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College football hot seat watch, Week 15: Pelini retakes throne from Muschamp

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Firing season begins with a whimper, but is it only a matter of time for Nebraska's head man?

Eric Francis

Hot seat rating: Nuclear habanero inferno

Bo Pelini, Nebraska

Last week: Lost 38-17 to Iowa
Record: 8-4 (5-3 B1G)
Years: 6
Overall record: 57-24
School record: 57-24
Three-year record: 27-12
Salary: $2,875,000
Buyout: $4.5 million
Football ratio (percentage of the athletic department's overall revenue derived from football): 65.4%
Subsidy (percentage of the athletic department's budget that comes from John Q. Taxpayer): None
Dreaded vote of confidence? Yes.

Let's start by simply running down Bo Pelini's Friday: the sixth-year head coach started the day by falling two touchdowns behind Iowa on Senior Day. He then angrily called out a sideline reporter during a halftime interview, picked up a crucial penalty for throwing his hat near an official, and ran a doomed fake punt from deep in his own end of the field despite the fact that Iowa had put its first-team defense out to defend it. Iowa won 38-17, defeating Nebraska in Lincoln for the first time since the Roosevelt administration.

This was all before the press conference, in which Pelini called the pass interference flag that drew his ire "chickenshit," blamed the local media for the negativity surrounding the Nebraska program (a point he reiterated on his postgame radio interview), and actually said, "If they want to fire me, go ahead." He looked frustrated, angry, and exhausted, a man who had reached the end of his rope and fully ready to let go.

Pelini essentially dared athletic director Shawn Eichorst to pull the trigger. Eichorst responded by putting the gun down:

"I want to reaffirm what I have said many times since I have arrived at the University of Nebraska - that I positively respect, appreciate and support our football student-athletes, coaches and staff, as we do everyone in the Husker family. We very much look forward to our upcoming bowl game and Coach Pelini continuing to lead our program in the future."

When asked later if he would again be evaluating Pelini's status after the bowl game, Eichorst reportedly refused to comment:

Eichorst, who only took the Nebraska AD gig in October 2012, is known for fundraising and facilities, not for firing coaches. In his previous job at Miami, he extended Al Golden and Jim Larranaga, both holdovers from the previous administration. He replaced a Nebraska legend, former head coach Tom Osborne, who chose Pelini for the job in 2007. The University's Chancellor, Harvey Perlman, has tried to make NU upwardly mobile, but football is not driving that momentum. The fan base appears split, but seats are not going unsold to games. In other words, there is little institutional momentum for a change.

There are two scenarios here:

  1. Eichorst's vote of confidence is a placeholder to get Nebraska to bowl season. He hopes that Pelini gets a convincing victory that takes the heat off and lets him stay for one more season, at which point Eichorst has better footing for a coaching change if needed. If Pelini's team implodes in the bowl, Eichorst will have had four weeks worth of research time to prepare.
  2. Pelini is right: The FIRE PELINI movement is a construct of local media in need of a story during another eight-win season and a group of hardcore fans who expect nothing less than national championships from a program that no longer has the infrastructure to compete on that level. The media obsession is evidenced by the incessant questioning of Pelini's future after every game and the dogged determination to parse Eichorst's fairly straightforward statement of support for loopholes. Eichorst and Perlman do not want to take the risk of replacing the football coach, and have no interest in spending $4.5 million to placate the media and dead-enders. Behind the scenes, Pelini is completely safe.

I would wager that enough big-money donors are on board with Pelini's firing after a sixth consecutive four-loss season that Scenario 1 is more likely than Scenario 2, but either possibility leaves Pelini the chance to keep his job with a solid bowl performance. He's certainly safe until then.

Kyle Flood, Rutgers

Last week: Lost 28-17 at Connecticut
Record: 5-5 (2-4 AAC)
Years: 2
Overall record: 14-9
School record: 14-9
Three-year record: 14-9
Salary: $850,000
Buyout: $850,000
Football ratio: 31.9%
Subsidy: 47.3%
Dreaded vote of confidence? Yes.

Rutgers lost to UConn Saturday, its fifth loss in six games. The Scarlet Knights have not scored more than 23 points in a game since October 5, and their much-maligned pass defense made Connecticut freshman quarterback Casey Cochran look like a world-beater: 25/33 for a career-high 311 yards and two touchdowns. Temple held Cochran to 111 yards the week before, and Temple is terrible. SMU restricted him to 227 yards, and the Mustangs don't even play defense.

It strains logic to find one thing working in his favor.

Unlike most on this list, Flood still has one game to coach and a chance at bowl eligibility, but that finale against South Florida is looking increasingly irrelevant to Flood's future. His recruiting class, once ranked in the national top 30, has completely unspooled in the wake of bullying accusations against his defensive coordinator. His program is preparing for a jump to the Big Ten, where Rutgers desperately wants to be a serious player. The Rutgers AD, Julie Herman, did not hire him and is under investigation for her response to the bullying accusations. And Flood's buyout is actually less than the salary he would earn next season. All of these things work against Flood, and it strains logic to find one working in his favor.

Hot Seat Rating: Muy caliente

Mack Brown, Texas

Last week: Defeated Texas Tech 41-16
Record: 8-3 (7-1 Big 12)
Years: 16
Overall record: 241-120
School record: 148-46
Three-year record: 25-12
Salary: $5,353,750
Buyout: $2.75 million
Football ratio: 63.7%
Subsidy: None
Dreaded vote of confidence? Yes.

Texas kept its hopes of a share of the Big 12 title alive with a blowout win over reeling Texas Tech, and a win over Baylor next week would get the Longhorns a co-championship and solid bowl trip. But co-championships and solid bowls are usually not enough for Texas fans or the administrators who take their money. With his chances of a BCS bowl appearance or outright Big 12 championship dashed, much of Brown's future remains in the hands of the new athletic director.

Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech

Last week: Lost to Georgia 41-34
Record: 7-5 (5-3 ACC)
Years: 5
Overall record: 155-70
School record: 47-32
Three-year record: 22-17
Salary: $2,445,700
Buyout: $1.3 million
Football ratio: 41.5%
Subsidy: 10.9%
Dreaded vote of confidence? No.

Man, that was a bad loss.

CPJ's Yellow Jackets opened up a 20-point lead on their hated rivals from Athens Saturday, only to give it all back and fall in overtime, as Georgia running back Todd Gurley ran over his defense. Since winning the ACC in 2009, Johnson is just 28-25, with a division co-championship last season and a 1-4 overall record in bowl games. There is a popular suspicion that ACC defenses have solved Johnson's triple option offense (despite it producing similar yardage to previous years) and an increasing belief that the program is treading water. This has killed Georgia Tech coaches in the past. Whether it gets Johnson is anyone's guess.

Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia

Last week: Lost 52-44 to Iowa State
Record: 4-8 (2-7 Big 12)
Years: 3
Overall record: 21-17
School record: 21-17
Three-year record: 21-17
Salary: $2,500,000
Buyout: $11.3 million
Football ratio: 33.0%
Subsidy: 7.2%
Dreaded vote of confidence? Kind of.

Speaking of bad losses, Holgo looked safe with a 17-point lead entering the final quarter against Iowa State Saturday. Fifteen minutes later, the Cyclones had scored 24 points to force overtime, then shut down West Virginia's offense in the third overtime to walk out of Morgantown with an improbable win.

Conference money is up since the Mountaineers moved to the Big 12, but it's nowhere near the level needed to stomach Holgorsen's buyout, and Luck does appear to be behind his hand-picked coach. But 4-8 is 4-8, and Holgorsen is going to be on a short leash if he does return. And if there is one coach who does not appear to be OK with a short leash, it's Holgo.

Barring a move by prominent boosters, he's likely safe.

Mid-Majors on Muy caliente:

Justin Fuente, Memphis
Norm Chow, Hawaii
Rich Ellerson, Army
Ron Turner, Florida International
Troy Calhoun, Air Force

Memphis lost convincingly to Temple at home Saturday, and Justin Fuente was not happy about it:

Fuente's departure from TCU has not worked out all that well for either side, and you have to wonder if there isn't a reunion in the mix. But Memphis fans appear to remain hopeful.

Chow's Rainbow Warriors won their season finale against Army, but 1-11 is hardly what Hawaii administrators had in mind when they brought in the legendary offensive coordinator. Chow can pitch a string of bad luck -- his team lost six games by 10 points or less, two in overtime -- but results matter for a program with bigger ambitions than last place in the Mountain West.

Ellerson, who lost to Chow, could still salvage the season -- and his job -- by beating Navy in two weeks. That looks increasingly unlikely, given how the two teams have played. A loss to Navy likely earns Ellerson, who is just 8-27 in the last three seasons, a pink slip.

Ron Turner's team stinks, and his athletic director remains unhinged. The FAU loss will not sit well, but a $2.5 million buyout could make his dismissal prohibitive. If a 'name-brand' coach like Butch Davis makes his interest known, Garcia will pull the trigger. Otherwise, Turner gets a second season.

Air Force finished 2-10 after a 58-13 loss to Colorado State Saturday, and the sheer magnitude of such a loss and the historical failure of this season -- AFA has never lost 10 games in a season -- keep Calhoun on the hot seat. But Air Force has not fired a coach since Buck Shaw in 1957, and one bad season probably isn't enough to change that.

Hot Seat Rating: Apparently safe

Those kind of losses at a blueblood rarely get you out of the airport parking lot.
Will Muschamp, Florida

Last week: Lost 37-7 to Florida State
Record: 4-8 (3-5 SEC)
Years: 3
Overall record: 22-16
School record: 22-16
Three-year record: 22-16
Salary: $2,928,000
Buyout: $8 million
Football ratio: 58.9%
Subsidy: 3.5%
Dreaded vote of confidence? YesMultiple times, actually.

Outwardly, this is an obvious firing. Florida started bad and ended worse, finishing with the program's worst record and longest losing streak in 34 years. The Gators lost to their in-state rival by 30 for the first time in 25 years, lost to a conference afterthought at home for the first time in 68 years, and lost to an FCS opponent for the first time in program history.  Once-in-a-generation ineptitude like that at a mid-level program usually earns the coach a pink slip. Those kind of losses at a blueblood rarely get you out of the airport parking lot.

And yet, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley has again reiterated his support for Muschamp:

Importantly, that quote came after the Florida State loss. There is no more data to consider, no more results for which he is waiting. A reversal by Foley now is simply the athletic director changing his mind, something that seems unlikely given the "one thousand percent" support he has provided. Muschamp is, improbably, safe, but his offensive staff is already getting an overhaul.

Mike London, Virginia

Last week: Lost 16-6 to Virginia Tech
Record: 2-10 (0-8 ACC)
Years: 4
Overall record: 42-36
School record: 18-31
Three-year record: 14-22
Salary: $2,556,460
Buyout: $8 million
Football ratio: 21.3%
Subsidy: 16.2%
Dreaded vote of confidence? We are up to three votes of confidence.

There's a reason why the Dreaded Vote of Confidence is dreaded. Usually, when your athletic director has to publicly acknowledge that your job is safe, public outrage at your team's performance has reached the tipping point. There is no doubt that we have reached that point at Virginia:

One Dreaded Vote of Confidence can be easily ignored with additional poor results. Two votes of confidence leave little wiggle room, but three or four losses in a row afterwards can give an AD some space. But three votes of confidence, with the last one coming before a season finale your team has almost no chance of winning? That ties the athletic director's hands. A reversal after three statements of support weakens the AD even more than admitting the hiring was wrong in the first place.

Much like Muschamp, this is an obvious firing by any objective measure. Mike London somehow looks safe, though.


Justin Ford, USA Today

Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Last week: Defeated Ole Miss 17-10
Record: 6-6 (3-5 SEC)
Years: 5
Overall record: 35-28
School record: 35-28
Three-year record: 21-17
Salary: $2,650,000
Buyout: $675,000
Football ratio: 38.3%
Subsidy: 8.2%
Dreaded vote of confidence? No.

We have said repeatedly that Mullen would be safe with an Egg Bowl win and bowl eligibility. The Bulldogs' Thursday win over OIe Miss, capped with an improbable overtime fumble recovery, did both. And so he should be safe for another year.

Mullen's team played one of the nation's toughest schedules in the nation this year, with five losses against teams that were ranked at the time of the game and a sixth against current No. 3 Auburn. Mississippi State fans are desperate to win one of those -- Mullen's six wins were against Alcorn State, Troy, Bowling Green, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Ole Miss -- but not desperate enough to jettison a coach who has been historically great for their program.

Tim Beckman, Illinois

Last week: Lost to Northwestern 37-34
Record: 4-8 (1-7 Big Ten)
Years: 2
Overall record: 27-34
School record: 6-18
Three-year record: 6-18
Salary: $1,600,000
Buyout: $2.1 million
Football ratio: 36.1%
Subsidy: 5.0%
Dreaded vote of confidence? Depends on what you call a "vote of confidence."

Beckman's entire security is wrapped up in his buyout, which the athletic director does not want to pay while he's still paying two other fired coaches. Losing the Land of Lincoln Trophy to lowly Northwestern again is not a deal-breaker, so long as it's not costing Illinois money to keep Beckman around. Keep attendance up, keep donors happy, and Beckman stays for a third season.

Speaking of which, how was attendance at Saturday's game?


Yes, the students are home on Thanksgiving break, but that did not generate scenes like that at every other stadium in the country. If Beckman can't put butts in the seats, that $2.1 million looks like chump change.

And yet, Illinois AD Mike Thomas reiterated his support for Beckman Monday morning:

There's nothing left this season to change that position, so it looks like Beckman gets a third year.

Mid-Majors who have apparently reached the safe zone:

Charley Molnar, UMass
Garrick McGee, UAB
Todd Monken, Southern Miss

Molnar, who looked to be in trouble entering the final week of the season, announced that he is firing his offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach. Staff changes are usually enough to buy a second-year head coach a third season, and UMass is apparently willing to give him another chance.

Monken's Golden Eagles won their first game of the season with a dominant performance against UAB Saturday, snapping a 23-game losing streak in the process. The positive momentum from that single win, coupled with the fact that Southern Miss is already paying one guy who is no longer coaching their team, is enough to take Monken off the hot seat.

McGee, whose team lost to Monken Saturday, told reporters Saturday he was going to conduct a program-wide evaluation. "We're going to have to get serious," said the second-year head coach. That's not the kind of thing you want to be saying after your second season. That's the kind of thing you say after your first loss, or maybe the second loss, but not the 19th loss in two seasons. Still, McGee is going to sacrifice a coordinator or two and get a third year.

Now hiring

  • Eastern Michigan
  • FAU
  • Miami (Ohio)
  • UConn
  • USC
  • Wyoming, which parted with Dave Christensen on Sunday.

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