At the one-quarter mark of the 2012 college football season, some coaches have seen their job prospects take a turn for the better. For instance, Tommy Tuberville's Texas Tech Red Raiders have been dominant (yes, against poor teams), and Mike Riley's Oregon State Beavers pulled off an upset of Wisconsin in their only game.
But for others, the first three weeks of the season could not have gone much worse. Frank Spaziani's biggest advocate (the Boston College athletic director) retired, Joker Phillips' Kentucky Wildcats now rank third in their own state, and Arkansas' season has crashed and burned under John L. Smith. Yes, it is still quite early, and yes, things could turn around (for better or worse) for any coaches on this list. But we have just enough of a sample size to begin taking stock of who is safe and who is not. From 1 to 10, we will go from "mostly safe" to "d-o-n-e."
1. Might Be Rallying Just In Time
David Bailiff, Rice
Mike Riley, Oregon State
Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech
Granted, there is still plenty of time left for a fade in 2012, but for now, it's "so far, so good" for these coaches.
If you bought your copy of the Football Outsiders Almanac 2012 (and everybody did, right??), you know that the projections liked Texas Tech to improve this season because of a very high level of returning experience. So far, so good. The Red Raiders entered the season on a five-game losing streak, coming off of their first bowlless postseason since 1999, but they have passed all three tests they have been taken so far. They have taken on three iffy-at-best opponents (Northwestern State, Texas State and New Mexico), so with no improvement whatsoever they would still probably be 3-0 right now; but they have outscored their opponents by an average of 40.3 points, and they are outgaining opponents, 597.7 yards per game to 160.3. That is as good as you could hope for, and it suggests solid improvement. We'll learn a lot more when Tech travels to face 3-0 Iowa State on September 29 after a bye week.
Meanwhile, Riley has plenty of time left to play his way onto the hot seat -- thanks to the first-week postponement of their game versus Nicholls State, the Beavers have played only one game; but in beating Wisconsin, 10-7, in that one game, the Beavers took a lovely step forward, even if the offense was a little iffy. And I'm putting Bailiff on this list despite a 1-2 record, simply because the Owls have acquitted themselves reasonably well in both losses: right now, a 49-24 loss to UCLA looks competitive enough, as does a 56-37 road loss to Louisiana Tech. Rice's defense is still atrocious, but the offense will give the Owls a very good chance to win every remaining home game on the schedule (along with road games versus Memphis and Tulane).
2. Because It's Your First Year, You're Almost Certainly Safe, But You Might Start Next Year With A Warm Seat If You Don't Rally
Justin Fuente, Memphis
Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss
Tony Levine, Houston
Charley Molnar, Massachusetts
Carl Pelini, Florida Atlantic
Charlie Weis, Kansas
Sometimes your first year just isn't destined to go very well. Lou Holtz went 0-11 in his first season at South Carolina before turning things around, after all. But the six coaches above have gone a combined 2-15 thus far.
Their two wins: a rather uninspiring 31-17 win by Kansas over South Dakota State and an incredibly uninspiring 7-3 win by Florida Atlantic over Wagner. Memphis lost to UT Martin and got blown out by Middle Tennessee. Houston lost to Texas State at home by 17 points. UMass lost to UConn and Indiana by an average of 38 points, then lost by 50 to Michigan. Florida Atlantic lost by 14 to Middle Tennessee, then allowed an amazing 713 yards of offense to Georgia. Kansas lost to Rice. That's not good. It's not fireable just yet, obviously, but not good.
3. This Is Awkward Because You Won A National Title Not Two Years Ago, But Your Team Hasn't Looked Truly Promising In A While
Gene Chizik, Auburn
Chizik was a curious hire (to put it kindly) after going 5-19 in two seasons at Iowa State. If you take 2010 out of the equation, Chizik's Tigers have gone 17-12 in parts of three seasons and needed overtime to beat UL Monroe this past Saturday. Quarterback Kiehl Frazier has yet to develop very much, and quite simply, when you watch Auburn play, you don't see a team full of four- and five-star former recruits.
Of course, you can't take 2010 out of the equation. Chizik signed one of the SEC's greatest ever quarterbacks, Cam Newton, went 14-0 and won a national title. Both the roster and the coaching staff look almost completely different than they did in 2010, but that buys you a grace period, right? Even in the SEC?
4. Looked Good Last Week, But There's Not A Guaranteed Win Left On The Schedule
Jeff Tedford, California
If the season ended today, Jeff Tedford would almost certainly be totally safe despite a 1-2 record. His Golden Bears looked strong in a tight loss at Ohio State on Saturday, and he has some promising young talent on both sides of the ball. But the rest of the schedule is rough.
Remaining Home Games: Arizona State, UCLA, Stanford, Washington, Oregon.
Remaining Road Games: USC, Washington State, Utah, Oregon State.
Now, the Pac-12 North is not nearly as good as I thought it would be before the season began, and it is quite conceivable that Cal goes 3-2 or 4-1 at home, steals at least one (and as many as three) road wins, and finishes with another decent record. But with a defense that has allowed at least 31 points in all three games thus far and an offense that has been rather maddeningly inconsistent, none of this is guaranteed. Honestly, any record between 3-9 and 8-4 wouldn't surprise me that much. But 3-9 or 4-8 would put Tedford's tenure on incredibly thin ice. Cal has shown a lot of patience with Tedford, and justifiably so: Tedford has been Cal's most consistently successful coach since probably Pappy Waldorf in the late-1940s and early-1950s. But Cal is now 13-15 since the start of the 2010 season. A middling season is probably fine ... but an outright bad one?
5. Because It's Your Second Year, You're Probably Safe … But You Might Want to Show Something
Randy Edsall, Maryland
Jon Embree, Colorado
Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Has anybody noticed how truly awful Colorado is this year? I did not expect much from the Buffaloes this year, but I expected more than this. They lost to Colorado State, 22-17; the Rams have proceeded to lose by 15 points to North Dakota State and by 20 to San Jose State. They lost to Sacramento State, 30-28. And late this past Saturday night, they didn't just lose to Fresno State; they trailed 35-0 after one quarter and 55-7 after two, and they allowed 665 yards to a team that actively took its foot off the throttle in the second half. Embree is a former Colorado star, and perhaps that buys him time, but he took over a faded program (21-40 from 2006-10) and has not improved matters even one percent. The Buffs are now 3-13 under his watch and have regressed thus far in Year 2. Injuries have done him no favors, but ... 35-0. To Fresno State. After one quarter.
Embree's struggles have actually made Edsall and Wilson look better by comparison. Edsall's ridiculously young Terrapins are 2-1, with tight wins over William & Mary and Temple and a tight loss to UConn; they don't have a guaranteed win remaining on the slate, but they have actually overachieved already compared to where expectations stood three weeks ago. Wilson's Indiana squad is also 2-1 with a tighter-than-it-should-have-been win over Indiana State and a blowout win over UMass. A loss to Ball State did him no favors, but things could be worse. He could be Colorado's head coach.
6. Safe For Now, But Oh God, That October Slate Is Brutal
Derek Dooley, Tennessee
Granted, Florida's defense put the clamps on Tennessee in Knoxville on Saturday, but one gets the impression that the Gators are going to do that to a lot of teams. In all, the Vols have looked like an improved overall team in 2012, and they should roll to an easy win over Akron on Saturday. The problems is the four games after Akron: at Georgia, at Mississippi State, Alabama, at South Carolina. It is quite conceivable that a 3-1 Tennessee team on September 28 will be a 3-5 Tennessee team on October 28, and while they could rally to 7-5 after that, the negative buzz following a four-game losing streak could be debilitating.
7. Might Benefit From A "We Know We Can't Hire Anybody Better" Clause, But…
Ron English, Eastern Michigan
Bobby Hauck, UNLV
Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee
Dewayne Walker, New Mexico State
I adopted Eastern Michigan as my go-to "underdog program that might be able to make a bowl run" team last year, and while Ron English's Eagles looked competitive and almost got the job done in 2011, they are now 0-3 in 2012, with a 31-14 loss to FCS Illinois State. In terms of bowl eligibility, things are hopeless already. EMU is one of the most difficult jobs in the Football Bowl Subdivision, but drastic regression in Year 4 isn't typically good for your employment prospects.
Meanwhile, the other three teams on this list have at least been semi-competitive. UNLV almost took Washington State to overtime this past week, Middle Tennessee is 2-1 (granted, with wins over hopeless first-year FAU and Memphis programs and a 27-21 loss to McNeese State), and New Mexico State was competitive in losses to Ohio and UTEP and whipped Colorado conqueror Sacramento State. The Aggies could move to 3-2 with upcoming home games versus New Mexico and UTSA, so Walker might end up pretty far from the hot seat. But he will tentatively stay here, as will Stockstill and Hauck, who haven't generated a full season of hope in quite a while.
8. Staring 2-10, And Unemployment, In The Face
Joker Phillips, Kentucky
Like Embree at Colorado, Joker Phillips is a Kentucky alum, and perhaps that buys him extra time. But we'll see if that's the case if the 1-2 Wildcats lose out to everybody but Samford.
Remaining Home Games: South Carolina, Mississippi State, Georgia, Vanderbilt, Samford
Remaining Road Games: Florida, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee
A few of these games are certainly winnable -- Vanderbilt has to come to Lexington, neither Arkansas (drama) nor Missouri (injuries) have looked like world beaters, and Tennessee could either be surging or in shambles by late-November. But when your best-case scenario is "pull three upsets to pull off a 6-6 record," you aren't looking at a very good season. And 2-10 is still infinitely more likely than 6-6.
9. The Good News Is, Someone Will Probably Hire You As A Defensive Coordinator (Or A Quarterbacks Coach) In 2013
Robb Akey, Idaho
Dan Enos, Central Michigan
Frank Spaziani, Boston College
No coach's job prospects were more directly impacted by an athletic director's retirement than Spaziani's. Boston College A.D. Gene DeFilippo is retiring, and he has been by far Spaziani's biggest advocate during B.C.'s recent slide. The Eagles are not playing abjectly terrible football this year -- they have shown more offensive potential in 2012 than they had in quite a while -- but the only two likely wins remaining on the schedule are at Army and at home against Maryland. Under Spaziani, B.C. has faded from nine wins, to eight, to seven, to four in 2011, and one cannot imagine a new A.D. failing to seize on the opportunity to fire a coach with seven or eight combined wins in two years. He is a strong defensive coordinator, but he just has not gotten the job done from the head coach's office.
At the mid-major level, things appear semi-hopeless for Akey and Enos. Soon-to-be-independent Idaho has gone 2-13 since the start of the 2011 season and is looking at a best-case scenario of about 4-8 this year. Meanwhile, Enos inherited a team that had gone to four consecutive bowl games and finished 23rd in the 2009 AP poll, and he is 7-19 in just over two seasons. Road trips to Iowa, Northern Illinois and Toledo could make CMU 1-4 heading into mid-October, and barring a dramatic rally, I don't see him getting a fourth year in Mount Pleasant.
10. Yeah, That One-Year Contract Is All You're Getting
John L. Smith, Arkansas
This probably doesn't need much explanation.
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