Foley's dismissal of Ron Zook on October 25 of 2004 was considered surprisingly early by most on the national level. That dismissal and Florida's subsequent landing of that year's "hot coach" Urban Meyer has become the model many schools will follow in the coming days as they look to improve their programs.
Last year, North Carolina lowered the boom on John Bunting on October 23 and landed former Miami coach Butch Davis. Now, with Sunday's announcement that SMU coach Phil Bennett is gone after the season, college football's firing range is open again. Here's a breakdown by conferences of who else is considered in danger of joining Bennett on the unemployment line.
Two of the conference's more established coaches are the ones most frequently mentioned as being in jeopardy. Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer's team has been blown out by Florida and Alabama and lost to Cal on the road, but still has a good shot at playing in the SEC Championship game. It's hard to imagine Fulmer being pushed out should that happen, but sometimes a division championship isn't enough to placate fans who feel a coach's act has grown stale.
Houston Nutt can vouch for that, as his SEC championship and Capital One bowl appearances last year appear to have meant nothing at all to a substantial segment of the Razorback fanbase. There won't be a return trip to Atlanta this season, and even though a lesser bowl bid is likely for Arkansas the pending departure of Darren McFadden has most projecting a significant decline next season. With Jeff Long coming in from Pittsburgh to be the new AD, one thing Nutt doesn't have to worry about is him being tempted to bring his coach with him. Nutt's been linked to other schools before - will there be a place interested in letting him jump before he gets pushed?
The only other SEC coach currently perceived as being in potential danger is Ed Orgeron of Ole Miss. Three years after David Cutcliffe was let go, the Rebels already know this will be another year without a bowl and have yet to get a conference win. Couple that with Sylvester Croom's surprising success at Mississippi State this season and a move could be made in Oxford. On the other hand, Orgeron continues to recruit well and with many higher profile openings likely this year ,it might be smarter for Ole Miss to give him one more year. Some of those openings could include LSU and Auburn, depending on whether Les Miles and Tommy Tuberville are genuinely candidates for potential Michigan and Texas A&M openings respectively.
After a third of the conference's jobs changed hands last season, this year should be quieter. The highest profile potential opening is at Clemson, where Tommy Bowden has seemingly been on the hot seat for the last half decade. Scoring just three points against Georgia Tech followed by an embarrassing home loss against Virginia Tech put him there again this year. With home games against Wake Forest and Boston College followed by a road trip to South Carolina to close the season, Bowden's November will likely make or break him again.
Duke's Ted Roof has actually won a game this season, but that makes just four in his four years as the official head man after winning two of the five he coached as interim coach in 2003. No one in Durham thinks changing coaches will actually accomplish anything, but every few years they feel they should just to keep up appearances the school cares about the sport. The Blue Devils have been more competitive this year, losing more games by single digits than usual, so Duke might give Roof one more year to see if he can build off of that.
Not much movement is expected here this season, but the one that's expected is enormous. Lloyd Carr's Michigan Wolverines began the season as a punchline thanks to back to back losses at home against Appalachian State and Oregon, but have since rattled off seven straight wins and have a great shot at the Rose Bowl if they can win the season finale with Ohio State. Changes made to Carr's contact in the offseason appeared to pave the way for him to retire after this year, which could lead to an interesting scramble for the job. LSU's Les Miles is most often linked to it, but support for that possible move from the Wolverine fanbase is far from unanimous. Other names thrown around for the job have included Jeff Tedford from Cal and Greg Schiano from Rutgers.
Indiana has spent the year being coached by Bill Lynch, the offensive coordinator who took over after the death of Terry Hoeppner. They're not bowl eligible yet but have three games remaining in which they'll either be favored or considered a toss up. It's not clear whether a postseason appearance would secure Lynch, a former Ball State head coach, the job permanently.
The single most expected firing this season will be of a guy who actually signed a contract extension one week into the season. His team hasn't played a single good game since he did. Nebraska is 4-5, their athletic director has been fired, and Bill Callahan has publicly stated he's doing "an excellent job". The only question on Callahan's firing is not if, but when it will happen. If the target to fill the job is LSU's defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, will Nebraska position itself to move quickly and secure him as soon as the season ends to guard against Les Miles leaving LSU and making Pelini a candidate there?
Texas A&M's Dennis Franchione is in extremely hot water as well, because of both continued on field failures and his "VIP Connection" email newsletter which came to light earlier this season. All three of Texas A&M's games are against teams currently in the top 15. Unless Coach Fran starts springing some big upsets ASAP, he will be Coach Canned. Tuberville's name is just one of many mentioned for this job but his prior experience as an Aggies defensive coordinator makes him a logical target for them.
Baylor appeared to be progressing under Guy Morriss, but it looks like things have leveled off. After missing a bowl by one game in 2005, last year the record fell to 4-8. This year the Bears sit at 3-6, winless in the Big Twelve and unlikely to pick up another victory this year which means Morriss is likely done in Waco. Alums want to hire Mike Singletary to return to his alma mater, but he may be better off remaining in the NFL as he's already been interviewed for head coach openings there.
Dennis Erickson's immediate success at Arizona State has raised expectations substantially in this normally laid back league and a number of coaches will pay with their jobs. After four unsuccessful years, Arizona's Mike Stoops is almost certainly a goner once the Wildcats lose another game and are eliminated from bowl contention. Losing at home to teams like New Mexico and Stanford while your underachieving rival has become a top five team overnight thanks to a coaching change will do that for you.
No single coach may be as maddening to watch as UCLA's Karl Dorrell. His teams have talent but have games where they are woefully unprepared and embarrass themselves. How UCLA managed to produce seven turnovers and only six points in their home stadium against hopeless Notre Dame is one of the mysteries of the season. The same group that put up thirty on Cal mustered seven against Washington State one week later. With a 34-24 record in six years at a place that should have ample talent to do much more, time appears to be up for the overmatched Dorrell.
That win over UCLA this past weekend was a rare highlight for Washington State's Bill Doba. The 67 year old was promoted from defensive coordinator when Mike Price left to take the Alabama job and went 9-3 in his first year with Price's leftovers. Since then, Doba's and his staff have not been able to maintain that success. At 3-5, Wazzu's headed for a fourth non-winning season. Doba is well-liked by Cougar fans for his lengthy time with the program, but anything short of getting to a bowl will likely mean the end of him as head coach. The idea of getting Price to leave UTEP and revive what he had built has been mentioned more than once in the Palouse.
Tyrone Willingham was given just three years at Notre Dame before being let go. No one expected a similar scenario might play out when he accepted the Washington job. Willingham will probably safe as long as the Huskies current six game losing streak doesn't extend through the end of the season, but the temperature of his seat is definitely rising. Multiple columns in Seattle and Tacoma newspapers Sunday called for Willingham to either restructure his defensive staff after the season or be fired.
When Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College bailed out on the Big East people wondered if the league would have any quality teams left besides West Virginia. The two programs most would have anticipated emerging to fill the void have instead fallen to the bottom of the conference under third year coaches with NFL backgrounds. Greg Robinson was hired at Syracuse after one year as defensive coordinator at Texas. Before that he had a long run as a defensive coordinator for multiple NFL teams and no ties to the northeast. It seemed like an odd hire at the time, and the results have verified that. Robinson is 7-24 thus far, and no one in Syracuse expects him back next season.
Dave Wannstedt's a Pittsburgh guy, and some there dared to dream he could be the Pete Carroll of the east coast - unsuccessful as an NFL head man but the perfect fit for for the college lifestyle. Instead, Wannstedt has been every bit as mediocre as he was in the pros. After taking over a team that had gone to the BCS as the Big East champion the season before he arrived, both of Wannstedt's first two teams lost six games and missed a bowl. This year's edition is 3-5 with two of the wins coming against Eastern Michigan and Grambling. There's a new athletic director on the way, and Wannstedt has not been granted an extension on his original five year contract. He may get one more year, but it's no sure thing.
OTHER NOTEWORTHY POTENTIAL OPENINGS
Mike Sanford is in big trouble at UNLV. Urban Meyer's offensive coordinator at Utah has won just two games each of his three seasons on the job as well as losing the instate showdown with Nevada each year. People in Las Vegas have even floated the idea of dropping football altogether although that's unlikely. Expect a change to be made. Another Meyer connection may also part company with his Mountain West job. His mentor Sonny Lubick's Colorado State squad is just 1-7 and the word is Lubick may retire after a lengthy run of success before the well ran dry the last few years. Marshall's Mark Snyder finally won a game this week, but in his third straight losing season the goodwill he receives as a Herd alum is wearing thin. The former Ohio State defensive coordinator appears to need to close on a strong note to stay around.
The combination of ever rising coach salaries, inflated booster fees and soaring ticket prices have made fan patience shorter than ever. What once was a four year window for coaches to succeed appears to now be three. Fourteen division one head coaches were fired last year - now that the first domino has fallen for 2007 we'll see how many more of the men currently in charge on the sidelines will be sent packing over the next month.
The Heath Cline Show airs daily from 11-1 on Gainesville's Star 99.5 FM
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