College football hot seat watch 2012: Who's next to go as firing season approaches?

Kevin C. Cox

November begins this week. For college football, that means two things: National title and Heisman candidates raise their respective games (or get left behind), and coach "hot seat" rumors turn into actual transactions. Idaho's Robb Akey was the first FBS head coach to meet his demise about a week ago, but he will not be alone in this fraternity for long. Let's take a look at which coaches are probably out of time and which probably aren't going to get much longer.

1. 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

Tim Beckman, Illinois
Norm Chow, Hawaii
Justin Fuente, Memphis
Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss
Charley Molnar, UMass

This list has changed a bit since last time. For one thing, Kansas' Charlie Weis, Tulane's Curtis Johnson and Florida Atlantic's Carl Pelini have all been removed from the list for the simple fact that their teams are playing better.

Kansas has played about 2.5 competent games in the last four, which probably isn't enough (especially considering all four games were losses) but is something. Tulane not only ended a long losing streak with an upset of SMU on October 13, but then won again this past Saturday against UAB. When you had lost 18 of 20, winning two of three is cause for celebration. And the Green Wave could make it three of four at home against an also-improving Rice squad this coming Saturday. Same story with FAU, which lost in double overtime to South Alabama on October 20 but responded with a 34-27 win over Troy.

Of course, other first-year coaches have not been so fortunate. Tim Beckman (new to this list) has overseen a complete and total offensive collapse in Champaign. Illinois has averaged 10.4 points per game versus FBS opponents this season and just lost by 14 points to Indiana on Homecoming. If the Illini cannot beat Minnesota at home in two weeks, 2-10 appears to be in the cards. The other four coaches above -- Chow, Fuente, Johnson and Molnar -- are a combined 2-29. Of all the hires this past offseason, I was perhaps most skeptical of Chow (who hasn't overseen a good offense in quite a while despite the "offensive guru" reputation) and Johnson (an old, defense-first hand inheriting an offense-first program), and neither are showing much of anything thus far.

Again, it takes some historically awful play to lose your job after one year, and the odds are good that all five of these men will get second years from their employers. But there is, to put it kindly, a lot of work left to do in Champaign, Honolulu, Memphis, Hattiesburg and Amherst.

2. Almost Certainly Not Gone, But Wow, Has 2012 Been Disappointing

Mario Cristobal, Florida International
Bill Cubit, Western Michigan

Mario Cristobal turned down major-conference overtures in the offseason, and Bill Cubit was supposed to lead his experienced Broncos pretty far in the MAC West title race. Instead, the two are a combined 1-9 in conference play, 4-14 overall. Cristobal's defense has fallen apart, and Cubit lost his starting quarterback, Alex Carder, to a hand injury in September. Both have almost certainly built enough goodwill to survive a tumultuous season, but fortunes have changed in a hurry.


Bomani Jones on how to get rid of your school's coach


3. Probably Not Gone, But A Quick Turnaround Would Be Recommended

Dave Christensen, Wyoming
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Jim Grobe, Wake Forest
Skip Holtz, South Florida
Danny Hope, Purdue
Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
Paul Pasqualoni, UConn

This is a bit of a catch-all category, isn't it? You've got Dave Christensen, who either wins or loses all of his close games in a given season (11-0 in one-possession games in 2009 and 2011 on the way to a 15-11 record and two bowls; 3-7 in one-possession games in 2010 and 2012, 4-16 overall) and just got suspended for cursing out Air Force's head coach. (That embarrassing incident might make his seat quite a bit hotter than it otherwise would have been.)

Danny Hope's Purdue Boilermakers almost won at Notre Dame and Ohio State but lost to Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota by an average of 24 points.

Paul Johnson won an ACC title not quite three years ago but is just 3-5 in 2012 after a putrid, 24-point home loss to BYU. (My instincts say he should be closer to the axe than it appears he actually is.)

Paul Pasqualoni was a baffling hire to begin with, is 8-12 since the start of 2011, and recently welcomed a new athletic director to town. You could talk me into ranking him closer to 6 or 7 here.

Skip Holtz was wooed by other major conference programs in each of the last two offseasons (why, I'm not entirely sure), but after finishing 2011 by losing seven of eight after a 4-0 start, his 2012 USF Bulls have now lost six in a row after a 2-0 start. In two years, USF is 2-8 in one-possession games, which is one part bad luck and, potentially, one part bad coaching. At some point, his reputation will adjust to his actual performance.

And then you've got Jim Grobe and Kirk Ferentz. Both inherited programs at low points -- Iowa was 3-8 in 1998 and went 4-19 in Ferentz's first two seasons (1999-00), while Wake Forest had gone to two bowls in 20 years pre-Grobe -- and both turned fortunes around significantly. Ferentz went 31-7 in 2002-04, faded a bit, then surged to 20-6 in 2008-09. But 11 wins in 2009 has turned to eight in 2010, seven in 2011, and currently a 4-4 record in 2012. His Hawkeyes were blown out at home by Penn State and fell behind to Northwestern, 28-3, before rallying late. Without a win at Indiana this weekend, the Hawkeyes will probably not be bowling.

Grobe, meanwhile, has experienced quickly diminishing returns since the Demon Deacons' shocking run to the 2006 ACC title. Wake Forest went 28-12 from 2006-08 but have gone just 18-27 since then. At 4-4, Wake could still squeeze into a bowl game, but the Deacs have yet to actually look like a bowl team. Grobe probably should have earned a lifetime contract for his mid-decade success in Winston-Salem, but diminishing returns are diminishing returns.


Projections for all 35 bowls || Spencer Hall reviews the Top 25

4. That Gray Area, Where The Fans Have Turned But The Administration Has Not

Mack Brown, Texas

It's been an interesting month for Mack Brown. First, his Longhorns showed strong offensive improvement and moved to 11th in the AP poll, outscoring Ole Miss and Oklahoma State, each on the road, by a combined score of 107 to 67. Then the defense gave up 48 points in a loss to West Virginia. Then Texas got absolutely romped by Oklahoma, 63-21, in the Cotton Bowl. Then the 'Horns barely beat Baylor, 56-50, at home. Then Brown publicly complained about the demands of the Longhorn Network. (He's not wrong, even if he shouldn't have said it in public.) And then they found themselves trailing Kansas -- Kansas -- 17-14 with under two minutes remaining. Late passes from Case McCoy to Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis eventually led to the game-winning touchdown with just 12 seconds remaining, and Brown's 6-2 squad is still ranked 23rd in the BCS standings.

But the fans are turning on Brown, to say the least. Barking Carnival's Scipio Tex calmly and logically called for Brown's head after the Oklahoma loss, and despite two wins his approval rating has not exactly risen in the last two weeks. Athletic director DeLoss Dodds fully supports him by all accounts, and he isn't actually in danger of losing his job, but ... it's been an interesting month for Mack Brown.

5. Might Benefit From A "We Can't Hire Anybody Better" Clause, But...

David Bailiff, Rice
Rich Ellerson, Army
Jon Embree, Colorado
Ron English, Eastern Michigan
Dan Enos, Central Michigan
Bobby Hauck, UNLV
Jeff Quinn, Buffalo
Dewayne Walker, New Mexico State

Really, this list is all about Jon Embree. I still have no idea what Colorado might do with him. A former Buffalo during Bill McCartney's glory days, he came aboard with Favorite Son status and stocked the staff with other former CU stars (it seemed that Colorado's entire goal when hiring Embree in 2011 was to remind fans that the Buffs were good once). But CU still doesn't have a lot of money (it was a big deal last week when CU announced that it was adding a couple more employees to the football recruiting staff), Embree inherited little to no talent, and the Buffs have suffered a near-comical number of injuries in the last two years.

Embree was dealt an impossible hand ... and has done absolutely, positively nothing with it. He is 4-17, and in his second year Colorado has regressed dramatically. Again, you can blame injuries for a good portion of that, but ... all of it? Aside from a dramatic, and unexpected, comeback win over Washington State, Colorado has been outscored, 282-65, in its last five games. The Buffs trailed Oregon, 56-0, at halftime in Eugene on Saturday and gave no indication that they might improve on last week's No. 123 F/+ ranking (behind three FBS newcomers: No. 92 Texas State, No. 117 South Alabama and No. 122 UTSA). Signs seem to point to giving Embree a third year, but ... I honestly don't know if I can justify that.

6. October Has Been As Bad As We Feared

Derek Dooley, Tennessee

Tennessee entered last week with an F/+ ranking of 33rd and almost took out South Carolina on the road. Derek Dooley has, without a doubt, improved his squad this year. But thanks to a brutal October schedule, nothing has actually improved from a wins-and-losses standpoint (the Vols are now 3-5, 0-5 in the SEC), and that means Dooley's time is probably about up. He walked into a difficult situation (he was the third Tennessee coach in three years thanks to Lane Kiffin's hasty exit), and while he has improved the program a bit, Vols fans (and admins) are not going to wait around much longer for results. That he is still employed (as far as we know) this morning despite the current four-game losing streak (which has included tight, competitive losses at Georgia, Mississippi State and South Carolina) means he will probably last through November; the Vols will be favored in at least three of their final four games and should expect to finish either 6-6 or 7-5. But is that enough for him to still be employed by mid-December?

7. We Appreciate All You've Done, Coach, But You're Probably Not Going To Do It Here Anymore

Jeff Tedford, California

With double-digit wins over UCLA and Washington State, Jeff Tedford had led his Golden Bears back to the doorstep of .500 (3-4) after a rough stretch to start the season. With a strong Big Game performance versus Stanford, he could potentially have saved his job outright. Instead, California lost to the Cardinal, 21-3, then fell behind Utah, 42-6, before making a late surge toward respectability (final score: 49-27; here's where I mention that Utah had scored just 56 points combined in its previous four games). Tedford can probably still save his job by winning out against Washington (at home), Oregon (at home) and Oregon State (in Corvallis), but ... do you see that happening? Fan interest has waned, and the Bears have gone just 15-19 since the start of the 2010 season. That's probably a lethal combination.

8. The Good News Is, Someone Will Probably Hire You As A Defensive Coordinator In 2013

Frank Spaziani, Boston College

Well, at least they beat Maryland on Saturday. Still, B.C. is just 2-6 and was barely able to outlast a Maryland squad that was starting (and losing) its fourth quarterback of the season. New athletic director plus diminishing returns (nine wins in 2008, pre-Spaziani, followed by eight, seven, four and two under Spaz) typically equals new coach.

9. Playing Out The String

Mike Price, UTEP
John L. Smith, Arkansas

Neither of these men have a contract for 2013. John L. Smith's fate was sealed a month ago, but his 2013 unemployment was further affirmed by a home loss to Ole Miss this past Saturday. Meanwhile, UTEP has been reasonably competitive in 2012 but hasn't won. Despite staying reasonably close to both Oklahoma and ole Miss and losing by no more than 11 points to Wisconsin, East Carolina and Houston, the Miners are just 2-7 and have clinched their seventh straight losing season. That isn't a recipe for contract renewal, no matter what kind of miracles Price worked in winning 16 games in 2004-05.

10. Future Former SEC Head Coaches

Gene Chizik, Auburn
Joker Phillips, Kentucky

The two are 0-12 in conference play and 2-15 overall. Both had some bonus points in their favor -- Phillips is a Kentucky alum and was Rich Brooks' top assistant for a number of years, while Gene Chizik did kind of win a national title two years ago -- but you have to win something. They have not, and they are going to be unemployed soon because of it.

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