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

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2022

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

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    Rebecca S. Gratz/Associated Press

    Coaching changes are a way of life in college football, but this past year was unprecedented. Programs like Oklahoma, USC, Florida, LSU, Notre Dame, Oregon, Miami, Virginia Tech and Washington were all searching for new coaches at one point or another.

    As a result, at least 28 FBS head coaches will be roaming a different sideline in 2022.

    Plenty of head coaches will be safe next season because their teams are performing well, they've already bolted for another place, or a combination of both. That doesn't mean everybody has a free pass, though.

    Pressure will mount for some coaches if their teams don't perform next season, including some big names. 

    Middle Tennessee's Rick Stockstill and North Texas' Seth Littrell just missed this list, but they could easily be included if their teams are no-shows. While Stanford's David Shaw warranted consideration, it's just hard to see the Cardinal parting with him.

    Here's a look at which coaches could find themselves on the hot seat next season.

Tim Albin, Ohio Bobcats

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Ohio hoped to cause a quiet splash when it tabbed little-known Tim Albin to be its new head coach before the 2021 season. 

    If things don't change, the hire is looking more like a belly-buster.

    Ohio promoted Albin from offensive coordinator when longtime coach Frank Solich unexpectedly retired. The only other head coaching gig that Albin ever had was for NAIA Northwestern Oklahoma State from 1997-99. He led them to a 13-0 record his final season before being hired by Solich, who was then at Nebraska.

    Solich had a high level of success with the Bobcats, compiling a 115-82 record and 11 bowl appearances over 16 years. During that time, he had only two losing seasons.

    Ohio tumbled to a 3-9 record in the MAC this past season, finishing 10th in the conference scoring offense and ninth in total offense. They weren't much better defensively, finishing eighth in points allowed. 

    Ohio has quality facilities, especially for the MAC, and a strong dedication to the program. If Albin doesn't show major signs of improvement before long, he'll likely have a short leash.

Dino Babers, Syracuse Orange

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    Not long ago, Syracuse head coach Dino Babers was lauded as a brilliant offensive mind and an up-and-coming coach.

    He looked to be on the fast track to rebuilding the Orange's woebegone program following a 10-3 season in 2018 that culminated with a Camping World Bowl win over West Virginia. But things have turned blue for the Orange ever since.

    After going 5-7 in 2019, Syracuse bottomed out with a 1-10 record in 2020. The Orange went 5-7 this past season, marking their third straight year without a bowl appearance and their fifth losing season in six years under Babers.

    Babers signed an extension following that 10-win season in 2018, but his buyout is presumably diminishing each year. If Syracuse doesn't take a major step forward next season, he might be on his way out.

    "We all know what the expectations are for 2022," Syracuse athletic director John Wildhack told reporters in November. "We need to win more games. We want to play that 13th game."

    Running back Sean Tucker looks like a strong building block for the future, but can Syracuse overcome losing so many transfers over the past few years? Is Babers the guy to sustain relevance at a place that hasn't seen it in a long time?

    Going 5-7 wasn't terrible this past year, but it needs to be the first step back toward relevance rather than treading water just below mediocrity. Babers likely needs to make a bowl game in 2022 to keep his job.

Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

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    One of the most unenviable jobs in the nation fell to Geoff Collins when he left Temple to return home and take over Georgia Tech following the 2018 season.

    The Conyers, Georgia, native was building a strong resume at Temple. But the Yellow Jackets pegged him to take over for retiring coach Paul Johnson, who ran a triple-option attack. Collins had to fit players recruited to run that archaic system into his own philosophy and ultimately flip the roster.

    It hasn't gone well.

    Despite putting together some strong recruiting classes that drew national headlines when led by guys like running back Jahmyr Gibbs (who has since transferred to Alabama) and quarterback Jeff Sims, the on-field results haven't been there.

    In Collins' three years at the helm, the Ramblin' Wreck have largely wrecked, going 3-9, 3-7 and 3-9, respectively. Bouts of inconsistency cause them to battle quality opponents one week, then get blown out the next week.

    Recruiting slogans, fancy words and swagger are all nice to build support around a program and get recruits to listen. But if the wins don't eventually come, all of that fades.

    There needs to be some semblance of hope at Georgia Tech, and that hasn't come yet. If Collins is more than just a transition coach, he needs to start proving it.

Karl Dorrell, Colorado Buffaloes

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    When Karl Dorrell became the newest head coach at Colorado, the Buffaloes were in turmoil.

    Mel Tucker had just bolted for the green (uniforms and money) of Michigan State, causing them to scramble to find somebody who could lead the program that Tucker looked well on his way to building through quality recruiting. Suddenly, Boulder was a happening place to be for a college football player.

    After going 4-2 in an abbreviated 2020 season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Colorado hoped to build on that brief success with a strong 2021. Instead, the Buffs fell flat, finishing 4-8 and missing a bowl game.

    Plagued with horrendous quarterback issues and injuries, Colorado couldn't muster an offense. It now must replace star runner Jarek Broussard, who has entered the transfer portal, per ESPN's Adam Rittenberg. While a No. 47-ranked recruiting class isn't great, it's the fourth-best in a down Pac-12, so that's a positive.

    Dorrell has a history of being a decent coach, compiling a 35-27 record in his previous stop at UCLA. But how long are the Buffaloes going to wait?

    They experienced a glimmer of success with Tucker at the helm, so they know it's possible to recapture some of the glory of the 1980s and '90s. If Dorrell stumbles again in 2022, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the administration go in a different direction.

Herm Edwards, Arizona State Sun Devils

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    Herm Edwards made national waves when he decided to become Arizona State's head coach in 2017.

    His time in Tempe has been a mixed bag, though.

    For a while, he lured recruits, he was a media darling and his teams performed. The 67-year-old has won at least seven games in all three of his full seasons at the school and was 2-2 in a COVID-shortened '20 season.

    However, his super-talented team fell to 8-5 in 2021 and wasn't in the realistic mix for a conference title. The development of quarterback Jayden Daniels took a step backward this past year, too. While he has an NFL skill set, he didn't look like a pro passer at any point during the season.

    To top it off, an ongoing NCAA investigation into recruiting violations led to firings and has muddied the waters. That made a huge impact on recruiting, as Arizona State saw mass decommitments and currently has the nation's No. 89-ranked class.

    Despite those issues, Edwards told reporters in November that he was "going to be the coach" moving forward. How long he gets to keep making that decision himself may depend on what (if anything) the NCAA finds and how his team progresses in 2022.

Scott Frost, Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Rebecca S. Gratz/Associated Press

    Four years ago, Scott Frost was among the nation's hottest up-and-coming coaches. Now, he may be on the hottest seat of any coach in the country. 

    In 2017, Frost led Central Florida to a (claimed) national championship and undefeated record. Nebraska hired him to help him rebuild his alma mater to the glory days, but he's had four tumultuous years since.

    Frost has yet to have a winning season with the Cornhuskers. He's recruited strong classes that looked capable of competing in the rugged Big Ten, but that hasn't materialized so far.

    Now, he's looking at a team full of "his" guys, and it's now or never. With longtime (but inconsistent) starting quarterback Adrian Martinez off to Kansas State, Frost will have to perform with a whole new cast in 2022.

    Thankfully for him, Texas transfer quarterback Casey Thompson and Florida State transfer Chubba Purdy are both heading to Lincoln. A fresh start may be just what the 'Huskers need.

    Then again, talent hasn't ever been the problem. Now, Nebraska has a subpar recruiting class and a bunch of new coaches in 2022. It seems like a recipe for disaster.

    "Hitting refresh is big," Frost said, per Saturday Tradition's Matt Hayes. "Having some new faces in the building is going to give us a spark."

    Or will it light the burner?

Bryan Harsin, Auburn Tigers

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    Auburn's Bryan Harsin might not be high on hot seat radars at the moment, but that could change in 2022.

    There's little question that the former Boise State head coach is a quality X's and O's guy. And for a large swath of his first season on the Plains, he had the Tigers looking like a tough, aggressive football team.

    But the bottom eventually fell out, leaving tons of question marks.

    Auburn tumbled to five consecutive losses to close the year. It dropped road games at Texas A&M and South Carolina, collapsed against Mississippi State and hated rival Alabama before losing to Houston in the Birmingham Bowl.

    Questions may soon emerge about whether Harsin is a "fit" in the SEC, a dog-eat-dog recruiting world. Being in Nick Saban's significant shadow doesn't help, either.

    Harsin already replaced offensive coordinator Mike Bobo after only one season, while starting quarterback (and legacy) Bo Nix transferred to Oregon to finish his career.

    Harsin is young and has a strong coaching record, but is he the right fit at Auburn? It's worth watching. 

Butch Jones, Arkansas State Red Wolves

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    Anybody who watched Butch Jones crash and burn at Tennessee knows he had a lot to learn about running a major college football program.

    He lost the team at times, lashed out at the media and buckled under the pressure of a program expecting to win despite having failed to do so consistently since the Phillip Fulmer era. Even so, Jones was a season removed from back-to-back 9-4 campaigns when he fell to 4-6 and got fired in 2017.

    Following a reclamation project where he was an offensive analyst under Nick Saban at Alabama, Jones got another shot at a head coaching gig when Arkansas State chose him to replace Blake Anderson.

    While Anderson had a memorable first season at Utah State, Jones' initial campaign in Jonesboro couldn't have gone worse. The Red Wolves stumbled to 2-10, which was only their second losing season since 2011.

    Suddenly, a place known for developing coaches like Anderson, Gus Malzahn, Hugh Freeze and Bryan Harsin wasn't competitive at all in the Sun Belt. Jones has to change that in a hurry.

    At least he's off to a strong start in recruiting with the Sun Belt's top-rated class (No. 68 overall). But recruits aren't going to buy that Jones is rebuilding a proud program brick by brick for long.

    Jones will likely get more than a few years to run this program. But if the Red Wolves win only two games again next year, he's going to be in boiling water.

Mike Norvell, Florida State Seminoles

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    Florida and Miami both pulled the trigger on coaching changes following forgettable 2021 seasons, and the other one of the Big Three might not wait much longer.

    The Florida State Seminoles have been stumbling through a bit of a wilderness since Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M. Mike Norvell might not have much longer to prove that he's their long-term answer.

    After some wildly successful seasons at Memphis, Norvell is only 8-13 in his two years in Tallahassee. The Seminoles failed to make a bowl game in 2021 after a loss to hated rival Florida in the regular-season finale kept them out of the postseason.

    Norvell has the nation's 13th-ranked recruiting class coming in, and he's had success in the transfer portal as well. However, FSU took a major PR hit on early signing day when No. 1 overall recruit Travis Hunter flipped to Jackson State. Long-time Seminoles lean Kevin Coleman recently chose Jackson State, too.

    Who is stealing these recruits? None other than former Seminoles legend Deion Sanders, who is recruiting this way at an FCS program. That also adds pressure on Norvell.

    If Norvell doesn't lead Florida State to a bowl in 2022, the Seminoles might start looking at "Coach Prime" or other candidates to replace him.

Steve Sarkisian, Texas Longhorns

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    Are you ever really not on the hot seat when you're the head coach at Texas? The Longhorns thought Steve Sarkisian could flip the script, but if 2021 is any indication, that hope is still largely up in the air.

    A season that started promisingly for Texas spiraled to a 5-7 record. The Longhorns also went on the program's longest losing streak in nearly 70 years. 

    Sarkisian has the nation's fifth-ranked recruiting class coming in, and the Longhorns' haul is deep and talented. They've also hit big in the transfer portal and are still in the market for some game-changers.

    But the biggest news by far was getting 2021 No. 1 overall recruit Quinn Ewers to transfer back to the Lone Star State. The one-time Texas commit flipped to Ohio State when the Horns got rid of Tom Herman, and he reclassified to the 2021 class.

    After failing to beat out C.J. Stroud for the Buckeyes' starting quarterback job, though, Ewers came back to his roots. He's almost certain to begin his four years of remaining eligibility under center and under Sark's tutelage. 

    All of that is great for Sarkisian, but it also elevates the pressure. Big things are always expected of Texas, but the pieces are in place for a big, positive swing in 2022.

    If that doesn't happen, the whispers about his job security will only grow louder.

Jeff Scott, South Florida Bulls

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    The Dabo Swinney coaching tree hasn't exactly experienced a ton of success running their own programs.

    Following the Chad Morris failure at Arkansas, his offensive coordinator replacement, Jeff Scott, got a gig at South Florida. This past year, Swinney coordinators Brent Venables (Oklahoma) and Tony Elliott (Virginia) got their own jobs, too.

    We're still waiting on the first one to blossom into a strong hire.

    For Scott, trying to rebuild from the failed end of the Charlie Strong era at South Florida hasn't been easy at all. The Bulls experienced great years at times under Jim Leavitt, Willie Taggart and Strong, but those seem to be in the far distant past.

    In two seasons running his program, Scott has cleaned house, brought in new personnel and faltered to a 3-18 record.

    There were glimmers in 2021 of hope with close losses to BYU, Tulsa, Houston and UCF, but they were all losses on their way to a 2-10 mark and 1-7 in the AAC. That won't cut it for long, but there is a lot of hope for the future.

    Getting commitments from transfer receivers Khafre Brown (North Carolina) and Ajou Ajou (Clemson), edge-rusher Jatorian Hansford (Missouri) and safety Ray Thornton (Clemson) are huge for a program trying to rebuild. Scott also recently signed a two-year extension, so he seems to be safe for now.

    But he needs to win, or that might not be the case for long.

         

    All stats courtesy of CFBStats and Sports ReferencePlayer and recruiting class rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

    Follow Brad Shepard on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.

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