10 College Football Coaches with the Most to Gain in 2013

Michael Carroll@mjcarroll531Featured ColumnistJune 25, 2013

10 College Football Coaches with the Most to Gain in 2013

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    During a college football season, every head coach can gain something toward his legacy, but some coaches can gain more than others. In this list, I have put 10 coaches in FBS who I believe fit in the second category. Think of 2013 as a “make-or-break” year for these coaches.

    Coaches entering their first or second seasons at their schools did not qualify for this list, because they still have many more opportunities to define their legacies. I also left out coaches whose programs are entering the first or second years of a new conference in 2013.

    I have ordered the list alphabetically by the coach’s last name.

    With that, let’s start the list.

Larry Blakeney (Troy)

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    Larry Blakeney brought Troy into FBS in 2001, but he might not bring the Trojans into the newest era of college football in 2014 without a stellar 2013 season.

    Troy won at least a share of the Sun Belt Conference title every season from 2006 to 2010 but finished no better than sixth in the two following seasons. The Trojans also last made a bowl game in 2010.

    Based on record, 2011-12 was the worst two-year stretch in the program’s FBS history, and it was the first time since 2002-03 that Troy failed to reach a bowl in consecutive seasons.

    You can make plenty of excuses for why Blakeney has stayed around so long. Blakeney has the most wins in school history, he led the program into major college football, and Troy was one of the best teams in the Sun Belt for a half-decade. Another poor season in 2013 could put Blakeney out of the position he’s held for more than 20 years.

    Blakeney has the 28th-hottest seat in FBS heading into 2013, according to Coaches Hot Seat.

Mack Brown (Texas)

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    Over the last three seasons, Mack Brown has not kept Texas in the college football elite as he did in the 10 years prior. This season could determine whether he still belongs or whether his magic has run out.

    Brown has what most college football coaches can only dream of: a $5.4 million salary, a position at a school with a national following, the recruiting haven of Texas in his backyard, and a 3-1 record in BCS bowls (including a national championship). What’s gone wrong, then?

    Athlon Sports perhaps has a good answer to the question:

    After losing to Alabama in the BCS national title game after the 2009 regular season, Texas spent most of the next three years trying to build an SEC-style offense around a power running game with co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. Harsin is gone — he’s now the head coach at Arkansas State — and so is his offense. Texas is returning to the spread offense that helped the Longhorns reach four BCS bowl games between 2004 and 2009, including a national title in 2005.

    With the new (old) offense in place, maybe Texas will return to the top of the sport. If it doesn’t get the Longhorns back in the top 10, Brown could be looking for other employment. After all, he’s the one who said in 2011 that the program was close to winning a national championship, according to Athlon Sports.

Troy Calhoun (Air Force)

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    The seat’s getting warm for Troy Calhoun at Air Force.

    The Falcons finished 2012 with their first losing record since Calhoun became the head coach in 2007. Though Calhoun has taken Air Force to a bowl game every season, the bowl record in those seasons is just 2-4.

    Athlon Sports credits the defense for Air Force’s struggles over the last two seasons. If the defense can improve substantially, then Calhoun should stick around longer.

    This season, the Falcons could have two very different quarterbacks. One is runner Kale Pearson, and the other is passer Jaleel Awini. The quarterback will determine the type of offense run, and if Calhoun makes the right decision on who ends up starting, it could pay huge dividends.

    Calhoun has the 40th-hottest seat in FBS heading into 2013, according to Coaches Hot Seat.

Ron English (Eastern Michigan)

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    Eastern Michigan has gone to only one bowl game in its 38 FBS seasons, but Ron English has not made the program any better.

    Aside from a respectable 6-6 season in 2011, Eastern Michigan went 4-32 in English’s other three seasons.

    In 2013, the Eagles need to put together another season like 2011. In fact, five wins might keep English’s job safe. Winning football games has not been easy for this program at any time in its history, though, so prospects are slim.

    Coaches Hot Seat thinks English has the 10th-hottest seat in FBS heading into 2013.

    I think English getting the pink slip wouldn’t be so bad. English has shown to be a great defensive coordinator. At Michigan, English earned the 2006 Rivals.com Defensive Coordinator of the Year Award. That was the last time Michigan went to the Rose Bowl. I’m sure English would get a job as defensive coordinator at a big-time program fairly easily, which could be better than being the head coach of one of FBS’ worst programs.

Kirk Ferentz (Iowa)

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    Kirk Ferentz can’t seem to get off the hot seat, and with another subpar season in 2013, I think he indeed gets off the hot seat—by getting fired.

    In 2012, Iowa missed a bowl game for the first time since 2007. In terms of winning percentage, 2012 was the program’s worst season since 2000. The Hawkeyes have not finished a season ranked in the AP poll since 2009. Perhaps most interesting, 13 Iowa football players went to a hospital in January 2011 for getting overworked in offseason workouts. Strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle believes Iowa has adequately changed things to not repeat that episode, according to Pat Harty of DesMoinesRegister.com, but what happened there doesn’t help Ferentz’s cause.

    Athlon Sports suggests Ferentz will not lead the Hawkeyes to a strong season they desperately need. Coaches Hot Seat has given Ferentz the fourth-hottest seat in FBS heading into 2013. How much more pressure to succeed can Ferentz get?

Jim Grobe (Wake Forest)

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    Jim Grobe has had one amazing season at Wake Forest (2006) and 11 mediocre seasons. Whoever has kept Grobe in charge of the program for this long will need to take off the rose-colored glasses and fire him if the Demon Deacons continue to struggle in 2013.

    Granted Wake Forest hasn’t been nationally relevant in football since the late 1940s, but that’s not a good enough reason to get complacent with Grobe. Besides, Grobe wasn’t a special coach before 2006, and he hasn’t done anything special since.

    Perhaps the biggest red flag with Grobe is his salary. Grobe has the 33rd-highest salary in FBS, according to Coaches Hot Seat. Can you say “grossly overpaid?”

    Both Jack from RantSports and Athlon Sports believe Wake Forest will have one of its best seasons in recent memory in 2013. Grobe better hope so for his job security’s sake. Coaches Hot Seat thinks Grobe has the 18th-hottest seat in FBS heading into 2013.

Bobby Hauck (UNLV)

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    Bobby Hauck won only two games in each of his first three seasons at UNLV. If Hauck turns in the golden sombrero of two-win seasons, his reason for getting fired might say “too consistent.”

    Hauck turned Montana into an FCS power, but he hasn’t enjoyed the same success at the FBS level with the Rebels. Granted UNLV has gone to only three bowl games in 35 FBS seasons, but the program has done better in the past.

    Athlon Sports thinks 2013 will be the year Hauck gets more victories at UNLV. Hauck will need them, because another season of same-old, same-old will be the last season.

    Coaches Hot Seat thinks Hauck has the fifth-hottest seat in FBS heading into 2013.

Lane Kiffin (USC)

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    Lane Kiffin has coached USC through a troubling time in its history, but at a program with so much pressure to win every season, it might not matter.

    Kiffin needs to get the Trojans nine wins, a bowl victory, and a spot in the Top 25 of the final AP poll to have a chance of returning in 2014, in my opinion.

    Maybe USC was overrated heading into 2012, when the Trojans were the preseason favorite to win the national championship, but seven-win seasons are never acceptable at USC. Last season was USC’s worst since 2001.

    Kiffin has the hottest seat in FBS heading into 2013, according to Coaches Hot Seat. I’m much more sympathetic to Kiffin and his ability to get the Trojans back on track, but I agree that Kiffin needs a big 2013. There are few more prestigious coaching jobs in college football, and USC could get just about anyone it wanted to fill the spot if Kiffin blunders for his third time in four seasons.

Steve Sarkisian (Washington)

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    Steve Sarkisian has brought Washington to three straight bowl games, but with three straight 7-6 records, improvement is necessary for him to keep his job.

    The Huskies play in the Pac-12 North with Oregon, Stanford, and Oregon State. All three programs finished in the top 20 of the 2012 final AP poll. Sarkisian will need to take Washington to new heights in 2013 to compete for a division title, let alone a conference title.

    Athlon Sports feels a fixed-up Husky Stadium and a fixed-up Keith Price at quarterback should lead Washington back into national relevance. That’s encouraging, but nobody can avoid the likelihood that the Huskies would need to win at least 10 games (maybe 11) to reach the top two of the Pac-12 North.

    Sarkisian has the ninth-hottest seat in FBS heading into 2013, according to Coaches Hot Seat. Although Sarkisian might not be a terrible coach, programs in BCS conferences that are playing mediocre football usually don’t keep their coaches around too long.

Kyle Whittingham (Utah)

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    Now in its third season in the Pac-12, Utah needs Kyle Whittingham to orchestrate a big season if the Utes want to be relevant in the conference.

    Under Whittingham as part of the Mountain West, Utah was one of the best programs not in the BCS. That success helped the Utes land a spot in the Pac-12 in 2011, but they have not replicated that success since then.

    In eight seasons, Whittingham has led Utah to a 6-1 bowl record and the No. 2 ranking in the 2008 final AP poll, but things have changed recently. That bowl loss, which happened in 2010—Utah’s last season in the Mountain West—was the program’s first bowl loss since 1996. In 2012, the Utes failed to make a bowl game for the first time since 2002.

    Utah underwent some tough times in 2012 when the team played three quarterbacks, according to Athlon Sports. This inconsistency at the most important position caused the whole offense to sputter. A new season and a new offensive coordinator (Dennis Erickson) should bring improvement. After all, Erickson has loads of experience and success as an FBS head coach.

    Hopefully, Utah has gotten itself back on track, because Oregon and Stanford appear on the schedule for the first time as conference opponents.

    I don’t think Whittingham should worry about losing his job just yet, but a strong 2013 season should put any doubt at all to rest.

    As always, thanks for reading, and check me out on Twitter at @MCarroll_Philly!