Pac-12 Football: Three Coaches on the Hot Seat in 2014

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Pac-12 Football: Three Coaches on the Hot Seat in 2014
Rick Bowmer/Associated Press
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham

The dreaded hot seat is one of the worst positions in all sports because with it comes added media scrutiny, potential loss of a job and sometimes just plain old negative vibes. In Pac-12 country, the hot seat is locked away under most stadiums and probably out of commission for the next year.

But at three schools, there are athletic directors who may just want to keep an eye on the keys to the dusty rooms storing the hot seat, because it's not impossible that we could see some coaching changes following the 2014 season.

At the Arizona schools, both Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham are safer than ever after coming off solid seasons and with programs on the rise. Jim Mora can do no wrong at UCLA, and unless Steve Sarkisian just forgets to show up to work, he'll be fine for the foreseeable future.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The same can be said for the Washington schools, where Chris Petersen brings with him a solid reputation to the Huskies' program and Mike Leach is working wonders in Pullman for the Cougars. Finally, there's a fellow in Palo Alto named David Shaw who seems to be doing okay.

That leaves us with five other coaches who stand on varying degrees of less-than-solid ground. Which three could find themselves on the hot seat in 2014?

 

Kyle Whittingham, Utah

When Utah first made the jump over to the Pac-12, it appeared as though Kyle Whittingham would be the perfect man to lead the program into the future.

For one, he had already established a positive reputation after leading the Utes to a dominant Sugar Bowl win over Alabama at the conclusion of the 2009 season. That same Alabama team, we should add, was polishing a national championship trophy one year later.

But since the move to the power conference, things haven't worked out very well. In year one, the team went 8-5 and had a chance to reach the conference title game before losing the regular-season finale against Colorado, 17-14.

That loss would be the start of a long, downward spiral that has left the program coming off back-to-back five-win campaigns. Of course the Utes don't have the talent of the rest of the league, but part of the challenge as a coach is bringing in better talent and finding a way to level the playing field.

Whittingham is a proven coach, and he performed magnificently in the wake of Urban Meyer's departure. But the Pac-12 is on the rise and in much better shape than when his squad first entered the league.

The Arizona schools are on the rise, as are UCLA, USC and potentially Colorado. Getting back to eight- or nine-win seasons isn't going to just happen, and Utah is the only team in its division trending downward.

Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Cal coach Sonny Dykes

In 2014, the Utes will have proven quarterback Travis Wilson back (assuming he can stay healthy) to provide stability to the offense. The defense, under Whittingham's guidance, should be tough as usual. But if he can't lead his team to at least six wins, the recent trend will be unmistakable.

Even with another bad season, the school may choose to give their long-time coach another year. But make no mistake: If the Utes start out poorly and are struggling to capture wins, Whittingham's seat will heat up rather quickly.

 

Sonny Dykes, California

Before you point out that Sonny Dykes only has one season under his belt as the head coach at Cal, please note that it's been taken into consideration. And yes, he still makes this list as potentially having a hot seat in 2014.

To address that first part, we'll point out the former Colorado coach Jon Embree lasted a mere two seasons before getting the ax. The Buffaloes had hoped he would be the man to restore order to a program with a proud tradition, but the team was awful under his guidance.

And awful only scratches the surface of definitions that could apply to Cal football at the moment. The Bears won just one game in 2013, a nail-biter over Portland State. One win for a team that had been consistently challenging for conference titles just five years earlier is not okay, even for a first-year coach.

Going even further with that point, consider that former coach Jeff Tedford was fired after a three-win campaign, and that was with the unpredictable (to put it nicely) Zach Maynard at quarterback, not the steady Jared Goff of 2014.

Speaking of Goff, he remains a bright spot on the team. He has a big arm and a big future and is the perfect player to head up Dykes' "Bear Raid" offense. But one win doesn't cut it at a BCS conference program, especially one that knows what success is like.

Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Given that Dykes was a new coach and he has an unorthodox offensive philosophy, giving him a second year was a no-brainer. But he needs to at least show signs of forward momentum next season.

That means at least three or four wins, competing hard within the conference and making sure the team stays together even amidst the rough patches that are bound to occur. If he does that, he should be fine. But if he fails to get Cal off the ground for a second year in a row, his job may be in jeopardy.

 

Mark Helfrich, Oregon

A funny thing happened at the University of Oregon between the time Chip Kelly was hired and when he left for the NFL: Ducks fans raised their expectations of success to unparalleled heights.

That, in turn, has led to doubters of second-year head coach Mark Helfrich despite the fact that the Ducks won 11 games in 2013 and thrashed Texas by a score of 30-7 in the Alamo Bowl. Most schools in the country would be thrilled with that kind of year.

And there are still quite a few Ducks fans very aware of where the program once was and just happy to be competing at such a high level each year. But there's a feeling that with Marcus Mariota at quarterback, the team has a window to win a national championship. And while that window won't close completely with hoards of talent arriving each year, it could become smaller once Mariota leaves.

Is Helfrich the man to keep Oregon in the realm of dominant football programs? For eight games last year, that answer appeared to be a resounding yes. But a 3-2 finish filled with poor play and a blowout loss at Arizona raised questions.

Which coach is most likely to find himself on the hot seat in 2014?

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Alabama lost two games as well, for those of you wondering why the same scrutiny isn't on Nick Saban after his team lost two straight to end the year. The difference, of course, is that Saban has a handful of titles stowed away while Helfrich is at his first head-coaching gig at the major college football level.

Is it fair to even consider the possibility that he'll be on the hot seat at some point in 2014? Maybe not. A slew of injuries hampered the Ducks' stretch run in 2013, and it was still just his first season. But a monster matchup with Michigan State looms large in September. Later there will be a difficult test at UCLA, a pivotal home game against Stanford and a trip to Reser where the Beavers will surely be out for revenge.

With all the talent on Oregon, the Ducks must win nine or ten games next season. If they take down the Spartans and fail to show the signs of disarray that cropped up last November, Helfrich will be fine. But if those were warnings of what's on the horizon, Helfrich's seat could warm up, and the pressure from a fanbase that wants to win now will become tough to ignore.

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