CFT 2016 Preseason Previews: Coaching Hot Seat

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Like death and taxes, another certainty in life is that, somewhere, a college 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 very lucrative 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 anywhere from 15 to upwards of 25 of the nearly 130 head coaches who are on the FBS sidelines when the season begins won’t be there when the calendar flips to 2017.

Last year around this time, our hot seat preview listed six head coaches feeling the heat; just one of the six survived the 2015 season.  The lone exception?  Indiana’s Kevin Wilson.

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.

KEVIN SUMLIN, TEXAS A&M
2015 RECORD: 8-5 overall, 4-4 in SEC
OVERALL RECORD: 36-16, 17-15
Off the field, it’s been an embarrassing last few months for the university in general and the A&M football program specifically.  Two of Sumlin’s assistants were suspended after getting their Beavis & Butthead on at a women’s football clinic, leaving A&M’s president “dismayed, disappointed, angry” over their sexist presentation  and allowing a former head coach at rival Texas to crow he’s “never lost a women’s clinic.”  Another Sumlin assistant made an ass of himself with a social media hissy fit befitting a middle schooler when a recruit had the audacity to decommit from the Aggies.  In February, former A&M quarterback Kyle Allen ripped the football program’s post-Johnny Football culture.  While not on Sumlin’s watch, it wasn’t a good look for the program when a former football trainer claimed in January that coaches pressured him to rush injured players back onto the field.

On the field is where Sumlin is really feeling the heat, though.  In 2012, the first season for both Sumlin in College Station and the Aggies in the SEC, A&M went 11-2 overall and 6-2 in conference play.  Since then, they’ve gone 25-14 overall and, more importantly, just 11-13 in the SEC.

Add it all up, and given the hyper-competitive nature of the SEC West, Sumlin sits on one of the hottest seats in the country.  He does have two potential lifelines.  One, win, and win big, in 2016.  Secondly, and arguably most importantly, his contract, which runs through 2019 and averages in excess of $5 million annually, is fully guaranteed if he’s fired without cause.  That, more than anything, might buy him another season if the on-field struggles — and off-field embarrassments — continue.

CHARLIE STRONG, TEXAS
2015 RECORD: 5-7 overall, 4-5 in Big 12
OVERALL RECORD: 11-14, 9-9
While the hot seat of Strong’s counterpart at a former rival consists of on- and off-the-field issues, the Longhorns’ sidelines boss’ issues rest solely between the lines on game days.  In two seasons with the Longhorns, Strong has gone an unacceptable 11-14 overall and 9-9 in Big 12 play, the worst two-year start for a UT head coach in nearly 80 years.  At Iowa State, those numbers would get you a parade through downtown Ames; at UT, it gets you on the express lane toward the unemployment line.

The good news for Strong is that he’s recruited well enough (seventh in 2016, 10th in 2015, 16th in 2014) that the talent is there to compete in the conference.  Additionally, three of their toughest games in 2016, Baylor, Notre Dame and TCU, will be played in Austin.  Strong has to hope that the combination of a new offensive coordinator (Sterlin Gilbert) and a promising freshman quarterback (Shane Buechele) can revitalize a stagnant offense and show promise for the future — and the defense can sustain its recent level of performance.

If the ‘Horns can’t get to at least eight wins?  It may be three seasons and you’re out for Strong of a handful of boosters get their way.

DARRELL HAZELL, PURDUE
2015 RECORD: 2-10 overall, 1-7 in Big Ten
OVERALL RECORD: 6-30, 2-22
Simply put, Hazell seemingly needs to qualify for a bowl in order to get a fifth season in West Lafayette, and the raw numbers show exactly why.

Of the 30 games the Boilermakers have played in three years under Hazell, they’ve lost 24 of them.  Half of Hazell’s wins during his time at the school have come against FCS programs; in other words, he has a winning percentage of .100 against teams that play at the FBS level.  Think about that number for a second, and let it sink in, and it makes you truly wonder how he made it to the 2016 season to begin with — especially when you consider he has an even-worse .090 winning percentage in conference play.  And it’s not like they’re competitive in the league, either.

In B1G play, Hazell has lost 22 games by nearly 20 points per game (19.8).  17 of those losses were by two touchdowns or more, with exactly half of the losses, 11, coming by 20 or more points.  And the two wins?  By 10 over Nebraska last year, by 11 over Illinois the year before.

It was thought that Hazell’s contract played a role in his getting a fourth season.  If this one’s anything like the previous three, there’s little doubt the athletic department will eat the remaining money owed to Hazell and move on to another head coach.

GUS MALZAHN, AUBURN
2015 RECORD: 7-6 overall, 2-6 in SEC
OVERALL RECORD: 27-13, 13-11
It’d be hard to get off to a much better start than Malzahn did in 2013.  All The Tigers did was run out to a 12-1 record and SEC title before losing to Florida State in the BCS championship game.  Since then?  A steady decline — and a precipitous one when it comes to conference play.

The Tigers dipped to 8-5 in 2014, and then dipped even further the following season to 7-6.  Most worrisome for those in and around the athletic department would have to be a 4-4 record in the SEC in 2014 that turned into 2-6 last season.  In fact, since beating Ole Miss in early November of 2014, Auburn has gone a miserable 2-9 in SEC games.  That’s disappointing for just about any school in the conference.  For a school that resides in the same state as a program that’s won four of the last seven national championships?  It’s downright unacceptable.

The SEC West is the most unforgiving of coaching stops.  If Malzahn doesn’t turn it around sooner rather than later, he will, fair or not, find himself on the outside of the conference looking in.

DANA HOLGORSEN, WEST VIRGINIA
2015 RECORD: 8-5 overall, 4-5 in Big 12
OVERALL RECORD: 36-28, 20-23
An eight-win season staved off the wolves for the moment, but 2016 might be a make-or-break season for Holgorsen in Morgantown.  That was never more evident than when contract talks on an extension between the two sides stalled earlier this year, leaving the coach with just one more year on his contract after this season.

Holgorsen is 35-28 in five seasons with the Mountaineers. Against Big 12 foes, however, Holgorsen is just 15-21.  Since going 10-3 in the final season in the Big East in 2011, WVU is a mere 26-25 the last four seasons. The good news for Holgorsen is that there’s some momentum from a year ago on which to build, with the Mountaineers winning five of their last six games coming off a four-game losing streak against ranked conference teams.  The lone loss in that stretch was a one-point setback at Kansas State, and also included the first bowl win since Holgorsen’s first season.

As rumors swirled surrounding Holgorsen’s future in Morgantown, athletic director Shane Lyons announced back in December that the head coach would return.  As it appears there will be no resolution to the contract issue before the new season kicks off, expect the speculation on Holgorsen’s future to ramp up exponentially if the Mountaineers struggle coming out of the 2016 gate.

MARK STOOPS, KENTUCKY
2015 RECORD: 5-7 overall, 2-6 in SEC
OVERALL RECORD: 12-24, 4-20
It might be a year early to put Stoops on this list, but it shouldn’t be.

At least when it comes to recruiting, Stoops has flamed what passions for football in Lexington exists.  Prior to Stoops’ arrival, UK had just two recruiting classes — 2006 (No. 36) and 2009 (No. 41) — that finished inside the Top 50 nationally since 2002.  Since then, the Wildcats have racked up classes that ranked 34th (2016), 38th (2015), 22nd (2014) and 34th (2013).  That relative recruiting success has, thus far, failed miserably to translate into on-field success, though.

A 2-10 first season with the Wildcats gave way to a 5-7 2014 season, a mark that led to rampant enthusiasm over the future of the football program.  That push forward stalled with yet another 5-7 season in 2015.  Perhaps most distressing to followers of the team is the 4-20 mark in SEC play, a sign that the team is not even remotely ready to compete even in the weaker East Division.

If UK is fine with a .500-ish program that creates some recruiting buzz every once in a while, then Stoops might be their man.  If they’re looking to get to the next level?  2016 may portend whether Stoops can or can’t be that man.  Stoops is signed through the 2019 season, but money, at least in the SEC, should be no object when it comes to the football program.

Florida’s Cece Jefferson reportedly out four months after surgery

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One of the most heralded members of Florida’s 2015 recruiting class has hit a medical speedbump.

According to Robbie Andreu of the Gainesville Sun, Cece Jefferson underwent surgery on his right shoulder earlier this week after injuring it during the Gators’ spring game.  As a result of that surgical procedure and the ensuing rehab, the defensive lineman is expected to be sidelined for the next four months.

Such a timeline would see Jefferson returning to on-field football action in mid-August, which would be right in the middle of summer camp.  Whether the lineman would be ready for the start of the 2018 regular season remains to be seen.

Jefferson was a consensus five-star prospect, rated as the No. 2 strongside defensive end in the Class of 2015; the No. 4 player at any position in the state of Florida; and the No. 7 player overall on 247Sports.com’s composite board.

This past season, Jefferson led the Gators with 13.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.  After considering early entry into the 2018 NFL draft, the 6-1, 242-pound lineman opted to return to Gainesville for one more season.

Ohio State OL Matthew Burrell transferring from Buckeyes

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For the third time this offseason, Ohio State has lost an offensive lineman to transfer.

The latest to leave the trenches in Columbus is Matthew Burrell (pictured, right), with the rising redshirt junior taking to Instagram to announce that, “after prayer and thought, I will be transferring from OSU.” While no specific reason for the decision to transfer was given, the lineman’s placement on the depth chart likely played a significant role.

A four-star member of the Buckeyes’ 2015 recruiting class, Burrell was rated as the No. 7 guard in the country and the No. 4 player at any position in the state of Virginia.  The past two seasons, the lineman had seen action in a total of 25 games, including 12 this past season.

In addition to Burrell, OSU offensive linemen Jack Wohlabaugh (HERE) and Kevin Feder (HERE) have all left the program since the end of the 2017 regular season.

UCF police go all in on national championship campaign

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Look, I get it. I know exactly how this game is played. They do it so that people like me will write about it and people like you will read it. It’s all a ploy to make everyone on campus puff their chests out just a little bit further and to keep their name on our lips just a little bit longer.

But doggone if it isn’t working.

More than three months after claiming its 2017 national championship, UCF has found a way to keep itself relevant, this time by having the campus police department get in on the act.

AD Danny White already committed to pay national championship bonuses for coaches who are no longer in the school’s employ, but that’s not even the end of this. There’s still a ring ceremony that is (or at least should) be forthcoming, and the banner reveal at Spectrum Stadium that’s surely coming at the 2018 season opener.

If you’re going to go all in on a publicity campaign, it’s best to go all the way in. As UCF has done here.

NCAA tables proposal that would allow players to play in up to four games and retain redshirt

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The NCAA’s Division I Council on Wednesday tabled a proposal that would allow players to compete in up to four games and retain their redshirts. Championed by AFCA executive director Todd Berry, the rule was touted as a necessary change in an era where teams play 14- and 15-game seasons.

The rule would allow redshirting players to replace injured players without personal cost to their careers. Presently, a coach with dwindling numbers at a given position is put in between the rock and the hard place of burning an innocent player’s redshirt or putting players at risk of injury through overuse.

Here’s how the NCAA presented the news:

The Council tabled a proposal that would allow football student-athletes to participate in up to four games per year without using a season of competition. Proponents argue that late-season injuries and other factors often require student-athletes who hadn’t played all season to burn a year of eligibility for a small number of games. Others wonder whether the proposal could be applied to other sports, as well, whether the number of games in the proposal is appropriate, and whether the timing of the four games matters.

It is not clear what opposition exists to the rule, though Big 12 commissioner, Council member and noted fear-mongerer Bob Bowlsby posited in January that teams could, for some unexplained reason, hold their best players back until the final four games of the season.

“I think it’s got a lot of merit,” he said, “but there are some hooks in it. I don’t know how comfortable people are with, suddenly in the last three games and a bowl game, you go from being a guy who’s on the scout team to [a prominent role].”

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The proposal is not all dead, as Miracle Max would say. The Council will now turn the tabled proposal over to the Football Oversight and Student-Athlete Experience Committees for discussion and feedback solicitation.