It's been a rough year for college football coaches … if you consider a lot of new responsibilities been added to their plates. One-time transfers, COVID-19, likeness rights, enhanced roster management and player empowerment are just a few of the items now on the dry erase board alongside the Cover 2.
As if that weren't enough, the coaches' yearly reckoning is at hand.
CBS Sports' annual Hot Seat Rankings have arrived ahead of the conference media days, the semi-official kickoff to the upcoming season. And don't get it twisted, they serve a purpose beyond talking points as a means of setting expectation levels for coaches entering the season … or else.
The job security meter is now a tradition, going for more than 15 years during the dog days of the offseason. It starts deep into summer because the coaches' carousel is spinning longer than ever. When Buffalo hired Mo Lindquist on May 7, it had been eight months since Southern Miss' Jay Hopson resigned. Yes, this year's silly season lasted longer than the 2020 regular season.
You shouldn't have to be told job security in college football is as rare as a three-hour game. Only two coaches qualify for "win or else" status this year with a rating of 5. Sixteen coaches on this year's list got a 0 (untouchable). That's Nick Saban/Dabo Swinney territory, and it's way down from 24 in 2020.
The Hot Seat has long been an accurate predictor in terms of job security. Over the last six years, 20 of the 38 coaches rated 4 or worse (53%) eventually lost their jobs with a number of repeat candidates atop this season's list.
Last year, four coaches on the 11-man shortlist were fired (Derek Mason, Will Muschamp, Tom Herman, Kevin Sumlin) while four remain on the hot seat (Nebraska's Scott Frost, USC's Clay Helton, UConn's Randy Edsall, UTEP's Dana Dimel) and three luckily found their way off (UCLA's Chip Kelly, Tulsa's Philip Montgomery, Miami's Manny Diaz). Of those still on the list, two coaches in danger actually improved their job security (Helton, Dimel).
Nevertheless, the Hot Seat Rankings can be fickle: Virginia Tech's Justin Fuente jumped from 2 to 5, while LSU's Ed Orgeron jumped from 0 to 4. Such is the coaching life when the average head man brings home $2.7 million. They are far from alone, however, as there's always room on the Hot Seat.
Below is our ratings key. Here's how the 130 FBS coaches sort out. There are nine on the proverbial Hot Seat entering the season with another 14 starting to feel the heat.
|Rating||What it means||Coaches|
Win or be fired
Start improving now
Pressure is mounting
All good ... for now
Safe and secure
That leads us to the annual Hot Seat Rankings and the nine Power Five coaches that need to figure out a way to cool things down before 2021 comes to a close. Check out our complete set of 2021 Hot Seat Rankings for ratings of all 130 FBS coaches entering the season.
|Scott Frost||5||We never thought it would come to this. Entering his fourth season, the native son/champion/Husker is 12-20. There's disarray in a program that once bled consistency. Its best player, Wan'Dale Robinson, transferred. Nebraska under Frost has one top-20 recruiting class. Is the average recruit aware of the once-glorious brand? Then there's the embarrassing Oklahoma fiasco where Frost attempted to back out of the game months before kickoff. So much was expected, which makes this rating difficult. Frost has the makings of a solid coach. We saw it at UCF. Something isn't clicking. In three seasons, Nebraska has seen Northwestern, Indiana and Minnesota (arguably) pass it by. There is inconsistency at QB. Worst of all, Bill Moos, the AD who hired Frost, is gone. That's never good for a losing coach. It's bowl game or bust … to start. 2020 rating: 5|
|Justin Fuente||5||Fuente reportedly came perilously close to losing his job last season. AD Whit Babcock held a mid-December press conference to calm speculation. A program that had one sub-.500 season since 1992 suffered its second losing season in the last three. A four-game losing streak to close was interrupted by a win over Virginia in the finale. The defense has to get better right away. The unit under coordinator Justin Hamilton allowed more than 32 points per game, the most since 1973. Fuente was once one of the bright young coaching prospects. Now, he has split his last 42 decisions (21-21). Coming off the Hokies worst season (5-6) in 28 years, there isn't much ledge left for Fuente. 2020 rating: 2|
|Randy Edsall||5||Perhaps only COVID-19 saved Edsall last season. UConn decided not to play football in the face of the pandemic. Edsall enters the fifth year in his second go-round with the Huskies with a 6-30 record (80-100) overall. He hasn't finished over .500 since 2014 with Maryland. UConn left the AAC to play basketball in the Big East and become an independent in football. Edsall last beat a Power Five team in 2015 (Rutgers) while coaching at Maryland. There's not much hope here. 2020 rating: 5|
|Herm Edwards||4||An NCAA investigation changed everything. There's a damning dossier detailing an alleged improper recruiting scheme during COVID-19. Prospects were allegedly brought in during the COVID-19 dead period despite massive health risks. Even if Edwards had no idea, the NCAA could penalize ASU via the coaches' responsibility bylaw. All of it will hang over this season even as ASU is favored by some to win the Pac-12 South. Edwards has proved himself as a college coach, but the investigation adds a stain. He's innocent until proven guilty, but for now, this scandal reaches beyond the coach's office. Bring a big shovel. It's going to be hard digging out of this one. 2020 rating: 1|
|Ed Orgeron||4||Part of this is the curse of an undefeated championship season in 2019; there's arguably nowhere but down from there. However, few predicted a fall to 5-5 even with COVID-19 intervening. LSU had to win its last two to reach .500. A self-imposed bowl ban followed. Then came the sexual assault scandal that got the interest of state government. Orgeron refused to testify in person. He's been named a defendant in a Title IX lawsuit. That's all the excuses LSU needs if he starts 3-3. Public opinion on LSU coaches can sway swiftly and sometimes unfairly. Last year, Orgeron was untouchable (0). LSU should start at least 3-1. It must at least contend for a New Year's Six bowl. Short of that, it could be a rocky one. 2020 rating: 0|
|Jim Harbaugh||4||We don't have to tell you. Michigan sent the message loud and clear: Win now. The 2-4 mark in 2020 tied for the worst of Harbaugh's career. Before the season, he was the only Power Five coach with less than two years on his contract, making it difficult to recruit. The result? An incentive-laded deal through 2025, the only factor that keeps Harbaugh from a 5. After six years of being slapped around by Ohio State, the burden is on Harbaugh, who still hasn't so much as won a division as an FBS coach. The extension was signed in time to land a class that included five top 100 players. Now the task is developing a difference-making QB and beating OSU, neither of which Harbaugh has been able to accomplish yet. If he does, it would be one of the greatest rallies of Captain Comeback's career. 2020 rating: 3|
|Clay Helton||4||USC's coach should pay rent here. He's continually on the hot seat yet continually employed. The long-persecuted Helton has a better career winning percentage than Harbaugh, Luke Fickell, Steve Sarkisian, Bret Bielema and Kirk Ferentz. But for some USC fans, Helton just seems to win enough to save his job with 2020 no exception. The Trojans started a truncated season 5-0 with three tight wins. The Pac-12 title game was Helton's third in six seasons despite it being a narrow loss to Oregon. Helton rebounded with a top-10 recruiting class in 2021, landing the No. 1 player in DE Korey Foreman. If anything, Helton is more secure. Still, the critics won't stop screaming until the penalty issue is solved (no better than 113th) and USC competes for the College Football Playoff. This may be a Pac-12 problem, not a USC problem. 2020 rating: 5|
|Walt Bell||4||Once a hot, young talent, the 37-year-old Bell has lost 15 of 16 games as a head coach. UMass was going to be a hard lift anyway as an independent that regularly takes guarantee games against top-tier opponents to make ends meet. The question is less about being able to buy out Bell than whether UMass should continue to stay in the FBS at all. The Minutemen are 13-63 since moving up in 2012. 2020 rating: 3|
|Dana Dimel||4||This is another case of a coach surviving the chopping block. We had Dimel as a 5 entering 2020 before the Miners responded with their best season since 2015. Winning a modest three games during a pandemic reflected huge improvement from the 1-11 season in 2019. Veteran Dave Warner comes in to coordinate the offense. A 5-1 start isn't out of the question. Shackled by budget and location, Dimel deserves better. He's won only five games in three seasons, but the program is trending upward. 2020 rating: 5|
Check out the full set of 2021 Hot Seat Rankings for all 130 FBS coaches.