Firey Pair

CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Coaching Hot Seat


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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)

Brian Kelly defends decisions on two-point conversion attempts

Brian Kelly
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Notre Dame fell two points shy of tying a road game at Clemson Saturday night, partly because the decision to go for two-point conversion on one early fourth-quarter touchdown backfired on the Irish. Down 12 points early in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly chose to go for two-points to cut the Clemson lead to 10 points, meaning Notre Dame would need a touchdown, extra point and a field goal to tie. The two-point conversion attempt failed, and the Irish trailed by 12, 21-9.

Had the Irish gone for the easier and more likely extra point, Notre Dame would have been down 11 points. That is still a bit of an uphill battle that would require a two-point conversion later on anyway, but it also meant Notre Dame had to score two touchdowns instead of a touchdown and a field goal for a shot at tying the game. Making things worse, Notre Dame burned a timeout after the touchdown before deciding which two-point conversion play to run.

Notre Dame’s execution of a late two-point conversion with the game on the line with under 10 seconds to play also came into question as the Irish looked to give freshman quarterback DeShone Kizer the call on a run-pass option. This was stuffed by Clemson as Kizer held on to the football. Kelly, after the game, defended his quarterback’s decision to try and run for the two points.

“We had fair numbers,” Kelly said. “He’s reading it at the line of scrimmage, if the numbers were fair, they were in zone coverage. It was the right call. He made the right call.”

Sometimes a player can make the right decision and still come up short. Perhaps that is exactly what happened in the rain at Clemson Saturday night. Kizer made the best possible decision in the heat of the moment, but Clemson came out on top with solid work up front on the line of scrimmage. Of course, as it turned out late in the game, Notre Dame would have only needed an extra point to tie Clemson in the final seconds after the Tigers tacked on a field goal to set up a seven-point deficit with an Irish extra point earlier. The Irish were forced to go for two because they chased the points earlier in the quarter. Hindsight might be 20/20, but Kelly is not looking back on that decision.

Kelly is hardly the only coach to make some questionable decisions under pressure this season, or this weekend. He is, however, another example of a coach being paid millions to put his program in the best position making some questionable calls that have come back to bite him. Maybe Notre Dame would have won in overtime. The Irish certainly had the momentum in their hands. Or maybe Clemson wins anyway. Who knows?

Week 5, Statistically Speaking

stats word on a lptop computer
Associated Press
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A statistical snapshot of the week that was in college football…

.6 — Yards per carry, on 25 attempts, Washington State averaged in a 34-28 loss to unbeaten Cal, which averaged just 2.6 ypc on its 30 attempts itself.  The two teams did combine for 779 yards passing, 390 for Cal’s Jared Goff and 389 for Wazzu’s Luke Falk.

0 — Prior to Missouri (Drew Lock) and South Carolina (Lorenzo Nunez), the number of times an SEC game had featured two true freshman quarterbacks as the starters.

1 — Turnovers for Florida State, LSU and Navy this season, the fewest of any FBS teams in 2015.

1 — Pass attempts for Army in the service academy’s loss to Penn State.  The Black Knights have now attempted 37 passes through five games.

UAB v Western Kentucky4 — Consecutive 400-yard passing games for Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty.  The senior now has eight such games over the past 18, including two that were more than 500 yards.

10 — Consecutive games Baylor has scored 30 or more points, the longest current streak in the FBS.  Michigan State had a streak of 12 straight entering Week 5, but scored just 24 in a win over Purdue.

16 — Counting Georgia’s Nick Chubb in Week 5, the number of players who have rushed for 100-plus yards since the beginning of the 2005 season. Chubb’s 146-yard effort in the loss was his 13th straight of 100 or more yards, tying UGA great Herschel Walker for the all-time school record.

21 — Deficit North Carolina erased in its 38-21 win over Georgia Tech, the largest comeback in the football program’s history.

22 — ACC wins under David Cutcliffe (2008-present) for Duke after winning just 18 conference games from 1990-2007.

Purdue v Michigan State28 — Career wins for Connor Cook, the most-ever for a quarterback in Michigan State history.  The senior surpassed the record of 27 set by Kirk Cousins.

34ESPN College Gameday shows that have originated from a game featuring Alabama and Florida, the most of any FBS programs.  Others schools with the most Gameday appearances include Ohio State (33), Florida State (31), Oklahoma (29) and Notre Dame (26).  The latter’s game at Clemson Saturday is included.

38 — Consecutive winning seasons for Florida State, the longest such streak in the country.

56 — Times Alabama has held its opponents to 20 points or less since the start of the 2010 season.  That number is tops in the nation, with Florida State and Stanford next at 54 and 48, respectively.

100 — Yards of total offense for Virginia Tech in a 17-13 loss to Pittsburgh.  That’s the fewest yards for Tech since 60 yards in a 1987 loss to Clemson, which also happened to be Frank Beamer‘s first game as Hokies’ head coach.

191 — Rushing yards for Utah State’s Kent Meyers, setting a single-game school record for a quarterback.  The old record was 121, set most recently by Chuckie Keeton.

<> on September 19, 2015 in Pullman, Washington.208 — Rushing yards for Wyoming’s Brian Hill in the Cowboys’ eighth straight loss, a 31-13 setback to Appalachian State.

221 — Career-high rushing yards for Michael Gordon in Arkansas State’s win over Idaho

234 — Rushing yards for Ezekiel Elliott on his first eight carries of the second half in Ohio State’s closer-than-expected win over Indiana.  195 of those yards came on three touchdown runs.  Elliott finished with a career-high 274 yards on 23 carries, and his 11.9 yards per carry were a school record.

260 — Career-high rushing yards for Larry Rose III in New Mexico State’s loss to rival New Mexico.  The sophomore averaged 12.4 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns.

365 — School freshman record passing yards for BYU’s Tanner Mangum in the Friday night win over UConn.

437 — Career-high passing yards for Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph in the win over Kansas State.  It was Rudolph’s second career 400-yard passing game, both of which have come this season.

Texas State v Houston455 — Yards of offense for Greg Ward Jr., including 182 yards rushing that set a single-game Houston record for a quarterback.

1922 — The last time Penn State played five consecutive home games prior to starting the 2015 season with five in a row in Happy Valley.

1930 — The last time Temple played a non-conference game against an FBS opponent in the state of North Carolina before the Week 5 game against Charlotte.

1942 — The last time both Ohio State and Indiana were undefeated entering a game prior to the Week 5 matchup between the 4-0 Buckeyes and 4-0 Hoosiers.

1950 — Prior to this year, the last time Cal began a season 5-0.

1966 — The last time Michigan State was ranked second in the country in the Associated Press poll.

1977 — Both the year and number of days since Clemson last played host to Notre Dame before Saturday’s clash of ranked teams.