Way-Too-Early 2023 College Football Head Coach Hot Seat Predictions

David KenyonFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 18, 2023

Way-Too-Early 2023 College Football Head Coach Hot Seat Predictions

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    Jimbo Fisher
    Jimbo FisherMichael Chang/Getty Images

    The flurry of decisions that spin the coaching carousel is an annual reminder of inevitable change in college football.

    During the last two offseasons, more than 50 Football Bowl Subdivision teams have hired (or promoted) a new boss. So far—because we can't be certain more disruption won't happen in this beautifully silly sport—two dozen programs have a new head coach for next season.

    And plenty more will leave 2023 with a new one.

    The following list is not a projection of which head coaches will ultimately be fired in the next spin of the carousel. It is, however, a preview of hot-seat narratives to expect leading into the fall.

More to Know

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    Butch Jones
    Butch JonesAP Photo/Jay LaPrete

    Butch Jones, Arkansas State

    Dating back to Hugh Freeze's lone season with the team in 2011, the Red Wolves have a solid tradition of winning. They tallied seven-plus victories in nine straight years even as Freeze, Gus Malzahn, Bryan Harsin and Blake Anderson cycled through the program. Butch Jones, though, is just 5-19 overall with a 2-14 mark against Sun Belt competition. His security is waning.

    Danny Gonzales, New Mexico

    New Mexico hasn't been a perennial bowl contender since the Rocky Long era ended in 2008, so expectations are low. Nevertheless, the Lobos probably need to see improvement soon. Danny Gonzales has a 7-24 record in three seasons, including a rough 3-20 clip in the Mountain West after a winless 2022 campaign in league play.

    Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

    The amount of self-convincing required to even mention Pat Fitzgerald cannot be overstated. The longtime coach has massive job security at his alma mater because this is an immensely difficult spot, and he guides the Wildcats to sporadic success. At the same time, NU has finished 1-8 in Big Ten play during three of the last four seasons—with a trip to the league championship game mixed in. Is a random rise good enough? I think so. But maybe not?

    The Expensive New Guys

    Patience is a virtue, but it certainly isn't always practiced in college football. Several new-ish coaches with expensive contracts, in theory, should be safe to return in 2024. But if 2023 gets worse than 2022, would a change actually be made? This group includes Florida's Billy Napier, Miami's Mario Cristobal, Michigan State's Mel Tucker, Oklahoma's Brent Venables and Texas' Steve Sarkisian. Unlikely. But keep an eye on them.

Jeff Hafley, Boston College

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    WINSTON-SALEM, NORTH CAROLINA - OCTOBER 22: Head coach Jeff Hafley of the Boston College Eagles watches his team play against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during their game at Truist Field on October 22, 2022 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    The best way to describe Boston College is aggressively mediocre.

    Ever since Jeff Jagodzinski's tenure (strangely) ended before the 2009 season, Boston College has notched six-plus victories 10 times in 14 years. Dozens of programs would love to consistently reach bowl eligibility.

    However, the Eagles have peaked at eight wins during that time—and it happened only in 2009. The school moved on from Steve Addazio after he repeatedly failed to crack the seven-win mark, and Jeff Hafley is having trouble doing the same. His teams have managed six, six and three.

    Hafley has recruited at a slightly better level than his predecessor, but results aren't showing it. The recent drop has shuttled Hafley to the wrong side of the hot-seat conversation heading into 2023.

Tom Allen, Indiana

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    BLOOMINGTON, IN - NOVEMBER 26: Indiana Hoosiers head coach Tom Allen looks on as players warm up for the college football game between the Purdue Boilermakers and the Indiana Hoosiers on November 26, 2022, at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    When the Indiana Hoosiers put together a 3-0 start in 2022, it seemed Tom Allen's team would recover from a frustrating 2-10 year.

    Instead, the campaign turned sour. Indiana dropped seven straight games and stumbled to 4-8.

    Sure, the Hoosiers barely managed to compete with East Division powers Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. The trio outscored IU by a combined 132-38 mark after a 107-14 difference in 2021. But the Hoosiers shouldn't necessarily be judged at that level.

    The bigger problem is Indiana lost to Nebraska and Rutgers, two of the Big Ten's worst programs last season.

    Winning those matchups is the difference between making or missing a bowl. That should be the minimum, and a third straight year without a postseason trip could end Allen's time at Indiana.

Dino Babers, Syracuse

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    SYRACUSE, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 29: Head Coach Dino Babers of the Syracuse Orange leads his team to the field prior to a game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at JMA Wireless Dome on October 29, 2022 in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)
    Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

    Dino Babers entered 2022 as a regular on hot-seat lists.

    The good news is Syracuse surged to 6-0, climbing as high as 14th in the AP poll before falling at Clemson in a close game. Babers appeared to steady his security because of it.

    The bad news is that disappointing loss—which included a wasted 14-point lead against the future ACC champion—ended up the first of five consecutive setbacks for the Orange. Syracuse's early optimism faded into late-season irritation and an unspectacular 7-6 record.

    As a result, Babers is back on the hot-seat radar.

    Syracuse, which just signed the ACC's lowest-rated recruiting class, has a losing record in five of his seven seasons. Babers might not need another bowl bid to keep his job, but it definitely wouldn't hurt his case.

Neal Brown, West Virginia

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 01: West Virginia Mountaineers head coach Neal Brown talks to the referees during the college football game between the West Virginia Mountaineers and the Pittsburgh Panthers on September 01, 2022 at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Following a 5-7 season in 2022, West Virginia announced it plans to keep Neal Brown for a fifth year.

    When a school publishes a press release about a current coach's job status, though, that is hardly a good thing. Either the person has been fired or legitimately could have been. You're not going to see Georgia issue a statement that it plans to retain Kirby Smart, for example.

    Brown fully earned this opportunity thanks to three straight years of double-digit wins at Troy. Yet in his four seasons, West Virginia has mustered a 22-25 record—posting five or six victories each year.

    Given that he's due 100 percent of his remaining contract through 2024 if fired, WVU shouldn't be afraid to move on from Brown if the team stumbles again in 2023.

    Naturally, the hope is for marked improvement. But since West Virginia has to pay him anyway, it'll be time for a new voice in Morgantown if middling results continue next season.

Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M

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    COLLEGE STATION, TX - OCTOBER 29: Texas A&M Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher watches a replay on the jumbotron during the football game between the Ole Miss Rebels and Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field on October 29, 2022 in College Station, Texas. (Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Buyout money is a legitimate topic. It is not, however, an insurmountable obstacle for deep-pocketed Texas A&M boosters.

    If the Aggies do not recover nicely in 2022, that is.

    Despite an offseason filled with outgoing transfers, talent isn't a huge concern in College Station. Top players in the portal are still committing to Texas A&M—namely ex-North Carolina cornerback Tony Grimes—and another top-15 recruiting class is on the way.

    But the Aggies are a lukewarm 39-21 in Fisher's five seasons, and they trudged to 5-7 in 2022. That is simply not good enough at a program desperate to compete for SEC and national titles.

    Fisher's contract is fully guaranteed through 2031. Subsequently, his buyout would land somewhere in the $76 million-$78 million range, depending on the actual date of his dismissal, if fired next season. The cost would only rise, as the school pays assistants their own buyouts.

    Fiscal responsibility exited with Fisher's initial deal and extension, however. If the Aggies want to change, they'll find the money.

    Recruit rankings via 247Sports' composite list.