Less than four years ago, in Arlington's Cowboys Stadium, Texas met Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship Game. The Longhorns were playing for a berth in the BCS National Championship Game, while the Huskers were looking for a first conference title in a decade and a return to national prominence.
Nebraska nearly pulled off the upset victory: They held a lead with no time left on the clock before a Big 12 official restored one second and allowed Texas to kick a game-winning field goal. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini unleashed an expletive-filled tirade at Big 12 officials. Mack Brown's Longhorns went on to lose the national championship to Alabama. Six months after that kick, the scorned Cornhuskers announced they were leaving for the Big Ten.
Four years later, the two coaches in that Big 12 Championship Game are as far as they could be from that December night. One has watched his magic touch turn south. The other pointed his next expletive-filled tirade at the wrong people. Three weeks into the 2013 college football season, neither looks like he'll make it through. We are a long way from Arlington.
Mack Brown, Texas
Last week: Lost 44-23 to Ole Miss
Overall record: 234-119
School record: 147-45
Three-year record: 18-11
Three-year dollars per win: $892,292
Buyout: $2.75 million
Football ratio: 63.7%
Texas' loss to BYU last week forced Brown to fire embattled defensive coordinator Manny Diaz just two weeks into the season. Brown opted for walking college football punchline Greg Robinson to manage his defense this week against Ole Miss and, presumably, through the rest of the season. Robinson was a successful defensive assistant for Mack Brown during the good times. Of course, since then, he flamed out as a head coach at Syracuse. Later, he coordinated one of the worst Michigan defenses in the history of the program, then did it again. Hiring Robinson was not great for morale among the Longhorn faithful, but at least it meant a change from Diaz's perennially underachieving schemes...
I'm sorry, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, you had your hand raised?
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said the Texas defensive scheme was exactly the same as last week except for one goal line wrinkle— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) September 15, 2013
Texas followed up a double-digit loss to BYU -- a loss that featured 550 yards rushing by the Cougars, a record for rushing yards conceded by a Texas defense -- with a double-digit home loss to Ole Miss in which the Rebels ran for 279 and scored the game's last 30 points. Mack is slowly unraveling in front of the press. Texas has no clear answer to the problem. Fans are snarking at the once-beyond-reproach head coach and speculating on the replacement, with Freeze near the top of that list. It's hard to find a scenario where Brown would keep his job; even a championship in the downtrodden Big 12 might not be enough to placate a fanbase which treats conference titles as its birthright. And we haven't even mentioned that miniscule $2.75 million buyout or the possibility that athletic director DeLoss Dodds could be out before coach signing season begins.
Bo Pelini, Nebraska
Last week: Lost 41-21 to UCLA
Overall record: 51-21
School record: 51-21
Three-year record: 21-9
Three-year dollars per win: $410,714
Buyout: $4.5 million
Football ratio: 65.3%
Here's a recipe for getting yourself fired: Fall on your face in a manner that reinforces your fans' worst fears about your ability to usher their team past 9-4 respectability, turn a program legend against you, struggle for answers to why your vaunted offense has so much trouble scoring, then get caught on tape fuming about said fan base and the local media. The swearing, which only reinforced the fans' other long-held perception of you as a hotheaded jerk, is just icing on the cake.
Nebraska's administration has accepted Pelini's apology, which should be enough to save him for the short term. It's not the school's administrators who have maintained a sellout streak stretching back to the Kennedy administration, though, and the first time that those administrators are forced to admit a vacant seat will be the next shot fired in this story. From there, it's elementary. The Nebraska athletic program is more dependent on football income than almost any other self-sufficient program in the nation, and it simply can't afford to keep a wildly unpopular head coach if it costs them fan support.
Pelini lost at home and lost his cool (albeit two years ago). In doing those things, he played to a type he desperately needs to break. The media -- especially the Omaha World-Herald -- isn't going to provide much help. Pelini needs to win, win now, and win big. Anything short of a Big Ten crown and Rose Bowl probably means the end of this tunnel walk.
Lane Kiffin, USC
Last week: Won 35-7 against Boston College
Overall record: 34-20
School record: 27-14
Three-year record: 19-9
Three-year dollars per win: $379,974
Football ratio: Unknown
Kiffin did himself a big favor by avoiding a loss to lowly Boston College Saturday. Quarterback Cody Kessler looked like a new man, completing 15 of 17 pass attempts for 237 yards and two scores. The running game continued to improve, as Tre Madden and Justin Davis combined for 198 yards on just 26 carries. It was a good win, and it gives Kiffin some much-needed breathing room. Utah State comes to town this weekend before the Trojans travel to face Arizona State.
Kiffin's shenanigans off the field continued unabated last week, though. First, he told the media he would not take questions regarding the quarterback situation. Then he held a canned press conference with a university employee as the only "reporter," and, in a moment of unbelievable hilarity, refused to answer a question that was on the script:
USC fans still brought their banners and their spray paint to the Coliseum Saturday, and a win over BC isn't going to change that significantly. Trojans AD Pat Haden is in Kiffin's corner, which should save him for a while, but he has to win the fans back. Continued success in the passing game and on the scoreboard could go a long way to doing that.
Paul Pasqualoni, Connecticut
Last week: Lost 32-21 vs. Maryland
Overall record: 151-92
School record: 10-16
Three-year record: 10-16
Three-year dollars per win: $480,000
Football ratio: 27.8%
Pasqualoni could have gone a long way toward saving his job by beating former UConn coach Randy Edsall's Maryland Terrapins Saturday. For the briefest of moments, it looked like that could happen. The Huskies scored the only touchdown of the first quarter and were within a score of Maryland well into the third period. But Edsall's turtles got a touchdown late in the third, forced a safety early in the fourth, and kicked a field goal to build a 19-point lead before coasting to the easy win.
Pasqualoni is now 10-16 in his two-plus seasons at Connecticut and the Huskies, just three years removed from a Big East title and Fiesta Bowl appearance, look destined for the bottom of a league largely devoid of the threats they vanquished in that season. South Florida and Memphis might keep the Huskies out of the AAC basement, but it probably won't be enough to save a coach that was Plan B on the day he was hired. Pasqualoni needs a couple of upsets to stay afloat. This week's visit from Michigan would be a fine place to start.
Jim Grobe, Wake Forest
Last week: Lost 21-19 vs. Louisiana-Monroe
Overall record: 107-108
School record: 74-76
Three-year record: 12-16
Three-year dollars per win: $563,700
Buyout: Unknown; $14.5M remaining on contract
Football ratio: Unknown
Coaches at BCS-conference programs often start with losing records. Coaches rarely leave the top programs for lateral moves, and the truly upper-echelon jobs can be counted on two hands, so a new coach usually inherits a flaming pile of roster goo that got the last guy axed. Even the best coaches often need a season or two to get back to respectability, plus an additional 2-3 seasons to make up for the losses in those awful first seasons, just to even their wins and losses.
Coaches who build winners only to have those teams sink again rarely get a second chance, though. Grobe's record at Wake Forest is now two games under .500 after this weekend's loss to would-be cupcake Louisiana-Monroe. With a visit from the Seminoles and games at Clemson, Miami, and Vanderbilt still left on the schedule, the chances of him getting back above that mark look unlikely.
Grobe's saving grace could be that monstrosity of a contract. We don't know much about the exit terms -- Wake is private and doesn't have to disclose anything it doesn't want to give up -- but $14.5 million is a lot of money for a program playing in a 31,500-seat stadium. It's a lot of money for any program, actually, and it could be enough to keep a middling coach in place rather than taking a million-dollar roll of the dice.
Dan Enos, Central Michigan
Last week: Lost 31-21 at UNLV
Overall record: 14-26
School record: 14-26
Three-year record: 11-17
Three-year dollars per win: $88,800
Football ratio: 24.8%
There's little doubt that Central Michigan fans want Enos gone yesterday, especially after his team's listless loss to fellow Hot Seater Bobby Hauck and the UNLV Rebels this weekend. The Chips are now 108th nationally in scoring offense and 110th in scoring defense, an impressive level of incompetence through three games.
Finding five more wins on the Chippewas' schedule to get to bowl eligibility is not impossible: CMU still have games against NC State, Ohio, Northern Illinois, and Ball State, but home games against Toledo, UMass, and Eastern Michigan present opportunities, as do trips to Miami (OH) and rival Western Michigan. If Central Michigan can assert itself as the best of the rest of the MAC and get to 6-6, the result coupled with a massive budget shortfall and large buyout, should keep Enos in place.
Bobby Hauck, UNLV
Last week: Won 31-21 vs. Central Michigan
Overall record: 87-51
School record: 7-34
Three-year record: 5-23
Three-year dollars per win: $337,500
Buyout: $1 million
Football ratio: 13.7%
On the other hand, the CMU win was huge for Bobby Hauck. The Rebels now have three extremely winnable games in a row -- Western Illinois, at New Mexico, and vs. Hawaii -- before the difficult portion of the Mountain West slate opens in mid-October. There's a chance that UNLV can get to 4-2, pick off a November 2 game against San Jose State, and pull an upset in the finale against San Diego State, and six wins could save Hauck's job.
The issue is going to be his contract: Hauck is down to two seasons on his five-year agreement, and merely allowing him to stay in the job will be insufficient. If Hauck is going to stay in Vegas, he'll need an extension, and a contract extension for a coach who will, at best, be 12-38 in his first four years might be too much for the administration to handle. With plans for a new stadium on hold, UNLV football doesn't mean enough to the school to force a firing and buyout, but it also doesn't mean enough for a large cash outlay on a coach who has only achieved a modicum of success. This could get interesting.
Or the Rebels could lose to New Mexico and make all of this moot.
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Last week: Won 27-21 at Iowa State
Overall record: 114-96
School record: 102-75
Three-year record: 13-15
Three-year dollars per win: $885,000
Buyout: $16 million
Football ratio: 47.7%
What a difference a week makes. Last weekend, Ferentz was again a marked man after his Hawkeyes followed their season-opening loss to Northern Illinois by sleepwalking through a win over Missouri State. But Iowa dominated on both sides of the ball in a six-point win over rival Iowa State Saturday -- Iowa's first win over its in-state foe in three years -- and, with a game against lowly Western Michigan this weekend, could be looking squarely at bowl eligibility with a sub-.500 record in a top-heavy Big Ten. Athletic director Gary Barta is looking to latch onto any sort of outward improvement as a way of saving that absurd $16 million buyout, and a bowl trip would be more than enough to buy Ferentz a 16th season in Iowa City.
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
Last week: Lost 24-20 at Auburn
Overall record: 30-24
School record: 30-24
Three-year record: 16-13
Three-year dollars per win: $496,875
Football ratio: 38.2%
Mississippi State has no significant recent history of success or quick trigger finger. The last coach, Sly Croom, went 21-38 but was allowed to stay on for five years regardless because people liked him. Mullen has been much more successful than Croom: Two .500 seasons in the SEC, two bowl wins, a top 15 finish in 2010. But the Bulldogs have not finished better than fourth in the SEC West under Mullen, and recent results have not been good: With last week's crushing loss at Auburn, Mississippi State is now 2-7 in its last nine games and have not won away from Davis Wade Stadium in nearly a full year.
You get the sense that fans are starting to believe Mullen's been the beneficiary of some soft scheduling and an offensive high-wire act that fell off sometime in mid-2011. Mullen's teams are 2-17 against ranked opponents in his four-plus years at the helm, and have lost to those ranked opponents by an average of 16 points per game. The Bulldogs haven't beaten a ranked opponent since a win over then-No. 22 Florida in 2010. They haven't been within a touchdown of a ranked opponent since South Carolina in 2011. In four seasons, Mullen's biggest win is probably a 52-14 beatdown of unranked Michigan in the 2011 Gator Bowl. The worst news of all: MSU has five ranked opponents still on the schedule.
Charley Molnar, Massachusetts
Last week: Lost 37-7 at Kansas State
Overall record: 1-14
School record: 1-14
Three-year record: 1-14
Three-year dollars per win: $1,201,875
Football ratio: 30.1%
Barring a miraculous upset, we're not going to know anything new about UMass for a couple of weeks. The Minutemen are on their annual fundraising tour of the upper Midwest, a tour that includes a rare home stop this week against Vanderbilt. The bottom tier of the MAC looks especially bad this year, though UMass has the misfortune of missing Eastern Michigan and Toledo. There are still home dates against Miami (OH), Western Michigan, and Akron, and a late-season trip to visit potential lame duck Dan Enos at Central Michigan. Molnar has opportunities to break through. He needs to capitalize.