I’m going to try to start a new weekly bit (more bi-weekly) where I talk college football. Since we are technically under 100 days to the first college game, I figured it would be a good time to start.
So let’s look at one that somewhat grips the college football world with relative ease: coaches on the hot seat.
Last year it was hard for me to take 5 coaches and think they were in trouble because there were a lot in trouble and I figured a good number of them would likely be gone (Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M, Todd Graham at Arizona State, Butch Jones at Tennessee, Bret Bielema at Arkansas, etc.) and for the most part I was spot on with a good bit. But of course, you had your surprise moves happen such as Jimbo Fisher going to Texas A&M, Willie Taggart replacing Fisher at Florida State, Dan Mullen going from Mississippi State to Florida, etc. So this year it is equally as hard as to me not a lot of head coaches may be in major trouble. Of course there are a few exceptions. And first & foremost, this is really the Power 5 group, so if many think I’m going to put Tulsa’s Philip Montgomery up here, well, think again.
Coaches on the Hot Seat in 2018
BRIAN KELLY, NOTRE DAME: He seems to be up here every year. Mostly in part because the fan base and boosters at Notre Dame flat-out hate him. And probably rightfully so. He has a hubris to himself like his poop doesn’t stink. When the team loses, he has no issues throwing blame at his players and pretty much believing he’s done no wrong. The issue besides that is that Kelly hasn’t really mustered a lengthy dominant run. The last 3 years Notre Dame had two 10-win seasons. But a 4-8 was thrown in the middle of it. Anytime however, Notre Dame falters, the fans who are expecting a championship get angry at Kelly and Kelly gets angry with everyone. This year is an interesting one as the schedule is a mixed bag. The Irish get Michigan and Florida State at home while the Irish travel to Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Northwestern, and USC. It isn’t an impossible feat, but the Irish could put a 10-2 record out or 9-3 at worst. If they fall underneath that, Irish fans may get their wish.
MARK STOOPS, KENTUCKY: Quick: name the 2nd longest tenured head coach in the SEC behind Nick Saban. Yes, it is this guy (Gus Malzahn was hired a week after Stoops was). Yes, Kentucky isn’t a football hotbed like most of their SEC brethren. However, Stoops came in with fairly big expectations and only got others excited as the Wildcats have strung up a few top 25 recruiting classes. Granted every two years Kentucky has improved each time (5-7 in 2014 & 15 to 7-6 in 2016 & 2017). But again, in the SEC that isn’t great especially when you have a good recruiting class every year. Kentucky definitely has to be at least in the mix of the SEC East title chase. And honestly I’m not sure if it happens this year with road games at Florida, Texas A&M, and even Missouri.
ED ORGERON, LSU: LSU fans pined for the Tigers to have Orgeron’s “interim” title get removed after the 2016 season when he replaced Les Miles. And the Tigers did finish 9-3 in the regular season. However, LSU had two very embarrassing losses (a blowout loss to Mississippi State, and a non-conference home loss to Troy) and another year of not beating Alabama. Adding on, while having a top 15 class isn’t anything to sneer at, it is down compared to where the Tigers have been under Miles, when they were a frequent top 5 recruiting class (a little ironic because they had hoped Orgeron would keep the Louisiana state players in LSU). And LSU has an interesting schedule starting off with a very strong Miami squad and they have to also go to Auburn. And then their home schedule is no slouch with tilts against both National Championship participants Georgia and Alabama (who has beaten LSU the last 3 times in Baton Rouge and 4 of the last 5). If Orgeron pulls out a 10-2 or even a 9-3 record, he should be considered coach of the year. But anything less, Tiger fans will think they really messed up by keeping Orgeron and letting the likes of Jimbo Fisher and Chip Kelly go elsewhere.
LARRY FEDORA, NORTH CAROLINA: Tar Heel fans sensed that 2017 would not be a repeat of the last few years where North Carolina would be at the forefront of the Coastal Division. But last year was an epic nightmare at 3-9, with two of the wins being against Old Dominion and Western Carolina. The good news is, most of his guys should be back. The bad news is most of the teams could be vastly improved as well, notably 4 of their road opponents (California, Syracuse, Virginia, and Miami). I think unlike others, a 7-5 or an 8-4 record keeps Fedora around as it shows growth. Another year of no bowl game however…..
KLIFF KINGSBURY, TEXAS TECH: Well, when does showing growth and improvement from the year before net you being on the hot seat? When you’re Kliff Kingsbury. I thought Kingsbury did a great job last year of improving the Red Raiders as they lost Patrick Mahomes but also his emphasis on improving the defense which ranked 59th in the nation (thus making them a defensive juggernaut in the Big 12). However, Kingsbury is going into his 6th season in Lubbock and hasn’t won more than 8 at any point. The wins have to start coming and more than 7 will need to happen.
DANA HOLGORSEN, WEST VIRGINIA: It always seems like Kingsbury and Holgorsen are at the top of the list of coaches who could be gone. And a 7-5 record after a 10-2 record the season before didn’t make anybody in Morgantown overly thrilled. And that is the lack of consistency that has stung the Mountaineers under Holgorsen. Aside from 2016 West Virginia has really done nothing in the Big 12 or for the Big 12. And that is sad because West Virginia has always been an excellent football program. 7-5 won’t cut it for him this upcoming season and the final four games may ultimately decide his fate of Texas, TCU, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma (the latter three are all home, so he definitely needs to take at least 2 of those).
JIM HARBAUGH, MICHIGAN: If you put Brady Hoke’s numbers after his third season in Michigan with Harbaugh’s numbers after three, they’re nearly identical. In fact, the big measuring stick that Michigan fans have is can the coach beat Ohio State and Michigan State, and right now Hoke still has an advantage (Harbaugh is 1-5 against his hated rivals as opposed to 2-4 for Hoke after 3 years). I don’t know if he would be fired by the Wolverines as they pretty much gave the keys to him to do whatever (and that’s what he’s doing). However, last year was very rough. Michigan didn’t beat a ranked team, lost to their rivals again and finished 4th in the Big Ten East. And many are thinking the antics are becoming a little too much in Ann Arbor. This year, Michigan has a woeful road schedule, going to their three longtime chief rivals for Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State. And there is an interesting tilt on the road with Northwestern as well. So is Harbaugh in trouble? Perhaps, but Michigan fans can’t take much more of Ohio State losses. Heck, they can’t even take any more Michigan State losses. If he loses both, the rumblings will really pick up.
CLAY HELTON, USC: Maybe I’m being too harsh on Helton as the last two years he’s netted two New Year’s Six games and a PAC-12 title on top of it. However, we really don’t envision Helton as being on that upper echelon of head coaches in college football. Some think a good chunk of Helton’s success was on the arm of Sam Darnold. It’s possible, which is why I think I have him on this list. Helton’s record is 27-10 which is impressive to say the least. 9 of the 10 losses have been to ranked teams (7 wins against ranked teams to this point). However, with rival UCLA nabbing Chip Kelly and then Arizona taking Kevin Sumlin, the pressure is on to keep ahead of the division. The road schedule is a mess for the Trojans as they have back-to-back weeks at Stanford and Texas and then at Arizona 2 weeks later. And they have to go to Pasadena this year as well. Helton may not get canned this year after the last two years, but he will be one that will be very much scoped if the Trojans finish 8-4 or 7-5.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat