Coaches Who Will Start the 2018 College Football Season on the Hot Seat

Greg Wallace@gc_wallaceFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2017

Coaches Who Will Start the 2018 College Football Season on the Hot Seat

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    Lovie Smith has struggled so far in his return to college football.
    Lovie Smith has struggled so far in his return to college football.Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    The 2017 college football coaching carousel is rapidly winding down. With Louisiana-Lafayette's hire of Arizona State offensive coordinator Billy Napier as its new head coach, 19 of 20 vacancies have been filled, with only Kent State's remaining. Barring a January surprise or NFL-related shuffle, that should finish this season's round of changes, which included the intriguing (Jimbo Fisher going to Texas A&M, Scott Frost going to Nebraska) and the bizarre (Arizona State plucking Herm Edwards from ESPN).

    What does that mean? Well, it's time to start thinking about the 2018 hot seats. Yep, it never ends, does it? While these coaches are safe in their jobs for now, they all need improvement to continue beyond the 2018 college football season. Here's a look at eight FBS head coaches facing the hot seat and how they can get off it for good.

Bowling Green Coach Mike Jinks

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    Bowling Green's program has slipped badly under Mike Jinks' watch.
    Bowling Green's program has slipped badly under Mike Jinks' watch.Matt Marton/Associated Press

    2017 struggles

    Dino Babers quickly found success at Bowling Green, going 18-9 in two seasons with a MAC title in 2015. But when Babers was snapped up by Syracuse, the Falcons' program got its wings clipped. BG has slipped badly under former Texas Tech assistant Mike Jinks, who is 6-18 in two seasons leading the program.

    Following a 4-8 debut, Bowling Green was even worse in 2017, falling to 2-10. The only wins came against Miami (Ohio) and Kent State. After allowing 38 points per game (No. 123 nationally) and 506.6 yards per game, defensive coordinator Perry Eliano was relieved of his duties.

                 

    2018 challenges

    Bowling Green found a capable quarterback in freshman Jarret Doege, who threw for 12 touchdowns against just three interceptions and emerged as the starter in the second half of the season. But the new defensive coordinator, whoever he is, needs to mold a unit that is, at worst, average. Bottom-of-the-barrel results like 2017's won't be acceptable.

    Bowling Green starts the season off at Oregon (ouch) and hosts Maryland, and also must travel to Georgia Tech. The Falcons also will be on the road against league champion Toledo, West Division champ Akron and eight-win teams Central Michigan and Ohio, which won't be easy outs.

               

    Survival plan

    Babers' success makes life for Jinks difficult at Bowling Green. Falcons fans know the program can be successful, and the quick decline under Jinks is jarring. Returning to postseason play would take the pressure off. That's really tough against a loaded nonconference schedule and a tough league road slate, but at the very least, Jinks' staff must show signs of improvement and challenge for a bowl game.

BYU Coach Kalani Sitake

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    Kalani Sitake slipped badly in his second season at BYU.
    Kalani Sitake slipped badly in his second season at BYU.Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    2017 struggles

    BYU is in a difficult situation as one of only four FBS independents. The Cougars want to be nationally relevant, but to do so they must play a front-loaded schedule with multiple strong foes early on in order to fit into other teams' calendars. That worked fine in Kalani Sitake's first season, when BYU had a 9-4 record. But the Cougars cratered this fall in his second season, slipping to 4-9.

    That's never acceptable in Provo. The Cougars started 1-7 and were out of bowl contention by November and suffered embarrassing losses to East Carolina and UMass, the latter at home. BYU averaged only 17.1 points per game, No. 124 nationally, and Sitake fired program legend and offensive coordinator Ty Detmer. He's firmly on the hot seat entering Year 3 at BYU.

              

    2018 challenges

    The first step for Sitake will be fixing the offense, which was anemic across the board. BYU quarterbacks combined to throw 13 touchdowns against 19 interceptions. Starter Tanner Mangum threw for 1,540 yards with eight touchdowns against nine interceptions before missing the final three games with an Achilles injury, and he'll likely compete with Beau Hoge for the starting role.

    Sitake hired well-regarded LSU offensive line coach Jeff Grimes as his new offensive coordinator, and he'll need to find a starter and improve the running game; junior Squally Canada showed signs of life in the final three games, rushing for 213 yards against UNLV and 113 against Hawaii.

                 

    Survival guide

    Sitake has his work cut out for him again in 2018. The Cougars have a tough early schedule once again; they open at Arizona, host Cal, travel to Wisconsin and, after hosting FCS foe McNeese State, must head to Washington.

    Making a bowl (something Bronco Mendenhall did in all 11 seasons at BYU) would be a reasonable measure of success. That means finding footing early against the most difficult half of the slate and building against a much earlier finish with the likes of Northern Illinois, UMass, Hawaii and New Mexico State.

Charlotte Coach Brad Lambert

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    Brad Lambert is the only head coach Charlotte football has ever known.
    Brad Lambert is the only head coach Charlotte football has ever known.Eric Gay/Associated Press

    2017 struggles

    Brad Lambert is the only coach Charlotte football has ever known. The 49ers began play as an FCS program in 2013 and moved into the FBS via Conference USA in 2015. However, Charlotte fans' patience with Lambert could be wearing thin. Since moving up to the game's highest level, the 49ers are just 7-29.

    They regressed this fall, going from 4-8 to 1-11, with the only win coming in overtime against UAB. Lambert fired or demoted four assistants, including both coordinators and quarterbacks coach Jeff Mullen. Charlotte averaged just 14.2 points per game, No. 128 nationally.

               

    2018 challenges

    Conference USA is a lower-level league, but it isn't getting any easier. Lane Kiffin took C-USA by force, winning a conference title in his first season at Florida Atlantic. UAB made a bowl in its first season after two years of program dormancy. North Texas won nine games in Seth Littrell's second season, and Butch Davis took Florida International to a bowl and eight wins in his first season.

    Charlotte must find a way to improve with both FAU and FIU in its division. Lambert must find new offensive and defensive coordinators who can find more consistent and impressive results on both sides of the ball.

                    

    Survival plan

    C-USA is getting tougher, but the quick turnarounds at FAU, FIU, North Texas and UAB show that it can be done in Charlotte. Lambert has little room for error, but if he can find innovative coordinators and challenge for a bowl game, it could be enough for Charlotte to keep around the only head coach it has ever had.

    Charlotte has Appalachian State, Fordham, UMass and Tennessee on its nonconference schedule. Winning three of those four and carrying that success over to the league slate would be huge for Lambert's job security.

East Carolina Coach Scottie Montgomery

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    Scottie Montgomery has struggled in two seasons as ECU's head coach.
    Scottie Montgomery has struggled in two seasons as ECU's head coach.Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    2017 struggles

    Looking back, East Carolina's decision to fire Ruffin McNeill following a 5-7 mark in 2015 looks very shortsighted. McNeill was 42-34 in six seasons at ECU, but the Pirates wanted more. So they fired McNeill in favor of Duke offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery. It hasn't worked well. Montgomery is just 6-18 in two seasons at ECU, including a 3-9 mark in 2017.

    Montgomery demoted and reassigned defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson two games into the season, and the Pirates defense was awful. They had the worst scoring defense (45 PPG) and total defense (541.8 YPG) in the FBS. Thompson hired longtime FBS and FCS assistant David Blackwell as the new defensive coordinator.

                  

    2018 challenges

    The AAC is not getting any easier, and the Pirates face a tough schedule next fall. They have nonconference games with the ACC's North Carolina and Virginia Tech, and also have UCF, South Florida, Houston and Memphis on the schedule.

    Returning starting quarterback Gardner Minshew must build on a strong finish to the season, which saw him throw for 444 yards against Cincinnati and 351 against Memphis (albeit in a 70-13 loss).

    But most importantly, Blackwell must find answers for the defense, which needs to be far stingier to keep ECU in games on a regular basis in a strong offensive league.

                

    Survival plan

    East Carolina's fans are loyal, but they expect more than six wins in two years. Getting back to a bowl game would be a good start to get Montgomery on more stable ground. Beating North Carolina A&T and Old Dominion and North Carolina would be smart; a 3-5 AAC record would make the Pirates bowl-eligible.

    That requires a much better defensive effort, of course. Finishing last in the FBS in total defense and yardage will likely mean Montgomery's staff is looking for work next December.

Illinois Coach Lovie Smith

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    Lovie Smith has just five wins in his first two seasons at Illinois.
    Lovie Smith has just five wins in his first two seasons at Illinois.BRADLEY LEEB/Associated Press

    2017 struggles

    Lovie Smith was a curious hire to revitalize Illinois' program. Smith was a longtime NFL coach and head coach with the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he hadn't coached in college since 1995. Two years in, it looks like a mistake. The Illini are 5-19 under his watch, including a 2-10 mark in 2017. Smith's crew started the year with wins over Ball State and Western Kentucky but ended the year on a 10-game losing streak, going winless in Big Ten play.

    Illinois came within 10 points of only two opponents (Indiana and Minnesota) and was largely noncompetitive, averaging only 15.4 points per game (No. 127 nationally) and giving up 31.5 points per game (No. 91 nationally). That's hardly a recipe for success.

                

    2018 challenges

    Smith needs to infuse talent into his roster and remake it, and perhaps that job is being done for him in some ways. Since season's end, nine players have announced they're leaving the program, per Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune. Smith needs to be aggressive on the graduate transfer market and sell immediate playing time, because something clearly needs to change.

    He also must settle on a starting quarterback between Jeff George Jr. and Cam Thomas and build around them, hoping for improvement from one of the young passers.

                

    Survival guide

    In two years in Champaign, Smith has just two wins against Power Five opponents, beating Michigan State and Rutgers in 2016. He desperately needs to show progress and be competitive in the Big Ten West, the weaker of the two divisions.

    Making a bowl would be nice, but first of all, Illinois just needs to show improvement, winning multiple Big Ten games and at least challenging for a bowl. The offense must display more explosiveness and consistency. Another two-win season won't cut it.

Kansas Coach David Beaty

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    David Beaty stepped into a very difficult situation at Kansas.
    David Beaty stepped into a very difficult situation at Kansas.Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    2017 struggles

    Kansas is one of the most difficult jobs in the Power Five, and David Beaty walked into a very tough situation with a depleted roster following Charlie Weis' disastrous tenure. But he has been very underwhelming in three seasons leading the Jayhawks, with a 3-33 overall record. This fall, Kansas opened the season with a win over Southeast Missouri State and lost its last 11 games, coming within 10 points of only one foe (rival Kansas State).

    The Jayhawks lost to a pair of MAC teams in Central Michigan and Ohio and were helpless against the Big 12. They gave up 56 points to West Virginia and 65 to Texas Tech. TCU and Iowa State combined to outscore them 88-0. Baylor got its only win of the season against them, 38-9. It was ugly, even more so when you consider that Matt Campbell got Iowa State to a bowl game in just his second season in Ames.

                   

    2018 challenges

    Kansas has some defensive talent like star defensive tackle Daniel Wise and linebacker Joe Dineen Jr., but the Jayhawks need more of it. Kansas allowed 43.4 points per game in 2017, second-worst in FBS. That's simply not sustainable for a winning program. Beaty has not made any postseason changes on his staff, but defensive improvement is paramount in the pass-happy Big 12, which remains one of the nation's best leagues with the likes of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and an improving Texas program, among others. As always, Kansas won't avoid any of them, thanks to the round-robin schedule.

              

    Survival plan

    Kansas has made a huge commitment to new facilities and has shown it is serious about football. But you have to wonder if Beaty will be around to enjoy the improved digs. Winning three games in three years just isn't good enough, even at a basketball-first place like Kansas. In his fourth year, Beaty must win multiple games against Big 12 teams and sweep the nonconference schedule (Nicholls State, at Central Michigan, Rutgers) to show progress and keep his bosses satisfied that he's on the right track. A bowl game would be great, but 4-5 wins could keep him employed.

Texas Tech Coach Kliff Kingsbury

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    Kliff Kingsbury has been very average at his alma mater.
    Kliff Kingsbury has been very average at his alma mater.Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    2017 struggles

    When Texas Tech hired Kliff Kingsbury in 2012, he was hailed as a favorite son. After all, Kingsbury threw for over 12,000 yards in Mike Leach's offense as a Tech quarterback and had showed promise as an offensive coordinator at Houston and Texas A&M. But he hasn't managed to get the Red Raiders to the top of the Big 12.

    In five seasons, Tech is 30-32 under Kingsbury, including 16-29 in the Big 12, and his eight-win debut season in 2013 was a high-water mark. In 2017, the Red Raiders went 6-6, clinching a bowl with a season-finale win over Texas. Defense was again an issue for Tech; the Raiders allowed 31.8 points per game, tied for No. 94 nationally. Tech fans have expectations that extend beyond simply winning six games and going to a bowl.

                

    2018 challenges

    Tech has improved defensively under coordinator David Gibbs, but it needs to take another step forward if it hopes to be a legit Big 12 factor. Offense and the passing game have never been a problem under Kingsbury, but quarterback Nic Shimonek (who threw for 30 touchdowns against eight interceptions as a senior) is graduating. Kingsbury needs to find out if sophomore McLane Carter (who threw for 237 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions against Texas) is a legit starting quarterback.

    The Big 12 isn't getting any easier, and to make a move upward, Tech must find success against top-tier teams like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU, whom it went 0-3 against this season.

              

    Survival plan

    Kingsbury has yet to win more than four Big 12 games in a season. The Red Raiders have been consistently average—no worse than 4-8 and no better than 8-5 under his watch. To break through into the 9-10 win plateau, Tech must make defensive strides. Doing so would likely mean making the Big 12 title game to stave off his doubters for another season. Another 6-6 or 5-7 campaign could spell the end of his time in Lubbock.

Vanderbilt Coach Derek Mason

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    Derek Mason has yet to have a winning season at Vanderbilt.
    Derek Mason has yet to have a winning season at Vanderbilt.Wade Payne/Associated Press

    2017 struggles

    Vanderbilt is the toughest job in the SEC, and one of the tougher gigs in the Power Five. However, James Franklin's success (three bowl games, 24 wins and 18 wins in his last two seasons) set a high bar for his successor, Derek Mason. In four seasons, Mason has made only one bowl game and has yet to have a winning record, going 18-31 and 6-26 in SEC play.

    In 2017, the Commodores narrowly missed a bowl game, going 5-7. They finished the season with a 42-24 win over Tennessee, but blowout losses to Kentucky and Missouri ultimately kept them from postseason play. Mason serves as his own defensive coordinator, but maybe he needs some help; Vandy allowed 31.3 points per game, No. 90 nationally.

            

    2018 challenges

    Vanderbilt has a tough assignment in the improving SEC East. Georgia made the College Football Playoff, and Florida and Tennessee should take a step forward after making high-profile coaching changes. The Commodores need a more consistent running game, but they'll have to find a new lead back after Ralph Webb, the leading rusher with 831 yards, graduated, capping a career that saw him rush for 4,178 yards.

    Although Vandy does travel to Notre Dame, the rest of the nonconference schedule (Middle Tennessee, Nevada and Tennessee State) is highly conducive to building a postseason resume. Alabama comes off the schedule in favor of SEC West foe Arkansas, and Florida and Tennessee come to Nashville, although the 'Dores must travel to Georgia.

             

    Survival plan

    Vandy fans are pretty easy to please. They don't expect a division title or 10-win seasons. But they'd like to go to a bowl game like most of their SEC brethren. The Commodores were close last fall. An easier nonconference slate and no Alabama on the schedule mean that's possible with some defensive progress and a more balanced offense overall. Make a bowl, and Mason should be secure.