Entering the 2009 season, Charlie Weis and Al Groh were two of the bigger names on the coaching hot seat. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to overcome adversity and get their Notre Dame and Virginia programs back on track. As we prepare for the 2010 campaign, there are plenty of familiar names entering similar make-or-break seasons that may have one last chance at turning their teams around.
Here are the ten coaches who remain securely in a pressure-cooker entering the fall.
10. Paul Wulff, Washington State: I normally don’t like to scrutinize a head coach who is only two seasons into a massive rebuilding project. But with a 3-22 record in Pullman and a rival program-builder, Steve Sarkisian, already leading a revival after just one year at Washington, things aren’t looking great for Paul Wulff at Washington State. While Sarkisian did inherit quarterback Jake Locker, he also walked into a program completely listless with a demoralized fan base. After one year, Husky Nation is insane about football again. Meanwhile, Cougars fans aren’t experiencing the same type of euphoria, especially because of the nature of the team’s losses. While a loss is a loss, a blowout loss shows a lack of effort and a will to win. That’s a recipe for a head coach getting canned. Wulff’s biggest hurdle: instilling confidence in a team so used to not having a reason for hope.
9. Greg McMackin, Hawaii: Southern Methodist head coach June Jones made Hawaii football must-see TV during his tenure at the school. From 2001-07, the Warriors endured just one losing season and Jones led the team to its first BCS bowl game in school history during the undefeated ’07 season. Jones’ replacement, Greg McMackin, has overseen a Warriors football program that is seemingly spiraling out of control. Not only has he posted a losing record in two seasons (13-14), but the off-the-field drama doesn’t bode well, either. We all remember the derogatory remark he made when describing the Notre Dame chant last offseason. And just recently offensive coordinator Ron Lee decided to resign. The bottom line is that this program doesn’t resemble the one that was in a BCS game just a few years back.
8. Todd Dodge, North Texas: In case you didn’t know, North Texas was once — and not too long ago — a solid football program. While Hayden Fry had a brief and successful run in Denton, Darrell Dickey actually won four straight conference championships and notched victories over Texas Tech and Baylor in 2003. But the Todd Dodge era has been, well, pretty forgettable. Dodge arrived on campus with a lot of hype after enjoying a successful high school coaching career in which he helped revolutionize Texas high school football with his “Air-Raid offense.” He won championships and coached former Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel and current Alabama signal-caller Greg McElroy. Dodge, however, is just 5-31 in three seasons at UNT, making his fourth season perhaps his final one if he can’t engineer a drastic turnaround.
7. Ralph Friedgen, Maryland: If you just look at his overall record at Maryland, Ralph Friedgen has done a pretty wonderful job. There aren’t too many other coaches who could have registered a 66-46 mark in College Park. But in the last three seasons, the Fridge is just 16-22, and the Terps went a dismal 2-10 in 2009 in a mediocre ACC. The 10 losses were a school-record. Friedgen has a good relationship with athletic director Debbie Yow and would be owed a lot of money if he is dismissed, but can the Terps really stick with him if he endures another disappointing season? Coach-in-waiting James Franklin would seem to be the logical replacement, but how much faith can the administration place in him as the next leader of the program?
6. Dennis Erickson, Arizona State: Dennis Erickson took Tempe by storm in his first season in 2007, leading the Sun Devils to a 10-3 mark and a share of the Pac-10 championship. Since that debut campaign, he is 9-15 and the team has placed sixth and ninth in the league the last two years. He’s a big-name coach with a successful resume, but are the Sun Devils making progress under his leadership? It won’t help, either, that he lost top recruiter Matt Lubick to Duke this offseason. The Sun Devils have talent — enough to be consistent bowl participants. Two Pac-10 wins and a finish above only Washington State in ’09? Unacceptable.
5. Tim Brewster, Minnesota: Whenever a university gets fitted with a gorgeous new stadium and upgraded facilities, a consistent and successful football program is expected to follow, right? Expectations were high in the Twin Cities when Tim Brewster arrived in town. The fact that he was a savvy recruiter had fans excited, and he did land talent on both the high school and junior-college level. Since his disastrous debut campaign, he’s managed to go 13-13 with two losses in the Insight Bowl. When are the Golden Gophers going to break through, and when will Brewster get his signature win? He better hope it is in 2010 or else fans will be clamoring for Glen Mason to return.
4. Mike Price, UTEP: After back-to-back 8-4 seasons to begin his tenure as UTEP’s head coach, Mike Price has endured four straight losing seasons. Since his second consecutive bowl game in 2005, he is just 18-30 in his last four campaigns. The most troubling aspect of recent Miners teams is the tendency to crumble toward the end of the year and completely fall out of bowl contention. Price hasn’t been able to recruit as well as some of his C-USA counterparts, and his team severely underachieved last year with so many senior starters returning.
3. Ron Zook, Illinois: Poor Ron Zook. Hasn’t he been on the hot seat every season of his head coaching career? The fact of the matter is that Zook probably shouldn’t have been brought back this season by athletic director Ron Guenther. Now, Guenther himself is on the hot seat, as well. Zook will have two new coordinators to try to turn around terrible offensive and defensive units, but can the Illini even be respectable? Besides the dream Rose Bowl season in 2007, really nothing has gone right in Champaign. Heck, the Rose Bowl itself didn’t go very well against USC. That was Zook’s only bowl berth in his five seasons as coach. I’m not sure the team can rebound from such a demoralizing 3-9 campaign in ’09, which would have to be the last straw for a guy who has compiled a 21-39 mark at the school. A new quarterback, questions at wide receiver and a tough beginning to the schedule do not add up to a bright future for Steve Spurrier's replacement at Florida.
2. Rich Rodriguez, Michigan: Like Paul Wulff at Washington State, Rich Rodriguez is only entering his third year, but his first two seasons in Ann Arbor have been messy to say the least. At first, it was simply a case of poor play resulting in a lack of victories. But with the off-the-field issues, the pressure is only mounting for Rich Rod entering the fall. Eight wins in two seasons will not cut it for any coach at a school as tradition-rich as Michigan, so 2010 has to be an exciting and eventful season for the Wolverines. A 4-1 start is very possible, and the rest of the schedule is not the most daunting. Eight wins, and Rodriguez will return for 2011. Seven, and it’s more than likely he gets a fourth year. A 6-6 mark? Even with new faces on both sides of the ball, .500 is a terrible underachievement — unless, of course, they can beat Ohio State. That cures everything. Well, nearly everything.
1. Dan Hawkins, Colorado: How is Dan Hawkins still in charge in Boulder? His big-time recruits haven’t panned out, his team suffered one of the most embarrassing losses in school history last year against Toledo and the Buffaloes just simply don’t win a lot of games. Their 3-9 mark last year came after Hawkins insisted they would be better, and the Big 12 North was as down as it had ever been. In the past three seasons, Colorado’s record has actually gotten worse. There’s hope offensively with a trio of talented receivers, but the defense was horrid in ’09 — and has been for awhile. His record of 16-33 in Boulder makes it obvious that it is a win-or-else campaign in 2010.
Follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave