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)

Auburn S Stephen Roberts arrested for unlawful gun possession, evading arrest

OXFORD, MS - NOVEMBER 01:  Stephen Roberts #14 of the Auburn Tigers celebrates with the Auburn student fans after defeating the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on November 1, 2014 in Oxford, Mississippi. Auburn defeated Mississippi 35-31.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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A Wednesday night traffic stop led to an arrest for Auburn safety Stephen Roberts. As reported by AL.com, a traffic stop just before 10 p.m. led to discovery of a handgun Roberts possessed without a permit to carry. Roberts bolted from the car in an attempt to evade arrest, but was apprehended and booked into Lee County Detention Center less than an hour later.

Auburn released a statement saying head coach Gus Malzahn was “aware” of the incident. “He is gathering all the facts and will handle the situation appropriately,” the program said.

Roberts appeared in all 13 games last season and was expected to start at free safety.

Malzahn offered praise to the junior less than a week ago.

“There’s no doubt Stephen Roberts, he was one of our better special teams guys last year,” Malzahn said last week. “He’s got experience at the safety position the second half of the year, had a very good spring. Just turning into one of those leaders of the defensive side that I know(defensive backs coach Wesley) McGriff has a lot of confidence in.

“He’s a savvy football player; he just understands football. He’s starting to develop into the player that we really expected when we recruited him and I’m proud of where he’s at right now. He’s got to go out there, he’s got to keep improving and all that but he’s a football player.”

Both charges are misdemeanors. The maximum sentences carry no more than a year in jail and $6,000 fines. He is due to appear in court Nov. 17.

TCU, Auburn, others name starting quarterbacks

COLUMBIA, SC - AUGUST 28: Kenny Hill #7 of the Texas A&M Aggies drops back to pass South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on August 28, 2014 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Game week is upon us, which means it’s time for those mired in quarterback derbies to declare a winner. At least for Week 1.

A number of announcements have come down the pike of late, so we funneled them all into one post here.

First, TCU announced that Texas A&M transfer and short-lived Heisman favorite Kenny Hill has beaten Alamo Bowl hero Foster Sawyer to win the Horned Frogs’ starting role next Saturday against South Dakota State.

“He’s in as good a shape as I’ve ever seen him,” TCU head coach Gary Patterson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Stronger, faster than he was coming out of high school. I mean, he’s done a great job of re-doing himself.”

Auburn has the unenviable task of opening against college football’s best quarterback in Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, and the player charged with that task will be Sean White. The one-time Tiger starter reclaimed his role by beating former Florida State quarterback and Last Chance U. star John Franklin III and incumbent Jeremy Johnson.

“It feels really good,” White told Auburn Undercover. “I feel blessed to be in this position, and I feel responsible to lead this team against Clemson. I’m happy coach put this responsibility on me and my teammates believe in me. I feel like they have a reason to believe in me. We’ll be ready to go come Saturday.”

At Wisconsin, Bart Houston will lead the Badgers on the field as they open against LSU at Lambeau Field. In what may be a savvy karma play, head coach Paul Chryst selected Houston, a fifth-year senior named after Packers legend Bart Starr, over redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook. “I felt like Bart did everything he needed to do and earned the right to get the start,” Chryst said in a release.

At Virginia Tech, new head coach Justin Fuente tabbed Jerod Evans as his starter over fifth-year senior Brenden Motley and true freshman Josh Jackson. A Dallas native and Trinity Valley College transfer, Evans is the first JuCo transfer to ever win the Hokies’ starting gig. Fuente indicated more than just Evans will play in the Hokies’ opener opposite Liberty.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Fuente said, via the Roanoke Times. “We have a lot of development, a lot of coaching, a lot of mentoring left to do with all three.”

Finally, Fresno State selected redshirt freshman Chason Virgil over Ford Childress and Kilton Anderson to start as the Bulldogs open at Nebraska. For Virgil, the announcement comes at the end of a sordid saga after Mississippi State pulled his scholarship offer late in the recruiting process.

“He earned the job. It wasn’t that we’re just selecting somebody,” Fresno head coach Tim DeRuyter said of Virgil, via the Fresno Bee. He clearly separated himself. If you look at the statistics, he had over twice the throws and less than half of the interceptions of any of the guys that were close to him. The longer we were in the system, the clearer it became.”

Baylor DB Travon Blanchard to miss season opener with knee injury

WACO, TX - AUGUST 31:  Matt Davis #4 of the Southern Methodist Mustangs runs the ball against Travon Blanchard #48 of the Baylor Bears at McLane Stadium on August 31, 2014 in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Baylor defensive back Travon Blanchard will miss the Bears’ opener after undergoing knee surgery to mend a minor meniscus tear, the Waco Tribune-Herald reports. Senior Patrick Levels is expected to replace him in the starting lineup.

A junior, Blanchard earned Honorable Mention All-Big 12 accolades after starting all 13 games as the Bears’ nickelback, where he posted 83 tackles, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, three picks, six passes defended, two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.

Baylor trainers will monitor Blanchard’s progress before approving him to return to the lineup for the Bears’ second game with SMU.

Baylor opens its season next Friday night against Northwestern State.

CFT Previews: Playoff Darkhorses

PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 05:  Quarterback Josh Rosen #3 of the UCLA Bruins throws a  pass against the Virginia Cavaliers at the Rose Bowl on September 5, 2015 in Pasadena, California.  UCLA won 34-16.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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How does one define a Playoff darkhorse?

Washington would have been a perfect example… eight months ago. The Huskies do have a good defense, a promising quarterback and a smart coaching staff, seemingly the building blocks of a team set to make a big jump in 2016. But eight months of people separately talking themselves into Chris Petersen‘s Huskies has congealed into a team coming off a 7-6 season now being overrated heading into the actual season.

So, no, in my book, Washington is not a playoff darkhorse. Not anymore. Neither is Houston. Or Tennessee.

Here’s a brief look at teams that could actually take us all by surprise this fall:

Florida: Remember how good the Gators were before Will Grier got suspended and everything fell apart? The Gators started 6-0 before a respectable 35-28 loss at LSU, then rebounded with a 27-3 thrashing of Georgia in the Cocktail Party before the offense spent November and December struggling mightily just to hit 20 points. But with another year under Jim McElwain, Florida should be deeper and much less Treon Harris-y. And then there is the fact that winning the SEC East places a team automatically just 60 minutes away from the Playoff.

Louisville: Bobby Petrino has his roster in a better position than anyone anticipated upon taking over for Charlie StrongLamar Jackson was a revelation at quarterback last season, and should only improve after a full off-season taking starter’s reps. Florida State comes to Louisville for an upset-ready noon kick on Sept. 17.

UCLA: No one’s going undefeated in the Pac-12, but an opening day win at Texas A&M would forgive an in-conference slip-up. USC, Arizona and Arizona State should be in transition years, and there’s a strong chance Stanford, Washington and Oregon beat each other up in the Pac-12 North. Jim Mora has done a nice job re-stocking the shelves in Westwood, starting with possible future No. 1 pick and Heisman darkhorse Josh Rosen.