So many college football coaching jobs have changed in the last few years that it's getting hard to figure out how many situations are actually in trouble entering 2015.
There are a lot of new faces still in their first few years on the job, and thus many programs can be said to be in building mode. Prestigious jobs like Texas, USC, Florida, Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska and Tennessee have all changed hands in recent years, and right now it appears that most big-time coaches are relatively secure. Again, that's right now.
A lot can happen in a hurry in modern college football, with every coaching carousel delivering unexpected changes. So, here's a glimpse at the coaching situations that enter 2015 with some pressure, starting with those in win-now mode and then delving into murkier circumstances that deserve patience.
As for who could be next in line? Last week, we covered the coaches on the rise.
On The Hot Seat Now
The coaches under the most pressure to get better results right away.
Tim Beckman, Illinois. For all the faults, there is one notable thing that must be pointed out about Beckman: The Fighting Illini have improved each of the last two years. After coming over from Toledo, Beckman led a disastrous 2-10 opening season, then went 4-8, then moved up to 6-7 last year, with late wins over Penn State and Northwestern pushing Illinois to the Heart of Dallas Bowl, which it lost 35-18 to Louisiana Tech. So Beckman has that going for him.
He also has a whole lot working against him. The Beckman era has hardly inspired confidence, with empty student sections, four Big Ten wins in three years, that time Illinois coaches led the charge in attempting to aggressively poach Penn State players and, most recently, accusations of the mishandling of injuries by former player Simon Cvijanovic. Other current and former Illinois players have responded in support of Beckman, but, nevertheless, Illinois is investigating the accusations.
It all puts Beckman in a tenuous position. Despite the yearly improvement in record, Beckman has never been too popular, digging himself a deep hole with that first season in which the Illini were blown out week after week and beat only Charleston Southern and Western Michigan. Beckman is already under fire now, and the season isn't even here yet. On the field, the schedule isn't particularly favorable, with a tricky nonconference road trip to North Carolina, plus Ohio State and Penn State on the cross-division Big Ten schedule. Barring a miracle season, convincing Illinois fans that a change is needed likely won't be difficult. Beckman is entering the fourth year of a five-year contract, with no extension yet.
Al Golden, Miami. Unsurprisingly, Miami fans are growing restless. Since joining the ACC in 2004, the Hurricanes haven't won more than nine games in a season, haven't been to the ACC title game and have finished in the top 25 only three times in 11 seasons. Making fun of all the visible orange seats at Sun Life Stadium has become a Saturday tradition, with the swagger associated with The U long since gone. And it's not as if Miami lacks talent: It ranks 18th in average recruiting class over the last five years, according to 247Sports rankings, and it just had seven players drafted … from a team that won six games. That included the last four games, with a close loss to Florida State spiraling out of control with embarrassments against Virginia and Pitt to end the regular season.
Golden built Temple into a competitive team, and he came to Miami at a messy time, with the Nevin Shapiro scandal hovering over the football team for years. Despite its past success, the Miami job has significant challenges, especially as other schools have made South Florida recruiting inroads. Still, at some point this run of mediocrity will no longer be tolerated, especially given last year's fall from 9-4 to 6-7. Golden is 28-22 at Miami (16-16 in the ACC), and expectations aren't exactly high in 2015, with a promising young quarterback Brad Kaaya but a lack of proven talent elsewhere after the NFL exodus. University president Donna Shalala has stepped down, but one thing on Golden's side is that in 2011 she gave him a contract extension through 2019. Another is that Golden is off to a fast start on the recruiting trail in the class of 2016. It won't be enough if Miami doesn't escape from its run of mediocrity on the field.
Mike London, Virginia. The Cavaliers have made occasional waves on the recruiting trail under London -- they rank sixth in the ACC and 31st overall in recruiting average over the last five years, according to 247Sports rankings -- but they have not backed any of it up on the field. Individual recruits have shined at times, but London is now 23-38 in five seasons, with one bowl appearance in 2011. The Cavaliers improved from 2-10 to 5-7 last year, and now London almost certainly needs to take another step forward and get back to the postseason. He has two seasons left on his contract after agreeing to a two-year extension following that Chick-fil-A Bowl appearance.
It appeared that London might be turning a corner last year, with a 4-2 start, but the Cavaliers lost five of their last six, including a 24-20 defeat to rival Virginia Tech -- who they haven't beaten since 2003 -- in a game played for bowl eligibility. Virginia avoids Clemson and Florida State from the Atlantic, but it still must play UCLA, Notre Dame, Boise State and Louisville on top of its division schedule. The Cavaliers did lose several close games last year, but given the lack of experience returning against a difficult schedule, London has a tough task ahead of him. Finally beating Virginia Tech would help his cause.
Willie Taggart, South Florida. Everything about hiring Taggart seemed to make sense at the time: After spending three years learning under Jim Harbaugh during Stanford's rise, Taggart -- a Florida native -- became head coach at Western Kentucky, his alma mater, and led the Hilltoppers to their first bowl ever. Two seven-win seasons don't seem that special, but he took over a team that went winless in 2009, its third year of FBS play and proved to be a superb recruiter. Two years at South Florida have been disastrous thus far. The Bulls should be in a relatively good position in the AAC, given their recruiting location, but they've gone 6-18 since Taggart took over, ranking 119th and 122nd in scoring the last two years. They've done that despite ranking 56th nationally in recruiting average of the last five classes, best among current AAC teams. Last year, their four wins came by a total of 17 points against Western Carolina, Connecticut, Tulsa and SMU, with only one loss by single digits.
Norm Chow, Hawaii. Chow is stuck in a difficult situation, as the Hawaii athletic department is a mess: It continues to face a steep deficit, and athletic director Ben Jay resigned last December after just two years. While June Jones proved that winning is possible at Hawaii, it is a tough situation, so far removed from the rest of college football. Fred Vonappen went 5-31 in three years as coach from 1996-98, before Jones arrived and made Hawaii into a mid-major power, culminating in the 2007 season Sugar Bowl appearance. After Jones left, Greg McMackin had mixed results, and now Chow is just 8-29 in three years.
Chow is a Hawaii native who spent years as an assistant to LaVell Edwards at BYU, then gained further prominence as Pete Carroll's USC offensive coordinator from 2001-04. After four decades of coaching, Hawaii finally gave him his head first head coaching opportunity at age 65, but at this point he likely needs to get Hawaii back to bowl eligibility to stay, with a fifth-year contract buyout of $200,000.
Kevin Wilson, Indiana. Indiana is a very, very difficult job, and Wilson hasn't exactly gotten good breaks either. Last year's offense had a chance to be dangerous, but a season-ending injury to quarterback Nate Sudfeld derailed the season (despite a win over SEC East champion Missouri), putting the weight of the entire offense on tailback Tevin Coleman. Coleman, of course, was up to the challenge, rushing for 2,036 yards, but Indiana needs to move past the point where the success of the entire team is tied to one player. Wilson's offenses have shown promise, but the defenses haven't provided much support. Wilson is now 14-34 in four seasons, with a high point of 5-7 in 2013. It's getting to the point where it may be bowl-or-bust, even for a program that has been to only one bowl game in the last 20 years.
The return of Sudfeld paired with the arrival of UAB transfer Jordan Howard to replace Coleman gives the offense hope, and the schedule has enough winnable games (Southern Illinois, FIU, Western Kentucky and Wake Forest in September) to make six wins a possibility. The Hoosiers can't squander the opportunity.
Rising Dissatisfaction is Possible
Let's not rush to declare any of these jobs in immediate jeopardy, but positive steps are needed in 2015 to avoid growing dissent.
Paul Rhoads, Iowa State. Iowa State is one of the toughest jobs among the Power Five conferences, and Rhoads has generated plenty of goodwill during his time in Ames: He's a likable coach, one who's led memorable upsets of Nebraska (2009) and Oklahoma State (2011), and he's gone 3-3 against rival Iowa. He also led the Cyclones to three bowl games in his first four seasons, which is not an insignificant accomplishment. The last two years, however, have been frustrating, with a 5-19 record and a loss to an FCS team in each season. Bad injury luck has played a role, but at some point Iowa State is going to have to take a step back in the right direction. Rhoads isn't the type of coach anyone should be dying to get rid of, and any well-liked coach in a tough job like this is going to earn some leeway, so putting him in a do-or-die category may be excessive. Still, current results can't go on forever.
Larry Fedora, North Carolina. North Carolina has been embroiled in NCAA scandals for years, whether it was impermissible benefits or the current academic fraud investigation. Fedora had nothing to do with any of it, thus putting him in a difficult situation that is bound to buy him some time. He originally signed a seven-year deal upon leaving Southern Miss to take the job, meaning his contract runs through 2018. He is now using a typical lifeline at this stage in a rocky start to a coaching tenure, bringing in former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik as his new defensive coordinator, charged with fixing a defense that allowed 70 points to East Carolina, 50 to Clemson, 50 to Notre Dame, 47 to Miami and 40 to Rutgers last season. The Tar Heels offense scored 33.2 points per game and returns 10 starters, but the defense obviously needs a massive turnaround. Fedora is 21-17 in three years, with his win total decreasing by one each season. He's not in immediate danger, but that trend's going to have to start reversing.
Scott Shafer, Syracuse. Shafer enters his third year since getting promoted to head coach when Doug Marrone left for the Buffalo Bills. As SB Nation points out, third years have not been kind to Orange coaches: None have ever made a bowl game in their third season. After going 7-6 with a Texas Bowl win in his debut, Shafter plummeted to 3-9 last year, with wins over Central Michigan, Wake Forest and Villanova (in overtime). They lost only one game by single digits, and they ended their season with consecutive three-touchdown losses to Pitt and Boston College. Athletic director Daryl Gross is gone, which always creates uncertainty. Injuries hurt -- especially QB Terrel Hunt's fractured fibula -- but the offense was abysmal last season, with Tim Lester replacing George McDonald as play caller midway through the season. There is hope, though, with the recent verbal commitment of blue-chip running back prospect Robert Washington. Hopefully Washington's 2016 arrival isn't too late.
Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State. Should Gundy be mentioned anywhere on this list? No. But there's long been some tension within that athletic department, particularly with mega-booster T. Boone Pickens' middling public support of the longtime Cowboys coach. Gundy has had a wandering eye, flirting with the Tennessee and Arkansas jobs over the last few years, and while Pickens softened this offseason, that doesn't mean that feeling is permanent. Oklahoma State went 7-6 in a disappointing 2014 campaign, although it saved bowl eligibility with the comeback win over Oklahoma. There's also hope for the future, as the team will build around promising sophomore quarterback Mason Rudolph. Everything should be fine here, but it's never been the most stable situation, despite the Cowboys' solid run of success.
Give Them Time
Some jobs deserve a good deal of patience.
Darrell Hazell, Purdue. It is strange to remember that Danny Hope actually took Purdue bowling in his final two of four years before getting fired, as he failed to live up to the standards of his predecessor, Joe Tiller. Despite those bowl trips, it's not as if Purdue was on solid ground when Hazell took over. Hazell went 5-7 and 11-3 in his two years at Kent State, and in two years at Purdue he has gone 1-11 and 3-9. Obviously, last year was dreadful, but the Boilermakers showed some signs of progress, with occasional competitive games. Is that enough? Of course not, especially when athletic director Morgan Burke said Purdue needs to contend for the Rose Bowl when he fired Hope. But let's not pretend that this isn't a difficult job that deserves patience.
Mike MacIntyre, Colorado. Once something of a national power, Colorado fell off a cliff over the last decade, falling behind in resources and making misguided coaching hires. MacIntyre was seen as a wise move: He improved from 1-12 to 5-7 to 10 wins and the Military Bowl in his three years at San Jose State, showing clear evidence of the ability to build a program. That's exactly what was needed at Colorado, which went 4-21 under Jon Embree before MacIntyre was hired. MacIntyre debuted with a 4-8 record, then fell to 2-10 last year, which is obviously disconcerting in a tough division. How many times can a program hit reset, though? MacIntyre needed time to build a foundation, and last year's record, while bad, featured two losses in double overtime and another loss by four points. This will be a more experienced team in 2015, one capable of stealing a game or two in the Pac-12.
Todd Monken, Southern Miss. Once the gold standard for mid-major consistency, Southern Miss nosedived when Larry Fedora left for North Carolina. Fedora went 12-2 and finished the 2011 season in the top 25; the next year, Ellis Johnson went 0-12 and was fired. Monken, the former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator, inherited a mess and went 1-11 in his first year, then 3-9 last year. He's a proven offensive mind, and he needs time to build depth as he overhauls a broken program.
Yes, the Buyout is Still Huge
An annual reminder.
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa. On Sept. 2, 2010, Iowa announced a contract extension for Kirk Ferentz through 2020, one that makes him one of college football's 10 highest paid coaches. The Hawkeyes had just won the Orange Bowl -- his second appearance in a BCS game -- and at that point Ferentz was 81-55 in 11 season in charge, a very strong mark for the Iowa program. Since then, Ferentz has finished half of that new contract, going 34-30 in five years as Iowa has become the poster boy for conservative, punt-happy football. Despite a favorable schedule, the Hawkeyes went 7-6 last year, losing to Iowa State for the third time in four years and getting blown out by Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl. It's all earned Ferentz an apparent 46-percent approval rating among Iowa fans. Iowa has an easier road through the Big Ten in the West Division, but the increasingly aggressive coaching hires in the East only further draw attention to stagnation in the rest of the league. For Iowa, the question often comes down to how high expectations should really be. It also comes down to the fact that Ferentz still has five years left on his contract, with a hefty buyout attached.
They Control Their Own Fate
Things have been better, but let's not be ridiculous. These coaches have earned their power and status.
Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech. Beamer built Virginia Tech football, turning an aimless independent into a national title contender, then one of the most consistently good programs in college football all last decade. They've hit bumps lately with three straight mediocre seasons thanks to a stagnant offense, and at 68 years old, Beamer won't be around forever, especially with a new athletic director, Whit Babcock, coming in last year. But this year's squad has potential with a few breaks on offense, and Beamer has enough clout to control his own fate, before potentially handing off the job to loyal assistant Bud Foster sometime in the near future.
Bob Stoops, Oklahoma. Oklahoma has been going through an identity crisis the past few years, but then again it won the Sugar Bowl in 2013, and Stoops has won eight Big 12 titles and a national championship. Things could potentially feel stale, and all parties involved could get sick of each other, but before anybody panics, let's not forget how consistently great Oklahoma football has been under his leadership. Last year ended in disaster with the loss to Oklahoma State and a 40-6 bowl debacle vs. Clemson, but let's not act like this is some sort of sinking ship. The only question is whether Stoops decides a change in scenery is needed.
Steve Spurrier, South Carolina. Spurrier will retire to the golf course -- and hopefully a television analyst role -- before too long, when the job stops being fun. That could be soon: He just turned 70 years old, the Gamecocks went 7-6 in 2014 and the outlook for 2015 in the SEC East isn't exactly rosy. Still, despite the lack of an SEC title, Spurrier is 84-45 in 10 years at South Carolina, boasting the first three 11-win seasons in school history. Spurrier's not going anywhere -- unless he wants to.