College Football: The 25 Coziest Coaches

Ryne HodkowskiAnalyst IOctober 13, 2011

College Football: The 25 Coziest Coaches

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    In an episode of The Wire, the Baltimore Police Department holds a "policeman's funeral" for a deceased member of the force. This ritual consists of laying the fallen on a pool table in a bar, getting extremely inebriated, and remembering the officer.

    Eventually, Sgt. Landsman stands up, and amidst all the chaos, gives a brief eulogy for the deceased:

    "This man served 39-years, obtaining the rank of colonel, without leaving a trail of bitterness or betrayal.  In this department, that isn’t a career, it’s a miracle."

    We can apply Landsman's words to the world of college football coaching.  Coaching has become a "what have you done for me lately" industry.  Legends such as Bobby Bowden can be shown the door, while others are dismissed amidst scandals and crises.  If any coach lasts a long time at a program with no bitterness or betrayal, it's a miracle.

    Therefore, we should spend less time discussing those on the "hot seat," and spend more time honoring those who figure to be a fixture of their team's programs for years to come.  Let us acknowledge the coaches that fans can get excited about seeing day in, day out, for years and years to come.

    There is one caveat to consider.  This is a list of coaches who will not be fired by their programs except for the most egregious of errors.  That isn't to say that any of these coaches could get "promoted" and leave the program voluntarily. 

    As you will see, many of these coaches are doing so well, that a sudden move could be in their future.  And remember, there are the successful coaches at the successful programs that leave suddenly as well (Urban Meyer).

    With that in mind...get used to seeing these faces at these programs for a lonnnnng time.  Here are the untouchables.

25. Mark Dantonio: Michigan State University

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    Why he isn't going to get fired: MSU is 37-20 under Dantonio, enjoying a share of the conference title in 2010.  It was the Spartans' first conference title since 1990.  They have played in two Capital One Bowl games under Dantonio (2008, 2010).

    Dantonio has capitalized on MSU's main rivals suffering down years.  Dantonio is 3-1 against Michigan, and 3-2 against ND.

    MSU rose to No. 5 in the rankings in 2010.

     

    What he would have to do to get fired:  Dantonio is 0-4 in bowl games.  Does this trend continue?

    With a potential resurgence in Ann Arbor and South Bend, do the Spartans continue to compete against the Wolverines and Irish, or do they fall back to third out of these three teams?

    MSU has a great chance to win the Big10 Legends division this year.  Will they cash in?  If MSU falls back to Earth with a couple of 7-8 win seasons, Dantonio could be in trouble. He has set a high bar in East Lansing.

24. Dennis Erickson: Arizona State University

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    Why he isn't going to get fired:  You know how you can't turn on the TV or read a sports website without hearing about ASU nowadays?  That's because of Erickson.

    Since joining ASU in 2007, the Sun Devils are only 30-25.  That being said, they are relevant again; having played in the Holiday Bowl in Erickson's inaugural season, and being the favorites in the Pac-12 South this season.

    It isn't a flash in the pan either.  Erickson won two national championship with Miami in 1989 and 1991.  Then, he immediately turned around Oregon State, leading them to a Fiesta Bowl title in 2000.  Now, he has the Sun Devils on the rise. 

     

    What he would have to do to get fired:  Blow the Pac-12 South race this season.  Then, lose the positioning he has established against USC.  If USC (or any team) takes control of the Pac-12 South, Erickson would be in trouble.

23. George O'Leary: University of Central Florida

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    Why he isn't going to get fired: O'Leary resurrected a UCF program that was just 16-19 in the three years prior to his arrival.  Worse yet, UCF had only been in D-I for nine years, and were lost amongst the other big name Florida schools.

    O'Leary gave the Knights an identity.  He has two 10+ win seasons out of seven at UCF, and has built them into perennial C-USA contenders.  Last year, UCF won C-USA, and then beat Georgia in the Liberty Bowl.  They finished 11-3!

    During O' Leary's tenure, UCF built a new stadium in Orlando.  Now, UCF can compete with any of the Florida teams.

     

    What he would have to do to get fired: Not every season has been successful for O'Leary.  He has posted two 4-8 seasons in his short tenure at UCF.  That being said, he was able to effectively rebound every subsequent season. 

    It would take a string of disappointing seasons, and a fade to irrelevance in C-USA for O'Leary to get canned.  In short, he isn't going to.  

22. Kevin Sumlin: University of Houston

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    Why he isn't going to get fired: Houston is enjoying their greatest successes since the Andre Ware days of the late 1980s.

    Under Sumlin, the Cougars are 3-0 against ranked opponents, including a win at No. 5 Oklahoma State in 2009.  They have established themselves as the team to beat in C-USA.

    Sumlin has been so successful, that he has been the rumored candidate for many head coaching positions.  Most recently, his name has come up in regards to Arizona's vacancy.

     

    What he would have to do to get fired:  (Spoiler Alert) Sumlin is the only coach on this list coming off of a losing season. 

    Many cited the loss of Keenum as the reason Houston was so unsuccessful last year.  Well, Keenum will graduate this year...then what?  Will Houston rebound and reload, and become a perennial top 25 team?  Or will they fade back to .500 territory?

    Houston also has a recent history of fast starts and slow finishes.  For all the talent, Houston has only won their division once under Sumlin.  They subsequently lost to ECU in the C-USA title game.

    Can Sumlin finish the season, and win the C-USA title?  Can the Cougars go undefeated?  Can he rebuild next year?  Or....will he even be there next year?

21. Skip Holtz: University of South Florida

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    Why he isn't going to get fired: In just his second season at USF, he has the Bulls contending for the Big East championship.  If his track record at ECU is any indication, USF will win a Big East championship soon. 

    USF already has a nice bowl victory under Holtz (an upset over Clemson in last year's Meineke Car Care Bowl).  More notably, USF took down Notre Dame on national television the first week this season.

    While he may not get the Bulls to No. 2 nationally the way Jim Leavett did in 2007, he has them primed to finish with their highest ranking ever.

    *Note: South Florida was ranked No. 2 on October 18th, 2007.  They finished the season unranked.  Has such a dramatic drop ever happened before?  Additionally, USF has never been ranked in the final polls.  Ever. 

     

    What he would have to do to get fired:  The Big East is in an exciting transitional period.  All of the contenders have a coach in their first or second season (Graham at Pitt, Holgersen at WV, and Jones at Cincinnati).  How all of these young coaches establish themselves early will be interesting.  Who wants to take control of the Big East? 

    Holtz isn't off to an exceptionally good start in this regard.  The Bulls were destroyed a couple of weeks ago on national television against Pitt.  The Bulls also went 0-2 against Pitt and WV last season, and that was with Wannstedt and Stewart coaching. 

    To win a conference, and to keep his job, Holtz will have to beating those teams.

20. Joe Paterno: Penn State University

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    Why he isn't going to get fired:  He's the all-time winningest coach, for starters.  He has been at Penn State for 46 years now.  The Nittany Lions are off to a 5-1 start this year, and are as relevant as ever.

    JoePa and the Nittany Lions had a rough stretch from 2000-2004, compiling a 26-33 record.  During that stretch, they missed bowl games in four out of five years.  If he didn't get fired then, why would he now? 

    In the five years plus following the rough stretch, Penn State is 63-20.  They have won an Orange Bowl and played in a Rose Bowl. 

     

    What he would have to do to get fired:  Lose out and miss a bowl game this season.  Then, miss a bowl the next season.  People would bring up his age, injuries, and inability to successfully manage the team, and then, he could get fired. 

    It all sounds preposterous, but we have to remember how Bobby Bowden was wrongfully terminated.  Even legends aren't safe in this game of "what have you done for me lately?"

19. Chris Ault: University of Nevada

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    Why he isn't going to get fired: Ault is only one of three active coaches to be in the College Football Hall of Fame (Paterno, and John Cagliardi of St. John's are the other two). 

    Ault played at Nevada from 1965-1968.  Then, he coached the Wolfpack from 1976-1992.  In the process, he oversaw the Wolfpack moving from I-AA to I-A.

    He took one year off in 1993, then returned for two more seasons.  After that, Ault became the AD of Nevada!  After watching the Wolfpack go 16-31 from 2000-2004, Ault fired Head Coach Chris Tormey, and installed himself as the new head coach.  That's power!

    Since then, all Ault has done is install the revolutionary Pistol Offense, and win two WAC titles (2005, 2010).  Oh, and chalk up 54 more wins, giving him 221 in his career.

     

    What he would have to do to get fired: Defenses evolve and learn to stop the Pistol offense with great consistency.  Ault and the Wolfpack move to the Mountain West, and find life more difficult there than they did in the WAC (even though the new Mountain West is starting to look like the old WAC).  Nevada only wins 6-8 games a year, and Ault is replaced.

    Again, preposterous if it happens, but anything is possible.

18. Bobby Petrino: University of Arkansas

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    Why he isn't going to get fired: Petrino made it to a BCS bowl in the just his third year.  It was the the Razorbacks first BCS berth since the 1987 Orange Bowl, when no one had heard of the BCS.

    The Hogs have seen marked improvement every year under Petrino; going from five to eight to ten wins.  He has the Hogs contending in an extremely difficult division/conference.

    He is 2-1 against rival LSU, but is 0-4 against Alabama.

     

    What he would have to do to get fired: How will fans handle an eventual regression in wins?  What if Arkansas finishes in third or fourth in the SEC West for the next couple of years (entirely possible).

    Arkansas would have to take a major back seat to Alabama and LSU, and they would have to lose a majority of games against them.  A few years of missing out on a SEC West title, and always settling for lesser bowls would be the only way Petrino is let loose.

17. Frank Beamer: Virginia Tech

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    Why he isn't going to get fired: Beamer is in his 25th season at Virginia Tech, and he hasn't had a losing season since 1992!   Additionally, Virginia Tech has won 10+ games every year since 2003.

    Since the ACC split into two divisions, Virginia Tech has dominated the ACC.  Virginia Tech has won half of the ACC title games, and only failed to play in two of six (2006, 2009).

    One thing that Beamer and VT never really get credit for is supplanting Miami and FSU as the most dominant teams in the ACC.  Miami was the team of the 1980s.  Once both VT and Miami joined the Big East, VT has been just as successful, (if not more).

    Then, Miami and VT joined the ACC.  Since then, FSU has not been as good as they once were (nor has Miami).  VT has become the dominant team of the ACC, over both Miami and FSU.  That is extremely impressive.

     

    What he would have to do to get fired:  Administrators get fed up with Beamer "only" winning ACC titles, but not competing for the national championship. 

    In the past five years, the highest rank VT reached was No. 4 in 2009.  That week, they lost to Georgia Tech.  The highest postseason ranking they had in the last five years was No. 9, after the 2007 season.

    Beamer would have to lose out on making the ACC title game for the next couple of years, and people would erroneously call for a change.

16. Art Briles: Baylor University

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    Why he isn't going to get fired: Briles led Baylor to their first bowl game in 16 years (and the first since they've been a member of the Big12).  Now, he has Baylor primed to go to consecutive bowl games for the first time in 18 years.

    Baylor was ranked No. 25 and No. 22 in consecutive weeks last season.  The Bears hadn't been ranked since 1993.

    Briles has a track record of turning programs around (he inherited a bad Houston team, and turned them into a ten win team four years later).  Although the stakes are higher in the Big12, it appears as if he is working the same magic.

     

    What he would have to do to get fired: Like was previously mentioned with Sumlin, Briles is more likely to leave Baylor than he is to get fired. 

    Perhaps Briles would be in question if Baylor continues to play .500 football, and not take the next step.  Getting ranked and making a bowl game is a great accomplishment for the Bears, but if they do not take the next step and start to compete with Oklahoma, OSU, etc, he could be in trouble.

    It is unfair that he has to compete with OU and the top teams, but he has the Bears established as a bowl team.  Now, he has to take the next step.

15. Les Miles: Louisiana State University

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    Why he isn't going to get fired:  He currently has the No. 1 team in the land.  He won a national championship in 2007.  In five plus years with LSU, Miles is 68-17.  Despite rumors that he is going to head back to Ann Arbor, he has constantly reaffirmed his loyalty to LSU.

     

    What he would have to do to get fired:  MIles hasn't won the SEC West since the Tigers national championship in 2007.  Alabama won it in consecutive years following, and then Auburn won it last year. 

    They also haven't been to a BCS game since 2007.  It seems ludicrous to consider a coach is doing a bad job because he hasn't made a BCS game in three years, but those are the stakes at LSU and in the SEC. 

    Miles would have to lose to Alabama again this year, missing out on the SEC West title.  If the Tigers fail to win double digit games this year or next, with all the talent they have, while Alabama continues to succeed, Miles could be in jeopardy. 

    He is also infamous for some clock management issues.

14. Frank Solich: Ohio University

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    Why he isn't going to get fired: Under Solich, Ohio has enjoyed more success since...ever.

    The 2009 senior class finished with 28 wins, more than any senior class in the past 40 years. 

    Before Solich took over, Ohio hadn't been to a bowl game since 1968.  In Solich's six years at Ohio, they have been to three!

     

    What he would have to do to get fired:  Solich has put Ohio on the map, but he hasn't taken the next step yet.  He has won two division titles in six years, but has yet to win the MAC championship. 

    Ohio is now one of the more talented teams in the MAC, and have become perennial favorites.  If they continue to fall just short of winning the title, administrators might say "thanks for everything Frank, but we're going somewhere else."  They would be wrong, but it could happen.

13. Paul Johnson: Georgia Tech

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    Why he isn't going to get fired: Johnson led the Jackets to an Orange Bowl in 2009, their first BCS game since the 1967 Orange Bowl! (Although they played in some important Citrus Bowl games in the early 1990s).

    GT is undefeated this season, their best start since their 1990 National Championship campaign. 

    GT is the only team other than Virginia Tech to win the ACC Coastal division, having done it twice.  The latest came in 2009, under Johnson.

     

    What he would have to do to get fired: Finish the season in a disappointing fashion.  Follow this up with a couple more .500 seasons.

    Johnson is also 0-3 in bowl games at GT.  Teams seem to perform better against him when they have additional time to prepare for the triple option.  If this isn't amended, he could be in trouble.

    Otherwise, GT fans should enjoy years of triple option, and competition for the ACC title.

12. Steve Sarkisian: University of Washington

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    Why he isn't going to get fired: If you have read any of my other articles, such as the "Top 50 Coaches," you know that I am constantly singing the praises of Sarkisian.  And it's with good reason.

    Sarkisian inherited a winless team...0-12!  In his first season, he went 5-7 and beat USC.  The next year, he went 7-5, beat USC again, and split with Nebraska.  The win against the Huskers came in the Holiday Bowl just months after his Huskies were destroyed by the very same Nebraska team.

    Repeat: he's 2-0 against USC.  He turned an 0-12 team into a Holiday Bowl champion in two years.

    He is off to a 4-1 start this season.  Games against Stanford and Oregon are looming.

     

    What he would have to do to get fired: Completely blow this season and only win six games when they have the potential to win nine.  Following that, the program stabilizes and the Huskies become a perennial .500 team.

    I don't see either of those happening.  And even if they do, I'd be surprised if Sark is fired.  He seems incredibly safe in Seattle.

11. Mike Gundy: Oklahoma State University

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    Why he isn't going to get fired: Gundy constantly overachieves at Oklahoma State.  The Cowboys are 29-10 in the last three years.

    The last time the Cowboys won 10+ games, Gundy was the QB.  OSU went 20-4 in 1988 and 1989, and Gundy enjoyed handing the ball off to Barry Sanders.

    Under Gundy, the Cowboys have become national title contenders...something that was set-up, but not accomplished by Gundy's predecessor, Les Miles.

    If Gundy continues to put up nine, 10 win seasons, he will be a fixture in Stillwater for years to come.

     

    What he would have to do to get fired: He is 1-11 against Texas and Oklahoma, the lone win coming against Texas in the Longhorns' down year last year.

    OSU never won the Big 12 South division (and they won't, since it doesn't exist anymore).  Additionally, OSU hasn't made a BCS game under Gundy. 

    He is overachieving at OSU, but he hasn't gotten over the hump yet.  They have had a few chances to take down OU and win a division, but have come up just short.  How long can that continue before fans get restless?

10. Larry Blakeney: Troy University

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    Why he isn't going to get fired:  He is Troy Football.  As in, there haven't been any other coaches at Troy as long as they have been a D-I football team.

    Since joining D-I in 2001, Blakeney has led the Trojans to five bowl games.  Additionally, they have won five-straight Sun Belt Conference championships.

     

    What he would have to do to get fired: I can't imagine what he would have to do.  Troy only has two losing seasons since becoming D-I members.  It would require a few consecutive losing seasons before Troy lost sight of all that he has accomplished for the program, and let him loose.

    After coaching Troy for 20 seasons, and being successful in doing so, it would seem that Blakeney could have gone to nearly any program he wanted.  He hasn't yet.  And if he hasn't yet, I don't know what would be the impetus for him to do so in the future. 

9. Bret Bielema: University of Wisconsin

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    Why he isn't going to get fired: The Badgers are 54-16 in five plus seasons under Bielema.  They are the reigning Big Ten champions.  Additionally, Bielema has the Badgers positioned as by far-and-away the best team in the conference this season, and has his sights set on a national championship.

    Under Bielema, Wisconsin has finished unranked just once.  Twice in five years, they finish ranked in the top 10.  It seems as if they will add to those impressive numbers once again this season. 

    He has lived up to the high standard Barry Alvarez set at Wisconsin.  There have only been two coaches at Wisconsin in the past 20 years, and they aren't looking for any more.

     

    What he would have to do to get fired: Not win the Big Ten Championship this season.  Then, regress and fall behind Michigan, OSU, and Nebraska.  This would all occur despite the fact that Bielema currently has the Badgers in better standing than all of those teams.

    Other than that, your guess is as good as mine.

8. Gene Chizik: Auburn University

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    Why he isn't going to get fired: Won the national championship last year, Auburn's first since 1957.  Even in this era of overreaction, that guarantees you a few years.  The coach who was fired the quickest after winning a BCS title was Larry Coker, who was fired five years after winning with Miami.

    Chizik is only in his third year.  But, he is 1-1 against Alabama (and played them very close in their loss), and is 1-1 against LSU.

     

    What he would have to do to get fired: Fall back to .500 this season, and then fall behind Alabama and LSU annually.

    Remember, this is Auburn.  They haven't been the most understanding of programs when it comes to teams being "just" good.  Tommy Tuberville went 13-0 in 2005, and compiled a 42-9 record in four years.  After one losing season in 2008, he "voluntarily resigned."

    The margin of error is razor thin. 

7. Gary Patterson: Texas Christian University

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    Why he isn't going to get fired: Patterson is in his 11th season at TCU, and he has compiled a 98-28 record.  If you went back in time just six years and told someone that TCU would win a Rose Bowl, you would get looks as confused as Biff's in Back to the Future II when he was confronted with a similar situation.  But Patterson and TCU did just that.  They finished ranked second in the nation.

    Under Patterson, TCU has become a household name, again.  Always a rumor to take over for other programs, Patterson has stayed at TCU, winning four conference titles in the process.

     

    What he would have to do to get fired: TCU moving to the Big 12 means it is even more unlikely that Patterson will voluntarily leave TCU, though it also means that TCU will be playing harder competition.

    The transition will be very interesting, and the Horned Frogs should feel comfortable that they are making the transition with Patterson at the helm.  How they perform once they are in the Big 12 is another story.

    My guess is that they will do just fine.  TCU can't expect Big 12 titles immediately.  If they do, they may develop unwarranted animosity towards Patterson.  Other than that, I don't see how he is fired.  

6. Dana Holgersen: West Virginia University

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    Why he isn't going to get fired: West Virginia got the man that they wanted, even if it was a year early.  Holgersen was hired to be Offensive Coordinator and "coach-in-waiting" under Bill Stewart.  Things went wrong (as they always do in those situations), and Holgersen was hired this season.

    He has West Virginia off to a hot start.  The Mountaineers off to a 5-1 start with their only loss coming to LSU.  They are ranked No. 13 nationally, and figure to be the favorites for the Big East title.

     

    What he would have to do to get fired: As previously mentioned with Holtz, Holgersen is one of many young coaches in the Big East.  His initial success will be measured by how he does against Cinci, USF, and Pitt, and if he can win the Big East.

    Following that, Mountaineer fans are expecting Holgersen to lead them to national championships. 

    It's a lot of pressure for a first-time coach.  So far, so good. 

    Either way, this was the guy WV wanted, so expect Holgersen to be in Morgantown for a while.

5. June Jones: Southern Methodist University

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    Why he isn't going to get fired: We've all seen ESPN's Pony Excess.  SMU was given the death penalty in the late 1980s, and as a result, did not make a bowl game since the 1984 Aloha Bowl.

    Enter June Jones in 2008.  He inherited a 1-11 team.  In his first season, he goes 1-11.  Since then, he's led the Mustangs to back-to-back bowl games. 

    Not one to rest on his laurels, SMU is off to another great start this year.  The Mustangs are 4-1, and in one of the bigger upsets of the season, they beat TCU on the road.

    Is a C-USA title next?   Either way, Jones has resurrected this program.

     

    What he would have to do to get fired: As was the case with a few names on this list, Jones is more likely to take a job somewhere else before he is fired. 

    That being said, he left Hawaii after a 12-1 season...for SMU.  The move seemed to be a lateral one at best, so this seems to be the place he wants to be (there was some controversy at Hawaii as well...he felt he wasn't being fully supported by the university).

    If Jones wants to be the man responsible for turning SMU around, so be it.  He's off to a great start, and I can't imagine a scenario where SMU administrators would interfere with him.

4. Bill Snyder: Kansas State University

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    Why he isn't going to get fired: KSU had a 27 game losing streak prior to Snyder taking over in 1989.  Starting in 1993, KSU made bowl games in 10 of 11 seasons.

    This massive turnaround prompted former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer to state: "He's not the coach of the year, he's not the coach of the decade, he's the coach of the century."

    Snyder voluntarily resigned in 2005.  Following three unsuccessful season under Ron Prince, KSU was desperate for a change.  They found it in a familiar face. 

    Now, KSU is on the rise, again.  In just his second season, he led KSU to a bowl victory.  This year, he has the Cats sitting at 5-0.

     

    What he would have to do to get fired: If he didn't resign in the first place, Snyder would have been at KSU for his 23rd year this season instead of his 20th.  Nothing is stopping him.  He'll resign again before he is fired.

3. Bob Stoops: University of Oklahoma

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    Why he isn't going to get fired: Stoops has become the face of OU.  They are 129-31 under Stoops, have won one national championship, and seven Big 12 titles.

    Under Stoops, Oklahoma has been ranked in the top 10 at the start of the season every year since they won the title in 2000.  That is an astronomical eleven-straight seasons. 

     

    What he would have to do to get fired: Despite being ranked in the preseason top 10 every single year for the last 11, they haven't won the national championship.  In 2005 and 2009, they finished the season unranked.

    Stoops broke a string of five-straight BCS game losses last year with a win over UConn.  Prior to that, he saw his team upset against inferior Boise State and West Virginia teams.

    Oklahoma continues to be highly ranked, and in the picture for a national championship.  As long as that happens, Stoops will be safe.  But can fans in Norman continue to withstand "just" top ten finishes?

2. Chris Petersen: Boise State University

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    Why he isnt't going to get fired: Because of the picture seen here.  Winning Fiesta Bowls for Boise State and compiling 61-5 records doesn't just not get you fired, it gets you in the Hall of Fame.

    What he would have to do to get fired: Boise State needs to somehow find itself in the middle of the Mountain West, not the top. 

    As stated before, however, the Mountain West is going to look like the WAC that Boise dominated for so long.  TCU is leaving.  Utah has already left.  Nevada and Fresno State are entering.  With that in mind, there is no reason why Boise shouldn't continue to dominate their conference foes.

    Otherwise, it would take a jump to a major conference, and a subsequent downslide for Petersen to get the axe.  Even then, administrators would need to think that there is someone else out there as good as him...and there aren't many. 

1. Nick Saban: University of Alabama

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    Why he isn't going to get fired:  He's the only current coach to win two BCS National Championships (while Paterno has two, back in 1982 and 1986). 

    Saban inherited an Alabama team that went a mediocre 26-24 in its previous four seasons.  Quickly, Saban turned the Tide into national title contenders, winning the championship in his third season.  Now, he has Alabama poised for another one.

    After the failed Mike Shula era, Alabama is relevant again.  I can't imagine why Alabama would fire him when he is no worse than a top three coach in the nation.

     

    What he would have to do to get fired: Have an epic collapse this season and the next.  Then, and maybe not even then, would fans turn their back on the man who brought them a national title.

    Additionally, Saban already tried a venture into the NFL, so it is unlikely he tries that again.  And, he's making around $6 million a year, so I think he's good there too.

    The truth is: Unless something crazy happens, I can't imagine Saban being fired.