To Fire or Not To Fire: Should These 10 College Coaches Get the Boot?
Anyone can assemble a slideshow of the top ten coaches on the hot seat and rattle off what a disastrous job each one has done with the program.
But do these coaches deserve to be canned? Did they take over a sinking ship, and are now guiding it through its roughest waves? Or did they make the messed bed they now toss and turn in?
Today, we answer an age-old question, one I believe was first posed by William Shakespeare in Henry VI (a play about an English king who was fired for the much more popular Henry VII): To fire, or not to fire?
See if you agree with my decisions.
Ron Zook, Illinois
The Juice Williams era is over. The coaches responsible for the damage he inflicted have all been fired. The worst is over. Right?
Eh. Williams may have had severe decision-making and turnover issues, but he's only the latest in a line of players Zook recruited, landed, and then failed to develop.
"Failure to develop" is a chicken-or-egg question the Illini athletic department addressed by keeping Zook and hiring a new, expensive supporting staff, including Paul Petrino, Bobby's brother, at the offensive coordinator position.
But after missing out on Illinois native Kyle Prater (who went to USC; did you hear?) and losing four-star safety Corey Cooper to Nebraska on signing day, I'm not sure Zook can even land the talent anymore.
This year will be a new start for the Illini. A new quarterback will be taking plays under Petrino, and there's reason to believe that since the Illini can't get any worse, they have no choice but to get better.
But never underestimate the power of Zook to undermine even the lowest expectations. Once the Illini start coughing up games, we'll know for sure it was the chicken all along.
Greg McMackin, Hawaii
But who are you gonna get to replace him?
Remember, the Hawaii athletic department drove out June Jones after an unbelievably successful eight year tenure. Jones took the Warriors to a BCS bowl and won more games than any other Hawaii coach, but faced a lack of institutional support at every turn and was repeatedly denied improved facilities and monetary assistance with recruiting.
Hawaii isn't a player in the conversation for conference expansion, either, so the stakes for coaching there are low and getting lower.
It's not a very desirable place to coach right now, which is amazing, because it's in frickin' Hawaii!
Plus, McMackin's basic point about Notre Dame is correct. Am I wrong, people? I mean, am I wrong?
Verdict: Tentative Do Not Fire
Dan Hawkins, Colorado
I honestly believe that at some point between a successful run as head coach of Boise State to a disastrous one as head coach of Colorado, Dan Hawkins lost his mind.
The evidence is there—long, loping, ultra-rationalized press conferences that sound like the dying throes of a failed relationship.
Inexplicable changes to his hairstyle (is this where the term "flipped his wig" comes from?).
Starting his son at QB while a guy that can actually throw and looks like a quarterback "rests" on the bench.
Oh, and putting No. 1 RB recruit Darrell Scott on return duty, but not getting him any snaps in the backfield—that's a rational idea.
I'm all about arguing for the opposite position, but I see no opposite position here, save for the fact that Colorado's athletic department is too broke to afford his buyout.
If the Buffs don't seriously rebound, make a bowl, and hold a candle to the Big 12's finest, it'll be time to hold a bake sale in Boulder. See you on the slopes, bro!
Verdict: Tentative Fire
Paul Wulff, Washington State
After going 3-22 in his career and fielding a team that ranked next-to-last and third-to-last in scoring offense and defense, respectively, Paul Wulff has two choices: get better, or get out.
He was mildly successful at Eastern Washington, leading the Eagles two three appearances in the Division II playoffs, and twice making the quarterfinals.
Yet under his watch, Wazzu has limped through both conference and non-conference play in the past three years, and is routinely out of bowl contention by the middle of the year.
Even more appalling: if you take away the win in the Apple Cup in 2008 and a narrow victory over Southern Miss this year, Wulff has a single win.
Still, Wazzu's above-average 2010 recruiting class should bring a glimmer of hope—Scout's No. 9 tight end, a few good wide receivers, and some JUCO offensive linemen could be what stops the bleeding.
If the Cougars can break even this year, the term "transition period" will appear more like a reality and less like an excuse, and Wulff will have bought himself another year.
If it's another season of fluky wins and devastating losses, the exiting coach would be wise to mind the door.
Verdict: Probable Fire
George O'Leary, Central Florida
Tough call here.
On the one hand, O'Leary has led the Central Florida Knights to winning records in three of his six years and has kept them very competitive in Conference-USA play.
On the other hand, his teams have seesawed between being great and being sub-.500, and inconsistency is often more frustrating for a fanbase than being always good or always bad.
More importantly, Central Florida has been placed on probation as is facing recruiting restrictions for a series of improper calls and texts sent to 27 recruits.
Though it falls short of a lack of institutional control (the calls and texts were sent by university employees unaffiliated with the athletic department), it's bad business to bring those kind of headlines to a program that has to compete against the best year after year just for in-state talent.
If the Knights fluctuate back to a losing season this year, O'Leary might make it too easy for his detractors to call for his head. We'll see how 2010 plays out before we say more.
Verdict: Hung Jury
Tim Brewster, Minnesota
I can't decide if Tim Brewster is a victim of coaching attrition, or if he's just an unpleasant guy to work with.
Apparently, neither can the Minnesota athletic department (he seems so positive!). They gave about the limpest vote of confidence possible in extending Brewster's contract for a single year, minus a raise.
In any event, the Gophers have seen their share of coaches, and particularly offensive coordinators, blow through Minneapolis under Brewster. That rate of change has not done much to stabilize an uncertain and underwhelming tenure absent of Rose Bowls, in-state talent lockdowns and just plain wins.
Off of a 6-7 season (the same record for which Glen Mason was fired) and a pathetic loss to Iowa State in the Insight Bowl, Brewster enters a crucial fourth season on a seat getting hotter by the day.
Before you say "big deal," know this: Minnesota once was good. Maybe short of "perennial Big Ten contender" good, but the Gophers have a storied tradition in the Big Ten, and they don't want it tossed away like so many Adam Weber incompletions.
The Gophers were last in the Big Ten in offense, and positively anemic in conference play. But nine players on that offense return. Adam Weber is a senior. Former stud recruit MarQuise Gray is coming into his own. Glen Mason's wife? She's still hot.
What this begs is at least a seven-win season and some competition against the big boys. Otherwise, it doesn't matter how positive or fun he is to work with. Tim Brewster can take his half-full glass elsewhere.
Verdict: Tentative Fire
Mike Sherman, Texas A & M
Wild inconsistency is the name of the game in College Station as the Aggies have stumbled through three seasons under Sherman, including a disastrous 4-8 campaign his first year.
In spite of the 6-7 record and the puzzling blowout losses to Kansas State and Georgia, the Aggies recruited well this year and return the Big 12's most seasoned quarterback in Jerrod Johnson, as well as breakout running back Christine Michael.
That means expectations are elevated, and like many of these coaches, next year will determine almost everything.
Beat Oklahoma and/or Texas and compete for the Big 12 South, and he should be safe (since he's also already recruiting well for 2011).
Lose out against the big boys and suffer more blowouts, and he's just another ex-NFLer who moved to the college game and died the death of a dinosaur.
Verdict: Tentative Do Not Fire
Ralph Friedgen, Maryland
Yes, Friedgen's team was god-awful last year, ending up at 2-10 with a bizarre win over Clemson and another over James Madison (!) that required overtime (!!).
But he also pulled in a truly underrated recruiting class balanced by both foundational talent and immediate impact players.
Yes, Friedgen should ride into the sunset after this year regardless of his record, and allow coach-in-waiting James Franklin to take over. Not only are the perks of the CIW arrangement getting sniffed out, but stepping aside could also help Maryland's recruiting like it did for Florida State this year and Kentucky in 2011.
But let Friedgen do it on his own terms; he deserves at least that much. As long as he only wants one more year, the argument is moot.
Verdict: voided for redundancy
Mark Richt, Georgia
Richt's Georgia teams haven't looked really great since their dominating Sugar Bowl win over Hawaii.
There were flashes of competence in Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno's final year, but the result was largely a disappointment. And this year? Joe Cox looked like he was allergic to the sun.
I'm not going to call Mark Richt the nicest guy in the world or argue that that's what's handicapping him. He's as much a dirty recruiter with an insatiable drive to win as any other SEC coach—he just hasn't been as successful lately.
This year, Georgia rolls out a new quarterback, and for the record, I think Aaron Murray will be the Second Coming.
But the Bulldogs also have to face losing their top tackler, Rennie Curran, a year early. Missing out on top recruits because they failed to hire a defensive coordinator soon enough was another bad whiff.
Here's vouching Georgia's 2010 record won't be strike three. There's a winner buried underneath Richt's pleasant exterior that is aching for the game against Florida like neither you nor I can possibly comprehend.
Verdict: Tentative Do Not Fire
Rich Rodriguez, Michigan
In two seasons as Michigan's head coach, Rich Rodriguez is 8-16, with all of three Big Ten wins. With Rodriguez as coach, Michigan has suffered an NCAA investigation into overpracticing, multiple players transfers, and endless questions about the spread's viability in the Big Ten.
But brother, you're talking to Rich Rodriguez's number one
Aborting the spread experiment after only its third year would give rise to a freakish half-athletic, half-lurching zombie fit more for a science fiction movie than for the Big Ten.
Coaching is all about relationships, so the transfers subsequent to Rodriguez's firing would be numerous and profound. Bye bye, Tate Forcier. So long, Devin Gardner.
With the new, athletic talent the embattled coach has assembled (against all odds) now gone, Michigan's foundation would return to rubble, and the damage to its APR would probably reach penalty-worty proportions.
And there's no way, no way the Wolverines can expect to get their first, second, third, fourth or fifth candidate for the job. Not with the cynical reaction to his performance or the cockeyed hit-job the Detroit Free Press put on him in the name of program solidarity.
As has been repeated ad infinitum, year three determines a lot. Get to a bowl game, and Rodriguez's job is probably safe.
If that's the case, we deserve whatever we get.
Verdict: FOR GOD'S SAKE, DO NOT FIRE (unless you're talking fire Drew Sharp)