Now that the College Football Playoff is here, coaches will be under more pressure to win than ever before. In today’s age of instant gratification, coaches won’t have the luxury of having a down year or a rebuilding campaign. They must win, and they must win NOW.
Rightly or wrongly, this type of thinking will cause fans to speculate more often about the status of their head coach.
That begs question: which college coaches enter 2014 on the hot seat? Here’s a list of seven:
7. Will Muschamp – Florida
Record at School: 22-16, 13-11 in the SEC
Why he’s on this list: While it might not seem right for a coach that’s had just one losing season to be on this list, Muschamp belongs here. After all, the Gators followed up a moderately successful 2012 campaign by limping to a shockingly bad 4-8 record last year. This debacle included a home loss to Georgia Southern, which scored 26 points on the Gator defense without completing a pass.
As bad as that last sentence sounds, it’s Florida’s offense – not its defense – that’s landed Muschamp on the hot seat. In his three seasons as the head coach, the Gators haven’t finished higher than 104th nationally in total offense. Sure, injuries may have played a part in the team’s lack of success, but it’s the responsibility of the head coach to make sure that his backups are ready to play at a moment’s notice. That clearly wasn’t the case in 2013.
2014 Outlook: It’s now or never for Muschamp. He likely needs to lead the Gators to a bowl game if he’s going to return to Gainesville in 2015. Although Florida plays one of the toughest schedules in the nation, which includes five teams (Georgia, Alabama, LSU, Florida State, and South Carolina) that will start the season in the top 15, I expect it to finish 8-4 and contend for the SEC East title. New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is that good of a coach.
6. Randy Edsall – Maryland
Record at School: 13-24, 6-18 in the ACC
Why he’s on this list: Let’s be honest: Edsall has been in catch-up mode ever since he arrived in College Park. Despite inheriting 14 starters from a talent-laden 9-4 squad – including ACC Rookie of the Year Danny O’Brien – Maryland finished with a disappointing 2-10 record in 2011. Even though the Terrapins’ overall record has improved over the past two seasons, it’s worth noting that they’ve not posted a winning record in conference play under his watch.
More disturbingly, UM has lost its last four games against ranked opponents by an average margin of over 35 points. It also lost by double digits in its bowl game against Marshall, which was a de facto home game in Annapolis.
That’s hardly the type of upgrade Maryland was looking for when it fired Ralph Friedgen back in 2010. Now that the school isn’t strapped financially thanks to the move to the Big Ten, there’d be nothing to stop it from making a leadership change in order to be more competitive.
2014 Outlook: Edsall’s job just got exponentially harder. Sure, there’s not that big of a difference between the ACC and the B1G, but Maryland will face a much tougher slate this year than it did last year, drawing Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin in league play. While he could possibly withstand another losing campaign, Edsall needs to make the Terps more competitive against ranked foes in order to feel safe about his return next season. Given the amount of talent returning (17 starters from last year’s bowl squad), it’s a safe bet that he’ll be back in 2015.
5. Mike London – Virginia
Record at Virginia: 18-31, 8-24 in the ACC
Why he’s on this list: Things have steadily gone downhill for London over the past two seasons. Ever since the Cavaliers finished 2011 with an 8-5 record – highlighted by the school’s first bowl bid since 2007 – the team has gotten progressively worse. In that span, Virginia has only won six games, posting a paltry 2-14 record in ACC play.
Last year, the Cavs hit rock bottom. After an impressive season-opening win against BYU, Virginia wouldn’t beat another FBS school the rest of the way. During that time, the ‘Hoos lost to Ball State by 21, and suffered their 10th straight defeat at the hands of in-state rival Virginia Tech.
Outlook: London faces an uphill battle. The schedule makers certainly didn’t do him any favors, as UVA will face UCLA and BYU in non-conference play, as well as Florida State and Louisville from the Atlantic Division. While there aren’t enough W’s on the schedule to get the Cavs to a bowl game this year, I do expect them to be more competitive with a league-high 15 starters returning. This noticeable improvement should be enough to help London earn another season in Charlottesville.
4. Paul Johnson – Georgia Tech
Record at Georgia Tech: 47-32, 31-17 in the ACC
Why he’s on this list: If you looked at his entire body of work at Georgia Tech, Johnson would appear to be safe. After all, he’s guided the Yellow Jackets to three division championships and an ACC title in his six seasons on the Flats.
However, few schools still evaluate a coach based on what he’s accomplished during his tenure. Instead, they adopt the “what have you done for me lately?” approach.
That’s why Johnson’s seat is as warm as any other coach in college football. Sure, the first two seasons were a smashing success, but over the past four years, Tech has taken a huge step back, going just 28-25 in that span. During this recent run of mediocrity, the Yellow Jackets suffered some puzzling defeats, including two losses to BYU (2012, 2013) and a 21-point loss to Middle Tennessee State (2012).
More importantly, he’s dropped five straight games against archrival Georgia.
Then, there’s the issue of his offensive scheme. While running the triple option didn’t seem like a big deal when Tech was winning, it’s become a topic of conversation as the team has struggled over the last few seasons. Even though rival programs use Johnson’s scheme against him in recruiting (e.g., “Come to Clemson instead of Tech, so that you can get ready to play at the next level”), he refuses to tweak the offense.
Let’s see: a so-so record, and a relatively un-energized fan base. Wasn’t that what Chan Gailey got fired for?
2014 Outlook: As his predecessor discovered, Georgia Tech isn’t a program that’s content with 7-win seasons. After finishing two games worse than Gailey did during his final four years at Georgia Tech, it’s evident that Johnson needs to win now. With Tech returning only 11 starters from last year’s 7-6 squad, it’s tough to see the Jackets winning enough games to end speculation about Johnson’s future. Barring a break-out season from some new starters, I’ll probably be writing about this topic again in December.
3. Ron Turner – Florida International
Record at FIU: 1-11, 1-7 in Conference USA
Why he’s on this list: At the end of the 2012 season, FIU AD Pete Garcia fired Mario Cristobal after the Panthers finished 3-9. This move was a bit of a head-scratcher since Cristobal transformed the program from a perennial doormat into an annual bowl contender.
Whether Garcia did the right thing is still a topic for debate. However, his actions made it clear that he expects the Panthers to win and win consistently.
That’s not what happened a year ago. Instead of being competitive in its initial season in Conference USA, FIU finished in the East Division basement tied with Southern Miss, which has won a grand total of one game in the past two seasons. The Panthers also didn’t fare well against lesser competition, suffering a 21-point defeat at the hands of FCS powerhouse Bethune-Cookman.
What’s most disturbing about last season’s nightmarish campaign is that the Panther offense – Turner’s specialty – was the worst in the nation, averaging just 222 yards per game.
2014 Outlook: Given Garcia’s dismissal of Cristobal, it goes without saying that Turner needs to turn things around this year. With the nation’s third most-experienced roster returning (18 starters including all 11 on offense), all of the pieces are in place for FIU to succeed this fall. However, thanks to a brutal schedule that includes Louisville, Pittsburgh, and 2013 C-USA title game participants Marshall and Rice, I don’t see the Panthers making a bowl game this year. Unless the team shows remarkable improvement, it’s tough to see Turner hanging around for another year.
2. Charlie Weis – Kansas
Record at Kansas: 4-20 overall, 1-17 in the Big 12
Why he’s on this list: The numbers listed above speak for themselves. Sure, Weis walked into a bad situation, but previous coaches Mark Mangino and Glen Mason molded the Jayhawks into a competitive team by the time year two rolled around.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way under Weis’ watch. In his two seasons in Lawrence, Kansas has beaten just one opponent from a major conference. To make matters worse, the Jayhawks have a 1-3 record against the mid-major conferences, highlighted by a disappointing 0-2 mark against Rice.
It’s also worth noting that Weis’ 4-20 record is actually one game worse than what his predecessor, Turner Gill, posted in two seasons at KU.
In addition to his less-than-stellar numbers, there’s also a question about whether Weis’ complex offensive system will work at the college level. Sure, he had a couple of solid seasons at Notre Dame, but his offense ranked 105th nationally in in his lone season as the offensive coordinator at Florida, and 95th and 119th over the last two years at Kansas.
2014 Outlook: I won’t sugar-coat it: Things don’t look good for Weis heading into the 2014 campaign. Yes, the Jayhawks will have one of the most experienced teams in the nation this fall with 16 starters returning. However, Kansas still has a long way to go before it’s ready to compete in the Big 12, losing by an average of 23.2 points per game in league play last year. Unless the Jayhawks pull off a few upsets, expect to see Weis back in the NFL next season.
1. Tim Beckman – Illinois
Record at Illinois: 6-18 overall, 1-15 in the Big 10
Why he’s on this list: Unlike other coaches on this list, who walked into bad situations, Beckman was placed in a position to succeed from the very beginning. He inherited a roster absolutely loaded with talent, one that had gone to back-to-back bowl games. With 13 starters returning in 2012, it looked as though the Illini would make it to the postseason for the third straight year, which would be the first time that had happened since John Mackovic and Lou Tepper took them to five bowls in a row from 1988-1992.
Instead of moving forward, the Illini took two steps back, finishing 2-10 and going winless in conference play. Despite improving to 4-8 last season, Illinois still had one of the worst defenses in the nation, ranking 112th nationally in total defense.
That’s not going to get the job done in Champaign. Remember, AD Mike Thomas fired Ron Zook because he only won 32 percent of his games against Big Ten opponents. There’s no way he’s happy with the Illini’s 1-15 mark over the last two seasons.
2014 Outlook: At the risk of stating the obvious, Beckman is the coach most likely to get the boot this year. Ron Turner (yes, the same man listed above) and Zook kept their jobs by guiding the Illini to 8+ wins and a bowl game in their respective third seasons. While Illinois should be much better in 2014, there’s no way it will accomplish that feat this year. The all-important conference slate is just as brutal as the Illini face five bowl teams from a year ago, plus 7-5 Penn State. As much as it saddens me to say it, the likelihood of Beckman returning for a fourth season in Champaign looks very slim.