Apparently being part of the national media makes you ignorant, because some of them seem to believe Lovie Smith is on the hot seat right now. Those of us in the know realize there is no way Smith is fired for performance after this season; he’ll get at least through 2019 to prove that the full-scale rebuild has merit.
Since you can’t trust national sportswriters who think Lovie is coaching for his job this season, put your faith in your trusted Champaigniacs here at The Champaign Room. Personally, I don’t believe any coach in the Big Ten is in an obvious hot-seat situation; everyone who’s coached longer than two seasons has met or exceeded expectations lately (outside of Jim Harbaugh, who is a special case). Tom Allen might not survive a 1-11 season, but that’s the only scenario I can envision where a coach gets fired for performance reasons in the Big Ten after 2018.
Here’s five coaches who are absolutely coaching for their lives this season.
Already Doomed: David Beaty, Kansas Jayhawks
It’s just cruel to list Beaty in this top 5 because for all intents and purposes he’s a fired man coaching. Embattled athletic director Sheahon Zenger was finally forced out this offseason and replaced with former Arkansas AD Jeff Long, who has made some high-profile football coaching hires in his career. Beaty wasn’t given anywhere near the level of support by the athletic department to be competitive, and he can hardly be blamed for his 3-33 record (with one conference win), but it’s impossible to imagine a scenario where Long doesn’t spend the entire season looking for Beaty’s replacement while allowing him to do his best to keep the fading embers of a football program alive this season.
5. Kalani Sitake - BYU Cougars
Yes, I know this is a coach going into his third year, but Sitake’s Cougars were so awful in his second year at the helm that it raises questions as to whether or not he can field a viable program at an institution with a history of winning more than four games a year. Getting to a bowl will almost certainly guarantee him a fourth season to prove his bonafides, but the situation looks grim.
4. Mike MacIntyre - Colorado Buffaloes
2018 is probably going to have one of the smallest numbers of coach firings in recent memory. The last two years have seen enormous numbers of coaching changes across the whole country. Since August of 2015, there have been 35 head coaching changes among the 65 Power 5 teams. These only affect 32 teams, as three teams are on their third coach since that timeframe (Minnesota, Illinois and Oregon). This means roughly half the P5 coaches are still in an evaluation period of sorts.
MacIntyre is the only coach in the Pac-12 this year with a tenure longer than one season who didn’t go to a bowl last year. Although the Colorado faithful won’t soon forget 2016’s 10-win campaign, he took a page out of the Ron Zook/Ron Turner playbook and followed up the breakthrough with a 5-7 season. Rebuilding a dead program through three losing seasons is understandable, but in 2018, MacIntryre has to prove Colorado won’t sink back to the depths of irrelevance under his watch. It’s bowl or bust for his tenure in Boulder.
Recruiting over the last two seasons has been substantially better than the years prior to 2017, so there’s certainly reason to believe.
3. Larry Fedora - UNC Tar Heels
Fedora spent his first three seasons in Chapel Hill putting together solid but unspectacular seasons that ultimately failed to capitalize on the talent on the squads. In 2015 it all came together and a stacked UNC squad went undefeated in conference play until the ACC title game defeat at the hands of eventual national runner-up Clemson.
In 2016, they came back down to earth with an 8-5 campaign; the recruiting has been steadily top-30 in the nation for years. Shockingly, the Heels went 3-9 last year, defeating only 5-win Pittsburgh in conference play. Even with the departure of Mitch Trubisky, Ryan Switzer, Elijah Hood and the like, this was too talented a football team to produce such a poor result. Fedora retains a respectable 43-34 (27-21 ACC) record at UNC, but a repeat of last year’s disaster could spell doom for his regime.
2. Derek Mason - Vanderbilt Commodores
Vanderbilt doesn’t have a championship legacy to live up to, but it’s been shown that winning there can be done. Unfortunately, that hasn’t really been happening under Derek Mason, and one of the principle reasons may be that since James Franklin’s departure after 2013, Vanderbilt has ranked dead last in the SEC in recruiting every year until 2018, according to 247sports.com. The Commodores managed to sneak into a bowl in 2016 at 6-6, but regressed slightly last year. Despite a surprising early-season win against Kansas State, they only managed one SEC win against the floundering Tennessee Volunteers.
With his best recruiting class yet, Mason may have a shot to prove he should stick around the Commodores sideline, but the schedule makes this doubtful. He’ll certainly have to improve his atrocious 6-26 conference record if he wants to stay in this gig.
1. Kliff Kingsbury - Texas Tech Red Raiders
No amount of physical resemblance to Ryan Gosling can disguise the fact that Kingsbury, as head coach of the Red Raiders, has never won more games against the Big 12 than he’s lost in a season. Doubt has been swirling around him for years now, but through the first three games of 2017 he had managed to annihilate FCS power Eastern Washington, win a shootout with Arizona State and hold off a furious comeback from the talented Houston Cougars to start 3-0.
Unfortunately, this team proved itself to be mediocre within the Big 12 once again, defeating only a rebuilding Texas and absolutely horrible Kansas and Baylor teams to finish 6-6, earning them an invitation to play the South Florida Bulls. Quinton Flowers led a game-winning drive that encapsulated Texas Tech’s defensive woes under Kingsbury, moving the Bulls 75 yards in 75 seconds to win the game with 16 seconds left. This dropped Kingsbury’s record against Charlie Strong to 1-3, notably worse than the 1-1 record posted by David Beaty of Kansas.
Oklahoma is in a class of its own in the Big 12, but this has to be the year Texas Tech proves it belongs in the upper-middling class of the conference.