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Reviewing 6 college football coaches who could've been fired

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Mississippi State's showing the value of patience. Florida? Nope.

December is usually the month when underperforming coaches are shown the door. And with underwhelming performances by Florida, Nebraska, Rutgers and a host of others, 2013's was certain to be an active hiring/firing month.

And then something weird happened: few got fired. Whether it was due to large buyouts or athletic director stubbornness or patience, many high-profile coaches on the hot seat were retained. Even some that left, like Texas' Mack Brown, were fired only after days of consternation.

Halfway through the 2014 season, many of the athletic directors who retained coaches in spite of fan and media pressure are getting solid returns. How does the 2013 hot seat look at the midway point of 2014?

Bo Pelini, Nebraska

What we said then:

There are two scenarios here:

1.  [AD Shawn] 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.

What we say now:

After his athletic director shocked the world by retaining him, Pelini has returned the favor. He began by embarking on a goodwill tour of sorts, complete with cats at the spring gametweets with his internet doppelganger, and practical jokes on his team. His team responded as well, going undefeated longer than any other Big Ten team. More importantly, the Cornhuskers mounted a comeback against Michigan State, a game they eventually lost but might have conceded in previous seasons.

Could Pelini still lose four games for the seventh consecutive season? Absolutely. But Pelini's problems were due as much to his boorish persona as they were to underachievement. He appears to have removed one of those factors from the equation, and Nebraska might be able to tolerate another top-half Big Ten finish and New Year's Day bowl without booting its kinder, gentler head coach.

Verdict:

Nebraska was right to keep Pelini in 2014.

Will Muschamp, Florida

What we said then:

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.

What we say now:

Despite the overwhelming likelihood that a change in luck would improve things in Gainesville, the Gators might somehow be worse. Florida sits at 3-3 after an ugly loss to Missouri. Muschamp is the only coach in the last decade to lose a game in which his defense held an opponent under 120 yards of offense, and he's done it twiceThe fans have moved past anger and into acceptance. This is dangerous territory.

Even if we remove last week's disaster, a triple-overtime home win over Kentucky and one-point victory at Tennessee don't exactly instill confidence. Florida looks even money at best to win a home game against equally disappointing South Carolina. And there's The World's Greatest Outdoor Run The Dang Ball Fest against Georgia, plus a trip to Tallahassee. Losing those three games would mean 5-6 at best for the Gators, and 5-6 coupled with one of the nation's most unwatchable offenses isn't nearly enough improvement to justify yet another pardon.

Verdict:

Florida should have fired Muschamp last year.

Kyle Flood, Rutgers

What we said then:

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.

What we say now:

What a difference a weak Big Ten makes. Rutgers stuck with Flood, made the jump to its new conference in July, and has immediately reaped the rewards in the form of a 5-2 record and October 4 win over Michigan. It's been so good that Rutgers gave Flood an extension in September. AN EXTENSION. IN SEPTEMBER.

Yes, two of the Big Ten programs he has faced so far (the Wolverines and Penn State) have been mediocre, but mediocrity can save a career in the current Big Ten. Mediocrity gets a New Year's Day bowl trip against a grossly superior opponent. And a bowl trip is all Flood needs to reestablish himself.

Verdict:

Rutgers was right to keep Flood.

Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

What we said then:

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.

What we say now:

Desperate for a win over a ranked team? How about three wins over teams in the top 10 by mid-October? How about being the No. 1 team in the AP poll for the first time in program history? How about Dak Prescott, Heisman Trophy frontrunner? That good enough for you?

Verdict:

Forget whether Mullen should have been fired. Right now, he deserves the Kirk Ferentz contract.

Tim Beckman, Illinois

What we said then:

What we say now:

Verdict:

Illinois should have fired Tim Beckman.

Mike London, Virginia

What we said then:

There's not much left to say about the Virginia situation. The die has long since been cast for this year; the only question left is whether London deserves another. By almost any objective on-field measure, that answer is no, but these decisions are made by athletic directors who are usually far from objective and sometimes focused away from the field.

What we say now:

Virginia is hardly out of the woods, but London has already doubled his win total from 2013, knocked off Louisville, and played competitively with UCLA and BYU. With the ACC as soft as it has ever been, it's not out of the question that Virginia gets to bowl eligibility this season and, on the back of London's vaunted 2014 recruiting class, only goes up from there.

Verdict:

Inconclusive, but Virginia looks like it was right to keep London.