sam Ehlinger, C Zach Shackelford in concussion protocol

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Texas has lost two straight upset bids in strikingly similar fashion: true freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger leads a potential-game winning drive, scrambles, hits his head on the turf and ends the possession in a puzzling throw.

The first came in last week’s loss to No. 10 Oklahoma. Trailing 29-24 late in the fourth quarter, scrambled for two yards to the Texas-48 yard line but hit his head on the Cotton Bowl turf and was forced to leave the game for five plays. Shane Buechele pushed the Longhorns to the Oklahoma 31, but he was replaced after a sack and Ehlinger ended up throwing the ball away on 4th-and-13 from the OU 34 with two minutes to play. That, as they say, was that.

Fast forward to Saturday and Texas was trailing No. 11 Oklahoma State 13-10 in overtime when Ehlinger opened the possession with a scramble that again saw the back of his head bang against the Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium turf. He stayed in the game this time, but ended the game on a puzzling (to say the least) interception to absolutely no one on 3rd-and-4 from the OSU 6.

While Ehlinger was not evaluated for a concussion during the game, he did not practice Sunday and head coach Tom Herman said Monday that Ehlinger and center Zach Shackelford are in concussion protocol.

Complicating matters for Texas is that sophomore back-up Shane Buechele is playing on a gimpy ankle that kept him out against San Jose State and Kansas State that Herman said will not improve as the season goes on.

No matter, Texas will face a hungry Baylor team on Saturday (noon ET, ESPNU) that nearly completed a comeback against No. 22 West Virginia on Saturday night.

Tennessee OG Jack Jones retires due to neck injury

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The playing career of Tennessee offensive guard Jack Jones has come to an unfortunate end. On Monday, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones announced Jones was stepping away from football as injury concerns with his neck continue to interfere with playing.

Jones played in the season opener against Georgia Tech in Atlanta but has essentially been out of action for the entire season after that. After consulting with doctors, Jones came to the decision to step away from football as it became clear playing football would only put his long-term health in jeopardy.

The loss of Jones leaves Tennessee’s offensive line depth thin down the stretch. It could be quite a bumpy finish to what has already been a turbulent season in Knoxville.

Urban Meyer may have successfully talked his way out of a night trap at Iowa

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Sitting from his office in Columbus, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has been able to see just how dangerous a night game at Iowa can be. Last season, Iowa upset Michigan with the first loss suffered by the Wolverines setting off a wild finale to the Big Ten season. Earlier this season, a night game at Iowa nearly caught Penn State before the Nittany Lions managed to get out of Kinnick Stadium with a last-second victory. Knowing the history of Kinnick Stadium at night, Meyer may have managed to successfully lobby himself from having to play a night game at Iowa.

Big Ten kickoff times for Week 10 have started to come together on Monday, with Minnesota announcing it will host Michigan in primetime on FOX. The decision to have the Gophers and Wolverines in primetime was a tad puzzling considering two of the other game son the Big Ten schedule that day. Penn State is playing at Michigan State and Ohio State is playing — you guessed it — at Iowa.

The Buckeyes will be playing at either noon or 3:30 p.m. eastern on November 4, with the Nittany Lions and Spartans likely to be slotted in the other timeslot. The speculation is the 3:30 p.m. ET slot will be reserved for the winner of this week’s Ohio State-Penn State matchup, as the game will likely begin to take more weight in the College Football Playoff picture on top of the Big Ten championship hunt.

Meyer addressed concerns about playing so many road games at night this season, and perhaps the conference is responding to his concerns. Ohio State has already played four primetime games, including three on the road (Indiana, Rutgers, Nebraska). If not for the World Series coverage this weekend, odds are good the home game against Penn State would have been a lock for primetime as well. Ohio State also played a primetime game earlier this year against Oklahoma. But Meyer’s chief concern was playing so many night games on the road, as it becomes quite tiresome for players.

Was Meyer looking forward all along to prevent Ohio State from having to play a night game at Iowa? Regardless of the motive, the Buckeyes will not have to test the fates under the lights at Kinnick Stadium in two weeks.

Michigan’s Lavert Hill apologizes for one-finger salute to Penn State crowd

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Over the weekend, Tennessee’s Rashaan Gaulden flipped a double-bird to fans at Alabama after the Vols scored a touchdown. It has quickly become one of the top images from the weekend, and Gauldin has apologized for his obscene gesture to the Alabama faithful. On Monday, another player on the road who decided to flip off the home fans has now apologized for his actions.

Michigan’s Lavert Hill was seen offering a one-finger salute to fans at Penn State after Michigan had suffered a 42-13 loss at Beaver Stadium. The image of Hill gesturing to the fans made the rounds, and now Hill has offered his own apology in a brief statement.

“I sincerely regret my inappropriate gesture at the end of Saturday’s football game. I let my emotions get the best of me and learned a valuable lesson,” Hill said in his statement. “I am truly sorry for this offensive gesture and vow that it will not happen again.”

Hill had committed to Penn State during the recruiting process before flipping to stay in state with the Wolverines. It was a rough night for former Penn State commits playing in a Michigan uniform on Saturday. Kicker Quinn Nordin, who committed to Penn State with an airplane music video but flipped to Michigan after Jim Harbaugh slept over has been rock solid with his kicking this season, but he missed his first kick Saturday night for an extra point.