Friday Five: College football coaches on the hot seat entering the 2019 season
These coaches need to win or improve in 2019 to expect to keep their jobs
In this week's Friday Five I'm covering a topic I've gone over during every offseason the Friday Five has existed: coaches on the hot seat. This year's coaching carousel has come to a stop (I think), at least, as far as head coaches are concerned.
There aren't likely to be any more head coach openings at the college level before the start of the 2019 season, so it's time to figure out what the first openings will be once the 2019 season begins. On NFL job!) while Beaty was booted in early November before being allowed to finish the season., I had Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury at No. 1 and Kansas' David Beaty at No. 2. Kingsbury made it through the season before getting canned (and then got an
I had BYU's Kalani Sitake at No. 3 and Vanderbilt's Derek Mason at No. 4. Sitake's team improved by three wins, and while Mason's Commodores only won one more game, it was enough to reach a bowl. At No. 5 I had Michigan's Jim Harbaugh, though as I wrote then, Harbaugh wasn't "going to get fired at Michigan this year unless something goes horribly wrong." His inclusion was more of a warming seat than a hot seat, and this year's list begins in similar fashion.
5. Willie Taggart, Florida State: Like Harbaugh, I don't think Taggart gets fired in 2019 unless something goes wrong. The problem is, a lot of things are going wrong already. Taggart's first season at Florida State did not go well, as the Seminoles finished 5-7, missed out on a bowl game for the first time since Ronald Reagan was finishing his first year in the Oval Office, and only one of its seven losses came by a deficit fewer than 19 points. The calendar flipping to 2019 hasn't done much to help the situation, either, as Deondre Francois was rightfully booted from the team, and the Noles currently sit ready to enter 2019 with only one scholarship quarterback on the roster after failing to land a QB in their recruiting class for the second straight season.
So, you know, everything's fine.
It's crazy to think that it was only six years ago Florida State won a national title, and as recently as 2016 we were all talking about how Florida State and Clemson could become one of the best rivalries in the sport. Now the gap between the two programs isn't a gap as much as it's a chasm, and it's hard to envision Florida State being able to close it quickly. I think Florida State should be better in 2019, but I can't say I'm extremely confident in it happening, and if the Seminoles manage to go 7-5 or something, and still look outclassed in matchups against Clemson and Florida, the idea of Taggart only getting two seasons isn't insane.
4. Lovie Smith, Illinois: Last year my colleague here at CBSSports.com Dennis Dodd included Lovie Smith on his hot seat, and it sent Illini fans into a frenzy. I understood why because, even though Lovie had gone 5-19 and 2-16 in the Big Ten, he was undertaking a major rebuilding project, and the school's athletic director had been clear that Smith wouldn't be fired in 2018. Not unless there was an unforeseen scandal off the field.
Well, Illinois' record improved in 2018. It went 4-8 overall and 2-7 in the Big Ten as its offense took a major step forward, scoring 25.3 points per game against Big Ten opponents after scoring only 13.1 points per game against them in 2017. The problem with that is that 25.3 points per game still aren't good enough, and the defense went from allowing 33.7 points per game in conference play in 2017 to 45.6 points per game in 2018. Illinois allowed at least 40 points in six different games last season, and at least 50 points in four of them. The team's defensive coordinator stepped down during the season, and Lovie Smith himself took over as the defensive play-caller. Smith has not hired a defensive coordinator this offseason and plans to call plays himself again in 2019. Now, while that's rare, there are plenty of college coaches who call plays on offense around the country, but what this does is put even more of an onus on Smith's shoulders entering 2019.
Illinois just wrapped up its best recruiting class as far as impact talent is concerned. The class only has 13 players in it because, as one of the youngest teams in the country, Illinois didn't have a lot of scholarships to fill this year. And three of those 13 recruits are four-star recruits on 247Sports' composite rankings, while a fourth is a four-star in 247Sports' personal rankings. So Smith has done a lot of things to improve the program, but if Illinois doesn't get back to its first bowl game since 2014 next year, or at least prove to be much more competitive in Big Ten play, there's an excellent chance Smith doesn't get a fifth season.
3. Randy Edsall, Connecticut: Suffice it to say that when there are multiple columns and thinkpieces wondering if UConn should drop its football program back to the FCS level (seriously, Google "UConn drop football"), things aren't going well. And, man, they are not.
UConn just had one of, if not the worst defensive seasons in the history of college football. It allowed 50.4 points per game (ALLOWING 50 POINTS WAS AN AVERAGE WEEK) and 8.81 yards per play. Hawaii, which played two more games than UConn did, allowed 115 fewer points. Clemson played 15 games and allowed 408 fewer points.
Edsall was brought back to UConn for the 2017 season because he was able to take a program that had just gone from the FCS level to the FBS and transitioned it to a program that was competitive in the Big East. A Big East that was a BCS conference at the time. He won eight or nine games routinely and even got the Huskies to the Fiesta Bowl before leaving for Maryland after the 2010 season. Things have not gone quite so well during his second stint, as UConn has gone 4-20 the last two years and been outscored by an average of 21.3 points per game. Maybe Year Three of Edsall's second stint is the one that shows signs of life, or perhaps it's the one that flatlines the program. If things don't improve, there will only be more people wondering if being on the FBS level is in the best interest of the school, and it's hard to imagine seats getting much hotter than that. But they do!
2. Chris Ash, Rutgers: Many people believed Ash would have been fired following the 2018 season if not for something that has nothing to do with the team's performance under him so far. No, the reason most people thought Ash would return to Rutgers in 2019 is that the school would have had to pay him a $10.35 million buyout if it fired him. That number would drop to $8 million following the 2019 season, which is still steep but might not be as difficult a pill to swallow if Rutgers doesn't show improvement.
After going 2-10 in 2016, Rutgers improved to 4-8 in 2017, including three wins in Big Ten play. That had Rutgers fans optimistic heading into 2018, but that optimism faded quickly as Rutgers followed a season-opening win over Texas State with a 49-point loss to Ohio State, a 41-point loss to Kansas and a 29-point loss to Buffalo. That Texas State win would be the first and only win the Scarlet Knights had last season as they went winless in the Big Ten, losing their nine conference games by an average of 19.2 points per game. Rutgers finished the 2018 season with more turnovers (29) than touchdowns scored (19). The only team in the country to score fewer touchdowns than the Knights was UTSA with 18.
If there's any reason to be optimistic about 2019, it's that a lot of key players on the roster were young and will be a year older and more experienced. Of course, that only means so much when you're in the Big Ten East and have to deal with the Big Ten's traditional powers every season.
1. Clay Helton, USC: Honestly, I'm shocked Helton will be back in 2019. I think a lot of college football fans are. I'm not saying it's a horrible decision, because you could make an argument that firing Helton after a 5-7 season when his Trojans won 21 games the previous two seasons would have been a rash decision. You could make that argument. If you wanted to. I'm not necessarily sure I want to.
Helton's time at USC reminds me a lot of the Jim McElwain Era at Florida. The Gators won 19 games in Mac's first two seasons, as well as two division titles, but they never looked like a team that was the same level as the elite programs of the country, which is where Florida wants to be. Plus, recruiting was dropping off. That's mostly how I feel about USC right now. The Trojans won the Pac-12 in 2017, but got pantsed in losses to Notre Dame and Ohio State that season as well. Also, USC's 2019 recruiting class is currently ranked No. 20 nationally by 247Sports' composite rankings, but only third in the Pac-12.
There is no excuse for USC to have only the third-best class in the Pac-12 ever. It's just not supposed to happen, yet, it has this year. And if Helton doesn't show significant improvement in 2019, I don't think he's around to see the 2020 class. And when you look at USC's 2019 schedule, it's not going to be easy to survive.
Honorable Mention: Brent Brennan, San Jose State; Doug Martin, New Mexico State; Tony Sanchez, UNLV; Charlie Strong, USF
Honorary Gus Malzahn Award For Always Being On The Hot Seat: Gus Malzahn, Auburn
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