Plenty of prominent places have new faces in the coaching position as we head into the summer, including Texas, USC, Penn State and Washington, and it wouldn't be surprising to see more big-name programs join the list by the end of December. Coaches might be used to getting at least a full recruiting cycle to prove themselves, but with patience at an all-time low now in the sport, athletic directors can be quick to pull the trigger.
After disappointing seasons, coaches like Will Muschamp and Brady Hoke got the opportunity to make high-profile assistant coaching changes at the end of last year, but the blame can only be placed elsewhere for so long. Here are the head coaches who are under the most pressure in 2014.
Must Win Now
Will Muschamp, Florida. Ron Zook went 23-14 in his three seasons. Will Muschamp so far has gone 22-16. Zook unsuccessfully bridged the gap from Steve Spurrier to Urban Meyer, and Muschamp has struggled to come anywhere near the heights Meyer achieved. Both Spurrier and Meyer were revolutionary offensive coaches; Muschamp, a great defensive coordinator, has presided over offenses that ranked sixth, 12th and 14th in the SEC in yards per play. To be fair, Florida couldn't have suffered from worse injury luck last year, but the downward trend is still troubling. Florida fell from the Sugar Bowl to 4-8 -- its first losing record since 1979 -- and a loss to an FCS team, Georgia Southern, that had zero passing yards. The offense felt aimless and helpless, and that's especially unacceptable at a program that has peaked under two offensive innovators.
Muschamp now appears to be moving away from his ultra-conservative philosophy, hiring Kurt Roper to install a more modern, uptempo, spread offense, after Roper achieved nearly unprecedented success with the respected David Cutcliffe at Duke. Anchored by Dante Fowler and Vernon Hargreaves, Muschamp's defense should again find success, and it's simply a matter of the offense becoming competent enough to sustain drives without shooting itself in the foot repeatedly. Quarterback Jeff Driskel, who's been uneven and turnover-prone, is healthy again (with star recruit Will Grier waiting behind him should he falter), but the receiving corps has really struggled lately. Running back Kelvin Taylor -- the son of Fred Taylor -- might be poised to break out as a sophomore. Now on his third offensive coordinator in four years, Muschamp needs his offense to show signs of life. Even doubling the win total to eight may not be enough.
Mike London, Virginia. Despite going winless in the ACC and finishing 2-10 last year, London -- a man of few words, it seems -- still managed to sign a respectable recruiting class, but there's been little else to be happy about, and it's hard to imagine London actually guiding this class through their entire college careers. London is 18-31 in five seasons in Charlottesville, his one bowl appearance coming in an 8-5 season in 2011, and his record looks even worse given his high-priced assistants, including defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta and two former FBS head coaches. He's won a total of two conference games since that bowl appearance, while also losing to Louisiana Tech and Ball State. With that 48-27 home loss to Ball State last year, it seemed as if Virginia would be better off not letting Cardinals coach Pete Lembo leave campus without agreeing to replace London. Virginia seems like the only team that doesn't have even an outside shot at winning the wide-open ACC Coastal, and with UCLA, BYU, Florida State and Louisville also on the schedule, London will have trouble winning anough to stick around.
Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia. What appeared to be a happy marriage has fallen apart quickly. After the bizarre coach-in-waiting transition that saw Holgorsen get promoted to head coach a season earlier than expected, he began his stint in Morgantown with a 10-3 record and a 70-point outing in the Orange Bowl. His upward trajectory continued into the first half of 2012, when the combination of Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey raced out to a 5-0 record under Holgorsen's high-powered offense, including a jaw-dropping 70-63 win over Baylor. But the Mountaineers hit a wall in their Big 12 move in October, dropping six of their last eight games to finish 7-6. Smith's Heisman campaign fell apart rapidly, as did Holgorsen's standing as one of the game's best young coaches.
It only got worse last year, as they finished 4-8 with a revolving door at quarterback, ending the year with consecutive losses to Kansas and Iowa State. Since beating Texas on Oct. 6, 2012, West Virginia has gone 4-12 in Big 12 play. It's been a rough transition to a league where West Virginia is geographically out of place, and while a defensive shake-up -- the promotion of Tony Gibson to coordinator and the addition of longtime Penn State assistant Tom Bradley as associate head coach -- could help a unit that gave up 33 points per game, this season could get ugly in a hurry. The Mountaineers open with Alabama, visit a Maryland team that collbered them 37-0 last year and host Big 12 favorite Oklahoma -- all before the end of September. Holgorsen is a great offensive mind, but he has a whole lot to prove as a CEO.
Charlie Weis, Kansas. Weis has gone 4-20 in two years at Kansas, after going 16-21 in his final three years at Notre Dame. Nobody said winning in Lawrence was easy, but Weis' brash personality doesn't give him much margin for error. Two of his four wins have come against South Dakota State and South Dakota; one of the others was an unwatchable 13-10 win over Louisiana Tech. So, thus far, the only thing Weis can cling to is last November's 31-19 win over floundering West Virginia, which was followed by a 34-0 loss to Iowa State and a 31-10 loss to Kansas State. Weis has bet big on juco players (although not as many in 2014), following the model of in-state rival Bill Snyder, but so far it's not working. Now, Kansas leaves spring ball with the only talk being rumors about the possible transfer of quarterback Jake Heaps. Weis struggled to develop recruits at Notre Dame and has always felt like a better fit for the pro game. Thus far, all the reservations about his getting the Kansas job have borne out.
Tim Beckman, Illinois. One of the most bizarre occurrences in recent college football history has to be Illinois' appearance in the Rose Bowl in the 2007 season. The Fighting Illini didn't win the Big Ten and finished 9-3, but they got a bid to Pasadena anyway, because of the Rose Bowl's insistence on inviting a Big Ten replacement for Ohio State, who played for the national title. It was Illinois' first bowl bid since 2001, as Ron Zook had gone 4-19 in his first two seasons, and he then went 21-28 over the next four years before getting fired. Beckman has gone 6-18 in two years, with only one of those wins coming in Big Ten play, against hapless Purdue last November. He did double his win total last year, at least, as the offense found renewed life thanks to the inspired hire of coordinator Bill Cubit, but confidence is not exactly high in Champaign. Beckman might need to get to bowl eligibility to save his job, which probably will require winning three conference games. Good luck finding them on the schedule.
Kyle Flood, Rutgers. Just about every piece of Rutgers football news since the Big Ten invitation came has been bad. Flood has passed the time quietly and comes very cheap, by Big Ten standards, but any momentum that Greg Schiano had built up has petered out by now. Sure, the Scarlet Knights now have a stable place in the FBS hierarchy with a spot in the lucrative Big Ten, but last year, they finished 6-7 in the American Athletic Conference, were held under 20 points in five of eight league games, threw 22 interceptions and struggled on the recruiting trail. The once-stingy defense has also taken a big step back, and Flood has a pair of new lieutenants: former Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen as the offensive coordinator, and the promoted Joe Rossi on defense. The Big Ten has been down, sure, meaning there is room to move up in the league, but the Scarlet Knights are heading in the wrong direction when joining a division with Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State. With coaches like Urban Meyer, James Franklin and Brian Kelly capable of invading New Jersey, Rutgers may need to find a young, energetic recruiter to try to keep pace in the Big Ten East.
How Long Can It Last?
Bo Pelini, Nebraska. Pelini could be fired tomorrow or last another 10 years, for all we know. He's lost exactly four games in each of his six seasons, which is hardly unforgivable but not quite up to the lofty standards of Nebraska football. From a recording of a rant about Nebraska's fans to his recent cat diplomacy to his fiery temper, Pelini has always been in the news, even if it's not for actually winning many big games. January's Gator Bowl win over shorthanded Georgia was nice, but it came after a home embarrassment against Iowa. There's always bad news with the good news. Aside from the presence of running back Ameer Abdullah and defensive tackle Randy Gregory, two All-America candidates, Nebraska just hasn't been able to do anything particularly great as it sort of treads water as a back-of-the-top-25 team. Combined with the personality clashes, it's not hard to wonder how long all parties involved -- fans, administrators, players, Pelini -- will be satisfied with the arrangement.
Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech. Old-school option football is losing its luster. Johnson won ACC coach of the year his first two years on the job after leaving Navy, but there's a sense of restlessness now, after back-to-back seven-win seasons in a mediocre ACC Coastal. Johnson denied reports that he's unhappy with the school, but combined with the transfer of quarterback Vad Lee and losses in the final three games against FBS opponents -- including a 12th loss in 13 tries against Georgia -- there hasn't been much to be happy about. If Justin Thomas emerges as a legitimate threat at quarterback, Georgia Tech could compete for the Coastal title, but if the Yellow Jackets tread water again around .500, all involved may be ready for a change.
At a Crossroads
Brady Hoke, Michigan. Barring disaster, I'm not convinced it will happen in 2014. Still recovering from the poor match with Rich Rodriguez, Michigan can cling proudly to its Michigan Man, who's a good cultural fit, a good recruiter and a good defensive coach. Obviously, though, something has to change after last year's painfully inconsistent season, which included near-disasters against Akron and UConn, a 27-carries-for-27-yards performance from the starting running back in a loss to Penn State, 2.8 sacks allowed per game, 3.28 yards per rush attempt and a 7-6 final record after starting 5-0. The interior of the offensive line was a disaster, magnifying quarterback Devin Gardner's weak decision making, and the whole old-school, power-offense philosophy can't work if the offensive line struggles so much. As expected in such a situation, the blame was placed on offensive coordinator Al Borges, who was pushed out to make room for Doug Nussmeier, formerly at Alabama. Hoke initially took Michigan from 7-6 to 11-2, but now the program has gone back to 7-6. Hoke has to start closing the gap with Ohio State -- and Michigan State, for that matter -- sooner rather than later. It doesn't help that the Wolverines must go on the road to both places, plus Notre Dame, this fall.
Randy Edsall, Maryland. All you can ask for is progress. Edsall's tenure in place of Ralph Friedgen got off to a disastrous start, with a rash of transfers combined with a 2-10 record. But Maryland has gotten better each year, and it's done so despite ridiculously bad injury luck that saw freshman linebacker Shawn Petty play quarterback in 2012 (4-8 record) and arguably the team's two best players, receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, both miss the second half of the 2013 season (7-6 record with a Military Bowl loss to Marshall). It's not like Maryland faces a huge step up in competition, entering the Big Ten East from a division that included Florida State and Clemson, but Edsall still has to prove that he can protect his recruiting turf in a division that includes Urban Meyer and former Terrapins coach-in-waiting James Franklin.
Kyle Whittingham, Utah It's hard to find fault with a guy who's gone 76-39 in nine seasons since replacing Urban Meyer, including the landmark Sugar Bowl win over Alabama in the 2008 season. But Whittingham is in a tough spot, trying to establish Utah's place in the Pac-12 after making the transition from the Mountain West, where the Utes were powers. The new conference experience got off to a solid start, with an 8-5 record in 2011, but the last two years have seen the Utes go 5-7 and miss bowl games for the first time since 2002, before Meyer arrived. To their credit, the Utes took down Pac-12 champion Stanford last year, but otherwise, they have a lot to prove in what's becoming an increasingly difficult Pac-12 South division. While Whittingham isn't in immediate danger given all he's accomplished at Utah, throw in a recruiting class that Rivals.com ranked 67th, and he's facing a season in which he needs to start reversing this downward trend before it becomes impossible to dig out.
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State. Mullen's in a tough situation and probably shouldn't be on this list. It's not impossible to compete in Starkville, but this also isn't anywhere close to a premier SEC job. The Bulldogs reside in the middle of a good recruiting area, but there are so many programs surrounding them that are competing for the same recruits with better resources and more prestigious histories. Since starting at 5-7 in 2009, Mullen has taken the Bulldogs to four straight bowl games, although he's yet to return to the 9-4 standard he set in 2010 -- a season that may have unfairly altered expectations. Maybe it was too much, too fast. Mississippi State is starting to get traction as a sleeper this year, though, and it makes sense: Dak Prescott appears to finally be the perfect fit for the offense of Mullen, an Urban Meyer protégé, and while no SEC West schedule is easy, their nonconference slate is a cakewalk, and they draw Vanderbilt and Kentucky in cross-division games. It's not often that Mississippi State can coast to seven wins, so Mullen needs to capitalize as expectations creep higher. If ever he's going to repeat 2010 or even better, this is the year. A disappointing season could change things in a hurry, even if expectations are out of whack with what should reasonably be expected.
The Kirk Ferentz Category
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa. He's kind of obligated to be mentioned at this point, and sometimes it feels like we'll be talking about his buyout until about 2050. He's essentially the Bobby Bonilla of college football, with Iowa destined to pay him forever. According to USA TODAY Sports, Ferentz made nearly $4 million last year, but with that hefty price tag has come just one 10-win season since 2004. The good news is that Ferentz engineered a solid rebound year in 2013, going from 4-8 to 8-5, and with a solid quarterback in Jake Rudock, a fairly deep cast of skill position talent and one of the league's easiest schedules, it's hard to see Iowa falling far enough to warrant even consideration of a move, given his pricey buyout. In fact, the Hawkeyes may be good enough and have a clear enough road to contend for the Big Ten West title. The problem with Ferentz, as always, is that his punt-to-win offense causes fans to lose patience much more quickly when expectations are not met. Nobody wants to be bored, especially at that price.