Colorado Football: Seven 2011 Opponents Have Coaches on the "Hot Seat"

Stuart WhitehairAnalyst IApril 24, 2011

TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 26:  Head coach Rick Neuheisel of the UCLA Bruins watches from the sidelines during the college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium on November 26, 2010 in Tempe, Arizona. The Sun Devils defeated the Bruins 55-34. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Former Colorado coach near the top of the ”hot seat” candidates this fall

Colorado fans can be pleased to be off of at least one chart for a change: the “coaches-on-the-hot-seat" chart. With the Dan Hawkins era now a part of CU history, new head coach Jon Embree will enjoy a honeymoon period of at least two and perhaps three seasons.

Meanwhile, former Colorado head coach Rick Neuheisel is atop many of those hot set lists this spring. In three seasons at his alma mater, Neuheisel’s UCLA Bruins have posted records of 4-8, 7-6 and 4-8. The 2010 team lost six of its final seven games, with back-to-back wins over No. 23 Houston and No. 7 Texas in non-conference play a distant memory.

Neuheisel knows that this is his year to produce.

“I don’t feel it. I’m sure it’s there,” Neuheisel told ESPN blogger Ted Miller when asked about the extra pressure to win this season. “I don’t go up there and sit in (the athletic director’s) office every day, but I don’t feel it.”

His actions, if not his words, though, seem to indicate Neuheisel does feel the heat. He has replaced five of his coaches, including both coordinators (remember how it took more than a month for Neuheisel to find a new defensive coordinator?). To focus the attention (and pressure) more upon himself, Neuheisel has taken over as the Bruins’ quarterback coach.

“I’m putting it on me. I don’t want it on anybody else’s shoulders,” said Neuheisel. “It’s been hard for me to watch that position coached by somebody else (that would be Norm Chow, who coached three quarterbacks to Heisman trophies before parting ways with Neuheisel and landing back at Utah)…but it’s what I do. It’s what I enjoy doing. I’m excited about the challenge.”

It’s not as if Neuheisel has much to work with. A story by ESPN blogger Ted Miller, titled “No savior yet for UCLA at quarterback,“ started off with, “The savior is going to prom next week,” suggesting that it may fall to true freshman Brett Hundley to lead the Bruin offense this fall.

Then, there is the division of duties. UCLA ran a pistol offense last year. The move worked well for the rushing attack (UCLA was 32nd in the nation in 2010), but was a disaster for the passing game (where UCLA finished 116th out of 120 teams). Now, Neuheisel has brought in Mike Johnson, who has no experience with the pistol, to be the offensive coordinator, while also hiring Jim Mastro to be the running backs coach. Mastro comes to UCLA from Nevada, where the pistol has been perfected. “It’s defined,” said Johnson of the roles of the offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and running backs coach. “My job as offensive coordinator is not to come up with all the ideas. It’s to be the leader of the group.”

UCLA opens the 2011 schedule with a road game against Houston before returning home to face San Jose State and Texas. Both Houston and Texas will have revenge on their minds, as both were ranked when the Bruins upset them last fall. In Pac-10 play, UCLA avoids having to play Oregon, but faces tough road games against Stanford, Utah and USC. The Bruins will host Colorado in the final home game of the season on November 19th.

Can Neuheisel produce a winning record and save his job? Neuheisel isn’t worried about his future. “If it were to happen, that they were to replace me, I’m confident I would find another job,” said Neuheisel. “It wouldn’t be the end of the world…But I’m adamantly wanting to be here, because this is my school, and I believe we’re closing in on where we want to go.”

Where have we heard that one before?

Other 2011 Colorado opponents with coaches on the “hot seat” …

UCLA’s Rick Neuheisel comes in at No. 4 on the list of potential firings at

First on the list of coaches believed to be close to firing is Washington State’s head coach Paul Wulff. In three seasons with the Cougars, Wulff has posted records of 2-11, 1-11 and 2-10. Barring a significant improvement in 2011, Wulff will be gone this December.

No. 6 on the list is Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel. The listing, of course, has nothing to do with Tressel’s 10-year record with the Buckeyes of 106-22. Instead, it has everything to do with Tressel knowing he had players who violated NCAA rules by receiving improper benefits, then lying about his knowledge for nine months so his players could remain eligible. Jim Tressel has voluntarily agreed to sit out coaching along the sidelines during the first five weeks of the 2011 season (including the Colorado game), but that is a self-imposed sanction. The NCAA isn’t done with Tressel.

A surprise at No. 8 on the hot seat list is Jeff Tedford at Cal. All Tedford had done for the Bears is post a 72-42 record in nine seasons in Berkeley, but, in the “what have you done for me lately” world of college athletics, last season’s 5-7 record, coupled with the rise of rival Stanford into the top 10 nationally, has made things uncomfortable for Tedford.

Coming in at No. 16 on the list is Steve Fairchild at Colorado State. In three seasons with the Rams, Fairchild has posted records of 7-6, 3-9 and 3-9. After a promising start to his career in Fort Collins, including a bowl win over Fresno State in 2008, Fairchild and his Rams have fallen on hard times. Colorado State lost its last nine games in 2009 after a 3-0 start and limped home with losses in five of its last six games last year, including embarrassing losses to BYU (49-10) and Wyoming (44-0).

The No. 22 entry on the list is Dennis Erickson at Arizona State. Erickson is a mediocre 25-24 in four seasons with the Sun Devils, including six straight losses to end a 4-8 campaign in 2009. Two big wins to end the 2010 season, including a win over rival (and 23rd-ranked) Arizona, gave Erickson another year. With almost all of his team returning for 2011, Arizona State is expected to compete for the first Pac-12 South title. Anything short of that and Erickson may not be with the Sun Devils in 2012.

The final Colorado 2011 opponent with their coach on the hot seat is USC, whose coach, Lane Kiffin, comes in at No. 25 in the rankings. Kiffin posted an 8-5 record in his first season with the Trojans, coming to Los Angeles after a one-year stint (7-6) with Tennessee. NCAA sanctions aside, Kiffin has not exactly endeared himself to the Trojan Nation, so unacceptable loss totals (like the five losses in 2010) will not long be tolerated.

It will be interesting to see how the 2011 season plays out. Not to wish anyone ill, but it is nice to see fans of other teams have to struggle with their coaching staff for a change.

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