Dennis Dodd has compiled his annual Hot Seat rankings. With our usual utmost respect for our colleague's decision, which coaches' scores do we think could use a tweak?
Jerry Hinnen: Some Tennessee and especially
No, for me, the SEC coach whose score might need adjusting is poor Joker Phillips, who like Dooley enters 2012 in "take a big step forward, or take a step out the door" mode. Unlike Dooley, Phillips doesn't have to win eight games -- he might not even have to make .500, given Kentucky's preference for patience -- and unlike the Vols, the 'Cats 5-7 2011 record wasn't a disaster. But for much of the season Kentucky's play was, with Phillips' offense in particular a shambling wreck in the wake of Randall Cobb's departure. We're skeptical that even in Lexington the victory over Tennessee (the first in 26 years) has erased the memory of the 54-3 humiliation at South Carolina, the hideous 14-3 opening-night win over Western Kentucky, the 38-8 loss to Vanderbilt.
With Ole Miss replaced by Arkansas on the schedule and the Louisville game on the road, there's an excellent chance Kentucky will be an underdog in 9 of their 12 games, and all 8 in the SEC. Even if Phillips can pull one upset somewhere along the line, he's still left with a 4-8 record and a third straight season of regression since Rich Brooks' retirement. At that point, a coaching change would likely be the only way to keep Kentucky fans -- never terribly engaged with the football team even in the best of times -- from tuning out the program entirely. Maybe he's not a "5," but I don't doubt at all that Phillips is coaching for his job this season.
Chip Patterson: In the ACC, the most interesting hot seat is the one under Duke coach David Cutcliffe. The former SEC Coach of the Year quickly ended a three-year conference win drought when he arrived in 2008, and delivered their best record in 15 years (5-7) in 2009. But after a pair of 3-9 seasons, Cutcliffe is starting to feel some heat.
Cutcliffe is ranked as a 3.5 or "on the bubble, feeling pressure." Even after poor finishes in 2010 and 2011, that seems a little high for the Blue Devils' head coach. Cutcliffe has helped quarterback Sean Renfree open up a passing attack that finished No. 2 in the ACC with 272.2 yards per game in 2011. Duke has looked arguably more competitive under Cutcliffe, and four of their losses a season ago were by a touchdown or less.
Wins and losses are the ultimate deciding factor in a coaches' job security, but for a program that hasn't reached a bowl game since 1994 -- Cutcliffe seems like their best chance to do so right now.
Bryan Fischer: With four new coaches in the Pac-12, the Hot Seat rankings are much more like lukewarm rankings across the conference given all of the newcomers. Nobody is ranked above a 3.5 (California's Jeff Tedford) and six coaches draw a 1.0 or below. This past season may have brought coaching upheaval but unless NCAA investigators or NFL opportunities come calling (both possibilities), there's likely remarkable stability in the Pac-12 for at least the next two years, if not longer.
However, I do take issues with a handful of rankings even if, generally, they're pretty much on the mark. The first is Tedford, who enters the season facing the most pressure of anybody on the conference roster of coaches. The Golden Bears finished 7-6 last season and were plagued by inconsistent offensive play -- Tedford's area of expertise by the way. This is the first season at the renovated Memorial Stadium and to put it simply, seats need to be filled and the fickle Bay Area crowd won't be coming out much if Cal quarterbacks keep throwing interceptions and the Bears are a .500 team. Tedford has brought the program up from the depths but anything other than a good bowl game and he could be getting a call to the AD's office at the end of the year.
Chip Kelly getting a 3.0 is also interesting and the only reason I could think he has a mark that high is because of the NCAA trouble the school is in that will likely come out sometime over the next few months. Kelly, who has only lost six games as a head coach, is certainly not in danger of being let go because of on-field performance. Expectations in Eugene have been raised to historic levels for that program and unless something happens in terms of sanctions, I can't see why the fastest offense in the country is headed anywhere.
Matt Hinton: I rate a few seats as significantly cooler than Dennis seems to think: Dabo Swinney and Les Miles are beyond "safe" after conference championships at Clemson and LSU, and there is still no safer place in college football than Mack Brown's fortified Austin penthouse. First-year bosses Charlie Weis (Kansas) and Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M) both deserve to be bumped from "safe" to "very safe" until they've actually coached a game at their new schools. And I suspect a few seats – Frank Spaziani's at Boston College, Kirk Ferentz's at Iowa, Tom O'Brien's at N.C. State – are slightly warmer than Dodd registers, too.
But those are minor quibbles. What I'm really struggling to figure out is what alternate dimension our esteemed colleague's brain entered when he rated Chip Kelly as "On the bubble, feeling pressure" at Oregon. Really?
Since Oregon promoted Kelly from offensive coordinator in 2009, the Ducks are 26-2 in Pac-10/12 games with three consecutive, outright conference championships – as many as Oregon won in the previous 89 years combined – and have taken up residence in the top ten. Their 12-0 run to the BCS title game in 2010 was the first undefeated regular season in school history; their 45-38 shootout with Wisconsin on Jan. 2 was Oregon's first Rose Bowl win since the U.S. entered World War I. Kelly has only been a head coach for three years, and only been involved in Division I football in any capacity for five, but by any measure he's on the short list of elite coaches in the country.
The only way that could possibly change by the end of the upcoming season is with a damning indictment from the NCAA in its ongoing investigation into possible recruiting violations. But that's a murky scenario at best. If Kelly is coaching anywhere but Oregon in 2013, it won't be because he's feeling any heat. It will be because an NFL team made him an offer he couldn't refuse.
Tom Fornelli: I actually understand why Chip Kelly would be rated there. I feel that with the ongoing investigation combined with the fact that Kelly seemed very close to bolting Eugene for the NFL, it's possible the school may not be totally in love with him. I don't think the Ducks are going to struggle on the field, and even if they did, Kelly has done enough to survive a bad football season. However, if things with the NCAA start to heat up, then I can see Chip leaving.
I mean, if Tressel can get canned, why not Kelly? There are different kinds of pressure.
I do agree with Hinton on Ferentz, though. I think the 1.5 is very low for him. I mean, Tim Beckman is rated a 2 and he hasn't even coached a game at Illinois, so I don't see how he can be on any hotter a seat than Kirk.
Ferentz has had the same coaches surrounding him the entire time he's been at Iowa, and now he has two new coordinators. Yes, Norm Parker retired, but it's still a bit of a sign that everything isn't well in Iowa City these days.
My only other quibble would probably be Brian Kelly as a 3.5. I have no doubt he's feeling pressure as it's hard not to feel pressure when you're the head coach at Notre Dame, but given what we know about how much the school is still paying Charlie Weis, and the fact that going three and out with previous coaches hasn't done a whole lot for the school, I don't think Kelly has much to worry about unless the Irish have a disastrous season. Though with the schedule Notre Dame has to play this season, a disaster isn't really out of the question.