College Football Coaches on the Hot Seat Entering 2015 Summer
It's that time of year again. Time to pull the tarp off the coaching hot-seat tracker, pull the starter cord and fire this baby up.
(Note: the coaching hot-seat tracker might be a lawn mower.)
Which coaches are on notice for the 2015 season? We go over a dozen names that must have big seasons in order to save their jobs. What do "big seasons" include, exactly? It could mean getting back to a bowl game. Or it could be a matter of showing visible improvement and simply coming up a bit short. Perhaps it's about reversing a negative trend in the win column. It's a little different for everyone.
We even included a brief list of coaches who may be on the hot seat for 2016 if things go bad enough this year. With that, let's get to it. Here's the B/R coaching hot-seat list for 2015.
Tim Beckman, Illinois
Illinois head coach Tim Beckman actually got a public vote of confidence from athletic director Mike Thomas last November. And, to Beckman's credit, he's improved an awful situation. From 2012-14, the Illini's win total has grown by two each year.
However, Beckman is now under fire from former players for alleged misconduct. Lineman Simon Cvijanovic claimed his knee injury was mistreated; the family of former defensive back Nick North says their son was "harassed" by Beckman, who wanted him to sign a release from his scholarship.
An internal investigation is being conducted into the allegations. Beckman has denied any wrongdoing.
Would winning take Beckman back off the hot seat? It depends on what the investigation finds. However, the Illini's 2015 Big Ten schedule has plenty of tough games, which include Ohio State and road games at Penn State and Minnesota. Beckman would probably need to get Illinois back to a bowl game to feel secure.
Al Golden, Miami (FL)
Al Golden earned the Miami job by making Temple a respectable program again. However, he hasn't been able to take the Hurricanes back to their national-championship days. The highlight of Golden's four-year tenure with Miami so far has been a nine-win season in 2013. Otherwise, it's been a lot of so-so results with zero wins against Florida State.
But it's not like the 'Canes haven't had talent. Miami had seven players taken in this year's NFL draft, but it could only muster six wins in 2014. Golden has been a machine on the recruiting trail for 2016, as the 'Canes have the third-best class nationally, according to 247Sports with a whopping 21 verbal commits. B/R colleague Sanjay Kirpalani offered his thoughts on this in March; Mike Farrell, Rivals.com’s national recruiting director, also had an interesting take on Golden's recruiting approach last month (h/t Matt Porter, the Palm Beach Post):
The theory of many, myself included, is that this is a huge hot seat season for Al Golden (actually, that’s not a theory, it’s factual after a 6-7 campaign in 2014). So Golden is loading up on commitments, especially from South Florida, to make it harder to oust him if things don’t go well on the field this year. After all, the only thing he can control in the offseason is the perception that he’s recruiting at a high and local level.
Can Golden's recruiting philosophy translate into job security? That remains to be seen, but there's no doubt his fifth year with the program is a monumental one.
Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Indiana is a tough place to win, bottom line. Expectations are always (or should be) taken into consideration when talking about coaches on the hot seat. To head coach Kevin Wilson's credit, he's turned the Hoosiers into a fun, offensive-minded team that knocked off SEC East champ Missouri and played eventual national champs Ohio State extremely tough a year ago.
Still, Indiana can't...quite...get over the hump and into bowl eligibility. There have been myriad reasons as to why, but last year's 4-8 campaign was hurt by the season-ending shoulder injury to starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld. The Hoosiers lost five games in a row after that injury, and the passing offense plummeted.
Getting to a bowl game would easily save Wilson's job in 2015. If it's another losing season, though? The question Indiana has to ask itself is how much more patience is it willing to exercise.
Larry Fedora, North Carolina
North Carolina coach Larry Fedora is an either-or pick here. Should he be on the hot seat this season? Or, if things don't go according to plan in 2015, is he more likely to be on the hot seat next year?
Put it this way: There hasn't been a lot of chatter about Fedora's job security. However, it feels like that could happen with a quickness if things go south right away in 2015. The season-opening game against South Carolina is important, but the schedule is manageable enough—no Florida State, Clemson or ACC-partnership game with Notre Dame—that the Tar Heels should be able to flourish.
If they don't, Fedora is in a tough situation.
The knock on the Tar Heels is that they're underachievers, but the facts are that the win totals under Fedora have declined each year. 2014 must be a bounce-back season.
Darrell Hazell, Purdue
Darrell Hazell's jump from Kent State to Purdue three years ago was the classic high-risk, high-reward scenario. All things considered, Hazell had a good thing going at Kent State, and jumping ship to Purdue didn't seem all that necessary. But win with the Boilermakers, and that opens up a lot of possibilities for him career-wise.
The thing is, Hazell doesn't have to worry about that at the moment. He has to worry about keeping his job. Hazell has won four games in two seasons with the Boilermakers. As Zach Barnett of Footballscoop.com easily points out, "The man Purdue fired to hire him, Danny Hope, won six in his final season."
Technically, Hazell improved Purdue's win total from Year 1 to Year 2 (one to three). It's my belief that every coach deserves at least four years barring extreme circumstances to get things turned around, but that's clearly not the college football world in which we live. If Hazell gets the Boilermakers at or near bowl eligibility in 2015, there may be hope for him yet. Otherwise, the administration will be asking tough questions about the direction of things.
Willie Taggart, South Florida
Talk about a partnership that hasn't worked out. Remember when Willie Taggart of the Jim Harbaugh coaching tree was the hot name at Western Kentucky? Now, Taggart finds himself on the hot seat.
Taggart's tenure with the Bulls got off to a terrible start with a 53-21 loss to McNeese State. The Bulls have mustered just six wins in two years. Following last year's 408 campaign, Taggart fired offensive coordinator Paul Wulff, defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan and defensive backs coach Ron Cooper. For a program that had success under its first head coach, Jim Leavitt, the past several years have been surprising. USF hasn't had a winning season since 2010.
The hiring trends in the post-Leavitt era have been fascinating. Taggart could potentially be the second coach "on the rise" that hasn't succeeded with the Bulls. Remember: There was a time when Skip Holtz was doing great things with East Carolina and was considered a great hire by USF in 2010.
Ron Turner, Florida International
Of all the questionable hires over the past few years, this ranks up near the top. Actually, you could say it was the most questionable hire, and you wouldn't get any argument here.
Three years ago, Florida International athletic director Pete Garcia curiously fired Mario Cristobal, who took the program to back-to-back bowl appearances, and hired Ron Turner. It hasn't worked out. The Golden Panthers have won five games in two seasons. There was never a span that bad under Cristobal.
Will FIU give up on the Turner project if 2015 doesn't prove to be any better? That's a lot of pride to swallow.
Mike London, Virginia
It looked like Virginia coach Mike London was finally getting things turned around in 2014. The Cavaliers started the season 4-2 with close losses to UCLA and BYU. Then, things came unraveled and Virginia lost five of its final six games.
Still, London was given the green light to return as Virginia's coach in 2015 last November by athletic director Craig Littlepage. Another losing season, however, and London likely will be on his way out. Virginia has had one winning season in five years with London, and that came in 2011. Additionally, London has yet to beat in-state rival Virginia Tech.
The program has given London more than enough time to get things going in the right direction. It will almost certainly take bowl eligibility, if not a little bit more, for London to return in 2016.
Norm Chow, Hawaii
The June Jones days at Hawaii seem so long ago now. Without noticeable improvement, Norm Chow's days with the program could be history, too.
Chow is a longtime college football assistant who had successful stints with BYU and USC, among other places, as an offensive coordinator. His time with Hawaii as a head coach has been less memorable: zero winning seasons and a low point in 2013 with just one victory.
Granted, Hawaii got back up to four wins in 2014. Another couple of victories and the program would be back to bowl-eligibility. That might be the only thing that would bring Chow back in 2016.
Ron Caragher, San Jose State
How badly does San Jose State miss Mike MacIntyre right about now? Ron Caragher hasn't been able to pick up where MacIntyre left off. Even with quarterback David Fales, the Spartans won just six games in 2013 and failed to get selected for a bowl game. That number was cut in half last season with a 3-9 effort.
Caragher brought on former Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges to revive the Spartans. Last season, San Jose State finished dead-last in the Mountain West with 19.3 points per game. If that doesn't work, Caragher might be on his way out.
Paul Haynes, Kent State
It's not just that Kent State hasn't been the same in the post-Darrell Hazell era. It's that the Golden Flashes are going in the wrong direction under Paul Haynes.
Since being on the cusp of a MAC championship and possible BCS at-large berth, Kent State has won four and two games in 2013 and '14, respectively. Haynes is a longtime assistant who has worked with head coaches like Jim Tressel at Ohio State. That's the kind of resume that gets you a head-coaching job somewhere.
The problem is Haynes hasn't been able to turn that into a successful stint with Kent State. Are things at their worst before they get better? That's what 2015 will answer, for better or worse. If it's the latter category, Haynes could be on his way out.
Trent Miles, Georgia State
The first line of Trent Miles' Georgia State bio reads "A proven program-builder." Indeed, Miles did just that with Indiana State from 2008-12. His run with Georgia State, however, hasn't been nearly that successful.
Actually, it hasn't been successful at all. We're talking one win in two seasons—and that win came against Abilene Christian.
Jumping up to the Football Bowl Subdivision can be a quest for gold that doesn't always amount to a happy ending. But it doesn't always have to be this difficult, either. Georgia Southern, who also made the move to the Sunbelt Conference, has experienced incredible success. That may not be the norm, but when compared side by side with Georgia State, it's a bad look for the Panthers and for Miles.
On the Hot Seat: 2016
These coaches aren't on the hot seat at this exact moment. A year from now, though, with the right circumstances? It could be a different story. Here are the coaches who are probably safe for 2015, but would need a big '16 if this upcoming season goes awry:
Bret Bielema, Arkansas
The Razorbacks have high expectations for 2014 after winning seven games (and four of their last six) a year ago. Still, Arkansas technically finished last in the SEC West. If the Hogs can't build upon last season's success—or if they regress—'16 becomes a defining season for Bielema. It also would be an interesting time for athletic director Jeff Long, who hired Bobby Petrino and John L. Smith.
Les Miles, LSU
This one is tough. Miles has averaged 10.3 wins per year in 10 seasons. He's put tons of players into the NFL draft, won a national championship and competed for another. Still, this quarterback dilemma, currently with Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris, could be Miles' downfall if he doesn't get it fixed. An eight-win season once in a while won't hurt Miles, but two or three in a row like it could.
Todd Monken, Southern Miss
Hard times have fallen on Southern Miss, which has won four games since taking home the Conference USA title in 2011. Monken was given the task of rebuilding a program that went nowhere in one season under Ellis Johnson. There's a case to be made that Larry Fedora left the program in awful shape after the '11 season, too. Still, three straight losing efforts could mean '16 is a big year for Monken.
Paul Rhoads, Iowa State
Ames is a tough place to recruit and win, and the administration knows this. Rhoads is a great coach and beloved in and around the program, but the possibility of three straight losing seasons would raise questions.
Scott Shafer, Syracuse
The Orange have gone backwards under Shafer. A Texas Bowl victory in Year 1 was followed up by a three-win effort in 2014. Still, it's only been two years, and Shafer has had some success. It would likely take a complete disaster in Year 3 for Shafer to lose his job.
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
You wouldn't think a coach who agreed to a six-year contract that paid him $5 million annually just a year-and-a-half ago would be on the hot seat so soon. However, A&M is paying Sumlin a lot of money—and not to finish sixth in the SEC West.
Of course, that's the nature of the business in the SEC West. There's an abundance of talent, money and big-name head coaches in that division; some high-paid coach is going to finish sixth (or last). The fact remains, though, that A&M's win totals have declined each year under Sumlin. The Aggies have the talent (and the defensive coordinator in John Chavis) to rebound in '15. If they don't? 2016 becomes really interesting.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.