August 8, 2008
At the end of every football season, there are coaches who are fired. Some are fired for teams that have just gone stale, some are fired for teams that underachieve, and some are fired because the off-field issues have become the focus and football the afterthought.
As we enter the 2008 season there are coaches that fit squarely in all three of those molds.
Here is a look at 10 coaches who will enter the 2008 season looking over their shoulders. These coaches must have a great season in order to feel a little bit of security.
Greg Robinson, Syracuse
Record at Syracuse: 7-28 (.200) Last season: 2-10
The fact that Greg Robinson wasn’t canned a year ago is amazing. Keeping his job after this season may take a miracle. The Orange once were an eastern power, but the program has become the bottom feeder of the Big East and has been lapped by the rest of the league.
Robinson was brought in to energize the program, but it has only gotten worse under his leadership. Unless the Orange make it to a bowl game this season, Robinson will most likely be shown the door. He may be shown the door even if they do.
Chance of being fired: 99 percent
Syracuse just doesn’t have “it” anymore. That something special that makes you want to believe in them. Sure there is some talent on the team, but I don’t think they know how to win anymore. It’s time to move on. A new coach needs to come in and energize a team that has lost all hope.
Ty Willingham, Washington
Record at Washington: 11-25 (.305) Last season: 4-9
After four consecutive losing seasons, it’s do-or-die time for Ty Willingham. If the Huskies are going to turn things around, their roster full of underclassmen will have to grow up in a big hurry. That may be easier said than done in the Pac-10.
One positive for the Huskies is their outstanding sophomore quarterback, Jake Locker. But the Huskies will need freshmen to bolster both lines and at wide receiver where five seniors were lost from last season’s team.
Ty Willingham, who no longer has Athletic Director Todd Turner in his corner, will have to lean on a slew of untested players to help fortify his job security.
Chance of being fired: 75 percent
The Pac-10 is just too tough. The Huskies are sick and tired of losing. Attendance is down and the fan base has stopped believing. Ty Willingham just doesn't have the moxie needed to bring this once-proud program back to its feet.
Mark Snyder, Marshall
Record at Marshall: 12-23 (.343) Last season: 3-9
After winning just 12 games in three seasons, Mark Snyder needs to win now. With eight returning starters on both sides of the ball and seven junior college transfers, they may have the experience to reach a bowl game.
Snyder has also brought in a new defensive coordinator, to improve a defense that ranked near the bottom of the NCAA in every category; and a new offensive coordinator, to help get more production from their running game which ranked 70th in the country.
The ingredients are in place for Marshall to get off to a fast start this season and be competitive in C-USA, but if they don’t, it could be the end of the road for Mark Snyder.
Chance of being fired: 65 percent
If the Thundering Herd can pull themselves up and play like they are capable of playing this season, they will go to a bowl game and save their coach from the unemployment line. The question is, can Mark Snyder coach this team to a bowl game? He just may not be the right guy for the job.
Mike Stoops, Arizona
Record at Arizona: 17-31 (.354) Last season: 5-7
The Wildcats have been so close the last two seasons, but they haven’t been able to close the deal. Two seasons ago, it was the defense that was full of returning starters. This season, it’s the complete opposite.
The offense should be much improved. With a full season to adapt to Sonny Dykes’ wide-open passing attack and a quarterback in Willie Tuitama who can run the offense, the Wildcats should have no problem putting points on the board. It will be keeping points off the board that will be the biggest problem.
There’s a sense of urgency that’s engulfing the program. Stoops needs a breakthrough season, because 17-31 with no bowl invitations isn't exactly getting it done.
Chance of being fired: 60 percent
When Mike Stoops came to Tucson, Wildcat fans celebrated what they thought was going to be a quick turnaround for a team the had found itself in the bottom of the Pac-10 for far too long.
Every year seemed to be the year the Wildcats were going to turn the corner, but they never have. This season is no different. Only this time, if Stoops doesn’t turn the corner, he will be shown the door. It might be too big a hill to climb.
Doug Martin, Kent State
Record at Kent State: 15-25 (.375) Last season: 3-9
Kent State had an injury-riddled 2007 season. If they can stay healthy, they have the talent to possibly go from the worst to first and play in the MAC Championship Game. The Golden Flashes will need to improve their passing attack, which was pretty much non-existent and made the offense very predictable.
The defense will need to improve as well after giving up 29 points per game last season. Doug Martin will need to make his fifth season his best if he hopes to return.
Chance of being fired: 40 percent
It’s simple for Doug Martin. If you win (like you should), you will stay. Underachieve and you will be gone. I think the Golden Flashes will win and Martin will keep his job.
Dave Wannstedt, Pitt
Record at Pitt: 16-19 (.457) Last season: 5-7
Dave Wannstedt is entering his fourth season and has yet to return the once-proud Pitt Panthers program to glory. He hasn’t even taken them to a bowl game. If there ever were a season to do it, this would be it.
Hopes are high in Pittsburgh, and the Panthers have the talent to contend for the Big East championship. The question is: Do they have the coaching? If Wannstedt’s team underachieves, this season it could be his last.
Chance of being fired: 35 percent
This is the season Dave Wannstedt needs to prove himself. After a pitiful stint with the Miami Dolphins, he came to Pitt and seemed to embrace the winning tradition of the university. The only problem is that he hasn’t done much winning himself.
Last season’s shocking upset of No. 2 West Virginia should propel this team into the 2008 campaign with more confidence and give the Panthers the swagger they have been missing since Wannstedt took over.
Ron Prince, Kansas State
Record at Kansas State: 12-13 (.480) Last season: 5-7
Ron Prince’s team started strongly last season, winning four of their first six games, including a huge win over Texas. Then the Wildcats season went in the tank, as they lost five of their last six games.
To address the many holes on the Wildcat roster and to start winning right away, third year coach Ron Prince has brought a ton of junior college transfers to Manhattan.
That might not seem like the best way to help the program in the long run, but Prince knows the best way to build the program is to win. He is giving Kansas State the best possible chance to win right now or else he may not get another chance.
Chance of being fired: 35 percent
Ron Prince seems to know that he has one last shot. That’s a big reason he took a gamble by bringing in such a large number of junior college transfers. The gamble should work (in the short term) and save his job for at least one or two more seasons.
Eventually, he will need to build for the future, and until he does, he will find himself firmly planted on the hot seat.
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Record at Iowa: 61-49 (.555) Last season: 6-6
Though Kirk Ferentz has had success at Iowa, his teams have been in a steady decline over the last few seasons. With several returning starters on both sides of the ball, the Hawkeyes should be competitive in the Big Ten this season.
The biggest issue with the Hawkeyes is an off-season that has been riddled with off-the-field issues. At least 14 players have been arrested and/or charged with a crime in the last year, the most notable being an alleged sexual assault charge involving two former players.
Kirk Ferentz is under the microscope, and the university and athletic department are left wondering just how much control he has over his program.
Chance of being fired: 20 percent
There is no doubt that Kirk Ferentz can coach. The real question is: can he manage his program? I think so. Look for the Iowa football program to band together and get back to a bowl game this season and look for Kirk Ferentz to be on the sidelines in 2009.
Charlie Weis, Notre Dame
Record at Notre Dame: 22-15 (.595) Last season: 3-9
Uh-oh. Don’t look now. The same Charlie Weis that was going to be the savior of the proud Notre Dame football program is now on the hot seat in South Bend.
Sure he took his team to two consecutive BCS bowls in his first two seasons, but let’s be honest, they probably didn’t deserve to be there.
Proof of that comes in the scores of those two losses (34-20 to Ohio State in 2005 and 41-14 to LSU in 2006).
Expectations are high in South Bend, and anything less than another trip to the BCS will be a disappointment for most Irish fans. Weis's image took a big hit last season, and now is the time to prove that he can do more than recruit. He now needs to prove that he can win with those recruits.
Chance of being fired: 30 percent
Charlie Weis may have never felt as much pressure to perform as he does this season. He came to Notre Dame with all the confidence in the world.
He was Charlie Weis, the mastermind behind the New England Patriots three Super Bowl wins. He had the ego, the bravado, and the confidence of a champion.
But something happened last season and Charlie doesn’t seem to be Charlie anymore. I think a little humble pie has done Charlie good, and his Irish will benefit from it.
Ralph Friedgen, Maryland
Record at Maryland: 56-31 (.644) Last season: 6-7
Everything seemed to be going Maryland’s way. They were stringing together 10-win seasons and recruiting was going well and then it all stopped. Now, fans are getting restless.
With three losing records in four seasons and a once-promising offense now looking very mediocre, Friedgen finds himself firmly on the hot seat. There is talent on the roster, and with the hiring of offensive coordinator James Franklin, the Terps should be competitive in ACC.
With the offensive coordinator duties now off his shoulders, Friedgen should be able to put together a solid season and get the Terps back into a bowl game. If it turns out to be another stinker of a season, Friedgen may looking for another job.
Chance of being fired: 15 percent
Friedgen may find himself on the hot seat, but it’s really more like the lukewarm seat. The pressure he is feeling this season is just the kick-in-the-butt he needs to get back to his winning ways. The pieces are all in place; Friedgen just needs to make it work.