College Football 2012: 10 Coaches Who Could Be Bowl-Eligible and Still Be Fired
It's a cut-throat world in the current era of college football. Coaches used to be given five years to build a program, but that time frame has dwindled down to three years, and in some cases two. Rick Neuheisel took UCLA to the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game, but was dismissed prior to that game. Illinois coach Ron Zook was also fired despite making a bowl game.
Last year's turnover rate is far from an anomaly, thanks to the ever increasing demand on coaches to win and win big. Expect similar firings to occur after the 2012 seasons.
Here are 10 who coaches who might need to do more than just reach the postseason to weaken the fire underneath their seats.
Dave Clawson, Bowling Green
The successful head coach at Richmond brought his “Claw-fense” to Tennessee as the newly hired offensive coordinator in 2008. The offense fizzled despite the presence of current NFL star Arian Foster. After Phillip Fulmer was fired, Clawson re-joined the head coaching ranks at Bowling Green in 2009.
The Falcons made a bowl game in Clawson’s first season, but have posted only a 7-17 record over the past two seasons. While becoming bowl-eligible is the goal for 2012, it would only be a one-game improvement from 2011. Playing in the much weaker East division of the MAC, a .500 record might not cut it for Clawson.
Jeff Tedford, California
After taking the Golden Bears from 1-10 to 10-1 in just three seasons in Berkeley, Tedford’s on-field performance has been less than stellar. Cal is just 12-13 over the past two seasons, including 7-11 in Pac-12 play. Tedford has failed to develop the elite quarterback that he had in his first three seasons with Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers.
He may have one in true freshman Zach Kline, but it’s asking a lot for Kline to be a difference-maker in 2012. He’s lost back-to-back games to Bay Area rival Stanford and eight in a row to USC. The loss of stud recruiter Tosh Lupoi to Washington in January won’t help Tedford’s cause. The Bears probably don’t need to win the Pac-12 North for Tedford to survive, but they at least need to contend.
Dabo Swinney, Clemson
To put it in simple terms, Swinney has been and will continue to be an enigma. In that sense, he’s the perfect fit for a program that's only consistent quality has been its inconsistency. Swinney is not just a good recruiter, but a great recruiter. His Tigers started 2011 8-0 and won the ACC title. Then, a month later in the Orange Bowl, 70 happened.
Although the architect of the highly ineffective defensive game plan for the Orange Bowl, Kevin Steele, was dismissed, there continue to be concern about Swinney’s staying power in Death Valley. It’s hard to imagine a coach getting fired a year removed from a conference title, but with Clemson, always expect the unexpected.
Will Muschamp, Florida
If Kansas can fire a coach after just two seasons, Florida can as well. Don’t think athletic director Jeremy Foley will hesitate to pull the trigger if the Gators’ 2011 season repeats itself. The last time Florida canned a coach after less than three seasons, they went out and hired Urban Meyer and tripled their crystal ball collection in four years.
The hiring of Boise State assistant Brent Pease to run what was a lifeless offense a year ago adds a fresh new element to the team, with a young defense that started to come together late last season. With an easier schedule, it’s hard to foresee the Gators not topping last year’s six regular season wins. However, with Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer both having won SEC titles in their second year at Florida, Muschamp will be afforded no patience.
Danny Hope, Purdue
Joe Tiller made a program that was irrelevant for 25 years very relevant when he came to West Lafayette in 1997, but the Boilermakers have slid back since his departure in 2008, posting just one winning season. Purdue has been absolutely gutted by injuries over the past two seasons, but hopes to have both QB Robert Marve and RB Ralph Bolden fully healthy for 2012.
The Boilermakers have three guaranteed wins on their non-conference schedule, get Indiana at home, and avoid both Michigan State and Nebraska. Six wins should not be that hard to scrape together. After going 7-6 last season, it will likely take more than six for Hope to return for a fifth season in 2013.
Derek Dooley, Tennessee
Dooley will frequently use military metaphors to describe his football team, so I’ll emulate the coach with the assessment of his 2012 season: It’s D-Day. After posting consecutive losing seasons to open Dooley’s tenure in Knoxville, the Vols return almost their entire offense and drop LSU from the schedule.
With a light non-conference schedule and a crucial September game with Florida in Neyland Stadium, there can’t be any excuses for not winning at least seven games. It might even take eight wins for Dooley to survive. With an athletic department that has been marred by change ever since Phil Fulmer was fired in 2008, Tennessee desperately wants to avoid another coaching search next winter.
Mack Brown, Texas
They can’t fire a legendary coach like Brown, can they? Well, they couldn’t fire Bobby Bowden at Florida State, and he was run off in 2009 after a similar decline in on-field performance. Any change would obviously be spun as a resignation/retirement rather than a dismissal, but two conference titles in 14 seasons in Austin is seen by most as underachieving.
Do I expect the Longhorns to struggle in 2012 like they did in 2010 and 2011? Absolutely not. It’s the second year for coordinators Manny Diaz and Bryan Harsin, and the talent level is back to where it should be at Texas. However, no one saw 5-7 coming in 2010, and few saw 7-5 coming in 2011. Texas must get back to being Texas again. If not, the best job in college football may come open.
Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech
No one is really sure what happened on that stormy Saturday night last October in Norman, but somehow a Texas Tech team who had just lost it starting running back for the season with an ACL injury played a nearly flawless game and handed No. 3 Oklahoma its first loss at home in six years. To date, that is the Red Raiders’ last victory.
Mike Leach took a program with a number of inherent disadvantages and had them one win away from the national title game in 2008. Now, entering Tuberville’s third season in Lubbock, the program is simply trying to hold off Kansas for the No. 9 spot in a 10-team Big 12.
With three certain wins in non-conference play, going 3-6 in the Big 12 would get Texas Tech to the postseason. However, it might not get Tuberville a fourth season.
George O'Leary, UCF
Yes, O’Leary has won two conference titles, but there’s more at play for the Golden Knights program than just on-field results. UCF will move to the Big East in 2013, and is coming off a disappointing season that saw the team miss a bowl game and lose promising young quarterback Jeff Godfrey to a transfer.
Programs often will change coaches prior to joining a new conference in order to generate excitement in the fanbase. Colorado did it after the 2010 season, and Texas A&M did the same after this past season. O’Leary has accomplished some great things in Orlando, but might be hitting a slump at exactly the wrong time.
Mike Price, UTEP
After an embarrassing incident involving strippers cost him his briefly-held job at Alabama, Price found refuge in the west Texas town of El Paso, taking the Miners to a bowl game in his first season in 2004. Since then, there has been only one additional bowl appearance, a blowout loss to BYU in 2010.
There was talk that Price would not survive after a 5-7 season in 2011, but he was retained for 2012. Having just turned 66 on Friday, Price’s career is winding down whether he goes out on his own terms. Without at least seven wins, the end is probably near for a coach who was coaching in the Rose Bowl less than a decade ago.