The college football coaching hot seat is always full of surprises, with schools seemingly getting more impatient every year. Just last fall, we saw Georgia fire Mark Richt for going 9-3 and LSU nearly fired Les Miles for doing the same.
The last college football coaching carousel did not stop spinning until March, when Illinois hired Lovie Smith to replace Bill Cubit, who had replaced Tim Beckman at the start of last season. That made Illinois the 28th of 128 FBS schools to make a move since last season began.*
Not all were firings, of course. Steve Spurrier and Frank Beamer were among those who retired, while programs like Memphis, BYU and Bowling Green had to make changes after their coveted coaches left for bigger jobs. It was a busy year in coaching news, which makes it hard to imagine that 2016 will match that level of chaos -- particularly the rash of in-season changes that occurred last fall.
So who's on the hot seat in 2016? The following coaches will be under a lot of pressure to win this fall, their jobs potentially on the line if they don't meet expectations.
*UPDATE: On Thursday, Baylor fired head coach Art Briles after an investigation into the university's handling of sexual assault allegations.
1. Darrell Hazell, Purdue. For about a decade, Purdue found respectability. Under the leadership of Joe Tiller, the Boilermakers went to 10 bowl games in 12 seasons, finished in the top 25 five times and made their only Rose Bowl appearance since 1966. They were an innovative passing team for a stretch, at the high point led by Drew Brees. Purdue is one of the toughest Power Five jobs, but Tiller showed that being competitive is not impossible. But that was a decade ago, and Purdue continues to struggle despite being a member of the Big Ten West, the league's easier division.
The school has a whole doesn't have the same commitment to football that others in the Big Ten have, and after Danny Hope was fired after back-to-back .500 bowl seasons, Hazell has gone 6-30. In other words, Hazell has won as many games in three seasons as Hope did in his final year. The lone bright spot last season was a 55-45 win over Nebraska in which Purdue won the turnover battle 5-0 against a backup quaterback. Hazell's five other wins have come against Indiana State (twice), Western Michigan, Southern Illinois and Illinois.
Hazell, who was previously Ohio State's receivers coach, has been a head coach for five seasons. At Kent State, he went 5-7, then parlayed a breakout 11-3 record in 2012 into the Purdue job. Seventeen of his 22 Big Ten losses have been by double digits, and it's unlikely that Hazell can survive another season in the Big Ten West basement.
2. Charlie Strong, Texas. There's no question that Strong faced a steeper than usual challenge at Texas, as the complacency in the final years under Mack Brown meant that Strong inherited significant roster problems. Even at a school with the resources of Texas, there were bound to be significant hurdles. In his third season now, though, Strong won't be given much leeway with excuses. He is 11-14 in two seasons, at a time when Baylor and TCU have risen to take control of the Big 12 and the state of Texas.
Texas has been painfully erratic on offense since Strong arrived, struggling to find consistency at quarterback while unable to find an identity. Strong will try to change that with new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, who has worked with offensive gurus Dino Babers and Philip Montgomery. The questions is: Can Gilbert work enough magic for the Longhorns to show necessary progress? True freshman Shane Buechele may get the nod at quarterback over Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard, both of whom have had chances they haven't capitalized on. The line and the running game should be in better shape, at least. Strong's strength is defense, but there is rebuilding to do there, particularly on the line.
There are plenty of toss-up games on the schedule, and Notre Dame, Baylor and TCU all come to Austin. The Longhorns were abysmal away from home last season, and they can't afford many slip-ups. There are reasons for optimism, whether it's with rising stars like RB D'Onta Foreman and LB Malik Jefferson now, the potential for Buechele to thrive under Gilbert or the gains Strong has made on the recruiting trail. Still, patience is in short supply in Austin, and Strong can't afford another .500 season -- especially if there are a handful of multi-touchdown losses again.
3. Les Miles, LSU. Miles won a power struggle with LSU boosters last November, resulting in one of the most surreal college football scenes you'll ever see. LSU started 7-0, then lost three games in a row by double digits -- starting with a horrifying loss to Alabama -- leading to rampant rumors that boosters were ready to pay Miles' $15 million buyout and move on. LSU proceeded to beat Texas A&M, with the crowd chanting for Miles, the players carrying him off the field and Miles stopping mid-ESPN interview to sing the LSU alma mater. Athletic director Joe Alleva decided not to fire Miles, so Miles' job became safe … for now.
Just because he won last year doesn't mean LSU won't pull the plug this year. In fact, last November shows just how tenuous the situation is. Miles is 112-32 with a national championship at LSU. He has finished in the AP top 20 in nine of 11 years and won at least 10 games seven times. He's one of the nation's top recruiters. And yet LSU can't help but measure itself against Alabama, who the Tigers have lost five games in a row to. They've had struggles at quarterback, and they're a mediocre 9-7 in the SEC the last two years.
Miles has just about everything he needs to win this year. He has a Heisman frontrunner in Leonard Fournette, talented receivers, a solid offensive line, a respected rising star new defensive coordinator in Dave Aranda and a defense loaded with talent. For once, LSU wasn't hit hard by early NFL attrition, meaning this year's roster is loaded with experienced talent. If LSU gets better play from QB Brandon Harris, it can compete for the national title. The stakes are high, and even going 9-3 again might mean the end of Miles' tenure.
4. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M. It's amazing how quickly the perception of a program can change. Four years ago, Sumlin was the hottest rising star coach in the country, and that led to speculation about Sumlin at USC and in the NFL. Texas A&M took the SEC storm with Johnny Manziel, threatening Alabama's preferred style of play and captured a lot of attention on the recruiting trail. Now, the Aggies have become a mess. Sumlin has posted back-to-back 8-5 seasons after fast starts in which the Aggies have been ranked in the top 10. They're 11-13 in the SEC the last three years, and while recruiting success has paid off with some individual stars -- Myles Garrett and Christian Kirk, among others -- the defense continues to rank among the SEC's worst and the quarterback position has become disaster.
Former Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight offers a decent one-year fix as a graduate transfer, but just last year the Aggies occupied an enviable position with two five-star quarterbacks. The situation was mismanaged, with both Kyler Murray (Oklahoma) and Kyle Allen (Houston) electing to transfer and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital replaced by UCLA's Noel Mazzone. Not surprisingly, recruiting is getting a bit more difficult, a task made tougher by the social media mistakes of assistant coach Aaron Moorehead after five-star QB Tate Martell decommitted from the Aggies.
Sumlin is one of the highest paid coaches in the country, and his $5 million per year contract through 2019 is fully guaranteed. Texas A&M made a huge commitment to Sumlin, and now it has to hope that fortunes start changing. That's a tall task in the SEC West, but the Aggies have talent and may take a step forward on defense in the second year under John Chavis. With UCLA on the nonconference schedule and Tennessee on the SEC crossover slate, the road won't be easy.
5. Gus Malzahn, Auburn. Gene Chizik's first three years as Auburn's head coach: 30-10 with a national championship game win. Malzahn's first three years as Auburn's head coach: 27-13 with a national championship game loss. Chizik, of course, saw the bottom fall out after Malzahn left his offensive coordinator post. He went 3-9 in his fourth season and pulled off the rare feat of getting fired two years after winning a national title. Malzahn enters his fourth year with plenty of pressure, although it's hard to imagine things going quite as far south as they did for Chizik.
Auburn has started sixth in the preseason AP top 25 each of the last two years, only to finish 8-5 in 2014 and 7-6 in '15. The Tigers have won just two of their last 11 SEC games. They finished last in the SEC West last season at 2-6, with QB Jeremy Johnson not living up to preseason hype and losing his job. Now, any notion of Auburn as a trendy program has been lost. Malzahn's offense ranked 86th in yards per play, and the QB position remains unsettled between Johnson, his replacement Sean White and Florida State/juco transfer John Franklin. The Tigers are in dire need of playmakers to emerge at receiver, and after Will Muschamp's departure, they're on their fifth defensive coordinator in six years. Kevin Steele, who spent one year at LSU, inherits solid talent led by Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson up front, and the Tigers did at least improve on defense in the second half of last season.
Auburn came up just short of a national championship a few years ago, and Malzahn was a big part of the title team in 2010. Being this impatient might seem ridiculous. But support can turn in a heartbeat, particularly in the SEC, and patience is even harder to find when your nemesis is still hoisting national championship trophies.
6. Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State. DeRuyter went 20-6 his first two seasons with Derek Carr at quarterback. Since then, he's gone 9-17. The Bulldogs backed into a division title in 2014 but finished 6-8, and last season they plummeted to 3-9. Two years after Carr threw for 5,000 yards, Fresno State didn't have a quarterback break the 1,000-yard mark. Meanwhile, it ranked 117th in run defense and gave up over 40 points six times. DeRuyter subsequently revamped much of the coaching staff, and the Bulldogs likely need to get back to a bowl this season. Fresno State should be a regular contender for division titles and bowl bids, and last year was the first three-win season since 1978.
7. Paul Haynes, Kent State. Hazell is 6-30 since leaving Kent State, and Kent State is 9-26 since he left. It's not that Kent State has high expectations; the 11-3 2012 season was an anomaly for a program that had not been to a bowl game since 1973. Still, Haynes has won six MAC games in three years since replacing Hazell, and the offense was held under 10 points six times last season, including three shutouts against Bowling Green, Akron and Ohio. The Golden Flashes ranked dead last in the country in yards per play, squandering a solid defensive effort.
8. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia. Athletic director Shane Lyons, who replaced Oliver Luck in 2015, did not hire Holgorsen. Last December, after a 7-5 regular season, Holgorsen was given a vote of confidence by Lyons that stated he would return in 2016. However, his contract lasts through only 2017, and February reports indicated that negotiations for an extension had hit a wall, with Holgorsen apparently turning down an offer. For the appearances of stability in recruiting, coaches rarely work under two-year contracts.
Expectations need to be held in check at a place like West Virginia. The Mountaineers did make a leap from the Big East to the Big 12, and they ultimately finished 8-5 last season, with four of the losses coming to ranked teams. Holgorsen is 36-28 in five seasons but just 21-25 in the last three and a half years after a 5-0 start in 2012. The good news is that the Mountaineers have improved each of the last two years after bottoming out at 4-8 in 2013, and the offense has plenty of potential this year with most of the key contributors back. West Virginia needs QB Skyler Howard to take a step forward as a senior, and it will need a lot from defensive coordinator Tony Gibson with only three starters returning on that side of the ball.
Barring a significant step forward, it's hard to be too optimistic about Holgorsen's future in Morgantown, given the contract situation.
9. Tracy Claeys, Minnesota. Claeys has been Minnesota's head coach for only six games. A longtime Jerry Kill assistant, the Golden Gophers' defensive coordinator was promoted to permanent head coach after Kill stepped down for health reasons. "Permanent" might not be the right term, though. With the university still searching for a new athletic director at the time, Claeys was given only a three-year contract that peaks at just $1.6 million in 2018 -- a miniscule amount in the Big Ten. In other words, Claeys still feels like a long-term interim coach, with an audition over the next year or two.
Minnesota just hired a new athletic director in Mark Coyle, the former Boise State AD who abruptly left Syracuse a few months after replacing head football coach Scott Shafer with Dino Babers, and just 11 months after taking the job there. If anybody is imminently on the hot seat at Minnesota, it's men's basketball coach Richard Pitino, not Claeys. But between the short contract, the low salary and a new AD, Claeys is likely still coaching for the long-term job.
10. Mark Stoops, Kentucky. It takes time to turn the corner at a place like Kentucky, in a competitive conference after inheriting a team that went 2-10 the previous season under Joker Phillips. Stoops has improved Kentucky's recruiting, and now he'll hand the reins of the offense to Drew Barker, an unproven but touted sophomore quarterback. For all the gains Kentucky has made, though, it has yet to take advantage of what has been a watered-down SEC East, going 2-10 in 2013 and 5-7 each of the last two seasons.
The team's only wins after September last season were against Eastern Kentucky and Charlotte, and it fell short of a bowl for the fifth season in a row. A bowl game is on the table this season, but adding Alabama to the cross-division schedule doesn't help. The SEC East is likely going to get better soon, and Kentucky needs to strike now while upward mobility in the division is still readily attainable.
Others to Watch
Dave Doeren, N.C. State. It's probably premature, but keep in mind that Doeren is now 6-18 in the ACC in three seasons, with wins against Wake Forest (twice), Boston College, Syracuse (twice) and North Carolina. N.C. State has yet to beat a Power Five team that finished with a winning record, the best being 2014 North Carolina, which finished 6-7. In other words, after a 3-9 season in 2013, it's been nondescript mediocrity for two years, and this is a school that fired Tom O'Brien in 2012 after three straight bowl seasons. Against a tougher schedule this year, the Wolfpack need to finally pick up a noteworthy win.
Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech. Reported discontent after a 7-6 season in 2013 was quashed by Georgia Tech's ACC Coastal title, Orange Bowl victory and 11-3 final record in 2014. But then the Yellow Jackets turned a preseason No. 16 ranking into a horrendous 3-9 season in which the offense -- with many new pieces around QB Justin Thomas -- fell apart. Expectations at a place like Georgia Tech need to be tempered, and winning 11 games twice in eight years is an outstanding accomplishment. When the option offense is clicking, it's fantastic to watch. When it breaks down, it's very easy to get frustrated with a throwback system.
Mike MacIntyre, Colorado. MacIntyre is a good coach who went 10-2 at San Jose State in 2012 in his third year after inheriting a mess. At Colorado, he inherited another mess, with the Buffaloes nowhere near their glory days of the early 1990s. He has gone 10-27 with three straight last-place finishes in the Pac-12 South and a conference record of 2-25. This was a massive rebuilding job, and patience is necessary. The good news is that Colorado has clearly improved, with four losses by a touchdown or less last season. This has become a competitive team, and now the Buffaloes need to take another step and start winning some more of their toss-up games. Losing expected graduate transfer Davis Webb to California doesn't help.