Fading Stars: 10 coaches on the hot seat entering 2014 season
Coaches, like stars, rage, burn hot and either collapse in on themselves or fade away. Like the celestial beings that they are, coaches come in all shapes and size. No one is safe from the universe’s hot seat. And if Betelgeuse isn’t beating its rival or winning a division title, there’s going to be hell to pay from the fans.
Now that we’ve finally hit August, every team is suddenly supposed to become world-beaters and expectations will never be higher. Everybody’s healthy. Everybody has a crop of freshmen that are supposed to push for playing time. Everybody can make a run if the schedule allows it. (Or so we’re meant to think right now.)
Some teams won’t be so lucky, and those teams may have coaches who are already on the brink of implosion. Enter the Hot Seat Watch.
Here’s a list of 10 coaches, divided into three groups – with some noteworthy honorable mentions in under 140 characters at the bottom – whose jobs may be at stake in 2014.
Group A: Blue Stars
Will Muschamp, Florida: A 4-8 season punctuated by a loss to Georgia Southern is as low as the Gators have been in quite some time. The dismal season forced a change at offensive coordinator, with Duke’s Kurt Roper taking over for Brent Pease in late December. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley has done nothing but support Muschamp publicly, telling “The Paul Finebaum Show” in July that “We’re going to be better, and we’re excited about the future under Will. [We] feel the same way about him as the day we hired him.” It’s hard to imagine anyone at Florida being excited if the Gators miss a bowl game again in 2014, and even a winning season might not be enough if Florida can’t stay in the hunt in the SEC East.
Brady Hoke, Michigan: The recruiting has stayed at a high level, and freshman Jabrill Peppers has the ability to make “spectacular plays,” as described by quarterback Devin Gardner. That’s the good news. The bad news is Michigan just watched Michigan State win the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl while the Wolverines limped to a 7-6 season including a loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Michigan can’t finish barely above .500 again, not with the rest of the league getting better and Ohio State continuing to dominate the rivalry.
Mike London, Virginia: On the surface it was a bit of a surprise that London was brought back for a fifth season after last year’s 2-10 finish, but a class with two Rivals five-star recruits (defensive back Quin Blanding and defensive lineman Andrew Brown) and two highly touted four-stars (offensive lineman Steven Moss and wide receiver Jamil Kamara) tells part of the story. But the recruiting steals will only buy London so much time. He’s made just one bowl game – the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl – and has a career 18-31 record (with an 8-24 conference mark) during his time in Charlottesville. The Clash put it best: The ice age is coming, the sun’s zooming in.
Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia:
The Mountaineers have won only six games since starting the 2012 season 5-0. In 2013 WVU got trounced 73-42 by Baylor, shut out 37-0 by Maryland -- when the Terrapins were actually healthy -- and lost to Kansas. The adjustment to the Big 12 has not been a welcome one so far. Holgorsen earned a reputation as an assistant for being forward thinking before he took over as coach of the Mountaineers. He’s going to have to pull out a few more tricks if he wants to look back fondly on his days in Morgantown.
Group B: White Stars
Charlie Weis, Kansas: Kansas made progress in 2013, picking up its first Big 12 victory since 2010. The Jayhawks competed in games, sustained a few more drives and seemed to have some players make a jump. That said, progress from “downright unwatchable” to “still pretty dang bad” isn’t going to sell season tickets. Kansas still doesn’t have an answer at quarterback and finished 121st in offensive S&P+ ratings. Weis might be kinder and gentler than he used to be, and that’s a good thing, but he’s not long for Lawrence if there aren’t more wins to be found.
Tim Beckman, Illinois: Year after year, successful coaches from the MAC make the jump to the bigger conferences to mixed results. Beckman rode a 7-1 conference record with Toledo in 2011 to the Illinois job, and there were hopes he would be an improvement over Ron Zook, who made three bowl games in seven seasons. So far it’s been two seasons to forget for Beckman, who has won one total conference game (a 20-16 result over 1-11 Purdue last year). The offensive numbers aren’t bad (29.7 points per game, 426.7 total yards per game), and Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt should inject some energy at quarterback, but things have got to get better on defense fast (35.4 points allowed per game, 481.5 total yards allowed per game).
Ron Turner, FIU: It didn’t make a whole lot of sense when Mario Cristobal was fired one year removed from an 8-5 season. It made even less sense when Cristobal was replaced with Ron Turner. Turner hadn’t coached in college since 2004, and his three seasons at Illinois after a Sugar Bowl appearance in 2002 were forgettable. FIU was one of the worst teams in college football in 2013 and only scored more than 20 points twice. There aren’t many coaches who would survive a second season like that.
Group C: Red Stars
Kevin Wilson, Indiana: Everything was set up for the Hoosiers to turn the corner in 2013. The offense was formidable and dynamic, and the schedule had a few very winnable games. But Indiana dropped five of its last seven and found itself at home during bowl season for the sixth straight year despite the ninth-best total offense in the country. Wilson lost quarterback Tre Roberson to transfer and offensive coordinator Seth Littrell to the same position at North Carolina. A few more losses this fall, and Wilson might be out the door.
Kyle Whittingham, Utah: In a lot of ways, Whittingham and the Utes were spoiled by their own success. By dominating the Mountain West (a sequence started by former coach Urban Meyer), Utah played its way into a bigger conference and earned a spot in the Pac-12. Unfortunately the Pac-12 has also improved at a rapid rate, and Utah has struggled to keep up. The Utes hit a high water mark with a win over Stanford on Oct. 12, but partly due to injuries suffered to quarterback Travis Wilson, they lost five of their last six to end the year. Wilson is going to have to stay healthy in 2014, and Utah’s going to have to perform better than expected against a tough schedule to keep the heat off Whittingham.
Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech: I know. It’s inconceivable to think Frank Beamer could be on any sort of hot seat. Yet there are still a few alarming things of note. The Hokies have missed out on some in-state recruits the past couple seasons that they would’ve easily had a few years ago. They’ve lost three of their last four bowl games (the lone win coming in the surrealist David Lynch drama that was the 2012 Russell Athletic Bowl against Rutgers). And with a new athletic director in Whit Babcock in tow, he might decide it’s time for some new energy. Beamer is an institution in Blacksburg, and if they renamed nearby Christiansburg to Beamersburg nobody would bat an eye. But Virginia Tech is an elite football program, and even Frank Beamer can’t coach forever.
Twitter Hot (Seat) Takes
Dan Enos, Central Michigan: Stable for now, Central Michigan is used to more than mediocrity, and Enos may never get the Chips better than that.
Norm Chow, Hawaii: With four wins in two seasons and very little excitement to show for it, Chow’s pedigree alone won’t keep him around forever.
Kyle Flood, Rutgers: A new conference brings new levels of expectation. Flood’s going to have to acclimate himself fast – and this year’s schedule won’t help.
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: If the Bulldogs don’t compete in the SEC West this year with a veteran team, are they ever going to be able to under Mullen?
Bo Pelini, Nebraska: A revamped offseason image took some of the heat off Pelini, but early struggles could wipe the shine away again.
Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets will make a bowl game (they’ve averaged seven wins over the past four seasons). Is that enough, or do the fans want more?
Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech: He left USF worse than he found it, and he’s in danger of leaving Louisiana Tech that way, too.
Troy Calhoun, Air Force: Air Force has had some good years under Calhoun, but a 2-10 finish in 2013 leaves no room for error anymore.