Hot Seat Watch 2012: Grace periods? What grace periods?

Kevin Liles-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Which college football coaches are rallying, and whose terms are on death's door? Also, Bud Elliott offers a look at the recruiting considerations for some of the country's hottest seats.

Three weeks ago, we took a look at how the opening games of the season had affected the temperatures of given coaches' seats. Some were finding a cooler seat on which to sit (Oregon State's Mike Riley), and some were in desperate need of some time to update resumes (John L. Smith, Frank Spaziani). After six full weeks of the 2012 season, not a lot has changed. Let's check in. Once again, we will go from 1 ("mostly safe") to 10 ("d-o-n-e").

1. Just Kidding

Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

No, but Jimbo had a really bad week.

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

Norm Chow, Hawaii
Justin Fuente, Memphis
Curtis Johnson, Tulane
Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss
Charley Molnar, Massachusetts
Carl Pelini, Florida Atlantic
Charlie Weis, Kansas

Three weeks ago, this list included Houston's Tony Levine, and the six teams here (Houston, Memphis, Southern Miss, UMass, Florida Atlantic and Kansas) had gone a combined 2-15. Now, Houston has rallied a bit, but the seven coaches above are a combined 4-32. Again, dropping a first-year coach is rarely a palatable option, both because of buyouts and the "Who would want to come and coach for you if your team is awful and you just fired a guy after one year?" factor, but none of these men are making the athletic directors who hired them look very good at the moment.

Hawaii has been outscored by four FBS opponents by an average score of 54-12, Memphis is still reeling a bit from a loss to Tennessee-Martin (though they did just beat Rice), Tulane's athletic director just penned a letter to fans pleading for them not to jump ship, Southern Miss' scoring margin has gone from plus-16.7 points per game in 2011 to minus-18.8 in 2012, UMass has lost one of its six games by fewer than 11 points (though the Minutemen get bonus points because that one close loss was to a solid Ohio team), and Florida Atlantic just lost at home to North Texas (and there might not be more than one or two winnable games left on the schedule).

Naturally, though, Charlie Weis has managed to grab the most attention. His Jayhawks came out firing for two decent possessions in their Sunflower State showdown with Kansas State, but a 14-7 lead eventually turned into a 56-16 loss, and Weis made waves on Sunday by holding an underclassmen-only practice and, in appearance anyway, unofficially giving up on the 2012 season. Honestly, this is one of those moves that looks rather smart in theory (the Jayhawks' season really is going nowhere) and looks like a P.R. nightmare in practice. But if Weis turns around his 1-4 Jayhawks in 2013, nobody will care.

2. Safe For Now, But Oh God, That October Slate Is Brutal

Derek Dooley, Tennessee

Again, Tennessee has definitively improved in 2012. But they have lost to Florida and Georgia thus far, and if they lose the next three (at Mississippi State, Alabama, at South Carolina), nobody will care about improvement on paper.

Bud Elliott: This was by many accounts a make or break year for Derek Dooley. While the Volunteers do have six four-star recruits, he is certainly not lighting the recruiting trail on fire, and prospects have real cause to wonder if he will be there for the entirety of their careers.

3. Rallying

Randy Edsall, Maryland
Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee
Dan Enos, Central Michigan

The first three names on this list have seen their respective teams begin to play quite a bit better over these past few weeks (no, seriously -- Maryland played West Virginia semi-close and beat Wake Forest, Indiana looked downright strong in the second half of the Northwestern loss and the first half of the Michigan State loss, and Middle Tennessee whipped Georgia Tech), and while Central Michigan is still pretty bad overall, the Chippewas did score a nice upset win over Iowa. That might earn Dan Enos some bonus points.

For the names in this group, things could go south in a hurry. But for now, they look safe.

4. Things Have Taken An Unexpected Turn

Dave Christensen, Wyoming
Mario Cristobal, Florida International
Jim Grobe, Wake Forest
Skip Holtz, South Florida

These four coaches are also likely safe from the ax, but their respective 2012 seasons have been total disappointments. Wyoming did avoid losing to Idaho in overtime, and they took a solid Nevada team to overtime before falling this past weekend. But the Cowboys are 1-4, and that loss to Cal Poly doesn't look very good at all, no matter how good Poly looks in the FCS ranks.

Cristobal, meanwhile, made waves by staying at FIU after many bigger schools came after him this past offseason. So far, that return has not been a happy one. The Golden Panthers have lost to Duke (by 20), UCF (by 13), UL-Lafayette (by 28) and Arkansas State (by 14), and their only win was in overtime, at home, versus Akron. Ouch. Obviously playmaker T.Y. Hilton is no longer around, but his absence doesn't explain a rather disappointing defensive effort.

One would think that Jim Grobe has a contract for life in Winston-Salem after his 2006 ACC championship and semi-sustained run of decent seasons (four bowls in six seasons). And maybe he does. But since a one-point win over North Carolina made the Demon Deacons 2-0, Grobe's Deacs have gotten pantsed by Florida State (52-0) and lost tight games to both Duke (at home) and Maryland (in College Park). And now the only likely win remaining on the schedule is a home game versus Boston College.

And then there's South Florida. Thought by many (once again) to have a solid chance at a Big East title, Skip Holtz's Bulls have struggled mightily. They lost by 10 to Rutgers on ESPN, then fell by four points in a listless trip to Ball State. They fought well but lost to Florida State, and then they allowed 383 yards to a bad Temple offense in a nine-point loss. There is neither a sure loss nor a sure win remaining on the schedule, but Holtz might want to pull off a few wins to keep the buzzards from circling.

Bud: Even with the lure of immediate playing time, Skip Holtz is not winning any battles with Florida or Florida State for top players. In fact, USF has recently lost out on some players to UCF. Holtz has as many two-star recruits this cycle as three-stars, and is not bringing much talent to the program. But with the big extension USF gave him this off-season, he is totally safe.

5. No Idea What To Think About These Two

Jon Embree, Colorado
Jeff Tedford, California

Colorado is a horror show (1-4 with tight losses to Colorado State and Sacramento State and enormous losses to Fresno State and UCLA), but Embree is a former Colorado star in only his second season. The Buffs have not even slightly improved under his watch, but do the "buts" above earn him a third season? I honestly don't know.

Meanwhile, if I were to write one of these pieces each week, Jeff Tedford would have already spent time at both the "1" group and probably the "9" group. Cal was super-competitive against Ohio State and crushed UCLA in Berkeley this past weekend, but mostly listless losses to USC and Arizona State (at home) didn't feel too good, and a bumbling home performance in the opener versus Nevada has kept Cal below the .500 mark. Tedford inherited a poor program and built it considerably, but he probably needs to beat both Washington State this weekend and Stanford next weekend to feel safe.

Bud: Cal has a nice class going under Jeff Tedford, with three four-star players and another seven three-stars. Tedford has long-standing relationships with coaches in the area, and that cannot be overlooked, but it's also true that Cal's recruiting dropped off last year after Tosh Lupoi bolted for Washington. Cal is trickier to recruit to than some imagine, because of academics and atmosphere, and if the Golden Bears were to replace Tedford, it would need to be with a coach who has experience at a similar place.

Jon Embree has actually done a decent job of recruiting at Colorado, despite the Buffs' record. He has focused heavily on California and is having success, with half of Colorado's class coming from the Golden State. Still, his on-field product may so heavily outweigh his recruiting success that a change is needed.

6. Grace Period? That's Cute

Gene Chizik, Auburn
Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech

Paul Johnson rode his Flexbone attack to an unexpected conference title in 2009. Gene Chizik rode one of the best quarterbacks in SEC history to an unexpected national title in 2010. And both are fielding rather below-average teams in 2012, having spent up whatever grace period their successes had earned.

Georgia Tech lost to Middle Tennessee by 21 and can't stop anybody (Johnson just fired defensive coordinator Al Groh to fend off the vultures), and Auburn can't move the ball. The Tigers have scored 10 points or fewer in all three SEC contests, managed only 19 against a poor Clemson defense and have only managed more than 20 points once, in an overtime win over Louisiana-Monroe. The standards are always high in Auburn, and Chizik made them even higher with his 2010 season and outstanding recruiting. But if his Tigers were to lose upcoming road games versus Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, he might be gone before the Iron Bowl.

Bud: The Tigers currently have a very good class of 17, including three five-stars and six four-stars. Chizik's work at Auburn aside from the Cam Newton year is unimpressive, and opposing coaches will certainly hammer home the team's underperformance relative to its talent, its lack of player development, and that his success was really Newton's. The class looks to be in a bit of trouble either way. It's not going to fall apart, but it's pretty much impossible to see it rising in the rankings. If Auburn doesn't make a bowl, it can expect to lose recruits. If the Tigers fire Chizik, they can also expect to lose recruits because recruiting is a relationship-based process, and some recruits will feel better elsewhere.

Georgia Tech is not an easy place to recruit to due to its tough math and science standards, but it's tough to argue that Johnson's style isn't further complicating the recruiting process. His offense fails to attract talent, and further, it may dissuade talented defensive linemen from coming in because they don't want to face cut blocks in practice. The talent level at Georgia Tech has clearly dropped since Johnson took over. Any coach following Johnson will have a multi-year project of transforming the roster from both a talent and style perspective.

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

Ron English, Eastern Michigan
Bobby Hauck, UNLV
Mike Price, UTEP
Dewayne Walker, New Mexico 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." That's what I said three weeks ago. Following double-digit losses to both New Mexico and UTSA and an overtime loss to Idaho, however, one would figure Walker is just about done in Las Cruces. The NMSU job might be America's most difficult college football job, but after showing some growth in 2011, the young Aggies have, as expected, given it all back in 2012.

And if NMSU isn't the most difficult job, Eastern Michigan might take the title. EMU, too, saw gains (and nearly bowl eligibility) in 2011, but the 2012 season has been a complete disaster. UNLV, meanwhile, has oscillated between semi-competitive (overtime loss to Minnesota, three-point win over Air Force) and awful (loss to Northern Arizona, losses to Utah State and Louisiana Tech by a combined 49 points). Bobby Hauck is probably the safest of the four coaches in this group. Mike Price, on the other hand, is probably done. Competitive losses to Oklahoma, Ole Miss and Wisconsin were nice, but double-digit losses to pretty poor East Carolina (28-18) and SMU (17-0) teams won't get the job done in Price's ninth season.

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

Robb Akey, Idaho
David Bailiff, Rice
Frank Spaziani, Boston College

I had hopes for Bailiff's Owls, but following an upset win over Kansas, Rice has lost to Louisiana Tech and Marshall in semi-respectable fashion, then handed both Houston and Memphis their first wins of the season. If Rice loses at home to UTSA this coming Saturday, Bailiff probably won't be employed by the time November rolls around.

As for the other two men here, I had no hope for them three weeks ago, and I have no hope for them now. Boston College is about to name a new athletic director, one who will probably look to make a mark with his or her own football hire.

9. Let's Just Say The "He's Resigning" Internet Rumors Are Never A Good Sign

Joker Phillips, Kentucky

Phillips did not, in fact, resign a couple of weeks ago. In a few more weeks, it probably won't be his choice anymore.

Bud: Joker Phillips is in a tough spot at Kentucky. The state produces very little talent of its own, and Kentucky is required to go out of state to get top talent. When it does, it must try to compete against the surrounding schools that have much better programs. There is also the distinct (and true) feeling that Kentucky is a basketball school, unlike the programs around it. There is very little reason to think that any coach can get enough talent in Kentucky to have much success in the SEC. That said, Kentucky's class doesn't have a single four-star recruit at this point, and firing Phillips would not hurt recruiting.

10. Still Done, Still Broke

John L. Smith, Arkansas

It almost makes you sad that it isn't going to work out for the quirky, fiery Smith, but despite last weekend's win over Auburn, hits days are obviously numbered.

Bud: From a recruiting perspective, there is no downside to firing John L. Smith. Arkansas currently has 16 commitments for the class of 2013, and none of them appear to be true difference makers at this point (only one four-star recruit). Other programs would have a field day negatively recruiting against Arkansas should it keep Smith.

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