The Corleone family from the famous Godfather trilogy would have made excellent athletic directors in this day and age, because the mindset of “it’s nothing personal, it’s just business” is exactly how college football head coaches are handled, no matter their legacy (see Bobby Bowden) or how likeable they may be. College head coaches have one job, and that job is to win; if they don’t do it as quickly as the bosses and the alumni like, they are given a pink slip without so much as a second thought. Although some may call the system unfair, it is the nature of the beast and everyone knows the drill: there will be head coaches fired this year, and the year after, and the year after that. With the 2012 season getting closer and closer, it’s time to look at the ten FBS head coaches that must put up or shut up in order to return to their respected schools come 2013. 10. Bobby Hauck, UNLV – Hauck was brought in from Montana in hopes that he would at the very least restore the Rebels to the respectable level that former head coach John Robinson had the program in, but the program has won just four games in his two seasons as head coach. I believe that all college head coaches deserve at the very least the chance to coach four years in order to have all of their recruits on the field, but if the Rebels are as awful as they were last year (defense gave up an average of 40.42 points per game), the UNLV athletic department may have no choice but to make a change.
9. Mike Price, UTEP – Things were looking up for the disgraced Alabama head coach when his tenure in El Paso started, as the Miners made their first appearance in a bowl game since 2000 in his first season and backed it up with another winning season the following year, the first back-to-back winning seasons for the team since 1988. However, things quickly cooled off in the UTEP program, as the team has gone 29-43 since. Price proved during his time as Washington State head coach that he had what it took to win on and win big (Cougars won the PAC-10 twice during his tenure), but it’s beginning to look more and more like his time at UTEP won’t exactly go out with a bang.
8. Joker Phillips, Kentucky – Normally, as I mentioned above, I advocate coaches getting at least four years to make their mark, but last season I felt that Kentucky needed to make a change and release Phillips and hire then-free agent head coach Mike Leach, an underrated head coach that spent two seasons as Wildcats offensive coordinator during the Hal Mumme era. Phillips, a Kentucky alum, has failed to replicate the success that predecessor Rich Brooks had in Lexington, and last season’s victory over Tennessee—their first win over the Vols since 1984—more than likely kept him off the chopping block for at least a year. With away games at Louisville, Florida, Arkansas, and Missouri this season, it looks like the Wildcats are bound for another losing season, which will probably too much for Joker to overcome.
7. David Bailiff, Rice – Rice was a resurgent program when Bailiff was brought in to replace Todd Graham, but during his time as Owls head coach the team has managed only one winning season. Granted, it was a 10-3 mark that was capped off with the school’s first bowl victory since 1954, but that was four years and twenty-six losses ago. Playing college football in Texas means that the stakes are pretty high, and even though Rice isn’t exactly at the same level as Texas or TCU, they should at least be at .500 year after year. Rice should benefit next year from conference foes Houston, SMU, Memphis, and UCF leaving for greener pastures, but the team’s 2012 results will decide whether Bailiff will be part of it.
6. Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech – Most people probably scratched their heads when Texas Tech went out and hired an SEC coach in Tommy Tuberville, but the move looked pretty good after the Red Raiders went 8-5 in his first year and sat at 5-2 after a huge win over #1 Oklahoma last season. The bottom then proceeded to fall out for the Red Raiders, as the team lost its last five games and gave up a whopping 256 points in the process. I expect Texas Tech to rebound this season under the watchful eye of Tuberville, but if the team has a rough start following its early season cupcake games it could mean that Tuberville’s contract will be terminated.
5. Randy Edsall, Maryland – Rule #1 for college football fans is to never put a coach on the hot seat after just one season, but, of course, there are always exceptions to the rules. Edsall stepped into the driver’s seat of a Maryland program that was coming off a 9-4 season and proceeded to drive it off a cliff Thelma and Louise style, as the team went 2-10 and managed to lose to Wake Forest and Temple by a combined 52 points. Worse than the losses for the Terrapins was the way that Edsall’s “my way or the highway” attitude towards his players worked out, as several key players—including starting quarterback Danny O’Brien—transferred out of the program. Edsall’s “dream job” has quickly turned into a nightmare, and it will be interesting to see if Maryland is able to pick up the pieces this season or just finds itself playing the role of roadkill in the ACC for the second straight year.
4. David Cutcliffe, Duke – I hate having to include Cutcliffe on this list because he is a solid head coach with morals—he turned down the Tennessee job three years ago in order to continue rebuilding the Blue Devils—and has improved the Duke program more than his predecessor Ted Roof ever could, but no winning seasons in four years isn’t exactly a good sign for job security. Duke has gotten painfully close to going to a bowl game for the first time since 1994, but having to face off with the regular ACC opponents plus non-conference games against Stanford and Florida International means that Cutcliffe will have to do his best coaching job ever in order for the Blue Devils to achieve a winning record.
3. Mike Riley, Oregon State – Rule #1 for head coaches: if there’s a better job offer that you are truly interested in but don’t want to leave your current team high and dry, take it. Riley was offered the USC job back in 2009, and although I’m not sure how interested he was in the Trojans’ position, he opted to stay in Corvallis. It looked like the logical move at the time, seeing as the Beavers had gone 36-17 the previous four seasons and the Trojans were about to get hit hard by probation, but fast-forward three years and the story has changed. USC is once again at the top of the college football world, and Oregon State is near the bottom, as the team has won eight games since that 2009 season. The PAC-12 has gotten tougher in the last three years thanks to Oregon and Stanford flexing their muscles, which means that the road to breaking the .500 mark and securing his job won’t be very easy for Riley.
2. Frank Spaziani, Boston College – Spaziani was a feel-good story back in 2009, as he was finally rewarded for staying at Boston College as an assistant through three different coaching staffs and given the head coaching job. That was pretty much the only task Spaziani has accomplished in his time as Eagles head coach, as he has posted a 20-19 mark in three seasons with only two of those wins coming against the ACC’s current “Big Three” (Virginia Tech, Florida State, and Clemson). Boston College had a tremendous amount of success during Tom O’Brien and Jeff Jagodzinski’s time roaming the sidelines of Alumni Stadium, but another bad season under Spaziani would secure them in the basement of the ACC, at least until a new head coach is summoned.
1. Derek Dooley, Tennessee – Derek Dooley stepped into a terrible situation back in 2009, as he replaced the one year blunder that was Lane Kiffin, a coach that left after 7-6 mark for USC. As if convincing Kiffin’s players and recruits to stay onboard wasn’t enough, Kiffin left behind sanctions that left The Vols in an even tougher situation. Then there’s the games Dooley has been on the sidelines for, which include the LSU game in 2011 when a penalty for too many players on the field gave the Tigers another play that proved to be the game winner, the Music City Bowl against North Carolina that same year when time was put back on the clock that allowed the Tar Heels to tie the game and eventually win in overtime, or the Kentucky game last season in which Dooley’s Vols lost to the Wildcats, something no Tennessee head coach had gone through since Johnny Majors did twenty-six years before. Tennessee needs an impressive season and needs it in the worst way, and anything closely resembling last season when the team won a grand total of one SEC game—their fewest since 1977—would be the ultimate piece of Dooley’s dumb luck in Knoxville.