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.

LOOK: South Florida shows off first look of new Adidas football uniforms

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South Florida is switching apparel providers this season, leaving behind Under Armour for a new deal with Adidas. And with a new apparel partner now officially on board, the time has come to see what Adidas has up their sleeves for the Bulls.

South Florida shared a video on its Twitter account with the first look at the new uniform design, which looks fairly common to what most Adidas uniforms look like. One of the most notable changes to the uniform is the removal of “USF” from the front chest of the uniform and replacing it with text that reads “South Florida.”

The pants read “Bulls” on the legs and the USF “U” logo makes appearances on the hips and wrist bands. The first look at the helmet looks pretty interesting as well, with a chrome green face mask. The details of the helmet can be a bit more difficult to make out, although it appears at one point to be a green USF logo outlined in white (and gold?) on a gray helmet.

Reaction to the new uniforms among USF fans seems to be a bit mixed, but we will have to wait and see how the feelings are when USF reveals the full home and away assortment of uniforms down the road. As with many uniforms these days, it should be expected USF will have some combinations to keep them looking fresh on a weekly basis.

Miami’s signature Turnover Chain could be back in 2018, and WR Ahmonn Richards wants one too

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If you thought it was just a short-term fads designed to inspire Miami’s defense, well, you were probably right. But that short-term fad could very well be appearing once again this season on a Miami Hurricanes sideline near you.

After fielding plenty of questions about the iconic Turnover Chain, representatives of Miami at the ACC Football Kickoff last week showed no reason to doubt the chain will not be back again this fall. The Turnover Chain was a pop culture sensation in the world of college football as defensive players recovering a fumble or picking off a pass for an interception would race to the sideline to have the sparkling turnover chain placed around the necks. People either loved it or loathed it. So get ready to love it or loathe it again this fall.

Miami head coach Mark Richt didn’t shut down the idea while addressing the media at the ACC media day event, and he jokingly called it the greatest thing since sliced bread. Even wide receiver Ahmonn Richards was asked about the turnover chain and the possibility of having an equivalent prize for offensive players.

I think so. I think it’s time,” Richards said, according to The Sun Sentinel. “But those guys work hard, and they’re really enjoying it, and it helps them out, also, wanting to make plays and stuff. So I think we should have something, but it’s not up to me.”

Miami tied for third in the nation with the most takeaways with 31 (Wyoming led the nation with 38; UCF was second with 32 and Miami tied with Memphis and Central Michigan). In 2016, the Hurricanes had just 19 takeaways for the entire season.

Rutgers AD takes to Twitter to support head coach Chris Ash, downplay any hot seat talk

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We’re weeks away from the 2018 season beginning and with media days underway across the country, there’s inevitably some talk of which coaches are on the hot seat and who might be a few losses away from feeling the heat.

CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd complies a list every year of who might be feeling some pressure and who is safer than can be around the sport. One of the coaches who he listed as ‘start improving now’ (or a 4 on a 1-5 hot seat scale) was Rutgers head coach Chris Ash. The Scarlet Knights job is one of the hardest in football given their place in the Big Ten and while there has been some progress in the rebuild, Ash is 6-18 overall and only picked up his first conference win last season.

It’s only Year 3 of Ash’s tenure though and it seems that kind of pressure isn’t quite reflecting reality from the administration as athletic director Pat Hobbs took to his Twitter account on Saturday to say that there’s no hot seat at all for the young head coach:

We’re sure that Ash appreciates the extra bit of support publicly in what he’s doing with the program but something says he’ll be asked to comment about the whole thing next week at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. The Scarlet Knights certainly looked much improved in 2017 between the lines but digging out of such a big hole for the program is going to only get tougher as they try to get over the hump and make a bowl game in 2018.

Bowling Green dismisses two players for illegal use of school credit cards

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We’re just over a few weeks from fall camp starting around the country so needless to say, it’s a bad time to lose some players. Such is unfortunately the case for Mike Jinks at Bowling Green however as the program just dismissed two members of the team’s defense.

According to The Toledo Blade, redshirt sophomore linebackers Armani Posey and Dirion Hutchins were both dismissed “as a result of an investigation into the illegal use of credit/debit cards that belonged to the school.” Bowling Green later confirmed that the two players were no longer on the roster.

Posey, also a student and member of the football team, was charged June 26 with receiving stolen property and unauthorized use of property. He was found guilty July 9 of unauthorized use of property, a misdemeanor, in Bowling Green Municipal Court and was given a 180-day jail term that was suspended. The terms of his probation include having no criminal offenses for the next two years, paying $2,000 restitution to the Bowling Green athletics department, and paying a $500 fine.

The charges are the result of a police investigation that began after the university discovered irregular charges on debit card accounts designated for athletic book scholarships. Investigators think the cards were used by those who had the card numbers and security codes.

Mr. Hutchins is accused of taking money off the cards and placed them in a PayPal or Squareup account, then transferred to a bank and liquidated for cash. All told, he is accused of making 27 deposits and taking $9,066 between April 23 and June 26, court documents show.

The illegal usage of school credit cards has been a growing issue in college football the past few years. Just recently, as many as eight Rutgers players were being investigated for the same kind of scheme and some nine Florida Gators were suspended last season for similar reasons.

It’s also been a trying offseason for the Falcons themselves even prior to this latest bit of news. Defensive back and part-time starter Cam Jefferies announced a graduate transfer, wideout Matthew Wilcox was picked up for his second OVI in April, fellow receiver Datin Guyton was dismissed and lost their kicker due to a bizarre eligibility case.

Now on top of all of that, BGSU loses a five-game starter in Posey and a pass-rusher in Hutchins who played in every game last season. Not exactly what you want to have go on during the offseason when you’re coming off a 2-10 year and facing a non-conference schedule with three Power Five foes. The Falcons open at Oregon on September 1st.