College Football Hot Seat: Coaches in Danger of Getting Fired After Rough Starts

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistSeptember 9, 2019

College Football Hot Seat: Coaches in Danger of Getting Fired After Rough Starts

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    When your seat is hot and your fans are grumbling, sometimes the only thing in your corner of keeping your job is the amount of money you are owed.

    Welcome to 2019's early-season edition of college football's hot seat.

    Six programs are stuck with struggling coaches they recently hired, even though the on-field results are atrocious. Money obviously could become an issue at those programs (Florida State, Arizona, Tennessee, UCLA, Ole Miss and Arkansas). 

    Thanks to South Carolina's Will Muschamp perhaps finding a star in freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski, he just missed this list, at least for now. The Gamecocks have such a rugged schedule, though, he could find himself on it soon.

    With USC's Kedon Slovis looking like a maestro running Graham Harrell's offense for the Trojans, they're 2-0 after a resounding win over Stanford, and Clay Helton looks like he's trending in the right direction. Illinois' Lovie Smith won a Hot Seat Bowl game over UConn on Saturday, and the Illini are 2-0, too.

    Others aren't so fortunate.

    Let's take a look at eight coaches who need to turn things around fast.

Chris Ash, Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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    After a 48-21 win over Massachusetts in Week 1, Rutgers was the source of a few happy headlines in New Jersey, but things came crashing back to reality in a hurry on Saturday.

    Rutgers wasn't expected to beat Iowa, but the Scarlet Knights barely put up a fight in a 30-0 setback that dropped them to 0-1 in the Big Ten. That's a familiar refrain in the Chris Ash era, as Rutgers is now 8-30 during his time as head coach.

    Once thought to be a strong young coaching commodity, Ash hasn't cut it as the man in charge. It's tough winning at Rutgers, but Ash is struggling to even be competitive in the rugged Big Ten. 

    According to Forbes.com's J.P. Pelzman, the school would owe Ash $7.5 million if it fired him after this season, but how long is too long to wait before the program falls into utter disarray?

    Ihmir Smith-Marsette's 58-yard touchdown grab for the Hawkeyes covered more yards than Rutgers had in the entire first half. The offense is a major issue, and it has been throughout Ash's tenure. The Scarlet Knights changed quarterbacks, and it didn't matter. They wound up with 125 total yards.

    Besides Liberty and perhaps Illinois, there don't look like many opportunities on that schedule for win No. 2, either.

    A program that trumpets itself as the "birthplace of college football" needs to turn things around or make a change soon.

Randy Edsall, UConn

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    Randy Edsall needs to recapture what once made him a quality college coach on the UConn sideline.

    Before heading to a disastrous tenure at Maryland, Edsall went 9-4 before three consecutive 8-5 seasons from 2008 to '10 with the Huskies. As a Terp, he was fired after a 22-34 record in five seasons.

    On his second stint at UConn, he went 3-9 before going 1-11 last year. A 24-21 win over Wagner College in Week 1 didn't inspire much confidence and then the Huskies lost to Illinois and coach Lovie Smith 31-23 on Saturday.

    When you're proud of keeping things close to Illinois, things aren't going swimmingly. But with freshman quarterback Jack Zergiotis playing well Saturday, there's at least reason for cautious optimism.

    "I'm really proud of our guys," Edsall told the Hartford Courant's Alex Putterman. "I hate losing, but even though we didn't win, I thought we made improvements, I thought we got better, I thought we found out about our team a little bit more. And hopefully they understand that if we do this, we've got a chance—got a chance—to be a good football team."

    The Huskies are a long way from that, but perhaps they aren't as far away as a season ago. What's it going to take in the improvements department to be enough?

    The good news for Edsall is he inherited a mess from former coach Bob Diaco, and he built enough goodwill the first time around with the Huskies that his leash is a little longer. But they need to look better than they have the first couple of weekends, because another 1-11 record won't be pretty for Edsall's regime.

Chip Kelly, UCLA Bruins

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    UCLA made one of the two biggest splash hires of the offseason following 2017 when the Bruins pegged Chip Kelly to return to the Pac-12 after his forgettable NFL days.

    Kelly's return to a conference where he thrived as Oregon's head coach to the tune of a 46-7 record was tantalizing.

    It hasn't worked out the way the Bruins planned, to say the least.

    After finishing his first year on campus 3-9, there was a glimmer of hope with a season-ending win over USC. But two Group of Five losses to open this season places an exclamation next to the question marks.

    In Week 1, UCLA traveled to Cincinnati and lost. In Week 2, the Bruins lost to San Diego State for the first time in their existence, and it was a home game.

    A home game against Oklahoma and road trips to Washington State and Arizona loom. Things aren't looking up anytime soon.

    Kelly is having a difficult time convincing recruits things are going to get better, too. After a 19th-ranked recruiting class in 2018, the Bruins dipped to 40th last year, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

    According to the Los Angeles Daily News' Thuc Nhi Nguyen, it would cost UCLA a $9 million reciprocal buyout if he's fired without cause in the first four years of his five-year, $23.3 million contract. But this is a proud program with deep pockets.

    You have to wonder how long it will take or how far the program will fall before something is done. The only thing is if you go this high-profile, and it still doesn't work, what's next? Those are difficult questions facing UCLA.

Matt Luke, Ole Miss Rebels

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    Ole Miss' glaring issues on offense were exposed in its Week 1 loss to rival Memphis at the Liberty Bowl. 

    The only problem for the Rebels is it wasn't supposed to be that side of the ball that struggled. Last year, the defense was a debacle, leading coach Matt Luke to go make a dynamite hire at defensive coordinator in Mike MacIntyre.

    Luke also hired longtime head coach Rich Rodriguez to be the offensive coordinator, and while that hasn't worked out great yet, the Rebels did show major signs of improvement Saturday in a 31-17 win over Arkansas.

    Was this really the battle of the SEC West cellar-dwellers, or are there reasons for hope in Oxford?

    Luke is at his dream job, and his moves this offseason prove he's committed to doing what it takes to clean up the mess left by Hugh Freeze's scandal-ridden regime. But will he be a victim of the head coaching experience on his own staff?

    It's conceivable that if the Rebels struggle throughout the conference schedule but continue to show marked improvement on defense, the calls for Macintyre to usurp his boss could get louder. The same goes for Rich Rod if the offense steadily gets better.

    For a week, at least, Luke doesn't have fans calling for him to get canned. Maybe this was a building-block win for Ole Miss, a team with some sneaky-good weapons and an exceptional young quarterback in Matt Corral.

    Luke could get this program turned around, but he needs to stop tossing out clunkers like the season opener, especially after a 5-7 season in which the Rebels had just one league win.

Chad Morris, Arkansas Razorbacks

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    Let's be real: Chad Morris is probably going to get at least another year after this one in Fayetteville to turn things around.

    This won't be a quick fix going from coach Bret Bielema's run-oriented power attack to a high-flying offensive juggernaut the former Clemson offensive coordinator and SMU head coach deployed at his previous two stops.

    But after going 2-10 and 0-8 in SEC play a year ago, the Razorbacks struggled against Portland State in the season opener this year, winning 20-13. Then they lost again to Ole Miss on Saturday. Perhaps Morris found a quarterback, though.

    Though Morris named former SMU quarterback Ben Hicks the starter before the season began, fellow graduate transfer Nick Starkel took over on Saturday after transferring from Texas A&M and looked strong, completing 17 of 24 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown.

    Starkel supplanting Ben Hicks needs to result in some wins, though.

    Morris is trying to build an offense in Fayetteville that could work with the proper personnel, and the Hogs are doing a good job on the recruiting trail (23rd in 2019 team recruiting rankings). But the SEC is a thankless, unforgiving environment where everybody else lures players, too.

    Arkansas fans want the halcyon days of Bobby Petrino where the Hogs were one of the top teams in the division, and that seems like a long way away. Another two-win season would not help the grumbles for those wanting to see immediate improvement.

    Patience is going to have to reign if Morris is going to stick around for a while.

Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee Volunteers

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    Speaking of patience, they're all out of it on Rocky Top, our third SEC stop.

    Jeremy Pruitt was the beneficiary of Tennessee fans' Twitter frenzy resulting in UT rescinding its head coaching offer to former Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano after the 2017 season. When former coach Phil Fulmer took the athletic director position, he nabbed Pruitt to be his coach.

    The former Alabama defensive coordinating guru is in a mess after the program's first 0-2 start since 1988, losses that include a program low in a season-opening 38-30 loss to Georgia State and a how-did-that-happen overtime collapse Saturday night to BYU.

    Despite the seemingly endless cycle of futility and failed coaching hires following the Fulmer era, from Lane Kiffin to Derek Dooley to Butch Jones, there's much consternation surrounding Pruitt's abysmal start.

    The Vols went 5-7 a year ago but were dominated by Missouri and Vanderbilt to end the season when they needed just one win to go bowling. Now, finding wins on the schedule going forward looks bleak for a program that has lost eight regular-season games just once ever.

    According to 247Sports' Jordan James, Pruitt's buyout is more than $11 million, which means he probably isn't going anywhere. But Tennessee is playing like a team on the brink of collapse.

    Washing the stink off from the Jones era won't be easy, and Pruitt is trying to balance playing talented youngsters who don't quite know what they're doing with veterans who aren't as good. Couple that with quarterback Jarrett Guarantano's putrid start, and the issues are bountiful.

    There are myriad problems on Rocky Top, and while it may be inconceivable for Tennessee to pull the plug on yet another coach, the outcry from restless fans could make things ugly in what looks like another throwaway season.

Kevin Sumlin, Arizona Wildcats

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    Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin inherited one of the most exciting players in college football with quarterback Khalil Tate, and he hasn't figured out the best way for Tate and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to work together yet.

    That's why the Wildcats endured a losing season a year ago and one of the reasons a season-opening shocker at Hawaii occurred as well. Arizona has its share of defensive issues, too.

    Even in Saturday's 65-41 win over Northern Arizona in which freshman Grant Gunnell and Tate combine for six touchdowns, there was reason for concern. After all, giving up that many points to an FCS team is enough to make you lose sleep.

    Maybe things will improve when Sumlin and Mazzone get a pro-style passer to run their offense, but things on both sides of the ball need improvement in a hurry.

    The Pac-12 South has been wide-open in recent years with USC's struggles, but the Trojans are looking strong this year, and Utah may be the best team in the league. Arizona's window for competition is closing, and Herm Edwards' Arizona State Sun Devils have a higher trajectory right now.

    That won't make the proud Wildcats fans happy. As Saturday Down South's Adam Spencer wrote after the opening loss to Hawaii, some already are taking to Twitter to express frustrations with Sumlin.

    Fans are fans, though, and Sumlin has a longer leash than probably anybody wants to admit as he tries to build the program in his image. But his star, at the very least, is waning a bit after a failed tenure at A&M and a rocky start in the desert.

    It'll be interesting to see just how long it takes for the whispers to get louder.

Willie Taggart, Florida State Seminoles

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    When a new coach comes in and immediately erases 36 years of postseason prowess with a thud of a season, he burns the benefit of the doubt.

    That's what has happened to Willie Taggart, who led the Seminoles to their first bowl-less season since Bobby Bowden's first year in Tallahassee. He's followed that up this season with a monumental collapse in a season-opening home loss to Boise State.

    The Seminoles nearly did it again Saturday, needing overtime to beat Louisiana-Monroe 45-44 when the Warhawks missed a game-tying extra point in the extra session. It was a win that felt like a loss after Taggart's timeout issues gave Monroe a chance to win the game in regulation.

    If you factor in FSU would owe Taggart a whopping $17 million if it fires him after this season, you have to believe he's safe, right?

    Don't necessarily bet on it.

    This is a Seminoles program that got used to competing for conference and national championships during the heyday of Bowden and again under Jimbo Fisher. Now, they are struggling to make a bowl game and beat Group of Five foes.

    If the ACC season gets ugly, Taggart's seat is only going to get hotter. Yes, the Seminoles made a major financial commitment to lure the coach from Eugene, but it hasn't gone the way anybody hoped.

    Take money out of the equation, and Taggart would probably be the first on this list to see the cord cut. That's an indictment of his program so far, which has seen a defense full of talented players fall way short on playmakers and consistently confounding quarterback issues.

    FSU needs to turn things around in a hurry or it will spiral down that same abyss where Tennessee and UCLA reside.

       

    All recruiting information is from 247Sports, and rankings are from the 247Sports composite. All stats are from CFBStats.com.

    Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.