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)

NFL calls, Mich. St.’s Malik McDowell answers

EAST LANSING, MI - SEPTEMBER 02:  Malik McDowell #4 of the Michigan State Spartans works against Harrison Monk #71 of the Furman Paladins during the first half of a game at Spartan Stadium on September 2, 2016 in East Lansing, Michigan.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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When it comes to college players taking the early cannonball leap into the NFL draft pool, there will be at least a couple of surprises and/or headscratchers.  This one would be neither.

In a statement on his personal Twitter account as well as a press release through Michigan State, Malik McDowell confirmed that he will be foregoing his senior season in East Lansing in order to enter the 2017 NFL draft.  While describing it as “very difficult,” it’s been a decision that has been expected.

Despite missing the last three games this season with an injury, McDowell led all Spartans in tackles for loss with seven. The 6-6, 275-pound defensive lineman was named first-team All-Big Ten by The Associated Press and earned second-team honors from the league’s coaches and media.

In 36 career games (23 starts), McDowell has been credited with 24.5 for losses and 7.5 sacks.

He’s currently projected as a likely first-round pick in the draft.  Back in August, McDowell stated he wouldn’t leave early if he wasn’t projected as a top three selection.

“Malik McDowell is an extremely gifted player who has demonstrated the ability and mindset to succeed at the next level,” said MSU head coach Mark Dantonio in a statement. “His pre-draft numbers project him as a likely first-round selection. We are thankful for his contributions to the program that significantly impacted our recent success, culminating with last year’s Big Ten Championship and an appearance in the College Football Playoff. We wish him the best and are excited for the opportunity in the next chapter of his life as he pursues his dream to play in the NFL.”

Baylor announces hiring of Temple’s Matt Rhule

ANNAPOLIS, MD - DECEMBER 03:  Head coach Matt Rhule of the Temple Owls is doused during the closing moments of the Owls 34-10 win over the Navy Midshipmen during the AAC Championship game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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When the college football world settled in for bed Monday night, it was Blake Anderson reportedly negotiating with Baylor to become its next head football coach.  Late the next morning, it’s Temple, not Arkansas State, that will be searching for its own new coach.

Following up on speculation that had been building through the past couple of hours, Matt Rhule has officially been hired by the scandal-plagued to be its permanent replacement for Art Briles.  Rhule will be officially introduced by the university at a Wednesday press conference.

“We could not be more excited to welcome Matt, Julie and their children to the Baylor Family,” a statement from athletic director Mack Rhoades began. “When we set out on our search for a new leader of our football program, we wanted a coach who shared our values, who had demonstrated success, who showed a true commitment to the overall student-athlete and who we believed could lead Baylor to a national championship. We found all of that and more in Matt and I know that he will be a perfect fit with the Baylor Family.”

Rhule just completed his fourth regular season as the head coach at Temple, which ended with the program’s first AAC championship ever and first conference title of any kind in nearly four decades.  The Owls’ 10 wins last season was just the second in school history; the 10 wins this season give them back-to-back double-digit wins for the first time ever.

In a coaching career that began in 1998, Rhule has held just one job west of the Mississippi River — at UCLA in 2001.  He’s never coached in the state of Texas, so he’ll need to fill his staff with assistants familiar with the area, particularly when it comes to recruiting.

“I am truly honored and humbled to join the Baylor Family,” said Rhule, a former Penn State linebacker, “and I can’t thank President [David] Garland and Mack Rhoades enough for this incredible opportunity. Baylor is a tremendous institution with a history of football success and I know the passion that so many have for the Bears will help bring the community together to reach even greater heights. I am excited to get started.”

It’s unclear if Rhule will coach the Owls in the Dec. 27 Military Bowl, although it’s thought he’ll be leaving his current program immediately.

Nebraska officially plucks assistant from Arizona

LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 01: The mascot for the Nebraska Cornhuskers waits for the team before the contest against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)
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After a handful of days of reports and speculation, Mike Riley has officially made an addition to his Nebraska coaching staff at the expense of Arizona.

In a release, NU confirmed that Donté Williams has been hired to fill the opening on his staff. Williams will fill the void created by the departure of Bruce Read, who was fired as special teams coordinator shortly after the Cornhuskers’ regular-season finale.

“We are confident that Donté Williams will bring great energy and expertise to our defensive coaching staff,” Riley said in a statement. “He has the personality and demeanor that allows him to connect and relate to his players. He will also be a dynamic addition to our staff in terms of recruiting prospective student-athletes to the University of Nebraska.”

Williams’ addition will lead to shifts on the defensive side of Riley’s staff.

It’s expected that Williams will take over as NU’s cornerbacks coach. Corners coach Brian Stewart will shift his focus to safeties, while last year’s safeties coach, defensive coordinator Mark Banker, will focus solely on a defense that was 31st in scoring defense and 21st in total defense in the country this past season.

Adding Williams, though, centers largely on the 34-year-old’s recruiting prowess. In fact, he’s widely considered in the industry to be one of the top five recruiters on the West Coast.

“I am truly blessed that Coach Riley thought highly enough of me to join his staff here at the University of Nebraska,” Williams said. “Everything I have seen in Lincoln has completely raised my expectations of what I know we can accomplish here! I look forward to continuing the success of the Blackshirt defense under Coach Riley and the whole Big Red Family!”

Williams spent the 2016 season as the cornerbacks coach at Arizona. Prior to that, he was a secondary coach at San Jose State from 2013-15, the latter two years spent with the additional title of recruiting coordinator.

His first Power Five job came as a grad assistant at Washington in 2011-12.

Ex-Alabama QB Blake Barnett commits to Arizona State

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 05:  Blake Barnett #6 of the Alabama Crimson Tide throws before the Advocare Classic against the Wisconsin Badgers at AT&T Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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After leaving the FBS level in September, a formerly highly-touted quarterback has confirmed he’ll be back next season.

On Twitter late Monday night, Blake Barnett announced that he has committed to continuing his collegiate playing career at Arizona State. The announcement comes a little over three months after Barnett left Alabama.

Because Barnett enrolled at a junior college almost immediately after transferring from Alabama, it’s thought that he’ll be eligible to play for Arizona State after the first month of the 2017 season. He’d then have two full seasons of eligibility remaining after next year.

In late September, reports began to surface that Barnett had decided to leave Alabama.  A short time later, and after Nick Saban expressed hope Barnett would stay, the program confirmed that Barnett had officially withdrawn from school.

Barnett, who started the opener against USC but held on to the job for just two series, was a five-star 2015 recruit who 247Sports.com rated as the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the country.  The California high school product originally committed to Notre Dame in November of 2013 before decommitting from the Irish in June of the following year.

After leaving Alabama, Barnett had drawn the interest of, among others, Cal, Florida, Miami, Michigan State, Oregon, Texas A&M, UCLA and Washington