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Forde-Yard Dash: It Was a Tough Week for These Coaches

All are coming off a loss that particularly stung. What has the fallout been, and what’s next?
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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (academic prowess sold separately in Seattle, at discounted rates):

MORE DASH: Doubt Looms | Frost Returns | Upset Masters

SECOND QUARTER: YOU THINK YOU HAD A BAD WEEK …

As we’ve seen, Sunday after bloody Sunday, job security in college football is more tenuous than ever. In-season firings are now commonplace. Results of each game seem to take on exaggerated importance. This is now a mo’ money, mo’ problems profession.

This past Saturday was especially tough for 10 coaches—some already on the hot seat, some riding high—who wound up on the wrong end of a significant game. The Dash casualty list:

Dan Mullen (11), Florida. The damage: Gators were embarrassed by South Carolina, 40–17, extending their losing streak to three games, longest in Mullen’s four-year tenure.

The fallout: Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive line coach John Hevesy—the latter of whom has coached alongside Mullen annually since 2001—were fired Sunday.

The context: The Great Florida Flu Flop in Columbia was not easily explained away as the byproduct of a virus that ran through the team. If it were that simple, nobody would get fired on Sunday. Fact is, even an ailing Florida team should not be strafed by a third-string quarterback who transferred from FCS St. Francis of Pennsylvania, and run over for 284 rushing yards by a previously puny ground game. That elevated what Ron Zook once referred to as the “noise in the system” to Metallica concert levels. The premise of Mullen on the hot seat after consecutive trips to the Peach, Orange and Cotton bowls has gone from remote to a reluctant possibility, depending how this season ends.

Florida coach Dan Mullen

What’s next: Mullen faces a closing stretch that may be a must-win-out scenario—FCS Samford, at Missouri and Florida State in The Swamp. The Tigers and Seminoles are a combined 7–11, but the Missouri game could be a cold-weather contest that tests how much the Gators still want to play, and the FSU game is a rivalry affair. Mullen needs to get into the pre-bowl clubhouse at 7–5, then further retool his staff with an emphasis on recruiting.

Jimmy Lake (12), Washington. The damage: Lake took an awkward verbal shot at rival Oregon’s academics and had it thrown back in his face; popped Huskies linebacker Ruperake Fuavai in the helmet with his right hand after a brief sideline scuffle between Fuavai and an Oregon player; denied striking Fuavai postgame when it was clear on video; chose to punt with less than two minutes remaining while trailing by eight and in possession of only two timeouts; lost the game to the Ducks to fall to 4–5. Yeah. Nice week.

The fallout: Offensive coordinator John Donovan was fired Sunday, a fate that seemed inevitable at season’s end, but the timetable was accelerated. On Monday, the school announced that Lake was suspended without pay for the Huskies’ game against Arizona State on Saturday.

The context: Lake was the hand-picked successor to Chris Petersen, a charismatic guy who was sought elsewhere as a head coach. But so far his transition to the big chair in a pretty big job has not been smooth. Lake’s hire of Donovan was panned from the get-go, and it has lived down to the billing: At 22 points per game, the Huskies are on pace for their worst offensive season since 2010. Now his striking a player—even in a fairly benign fashion—adds another element to his situation.

What’s next: games against Arizona State, at Colorado and against rival Washington State. The Huskies are trying to avoid their first losing season since 2009. Washington isn’t the kind of place to fire a coach 16 games into his tenure, but Lake has brought other things into the picture beyond on-field performance. Still, the belief is that he will return in ’22.

Steve Sarkisian (13), Texas. The damage: At the end of a week in which the country was introduced to the Pole Assassin and her emotional support monkey, the Longhorns collapsed in the second half and lost for the fourth straight time. This time it was at Iowa State, after taking a 7–3 halftime lead. Final score: 30–7. The cumulative second-half score of Texas’s last four games: opponents 102, Sark’s guys 27. Horns down. Way down.

The fallout: None yet. The monkey has declined comment on Texas’s latest collapse.

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The context: As noted last week, Texas was the trigger for all the 2021 tumult in the Lone Star State when it fired Tom Herman for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to hire a guy with a 46–35 career record in two good jobs. Sark is now 50–40, a career .556 winning percentage that is worse than Charlie Strong (.583) and Herman (.711), among others.

What’s next: The football life raft that is Kansas floats into Austin, then comes a trip to West Virginia and Kansas State. The Horns could be favored in all three and have a chance to reverse course.

Scott Frost (14), Nebraska. The damage: Frost cemented his fourth straight losing season with a 26–17 defeat at the hands of Ohio State. The game featured the usual special-teams debacles (two missed field goals and a 13-yard punt) and a couple of questionable in-game coaching decisions. Pretty much business as usual in the Frost Era.

The fallout: First-year athletic director Trev Alberts has to decide whether to give a coach with a 15–27 record a fifth year at a school that has won five national championships.

The context: Going 3–7 with a fourth-year starting quarterback is sufficient cause for termination from about 95% of the Power 5 jobs. Frost is a local boy and former Husker hero whose sole achievement as coach is losing close games to accomplished teams. If that’s enough to retain his job, Bo Pelini and Frank Solich would like a few words.

What’s next: at Wisconsin and the Black Friday season finale against Iowa. A 4–8 mark looks like the best-case scenario.

Mike Leach (15), Mississippi State. The damage: The Bulldogs missed three field goals in a three-point loss at Arkansas, spurring Leach to announce an open kicker tryout after the game. "Anybody that wants to kick or walk on and kick at Mississippi State, we'll hold a tryout anytime you can get over there to our building, providing you're cleared by the NCAA,” Leach said.

The fallout: Never shy about throwing his players under the bus, Leach appears to have two kickers with splintered confidence. Brandon Ruiz, who was a dependable 10-for-12 on field goals last year, is 5-for-9 this year and was benched for the final kick to tie the game. Nolan McCord came in cold and hooked it, not close, and is now 4-for-8 on the season. Inquiries with Mississippi State about whether there will be an actual kicking tryout were not immediately returned Monday.

The context: Leach has gone down this road before, offering a spot on the team to a student at Texas Tech who made a 30-yard field goal in a halftime contest to win free rent. Matt Williams went on to be the Red Raiders’s regular kicker for two and a half seasons, starting in 2008 when Tech went 11–2.

What’s next: State closes at Auburn, has a tuneup with Tennessee State and then the Egg Bowl against Mississippi on Thanksgiving. Leach is 0–1 in the Egg Bowl and his team likely will be an underdog this year as well.

Philip Montgomery (16), Tulsa. The damage: The Golden Hurricane had six plays in the final 90 seconds from inside the Cincinnati 7-yard line and failed to score, letting the chance for a monumental upset slip away. They’re now 3–6 on the season.

The fallout: Although the offensive coordinator cannot be blamed for quarterback Davis Brin going down short of the goal line on the fifth of those six plays, not once in that chaotic series of events did Tulsa try to throw the ball beyond the goal line. And Montgomery is his own OC. Seems like at least once in that sequence you have to try to beat the Bearcats without having to break a tackle.

The context: Now 3–6, Montgomery and Tulsa are sliding toward a fourth losing season in the last five. The schedule this year is brutal—Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Houston and Cincinnati are a combined 33–3—but home losses to UC Davis and Navy were bad. The momentum from last year’s 6–3 season has slipped away. Has Montgomery’s job security gone with it?

What’s next: at Tulane, Temple, at SMU. Still a lot to play for with bowl hopes on the line.

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Mel Tucker (17), Michigan State. The damage: The Spartans’ surprise run to 8–0 met reality in West Lafayette in the form of a 40–29 loss. The worst pass defense in the Big Ten met the league member that throws it the most, with somewhat predictable results.

The fallout: While the loss will cost Michigan State in the College Football Playoff rankings, it does not rob it of its dreams. If the Spartans can rally and win out, they can still make the playoff. But weaknesses were further exposed, and any possibility of being able to afford a loss at Ohio State on Nov. 20 and remain in the playoff hunt is now gone.

The context: Tucker probably is still the Big Ten Coach of the Year and a leading candidate for national Coach of the Year, but if this is the beginning of a late-season regression it could cost him—and not just in terms of awards. His potential job candidacy at LSU and/or contract leverage with Michigan State could be affected as well.

What’s next: Michigan State hosts Maryland, then visits the Buckeyes, then hosts Penn State. Not easy sledding.

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson

Clawson's Wake Forest started the season 8–0 before Saturday's loss.

Dave Clawson (18), Wake Forest. The damage: The Demon Deacons saw an 18-point lead in the third quarter dissolve into a three-point loss to North Carolina. Giving up 58 points in less than 59 minutes will leave a permanent mark.

The fallout: Wake’s improbable College Football Playoff push died in a barrage of missed tackles and missed assignments as North Carolina’s Ty Chandler ran for 117 yards in the fourth quarter alone. Quarterback Sam Hartman’s Heisman Trophy candidacy also was wounded by a 4-for-13 fourth quarter that included an interception.

The context: For Wake to even be 8–0 and in the playoff conversation speaks volumes about Clawson’s coaching ability. And while his name figures to be in the mix for other jobs, he might be better off staying at a school that celebrates him despite fielding a defense that has surrendered at least 27.7 points per game for each of the last five seasons.

What’s next: Wake’s bid to win the ACC Atlantic Division must go through North Carolina State at home, then Clemson and Boston College on the road.

Dave Aranda (19), Baylor. The damage: The Bears caught an inspired TCU team determined to win one for fired coach Gary Patterson, giving up their most passing yards in four years (468) in a 30–28 upset loss.

The fallout: With two losses, Baylor is bounced from College Football Playoff consideration. But it still is in the running for the Big 12 championship game, with some help.

The context: Aranda is another prominent name in the LSU search—or was, until losing to an interim coach starting a freshman quarterback who had thrown for a total of 150 yards in his college career. Worth pondering: In addition to Aranda’s name being bandied about at LSU, associate head coach Joey McGuire obviously was deep in talks with Texas Tech to become its new head coach. That was announced Monday, and McGuire is leaving for Lubbock immediately. Is the acceleration of the coaching carousel into the season having an impact on preparation and focus for games that matter? Baylor fans have a right to wonder.

What’s next: The Bears host Oklahoma on Saturday, followed by a trip to Kansas State and then a home game against Texas Tech.

Walt Bell (20), Massachusetts. The damage: A 13-point loss to FCS opponent Rhode Island dropped the Minutemen to 1–8, and Bell to 2–23 in his tenure.

The fallout: Bell was fired Sunday.

The context: Bell was a highly regarded rising coordinator who made two bad career decisions—one you could see coming, the other you could not. First, he took the Florida State OC gig with Willie Taggart, which turned out to be a much worse job than anticipated. Anxious to get out, Bell then took a bad job that everyone knew was a bad job, at UMass. The school needs to drop to FCS, but ego may prevent that.

What’s next: Bell likely will get another offensive coordinator gig at a decent program. UMass likely will continue to be terrible.

MORE DASH: Doubt Looms | Frost Returns | Upset Masters

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