Hot Seat Coaches
November 16, 2012
By Bruce Marshall
Get ready. The fireworks are about to begin.
We've already had two coaches (Robb Akey at Idaho, and Joker Phillips at Kentucky) before the conclusion of the regular season, although in Phillips' case, he is being allowed to coach the Wildcats' last two games. Not the case at Idaho, where Akey was told t leave right away, and o.c. Jason Gesser (a former QB at Washington State, where Akey was one of his coaches) holding the Vandal job on an interim basis.
Now, we're expecting more eject buttons to be hit on coaches in the next week.
In the meantime, several coaches not previously mentioned on our original hot seat list for 2012 have fallen into some trouble. Following is a quick look at those sorts as we move into mid-November.
Gene Chizik, Auburn...We rarely recall seeing a coach fall as far and as hard as Chizik, who, just two years removed from winning a national title, looks as if he could be told to walk the plank. That's what happens when your team not only loses all of its conference games, but looks unspeakably bad doing so. In this era of offense, Auburn is lagging far behind, especially in its post-Cam Newton days and with former mastermind Gus Malzahn now the head coach at Arkansas State. Chizik, who believed that hiring o.c. Scott Loeffler from Temple to implement more a split-back, pro-style look, would be the answer, has proven as sadly mistaken as we can remember for a head coach. Chizik, 5-19 in a two-year stint at Iowa State prior to Auburn, is 23-36 in his career when coaching team minus Cam Newton at QB. Many SEC sources believe the deal is done at Jordan-Hare Stadium, and Chizik will be sent packing at the end of the regular season. Felix Baumgartner is the only one we can recall falling so far, so fast.
Jeff Tedford, Cal...Some Pac-12 sources have hinted for a while that the Cal program had hit a plateau several years ago under Tedford, but now that real backsliding is evident, there are questions being asked for the first time in Berkeley about Tedford's future. The current 3-8 mess is Tedford's worst mark as Golden Bears HC and is the second time in three years his Cal team will miss the postseason. Tedford does have a partial excuse this campaign in that injuries have decimated his team, but that doesn't account for the erosion that has taken place over the past several years. To this point, Tedford has mostly been given the benefit of the doubt by Bear backers who recall the quick upgrade Tedford provided the program after his hire in 2002, which was a welcome relief after the woeful days of HC Tom Holmoe. But the Tedford QB magic that was evident with Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers early in his Berkeley tenure has disappeared. Regional sources believe Cal might see it Tedford's way and give him one more year to turn things around, given that he had shown great loyalty to the program while turning away potential suitors for years and vowing to stick with it in Berkeley until the facility upgrades were complete. Which they finally are, but, ironically, Tedford might not stick around long enough to get the full benefit.
Danny Hope, Purdue...That was one big win for Hope and his Boilermakers on Saturday vs. Iowa. But a barely lukewarm endorsement from his AD Morgan Burke had already put Hope on notice, and a debilitating 5-game midseason losing streak means that the Riveters have to also beat Illinois and Indiana in their last two games (not an impossible task) to get bowl eligible. Sources in the Midwest believe that's the only way Hope (in his fourth year) might be able to save his job for next season. Coupled with close losses at Notre Dame and Ohio State, prevailing opinion is that 6-6 likely gives Hope one more year. Anything less, combined with shrinking attendance and fan apathy, and it's not likely.
Mike Leach, Washington State...A brand new addition to the list, and an unlikely one considering that Leach is just completing his first year as the highest-paid employee in the history of Wazzu. But the 2-8 disappointment on the field, which marks a real regression from the final season of Paul Wulff's tenure a year ago, isn't what has Leach under fire. Rather, it's the recent suspension of WR Marquess Wilson and his subsequent quitting of the team, citing abuse by the coaching staff, suddenly has situation looking quite different in the Palouse. School prez Elson Floyd has called for a review of the situation, whose sensitive nature is a concern to administrators who hired Leach after similar allegations were brought (which Leach vehemently denied) at Texas Tech. Administrators are lawsuit and p.r.-wary, however, so we're not sure how this turns out for Leach. It makes the situation a bit harder to predict with the Cougs also such a disappointment on the field.
Other coaches, mentioned in earlier hot seat lists, and their updated prospects, complete with our initial preseason analysis...
Derek Dooley, Tennessee...As the Volunteers fade further from the national limelight, threatening to become an SEC version of UCLA or Colorado, Dooley (entering his third year at UT) is likely to be caught in the crossfire unless he can forge a significant turnaround from last year's 5-7 disappointment. Although many in Vol Nation were about to give Dooley a mulligan after Tennessee appeared set to garner a minor bowl invitation despite being without injured QB Tyler Bray for much of last season, any remaining goodwill was erased in an unsightly 10-7 loss in the regular-season finale to a wretched Kentucky side. Some SEC sources say Dooley was lucky to have survived the Kentucky result, and with a new AD (Dave Hart) on board these days in Knoxville, Dooley sits on the hottest of seats entering the fall.
Update: Dooley looks in serious trouble after last Saturday 51-48 four-OT loss vs. Missouri, one in which Dooley ordered gunslinger QB Tyler Bray to play it safe and not try to get downfield for a potential game-winning FG in the final seconds of regulation. Like everything else lately, this too boomeranged on Dooley, who now needs wins in his last two games vs. Vanderbilt and Kentucky just to get bowl-eligible. Even hid he does win, at 6-6 it might not be enough to satisfy the demanding Vol Nation that has been beating the war drums since the ultra-ugly 10-7 loss to Kentucky in the final game of last season.
Frank Spaziani, Boston College...Spaziani makes no bones about being a defensive coach, and not much of an offensive mastermind. So conservative is Spaziani that it is said he would be comfy with Antonin Scalia as his offensive coordinator. But after cobbling together serviceable strike forces his first couple of years on the job, Spaziani's "O" was woeful a year ago (ranking 112th in both scoring and total offense), and Big Frank has brought in ex-Kent State HC Doug Martin as the new o.c. in hopes of igniting the attack. As if Spaziani didn't have enough to worry about after last year's 4-8 ugly-fest, he received recent word that his safety blanket, AD Gene DeFilippo, will be retiring at the end of September.
Update: ACC sources indicate that any chance Spaziani might have had to survive probably washed away with losses in the last two games vs. Wake Forest and Notre Dame that have condemned BC to another losing record and no bowl. Moreover, no life has been detected lately from the offense, a major upgrade project for Spaziani in the offseason; BC hasn't exceeded the 20-point barrier in its last five games. Don't be surprised if we hear an announcement before the end of the regular season, although if Spaziani holds out until the end, we suspect word comes shortly after the regular-season finale vs. NC State.
Randy Edsall, Maryland...This might seem a bit of a surprise, given that Edsall is beginning only his second year in College Park. But things went so pear-shaped for the Terps during last season's 2-10 disaster that many Maryland backers are conceding that Edsall's hire from UConn might have been a mistake, also citing the adversarial relationship that has developed between Edsall and the D.C.-area press corps. A rash of defections from the program have further contributed to the instability, and the bad news continued in preseason camp when QB C.J. Brown was lost for the season due to an ACL injury, thrusting frosh Perry Hills into the starting lineup.
Update: Edsall has a built-in excuse for the Terps' recent fade, down as he is to his fifth-string QB (frosh and ex-LB Shawn Petty) after a surreal combination of injuries to his other Qbs. Maryland had seemed to be forging a turnaround at midseason before the QB injury epidemic hit; Edsall is safe for now.
George O'Leary, UCF...O'Leary was already in some hot water in Orlando before the recent one-year bowl probation the Knights received from the NCAA regarding improper recruiting practices, a scandal that has also spilled to the school's hoops program and resulted in the temporary suspension of basketball coach Donnie Jones last year. O'Leary already had to worry about the repercussions of a wildly-disappointing 4-8 campaign a year ago, one is which UCF was initially thought to be a stealth BCS contender after winning CUSA the preceding year. If all of that wasn't enough, O'Leary is now working for a new AD, Todd Stansbury, recently hired from Oregon State.
Update: UCF has challenged the bowl ban portion of its probation, and until a determination can be made after New Year's, UCF is eligible to participate in a bowl this season. Coupled with the fact the league is down overall, and the Knights might just win the loop crown, O'Leary looks safe as UCF prepares for its move to the Big East next year.
Mike Price, UTEP...C-USA sources are suggesting that even if the Miners forge an unlikely resurgence this fall, veteran HC Price is not likely to return in 2013. With a contract yet to be renewed beyond this season, many believe that Price will retire on a high note if UTEP cobbles together a rally this season. Others aren't so sure, but all concede that another non-winning mark, which would be Price's seventh straight at the Sun Bowl, would end a regime that many are now comparing to Tulane and Bob Toledo (who was dismissed before the conclusion of last season with the Green Wave). Another concern for Price backers is a rugged Miners schedule that opens with Oklahoma and could easily see UTEP mathematically out of bowl contention before the end of October.
Update: We're surprised Price continues to hang in there; apparently, he has no interest in stepping down, and the school seems in no hurry to make a change. The Miners have been hit by some injuries this season, and despite those has played some entertaining football at times in 2012, but at 2-8 the Miners are long since out of the bowl discussion. If there is a move here, it looks like it will happen at the end of the regular season.
Dan Enos, Central Michigan...The former Michigan State QB has had a rough go in Mount Pleasant, as the Chips have descended to 3-9 marks in each of the past two seasons on his watch. Which looks even worse by comparison to the successes enjoyed by the CMU program under predecessors Butch Jones and Brian Kelly, who each moved to Cincinnati from Kelly-Shorts Stadium. Despite the poor record, Enos was given a symbolic one-year extension after last season, but MAC informers suggest that hardly amounts to any extra job security, with buyout terms likely reduced in the process.
Update: Enos has won a couple of games in recent weeks vs. Akron and Eastern Michigan, and wins in his last two vs. UMass and Miami-Ohio (hardly far-fetched) would get the Chips to 6-6 and likely buy Enos another year.
Jeff Quinn, Buffalo...Quinn ought to feel fortunate, having surpassed the two-year threshold that claimed another Class-of-2010 MAC Coach, Akron's Ron Ianello, after last season. Not that it should make Quinn feel any more comfy after his Bulls side recorded a 5-19 mark over the past two seasons as the program continues the steep descent from the heights it reached when reaching bowl status in 2008 under predecessor Turner Gill. Quinn has a top-quality RB on hand in the form of workhorse Brandon Oliver, who gained nearly 1400 yards a year ago, but improvement at QB (whether from holdover Alex Zordich or frosh Joe Licata) is a necessity, and playmakers must emerge on defense.
Update: Quinn's Bulls have won two in a row with backup QB Licate, but UB is already out of the bowl discussion with seven losses. Those wins over Miami-Ohio and Western Michigan might be enough to buy Quinn another tear.
Jon Embree, Colorado...Recall mention of the likes of Turner Gill, Larry Porter, and Rob Ianello from earlier in this piece. All coaches who were dismissed after just two seasons on the job a year ago. Rest assured Embree is paying attention, because it has not been hard to identify the grumblings among Buffalo backers, many of whom being convinced before last year was complete that Embree was a blown hire.
Update: We thought Embree might be a candidate for an early dismissal but to this point remains on the Buff sidelines. Nothing has improved over the past month in Boulder as CU looks destined for a 1-11 mess. This is the Pac-12 equivalent to the Mike Locksley disaster at New Mexico; sources believe Embree remains on a Turner Gill-at-Kansas timeline and is likely to be ousted at the conclusion of the season.
Others to watch: John L. Smith, Arkansas...This was really a foregone conclusion before the season, unless John L. got the Razorbacks to the BCS title game. He won't come close to that foal, and might not even get Arkansas to a bowl game at all unless he can win his last two games vs. Mississippi State and LSU. Certain change coming in Fayetteville, but that was no surprise. DeWayne Walker, New Mexico State...The bigger question in Las Cruces is what NMSU is going to do with its program, as it is currently without a conference beyond this season as the WAC disbands its football membership. The long, cold existence of life as a BCS independent looms for the Ags, which suggests Walker will finally accept one of those assistant coaching offers (some from the NFL) he has been turning down every offseason the past few years.