Hot Seat Watch: Which coaches have most at stake entering 2013 season?

Monday August 5th, 2013

Kirk Ferentz; Lane Kiffin; Mack Brown Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, USC's Lane Kiffin and Texas' Mack Brown have plenty on the line in the '13 season. (Getty Images)

By Martin Rickman

Every year, coaches get fired and coaches get hired and other coaches stay where they are. So goes the cycle of college football. The carousel is fun until a point, before stopping to think about real estate prices and kids throwing fits at the top of the stairs upon learning that they have to move again. Consider a coach’s point of view: After finally finding the perfect route home, he has to listen to that GPS lady again.

The season is just a few weeks away, and one of the annual preseason talking points surrounds the Hot Seat Watch, an ongoing examination of which coaches enter the year in the most unstable positions. This is problematic for a couple of reasons: Predicting things before they happen is very difficult, and people actively rooting for other people to lose their jobs is generally not a healthy practice.

That doesn’t make the Hot Seat Watch any less intriguing. Here’s a list of 10 coaches, divided into four groups, whose jobs may be at stake in 2013.

ELLIS: Predicting the first-year records for each new coach in 2013

Group A: Quiznos Toasters

Kirk Ferentz, Iowa: In the time it takes to read this blurb, Ferentz will have made approximately $5,326.37 (not accurate). Iowa needs to win and soon. If the Hawkeyes lose to another MAC team or two, and if they finish below .500 in conference play in what appears to be a less-than-stellar Big Ten, it might finally make fiscal sense to offer up the longtime coach to AIRBHG. Iowa went 4-8 in 2012 and lost its final six games down the stretch.

Ron English, Eastern Michigan: Eastern Michigan isn’t the easiest place to coach in the world, but it’s also certainly not the most difficult. Taking away English’s 6-6 campaign in 2011, he’s won just four games over three years. English has the intensity required for the job, and he has a vision for what he wants the program to be. But if the Eagles win two games for the third time in four seasons (2-10 in 2010 and ’12), he likely won’t be around to see that vision through.

Lane Kiffin, USC: Say he’s not on the hot seat all you want, Pat Haden, but the Trojans aren’t trying to establish tradition in the Sun Bowl. With the dreaded ‘hype’ tag finally removed from Kiffin and USC, the team can adopt a ‘chip on our shoulders’ trope -- and it might actually be primed for a bounce-back year. The Trojans don’t have to play Washington or Oregon in the regular season, a huge break considering the Ducks hung 62 points on USC in 2012.  Still, the Pac-12 is a lot more competitive than it used to be. If Kiffin’s team starts slowly, or if it loses to a team that it shouldn’t, things could get ugly in the Coliseum quickly.

THAMEL: USC's Lane Kiffin entering make-or-break season in 2013

Group B: Domino’s Heat Wave

Mack Brown, Texas: When a coach wins for so long that he becomes part of a program’s DNA, success can start to spoil fans. But expectations are expectations for a reason, and until there’s cause to move a team’s barometer in one direction or another, the man in charge has to take responsibility. To his credit, Brown has owned up to everything that’s happened to Texas since Colt McCoy went down in the second series of the 2010 BCS title game. Still, that won’t make fans in Austin feel any better if the Longhorns can’t fix their defensive issues and get back into the Big 12 title conversation. Eight or nine wins per year would warrant an extension at most programs, but Texas isn’t most programs.

Randy Edsall, Maryland: Maryland is set to join the Big Ten next year, and while navigating a new conference with a first-year head coach might seem like a scary proposition, it could be the right time to make the move if the Terps struggle again in 2013. I actually think Maryland could be in line to surprise this season, but the program needs something to get excited about coming off a combined 6-18 record the past two years, especially as it breaks free in an attempt to conquer the B1G New World. Edsall finally has his pieces in place. He looks like he's changed the culture to his liking. Now it’s time for results.

Kevin Wilson, Indiana: There are plenty of people who believe Indiana could have a big year, including SI’s very own Stewart Mandel. And the Hoosiers may well be poised to surprise this season, much like Duke did in 2012. Yet if they don’t have a good year, winning only four games or so, it won’t matter how much the offense has improved. Wilson could be out of a job. That’s the problem when people start getting excited about a team: excuses suddenly disappear and the fan base feels cheated if expectations don’t come to fruition. If Indiana comes up empty in 2013, Wilson could be forced to take his offensive prowess elsewhere.

Group C: Little Caesar’s Hot-N-Ready

Jim Grobe, Wake Forest: This may seem like a crazy choice at first glance, but Grobe can no longer rely on his status as the winningest coach in Wake Forest history. There’s a groundswell in Winston-Salem starting with discontent in the basketball program, and if the 2013-14 calendar year doesn’t produce more top-to-bottom athletic success, AD Ron Wellman, who has been at Wake for seemingly forever, might opt to retire. Without Wellman to justify Grobe’s huge contract, the Demon Deacons’ 13th-year headman could be at risk if he misses a bowl game for the fourth time in the last five seasons.

Mike Leach, Washington State: Washington State didn’t bring Leach to Pullman to see the Cougars put up the 109th-rated offense in the country (via Football Outsiders), a unit that ranked worse than the ones at Kansas, Eastern Michigan and Kentucky. Leach has a five-year contract, so he’ll likely get time to turn things around, but he can’t lose eight straight games again like he did in 2012. It’s still early, but let’s put Leach’s warmer on low, like it just rained a little bit and the seat could use some heat to feel toasty.

Steve Sarkisian, Washington: I’ll say this much for Sark: he’s consistent. Washington has won seven games and gone 5-4 in conference play for three consecutive seasons. That’s the benchmark now, though quite a few people expected more out of the program over the past two years. The Huskies start 2013 against Boise State and have to travel to Stanford, Arizona State and Oregon State, so the schedule won't do them any favors. Seven wins has become the norm, but anything less and Sarkisian might feel the heat.

Group D: Gazpacho

Mark Richt, Georgia:
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