CFT 2017 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.  Or a lot.

Such is the case as we get set to embark on yet another new college 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 that provides a cushiony-soft financial landing.

So, just who is possibly looking at a spot in the coaching unemployment line at season’s end, or even sooner in some cases? Recent history suggests that anywhere from 15 to upwards of 25 of the 130 head coaches who are on the FBS sidelines when the season begins won’t be there when the calendar flips to 2018.

Last year around this time, our Hot Seat preview listed six head coaches feeling the heat; just two of them, Charlie Strong and Darrell Hazell, lost their jobs. The year before, though, five of the six on our list received their athletic director’s — or prominent boosters’ — boot.

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. And leading off? The man who was on our hottest seat nearly a year ago.

KEVIN SUMLIN, TEXAS A&M
2016 RECORD: 8-5 overall, 4-4 in SEC
OVERALL RECORD AT SCHOOL: 44-21, 21-19
“Coach knows he has to win and he has to win this year. We have to do better than we’ve done in the past.”

Those were the no-gray-area-here words of A&M athletic director Scott Woodward in late May of this year. When your boss very publicly puts you on notice that you have to win now or else, and you coach in the hyper-competitive SEC, you deserve the top spot on any coaching hot seat list.

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 a middling 33-19 and, more importantly, just 15-17 in the league. More to the point, the Aggies have finished fourth, sixth, fifth and fourth the past four seasons in the even-more hyper-competitive SEC West. An even finer point? They are 9-15 against divisional foes in the same span.

Given that track record, and the AD’s public pronouncement, there’s really not much else to say.

RICH RODRIGUEZ, ARIZONA
2016 RECORD: 3-9 overall, 1-8 in Pac-12
OVERALL RECORD AT SCHOOL: 36-29, 18-26
In 2014, Rodriguez was the toast of the Pac-12, or close to it. After a 10-3 regular season that saw the Wildcats win the South Division, that record earned them a spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl the first season of the College Football Playoffs.

After 2014? He might be toast if he has another year like his last.

In 2016, the Wildcats (seemingly) bottomed out in going 3-9, the program’s worst winning percentage since 2003. It was just the second time 60 years the team finished the season with a winning percentage of .250 or less. Even more distressing, just one of their wins came in conference play a mere two years removed from playing for the league championship.

Anything close to a repeat of the 2016 season will very likely end with RichRod not seeing the 2018 season on the sidelines in the desert.

BRIAN KELLY, NOTRE DAME
2016 RECORD: 4-8
OVERALL RECORD AT SCHOOL: 59-31
Where to start? Last season’s 4-8 record was the Fighting Irish’s worst since Charlie Weis went 3-9 in 2007. And it wasn’t just the record on the field as Kelly — by force on one and by a departure for the other — changed out both coordinators for good measure, not long after throwing his players under the bus for lacking “fire and grit.”

Kelly’s boss, Jack Swarbrick, gave his head football coach a vote of confidence in October… leading Kelly to express his disappointment over the athletic director having to publicly endorse his continuing employment.

Weis got two more seasons after that three-win year, ultimately getting canned after back-to-back six-loss seasons. At bare minimum, Kelly will need to get the Irish to seven or so wins for Swarbrick to justify bringing him back for an eighth season in South Bend.

TODD GRAHAM, ARIZONA STATE
2016 RECORD: 5-7 overall, 2-7 in Pac-12
OVERALL RECORD AT SCHOOL: 39-26, 25-20
Like Sumlin, Graham was on the receiving end of an offseason message from his boss regarding his standing with the university.

In June, Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson revealed that he would not be extending Graham’s contract out another season. Every year that Graham had been at ASU previously, he’s received a one-year contract extension that kept him with five years left on his contract.

In his first three seasons with the Sun Devils, Graham guided ASU to a combined record of 28-12, a total that included a pair of bowl wins as well as a Pac-12 South title in 2013. The 10 wins in 2013 and 2014 was the first time the program had done that in back-to-back seasons since a four-year stretch from 1970-73.

However, a 6-7 2015 season gave way to a 5-7 2016 mark that led to talk of Graham possibly entering the 2017 season on the hot seat. With the decision to eschew the annual contract extension, feel free to remove the word “possibly” from the previous sentence.

GUS MALZAHN, AUBURN
2016 RECORD: 8-5 overall, 5-3 in SEC
OVERALL RECORD AT SCHOOL: 35-18, 18-14
I very nearly went with another SEC coach, Tennessee’s Butch Jones, before deciding to include the second alum from the 2016 Coaching Hot Seat list.

A loss in the national championship game in Malzahn’s first season in 2013 raised the bar, perhaps too high given the fact that AU’s hated in-state rival, Alabama, has qualified for the first three editions of the College Football Playoff in running roughshod over and through the conference. There are also three-straight double-digit losses to the Crimson Tide machine in the Iron Bowl for the Tigers.

Meanwhile, during Nick Saban‘s continued run of dominance, Malzahn has watched as his Tigers have plateaued in the neighborhood of seven or eight wins the past three seasons. That’s not exactly slumming it, but it’s far from the uber-rich estate on which the Crimson Tide currently resides.

Right or wrong, Malzahn’s fate is likely very much intertwined with Alabama — and whether or not the perception is that he has, or even can, close the gap with the college football monolith that shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. At all.

DOC HOLLIDAY, MARSHALL
2016 RECORD: 3-9 overall, 2-6 in Conference USA
OVERALL RECORD AT SCHOOL: 53-37, 35-21
West Virginia’s new governor, Democrat-turned-Republican Jim Justice, has reportedly spent at least a portion of his first term in office attempting to oust Holliday and replace him with Justice’s buddy Bobby Pruett. When the sitting governor, an alum of the university no less, is pushing to have you removed, you’re automatically placed on the hot seat, right?

The 2016 season did no favors for the coach entering his eighth season in Huntington as the Thundering Herd went 3-9. It was easily the worst season of Holliday’s tenure — they went 5-7 in both 2010, his first season, and 2012 — and the program’s worst since hitting the same mark in 2007.

The three years prior to 2016, however, saw the Herd win 10 or more games in back-to-back-to-back seasons. In 2014, they tied a school record with 13 wins, and won their first-ever Conference USA championship and first conference title overall since claiming the MAC in 2002.

So, was last season just a fluke? Whether it was or the portending of a continuing downward spiral will likely determine whether Holliday survives. Well, that and the state’s governor’s whims.

Report: Steve Spurrier Jr. leaving WKU for job at Wazzu

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With coaching holes throughout his Washington State staff to fill thanks to significant offseason poaching, Mike Leach has added a very famous college football surname.  Reportedly.

According to the Bowling Green Daily News, Steve Spurrier Jr. is leaving Western Kentucky to take a job under Leach at Wazzu.  The son of College Football Hall of Famer Steve Spurrier just completed his first season as the Hilltoppers’ quarterbacks coach.  He also held the title of assistant head coach under Mike Sanford.

It’s unclear what specific title Spurrier Jr. will hold at Wazzu.

Prior to his one season at WKU, and one season as an off-field staffer at Oklahoma, Spurrier Jr. had been an assistant on his father’s South Carolina staff for 11 seasons.  During his time with the Gamecocks, he served at various points as wide receivers coach (2005-15), passing-game coordinator (2009-11) and co-offensive coordinator (2012-15).

Spurrier Jr., who played wide receiver at Duke, has also spent time during his coaching career as receivers coach at Oklahoma (1999-2001) and with the Washington Redskins (2002-03).

Ex-Texas All-Big 12 defensive tackle takes DL coaching job at Baylor

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Baylor’s latest coaching addition is a very familiar name in the state of Texas.

BU confirmed Wednesday evening that Frank Okam has been added to Matt Rhule‘s coaching staff.  Okam, who was a Freshman All-American and two-time All-Big 12 defensive tackle at Texas from 2004-07, will coach the Bears’ defensive line.

“Frank is a living embodiment of everything the young men in our program should want to accomplish,” the head coach said in a statement. “He’s a college graduate, an All-American, a Big 12 champion, a national champion, a NFL draft pick and then he continued life after football earning his master’s degree from Rice and is now one of the top young football coaches in the country.

“We are excited to have Coach Okam on staff and for him to mentor our defensive line group and help take them to the next level.”

The 32-year-old Okam, who went to high school in Dallas, spent the past four seasons at Rice, the last two as the Owls’ line coach.  This will mark Okam’s first coaching job at a Power Five program.

Longtime ESPN play-by-play man Mike Patrick announces retirement

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ESPN’s roster of college football play-by-play announcers suffered a high number of attrition of late. Brent Musburger retired. Brad Nessler replaced Verne Lundquist at CBS. Sean McDonough moved to Monday Night Football. Now the dean of ESPN’s Saturday voices is going away, too.

Mike Patrick announced his retirement on Wednesday, ending a 32-year run that began in 1982, three years after the network launched.

“It’s wonderful to reflect on how I’ve done exactly what I wanted to do with my life,” Patrick said. “At the same time, I’ve had the great pleasure of working with some of the very best people I’ve ever known, both on the air and behind the scenes. While I’m not sure exactly what’s next for me, I’m looking forward to continuing my journey with new life experiences.”

His biggest assignment came as the voice of ESPN’s Sunday Night Football from 1987 until the package moved to NBC after the 2005 season, but outside of that he was one of the Worldwide Leader’s leading college sports voices. He was the lead voice on the network’s ACC basketball package, he called the Women’s Final Four for a decade and a half, and he was a leading voice on the College World Series and served as the play-by-play man for ESPN’s Thursday night and Saturday night packages, before ESPN turned its Saturday primetime window into the top package owned by the network.

You may remember this moment.

ESPN will say goodbye to Patrick through a pre-recorded tribute voiced by Rece Davis airing throughout the day on SportsCenter and a tribute during the network’s coverage of the Louisville vs. Duke basketball game tonight (9 p.m. ET).

Heisman winner Chris Weinke hired as Tennessee’s running backs coach

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It can be argued that the only reason Tennessee has a national championship is because of Chris Weinke. As we know, the Vols claimed the 1998 national championship by defeating Florida State in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl, the first national championship game of the BCS era. Tennessee won that game, 23-16, thanks in large part to a pick-six thrown by Marcus Outzen, a third-string quarterback forced into action due to an injury by the two signal callers ahead of him on the depth chart.

Here’s how a Sports Illustrated article described Weinke and that FSU team in its 1999 preview issue:

Don’t think of 1999 as a new season for Florida State, think of it as the resumption of an old one. Before quarterback Chris Weinke was dumped on his head and suffered a season-ending ruptured disk in his neck in a 45-14 win over Virginia last Nov. 7, no team in the country was playing better than the Seminoles, who had bounced back from an early-season defeat at North Carolina State. So how cruel was this? Upset losses suffered by Ohio State, UCLA and Kansas State sent 11-1 Florida State to the national title game in the Fiesta Bowl, but without its best quarterback. The Seminoles and backup signal-caller Marcus Outzen struggled on offense and lost to Tennessee.

Nevertheless, Tennessee won that season’s title, Weinke would lead Florida State to the 1999 national title and take the Heisman Trophy a year after that. The past is the past.

But now the past is the present, as the former Florida State quarterback on Wednesday was announced as Tennessee’s running backs coach.

“I’m excited to have Chris Weinke on our staff to coach running backs,” Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt said in a statement. “He has played the game at the highest level and what he has accomplished on the field speaks for itself. He is also an outstanding coach and teacher of the game, coaching in the NFL, in college this past season and at the high school level. He has a great eye for talent and knows the game on the offensive side of the ball as well as anybody I’ve been around. He will be a great fit for our Tennessee program.”

Weinke entered the NFL as a 26-year-old and lasted seven seasons with the Panthers and 49ers before moving into coaching. He first worked as a trainer at IMG Academy, then moved onto coaching the high school program, where he went 19-2 as head coach and offensive coordinator. From there he deposited a stint as the Los Angeles Rams’ quarterbacks coach before spending the 2017 season as an offensive analyst at Alabama, where he hooked up with Pruitt.

Weinke will be charged with re-building the Vols’ backfield after losing John Kelly to an early entry into the NFL draft. Rising sophomore Ty Chandler is Tennessee’s leading returning rusher, carrying 71 times for 305 yards and two touchdowns in 2017.