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 2016.
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.
AL GOLDEN, MIAMI
2014 RECORD: 6-7
OVERALL RECORD: 28-22 overall, 16-16 in ACC
Last year at this time it was a coach from North Florida sitting at the top of this list; fast-forward 12 months, and one from South Florida claims the top spot. And rightly so, actually — especially if you ask THIS former player or THIS one. In his first three seasons with the Hurricanes, and in the midst of NCAA sanctions, Golden saw his win total go from six to seven to nine. With expectations high for 2014, the bottomed dropped out in a seven-loss season, the most for the program since Randy Shannon‘s first season with the ‘Canes. Speaking of Shannon, he was canned after going 28-22 overall and 16-16 in ACC play; look familiar, Coach Golden? You get the feeling that anything short of at least a nine-win season will have Golden going the way of his predecessor Shannon.
TIM BECKMAN, ILLINOIS
2014 RECORD: 6-7
OVERALL RECORD: 12-25 overall, 4-20 in Big Ten
Were it not for the Illini slipping through the postseason backdoor and landing in a bowl, Beckman wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be included on this list as he already would’ve been out of a job. As it is, he faces yet another win-or-else campaign. To his credit, Beckman is overseeing a football program at a predominately basketball school, one that he has guided to two more wins in each of his three seasons: two in 2012 to four in 2013 to six in 2015. On the flip side, eight of his wins 12 have comes against teams from the FCS (three), MAC (two), Sun Belt (one), Conference USA (one) and AAC (one). If he can take the two-win step up like he did the last two seasons and get to eight wins in earning a second straight bowl bid, his job should be safe for another season — even amidst allegations of player abuse. Should the Illini take a step or three back, and with the abuse cloud hanging over his head, he won’t be on the 2016 version of this list as he’ll — maybe — be a coordinator at another FBS program.
2014 RECORD: 5-7
OVERALL RECORD: 23-38 overall, 11-29 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, 2013 and 2014 happened. UVa. won just 11 games total those three seasons, hitting rock-bottom with a 2-10 collapse in 2013 that was the school’s worst showing since 1982; to London’s credit, though, that was followed by a five-win 2014 season. Take out the eight-win season, and the Cavaliers are just 11-25 under London. It was a miracle London not only returned for a fourth year after the two-win season but came back for a fifth; at bare minimum, it’ll take a bowl berth to make it to a sixth. And, with a schedule that includes games against UCLA, Notre Dame, Boise State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Duke and Virginia Tech, good luck with that.
SCOTT SHAFER, SYRACUSE
2014 RECORD: 3-9
OVERALL RECORD: 10-15 overall, 5-11 in ACC
The third ACC coach of the four already placed on this list, Shafer actually began his time with the Orange on the uptick, guiding the ‘Cuse to its second of back-to-back bowl berths in his first season in 2013. 2014, however, was an abject failure, with the ‘Cuse plummeting to a 3-9 record that left those around the program calling for Shafer’s head after just two seasons. Two of those three wins came against FCS Villanova (by one point) and the MAC’s Central Michigan. To show just how far they have to go in the ACC, six of their seven conference losses came by at least 10 points, with those losses coming by an average of 18.5 losses per game. It may not be a make or break year for Shafer, but it’s as close to it as you can get.
PAUL RHOADS, IOWA STATE
2014 RECORD: 2-10
OVERALL RECORD: 29-46 overall, 14-38 in Big 12
For a football program without much a successful history, Rhoads appeared to have the Cyclones on the right track toward turning that around. Replacing Gene Chizik and his 5-19 record after he left for Auburn, Rhoads led ISU to 24 wins and three bowl berths in the four seasons from 2009-13. The victims in those 24 wins included Nebraska, Texas and, most famously, the upset of an Oklahoma State team that was unbeaten and ranked second in the country. Since then, the wheels… and doors… and transmission have fallen off the Cyclones, winning just five games the past two seasons, including just two against Big 12 members — and one of those came against conference doormat Kansas in 2013, with the Jayhawks turning around and curb-stomping the Cyclones by 20 the following year. Thanks to his passion, Rhoads is one of the more likable coaches at this level. Unfortunately, it might be a time for a change in Ames, although his contract might give him another season on the sidelines regardless of how 2015 turns out.
KEVIN WILSON, INDIANA
2014 RECORD: 4-8
OVERALL RECORD: 14-34 overall, 6-26 in Big Ten
When your record includes win totals of just one, four, five and four your first four years at a school, especially one in a Power Five conference, you’re going to find yourself on this list. And, obviously, this is the position in which Wilson finds himself: win and qualify for a bowl berth, or be prepared to look for an offensive coordinator job elsewhere. Wilson’s predecessor, Bill Lynch, won 19 games in four years before being canned by athletic director Fred Glass; Wilson, Glass’ pick as successor, has won 14 in four years. Wilson got Glass’ public vote of confidence last November, but here’s to guessing that, if this year’s like the last four, the only public statement being issued by Glass in November will be one that includes “… immediately launching a national search to find a replacement.”
(Overall records are for the respective coaches’ current schools only.)