Getty Images

Pac-12 coaches on hot seat: USC’s Clay Helton feeling the heat more than anybody

5 Comments

CFTalk has been taking a detailed look at hot seats across college football this offseason and one early theme in examining the ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten coaches so far is there are, well, not a ton of hot seats out there.

A lot of this has to do with schools already making moves and replacing coaches in the past two seasons and others playing their way out of trouble with some big wins. When one heads out West to the Pac-12 however, well, the league might just be home to perhaps the hottest seat in the nation.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the various stages of heat for Pac-12 coaches near and far:

White hot heat

Clay Helton (USC)

To put Helton’s hot seat in perspective, some of the school’s big name alumni are already talking about his replacement being Urban Meyer in 2020. It was surprising that he was brought back in the first place after failing to make a bowl game in 2018 but a reportedly hefty buyout appeared to be a contributing factor in his return. Helton did lead the Trojans to a Rose Bowl win and another New Year’s Six bowl game during his tenure but  faces a ton of pressure to return the program to prominence immediately in 2019. This is a demanding job to be sure but Helton hasn’t met expectations recently and knows what is on the line this season as a result.

The new guy

Mel Tucker (Colorado)

Lukewarm 

Kevin Sumlin (Arizona)

Sumlin’s debut with the Wildcats couldn’t have gone much worse, with expectations of contending in the Pac-12 South and Khalil Tate making a run for the Heisman all but over by the end of September. The school won’t hit eject on his tenure this early but 2019 could be narrative-defining for Sumlin in Tucson.

Herm Edwards (Arizona State)

Edwards was a bizarre hire at the time and remains so today even if he’s made the Sun Devils fascinating to follow with a fun quote seemingly every day. He was brought in to improve on what Todd Graham accomplished though and 7-6 (5-4) isn’t exactly doing that in a weak division. It’s shaping up to be a big Year 2 in Tempe that could shape the direction of the rest of Edwards’ tenure.

Solid ground

Jonathan Smith (Oregon State)

Smith is a beloved alum and the OSU brass/fan base know how difficult a rebuilding job this is. Still, the early returns weren’t the greatest with a truly awful defense making blowouts all too common. Progress will need to be made going forward or the pressure will be ratcheted up quickly in Corvallis.

Safe and secure

Mike Leach (Washington State)

The pirate has won at least eight games at his Pullman outpost four straight years, highlighted by last season’s terrific 11-2 campaign. He’s given the Cougars everything they can ask for even if he’s come up a bit short against the in-state rivals. Either way, Wazzu right now is more likely to lose Leach to another program than it is to fire him for something that happens on the field.

Justin Wilcox (Cal)

While his hire was questioned at first, Wilcox quickly won over Bears fans with his transformation of the once-woeful defense into one of the best units in the conference. That culminated in a  postseason berth last year, a good sign of progress in Berkeley despite a hefty bunch of interceptions in the Cheez-It Bowl.

Mario Cristobal (Oregon)

Which coach might have the happiest fan base after this offseason? It might be Cristobal after winning a bowl game for his ninth win in 2018 and following that up with an elite recruiting class. Expectations are the Ducks will be in thick of the Pac-12 race as a result and has some feeling a return to normalcy in Eugene after a few tumultuous years in the dark.

Chip Kelly (UCLA)

While some predicted Kelly would have the Bruins contending right away, nothing could have been further from the truth in Westwood during Year 1. While the losses did pile up, the team showed progress as the season went on and there’s still plenty of hope from the powder blues that their big name head coach is the one to finally get the program back on a championship track.

Frozen solid 

Kyle Whittingham (Utah)

Whittingham finally broke through with a division title in 2018 and is remarkably the third-longest tenured active coach in college football right now. Consistency is his calling card and it would be surprising when the time comes for Whittingham to not be on the sidelines for the Utes.

Chris Petersen (Washington)

Petersen has been as advertised since arriving from Boise State, taking a few early lumps before winning two Pac-12 titles and 32 total games the past three years. The Huskies will be favored to be back in Santa Clara once again in early December and it speaks to the program Petersen has built in Seattle that they’ll be Playoff contenders too despite losing a lot of production this offseason.

David Shaw (Stanford)

While NFL teams have inquired and he’s a name that comes up from time-to-time in the coaching carousel, it very much appears that nobody is going to pry Shaw from his alma mater. He’s continued to elevate the program to the point where the nine wins he’s posted in back-to-back years are considered disappointing on The Farm. That speaks to the job he’s done and his status on campus.

Reports: Steve Sarkisian staying at Alabama after flirting with Colorado

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian no longer appears headed West after all.

The Crimson Tide play-caller is reportedly staying in Tuscaloosa with a rich new contract after being heavily linked with the head coach opening at Colorado in the past 24 hours. ESPN’s Chris Low was the first to report the news, noting Sark’s new deal will include a pay raise.

Yahoo! Sports later confirmed the same.

The move is certainly a blow to the Buffs, whose coaching search has now extended past the weeklong mark in the wake of Mel Tucker being hired away by Michigan State. Sarkisian was among the more interesting names floated for the gig and made plenty of sense given his connections in the Pac-12 as the former head coach at both Washington and USC.

Former Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and ex-Tennessee coach Butch Jones have also been mentioned in connection to the opening. Interim head coach Darrin Chiaverini is pegged as the top internal candidate.

As for Sark, the move is an interesting one. It says plenty that he even got an interview given the way things ended in Los Angeles but also speaks to the image rehabilitation he’s done under Nick Saban as well. Alabama missed out on the College Football Playoff for the first time last season but were among the most dangerous offenses in the country when starting QB Tua Tagovailoa was healthy.

Replacing the Heisman finalist under center will now be one of Sarkisian’s top priorities over the coming months but at least whoever winds up taking snaps against familiar foe USC will have the benefit of playing in an offense that features the likes of Najee Harris and DeVonta Smith.

Sarkisian’s new contract will also be interesting to see once it emerges from the university bureaucracy. He was already the highest paid offensive assistant coach in the country for the upcoming 2020 season at $1.6 million. He originally signed a three year deal to return to the program after a stint with the Atlanta Falcons.

 

Mel Tucker hires familiar faces Jay Johnson and Harlon Barnett to Michigan State staff

Getty Images
Leave a comment

What’s old is new again at Michigan State.

Continuing a theme of either having ties to the school or his stint at Colorado, new Spartans head coach Mel Tucker confirmed a pair of hires for the program with some familiar names. Announced a little earlier on Thursday, former Buffs offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jay Johnson was taking the same role in East Lansing.

“Jay is an experienced play caller and an expert quarterbacks coach,” said Tucker in a release. “He has a very innovative offensive mind. I was with Jay when he was at Georgia and really got to know him well there. He’s had success in the Big Ten before, calling plays at Minnesota. He runs a multiple offense with an emphasis on physicality, and he’s an aggressive play caller.”

Johnson joins OL coach Chris Kapilovic in coming over from Boulder. The former previously was with Tucker as an off-field analyst at Georgia prior to going to CU and served as OC at Southern Miss, Louisiana and Minnesota in recent years.

Perhaps the bigger news for Michigan State fans is the return of another name: Harlon Barnett. A former MSU player, he was a mainstay defensive staff member under ex-head coach Mark Dantonio and was defensive backs coach at the school for over a decade starting in 2007. He was elevated to defensive coordinator from 2015-2017 before taking the same position on Willie Taggart’s staff at Florida State.

In addition to the three names mentioned above, Tucker has also retained Ron Burton and former interim head coach Mike Tressel. Additionally, another former Spartan player, Courtney Hawkins, was named the team’s receivers coach.

Marshall and ECU move 2020 season opener to Week 0 to honor anniversary of 1970 tragedy

Getty Images
Leave a comment

You can add Marshall and East Carolina to the list of upcoming ‘Week 0’ games for the 2020 season after the two schools announced a date change for their matchup this year.

While television played a small role in the shift, the two programs sought an NCAA waiver to play on Saturday, August 29 as a way of honoring the 50th anniversary of the tragic plane crash of Southern Airways Flight 932 that claimed the lives of 75 people. The majority of those killed were part of the Thundering Herd football program who were returning from a game against the Pirates.

“We are grateful to Jon Gilbert and everyone at East Carolina University for their efforts in making this schedule change come to fruition,” Marshall AD Mike Hamrick said in a release. “Our people, our universities and our football programs will forever be linked by the tragedy that occurred 50 years ago. This change will allow a national audience to join us in paying proper respect to the 75.”

The incident was famously recounted in the movie ‘We Are Marshall,’ starring noted football fan (and Texas’ Minister of Culture) Matthew McConaughey.

The two programs have met a total of 15 times over the years and have three additional non-conference games set between 2021 and 2025.

Mike Leach and Nick Saban together highlight 2020 SEC Media Days schedule

Getty Images
Leave a comment

 

Set your calendars for this summer because the SEC preseason bonanza is set to be even more anticipated than it usually is.

The conference office in Birmingham announced the schedule for their annual Media Days event and all eyes in the college football world will be on it in 2020 with the addition of new coaches at a handful of the league’s schools.

The College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta will play host to the festivities, which annually mark the official end of the long offseason and the beginning of a new season for the sport.

2020 SEC FOOTBALL MEDIA DAYS SCHEDULE

MONDAY, July 13

Florida – Dan Mullen

LSU – Ed Orgeron

Missouri – Eliah Drinkwitz 

TUESDAY, July 14

Georgia – Kirby Smart

Kentucky – Mark Stoops

Ole Miss – Lane Kiffin

Vanderbilt – Derek Mason

WEDNESDAY, July 15

Alabama – Nick Saban

Arkansas –  Sam Pittman

Mississippi State – Mike Leach

Tennessee – Jeremy Pruitt

THURSDAY, July 16

Auburn – Gus Malzahn

South Carolina – Will Muschamp

Texas A&M – Jimbo Fisher

The highlight this year has to be Wednesday’s session that includes Saban answering questions about missing out on the College Football Playoff last year and the arrival of Leach to the throngs of media in the South at his first major appearance for Mississippi State. Having new Arkansas coach Pittman separating the two makes for a real murderer’s row of coaches that can give some quotes.

Don’t discount the day prior either with both Smart and Kiffin headlining things. The latter is no stranger to the event from his brief time at Tennessee too. Reigning national champion LSU and their newly rich head coach will also help kick things off on Monday. Player names will be announced later as well.

SEC Media Days is always quite the event in its own right. Adding in these new personalties to the already established names should make things even more exciting.

July can’t get here fast enough.