Another college football season will soon be upon us, and while coaches making their debuts—Luke Fickell, Brady Hoke, Will Muschamp, Dana Holgorsen and the rest of the newbies—will have a bright spotlight, so will a handful coaches who might be making their farewells.
They've each reached a hot-seat-like position for a variety of reasons, but that doesn't mean that they're beyond redemption. Some of these men have enjoyed plenty of recent success or haven't been on the job terribly long. But they still have some demanding fans and boosters to please.
Inside is a look at 10 coaches who—right or wrong—face a pivotal, make-or-break schedule in 2011.
How many will survive? Who knows, but right now, they control their own destiny...in December, they won't.
2010 Record: 7-6 (4-4), T-fourth in Big Ten
Career Record: 401-135-3
Toughest Games in 2011: At Ohio State, at Wisconsin, Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska
Before the Nittany Lion fans overload the comments box on this slideshow, let me explain.
I'm not implying that the brass in Happy Valley would fire Paterno...he's un-fireable.
But I do think that his future with the program does depend on how well the team does in 2011.
I'm convinced that had Penn State not had that fairly magical season in 2005, Paterno would have retired by now. The same is true about 2008 and 2009, when the club won 11 games. That's energized Paterno and validated his status there.
If the Nittany Lions suffer through another mediocre season, I wouldn't be surprised to see him step away.
2010 Record: 3-9 (1-7), sixth in ACC Atlantic
Career Record: 62-60
Toughest Games in 2011: At UNC, at Clemson, at Boston College, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame
It's probably one of the best-kept secrets in the world of college football, but after Frank Beamer, Jim Grobe is (by far) the longest-tenured coach in the ACC. How many non-Wake fans know he's beginning his 12th season there?
But considering the struggles of the last few years (and a pretty difficult schedule in 2011), it could be his last.
Granted, Wake isn't a powerhouse, historically great football program, and Grobe did lead the Demon Deacons to a great season in 2006, reaching the Orange Bowl. But that was five years ago. Since then, their record in the ACC has gotten worse every year, recording just one win (that nail-biter against Duke) last season.
2010 Record: 9-5 (5-3), first in SEC East
Career Record: 44-33
Toughest Games in 2011: At Georgia, at Arkansas, Florida, Auburn
The Gamecocks took a huge leap forward last year, winning the East and getting a shot to win the SEC title. But all that did was increase the expectations on Spurrier in 2011...well, that and pairing Jadeveon Clowney with Marcus Lattimore.
Much like JoePa, barring a scandal (Jim Tressel?) or some kind of health issue (Urban Meyer?), Spurrier isn't going anywhere.
But 2011 is a critical season for the 66-year-old. How much longer is he going to stick around before his golf game takes precedence?
2010 Record: 5-7 (2-6), sixth in Big 12 South
Career Record: 133-34
Toughest Games in 2011: At Missouri, at Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma
Maybe his job isn't on the line this year; when you win a national title and average nearly 11 wins a season for a decade, you have job security.
But given what happened with Will Muschamp going to Florida, another mediocre season under Brown and fans and boosters will question whether or not they made the wrong choice.
Since the Big 12 isn't quite as powerful as it once was with Nebraska and Colorado leaving, the cream really should rise to the top. If it doesn't, Brown's seat will get very hot.
2010 Record: 7-6 (4-5), T-fifth in Pac-10
Career Record: 40-45
Toughest Games in 2011: At Oklahoma State, at USC, at Oregon State, Oregon, Stanford
Arizona may be a basketball school first, but in nearly a decade under Stoops, the Wildcats have only three bowl appearances, one bowl victory and one season where they finished higher than fifth, a second-place tie in 2009.
That's not terrible, but it's not great either.
Throw in the fact that the Wildcats have a pretty brutal schedule next year, and Stoops will probably be hot-seated this winter.
2010 Record: 6-6 (4-5), T-fifth in Pac-10
Career Record: 25-24
Toughest Games in 2011: At Oregon, at UCLA, Missouri, USC
This time around (Miami in the 1990s, Oregon State in the early 2000s), I don't think we'll see Dennis Erickson leave the college game for greener pastures in the NFL.
After a great 10-3 season in Tempe in 2007, Erickson's Sun Devils are six games under .500 and way out of bowl contention.
In the revamped, now much tougher Pac-12, Arizona State's task is even tougher, and ultimately that falls on Erickson's shoulders.
2010 Record: 4-8, (2-7), ninth in Pac-10
Career Record: 15-22
Toughest Games in 2011: At Oregon State, at Stanford, at USC, Texas
When the UCLA brass fired Karl Dorrell towards the end of the 2007 season, they had to be hoping for more than what they've gotten from his replacement, Rick Neuheisel.
Fine, 2009 was a decent season: seven wins, bowl victory. But the Pac-12 is vying to become the new powerhouse conference, and with USC down on its luck right now, the Bruins had/have an opportunity to make a splash. Another 6-6 season or eighth-place finish and that won't happen.
2010 Record: 8-5 (4-4), T-third ACC Coastal
Career Record: 28-23
Toughest Games in 2011: At Georgia Tech, at Clemson, at NC State, at Virginia Tech, Miami
Having survived the scandals in Chapel Hill last year, you might figure that Davis is bulletproof. But there was serious pressure to let him go last year.
It's only by sheer will and/or luck that they managed to win eight games last season and defeat Tennessee in the Music City Bowl. If they can't at least match that eight-win effort, it will probably be viewed as a down year for the Tar Heels program.
Since they've been 8-5 each of the last five seasons, that doesn't exactly show much improvement under Davis.
2010 Record: 8-5
Career Record: 8-5
Toughest Games In 2011: At Michigan, at Stanford, Michigan State, USC, Boston College
I realize that it's only the start of his second year and this isn't the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s, but he's still the head coach of Notre Dame, so Brian Kelly has enormous expectations on his shoulders heading into 2011.
Considering the last two Notre Dame head coaches (Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis) enjoyed a bit more success than Kelly in the early parts of their tenures, he's a bit behind the eight ball right now.
Even if they manage to repeat an eight-win season (which won't be easy), that's not going to be nearly enough for the somewhat starving Irish fans.
2010 Record: 6-7 (3-5), T-third in SEC East
Career Record: 96-34
Toughest Games In 2011: At Tennessee, at Ole Miss, Boise State, Florida, Auburn
This one goes without saying, right?
It's not just the losing record last year, or the fairly embarrassing performance in the Liberty Bowl (six points against UCF?), or wasting that top ranking back in 2008, or even the fact that a handful of his players have been involved in a host of different disciplinary/legal problems.
More than anything, it's the fact that the SEC has dominated the college football landscape since 2006, with four different schools winning the last five BCS national championships, but not one of those schools is UGA.
Richt needs a 10-win season to restore the faith in Athens that he's "the guy."