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)

Ohio State starting RB still dealing with hamstring injury but expects to play in opener

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Ohio State’s newish looking offense is expected to lean on the ground game early in 2017 but a key cog in that machinery might not be 100 percent healthy heading into the Buckeyes’ opener against Indiana.

Starting tailback Mike Weber has dealt with a lingering hamstring injury he suffered over the summer and hasn’t participated at all in the team’s preseason camp. Despite that bit of concerning news, it seems both the running back and the coaching staff is expecting him to be good to go in less than two weeks when the team kicks off the 2017 campaign.

“I’m getting close,” Weber said Friday, according to Cleveland.com. “They’ve been holding me back all camp to make sure I don’t have problems with it during the season. … I talk to the trainer a lot and it’s looking pretty good. I’m not at full speed yet, but I’m going to get there and I should be ready for the first game.”

Weber rushed for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns last year as a redshirt freshman and will see an increased load carrying the ball with Curtis Samuel off to the NFL. True freshman J.K. Dobbins has apparently slid into the backup role but running backs coach Tony Alford told reporters that the starting job is Weber’s when it comes time to go against the Hoosiers.

We’ll see if that eventually holds up given how finicky hamstring injuries are for tailbacks but at least the prognosis is good enough that Buckeyes fans can breathe a little easier as camp winds down in Columbus.

VIDEO: Indiana hands scholarship to walk-on WR after singing school fight song

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Some training camp traditions are better than others but one universal truth every fall is that coaches will bring up players to sing the school fight song in front of the team. As you can expect, often times hilarity ensues because players either don’t know the words or are so off-key with the notes that you can barely recognize what they’re singing.

Indiana coach Tom Allen joined in on the act this week by putting a few players through the same paces by having them belt out the lyrics to ‘Indiana Fight’ in front of both the team and cameras. The school naturally released video of the event on Friday, including a very special message at the end for one of the players signing:

That would be now-former walk-on Luke Timian, a projected starter this season who received a brand new scholarship from the Hoosiers and was mobbed by his teammates after the message flashed on the screens. The junior was involved in every game last year for Indiana and caught 19 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown.

As cool as the unveil was for Timian though, it’s a good thing he’s now a scholarship player at IU because it seems pretty clear that American Idol is not in the kid’s future. We’re all still suckers for videos of coaches handing out scholarships to walk-ons though and this is certainly one of the more unique ways to let a player know the school is picking up the check this semester.

Alabama reportedly in talks to play Miami in 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game

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Mark Richt may no longer be in the SEC but he still might have to go toe-to-toe with Nick Saban one more time in Atlanta.

The Tuscaloosa News is reporting that Alabama is in negotiations to return to Atlanta for the 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and play none other than Miami for a compelling matchup between two powerhouse programs and do quite a bit to stir up nostalgia for some of a different era in college football. As is the case for the future high-profile season openers as part of the series, the contest is set to be played at the new Mercedes Benz Stadium.

Playing in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game is nothing new for the Crimson Tide, as they open this year against Florida State in Week 1 and are scheduled to return to Atlanta in 2019 to take on Duke as well. The school has typically opened their season in such high-profile neutral site games but don’t have anything on the books for such a matchup starting in 2020.

Miami is also coming around to the idea of starting out the year at a big time NFL stadium for their opener and have set dates at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (against LSU) for 2018 and against in-state rival Florida in Orlando for the 2019 campaign. Adding Alabama to the slate in 2021 will just about lock up their non-conference schedule for that year, with home games against Appalachian State and Michigan State also on the docket.

Should the series eventually be confirmed (and there’s little reason to think it won’t), it will certainly be a welcome clash between two national title-winning programs. The pair last met on the field in the 1993 Sugar Bowl, when No. 2 Alabama topped No. 1 Miami 34-13 to deliver Gene Stallings and the Tide a national championship. The two current head coaches also have a bit of a history playing against each other when Richt was coaching at Georgia and staged a thrilling SEC title game in Atlanta back in 2012 that eventually sent the Tide on their way to another championship.

Hopefully everybody is still around when the time comes in 2021 because matchups like Miami and Alabama don’t seem to happen all that often.

Phone records show Hugh Freeze had over 200 calls with Ole Miss booster in NCAA case

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When Hugh Freeze was fired last month by Ole Miss, most thought that the troubling patterns the school discovered were mostly focused on the coach’s calls to what were later revealed to be escort services. As it turns out, that may not be the extent of the cell phone records that landed the coach in hot water.

USA Today dug a little deeper in Freeze’s phone calls and discovered that he had at least 200 conversations with Lee Harris, a now-disassociated booster at the school who is a central figure in the ongoing NCAA case surrounding extra benefits for recruits and players. Per the report:

“The phone calls included the period in which Harris became a part of the NCAA’s investigation into Ole Miss and continued before and after his interview with the NCAA on Nov. 16, 2016, in which he provided information that was determined to be false.

Freeze was not named or deemed culpable in the specific NCAA allegation related to Harris, and it is not publicly known what the two men discussed in the calls. According to Freeze’s attorney, W.G. Watkins, Freeze and Harris met by “happenstance” sitting next to each other at church at some point after Harris’ alleged violations occurred, formed a relationship and played golf together. Watkins said Freeze never discussed the NCAA case with Harris, which would potentially be a violation of bylaw 10.1 relating to unethical conduct.”

Harris was one of several boosters included in the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations against the Rebels and was alleged by enforcement staffers to have provided free food and cash to linebacker Leo Lewis when he was being recruited by Ole Miss. Lewis eventually signed with in-state rival Mississippi State and later provided information to investigators as part of the case.

Though the phone calls are hardly a smoking gun for either Freeze or the school, the sheer volume of calls between the head coach and a booster who is alleged to have committed NCAA violations certainly raises a big eyebrow in Indianapolis and around the rest of the SEC. The fact that the calls took place on the coach’s cell phone also raises the question as to just how closely school compliance staff was monitoring their coach and whether he attempted to influence the investigation in any way by speaking about it with Harris.

Such points are bound to come up and need clear answers when Ole Miss goes in front of the NCAA Committee on Infractions for a hearing scheduled for Sept. 11th.