Whose seat is the hottest? Assessing the college football coaches most likely to be fired
Before every season, there are at least two dozen college football coaches who should be worried about their job. But since this list will only feature the 10 coaches whose coaching seat is the hottest, the others will have to wait their turn.
Seven of the 10 on on last year’s list either quit, were fired, or left for another job. The three that survived the purge were Steve Sarkisian of Texas, Florida State’s Mike Norvell and Dino Babers of Syracuse.
The 10 coaches on this list are not only riding a slippery slope with their fans, but if their respective teams’ on-field performances start to slip, buyout clauses will be enacted and their programs will have a new leader next season.
Here are the coaches squarely on the hot seat entering the 2023 season.
Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M
Entering his sixth season in College Station and armed with a massive contract, Fisher hasn’t accomplished much with the Aggies besides compiling highly touted recruiting classes and feuding with Nick Saban. If the powers that be don’t want to buy him out for close to $80 million, the tolerance for another 5-7 season will be extremely high, and Fisher will keep his job … for now.
Tom Allen, Indiana
Indiana’s success during the COVID season of 2020 seems decades ago. Allen followed that surprising season with records of 2-10 and 4-8, winning two conference games during that time. Even when they had quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who is now garnering Heisman Trophy talk at Washington, he struggled with injuries, and the offense has been stuck in neutral ever since he left.
Danny Gonzales, New Mexico
The Lobos ended the 2022 season with nine consecutive losses, and Gonzales is 7-24 overall and 3-20 in the Mountain West since taking the job in 2020. Unless something dramatically changes, such as winning a bowl game, chances are Gonzales will be on the outside of looking in with head-coaching job employment come December.
Neal Brown, West Virginia
Brown arrived with acclaim after his success at Troy. However, a third consecutive losing season will no doubt bring the hammer down. Athletic director Wren Baker, who didn’t hire Brown, surely will want to go in another direction with a fan base that has high expectations for a program that doesn’t want to get left behind in the new-look Big 12.
Butch Jones, Arkansas State
The record of 5-19 over the past two seasons speaks for itself, including 2-14 in the Sun Belt. Arkansas State has recruited well, and if Jones’ third season doesn’t produce more wins, he will again be fired for not winning, just like he was at his last stop (Tennessee).
Dino Babers, Syracuse
Babers is the only repeat performer from 2022 on this year’s pink slip watch list. Babers has survived at Syracuse with a 36-49 record in seven seasons. That includes a 6-0 start last year before losing six of its last seven games. Matching or improving on seven wins will be difficult in a more-balanced ACC.
Mike Bloomgren, Rice
One bowl appearance in five seasons should be enough to keep Bloomgren’s hot seat cool at Rice. Another bowl bid would pay dividends for his tenure with the Owls, who have won 10 or more games just three times in 109 years of football. The move to the American Athletic will create additional pressure, though there has been improvement lately.
Brent Venables, Oklahoma
Suppose the Sooners fall off their collective wagon in 2023 and are not in the running for a Big 12 title in their last year in the conference. In that case, athletic director Joe Castiglione won’t likely send Venables packing. But tell that sceneraio to the Oklahoma fans, who were calling for changes last season after Texas destroyed the Sooners. The defense was the issue: It gave up 225 plays of 10-plus yards and 461 yards a game (122nd in NCAA).
Eli Drinkwitz, Missouri
The Tigers are a decade removed from appearing in back-to-back SEC title games, but you would think winning would constitute getting a raise. It doesn’t at Missouri, where Drinkwitz received a contract extension and a nearly $2 million raise after last season and recruiting has kept some big prospects at home. If that makes his job safe, so be it, but coaches have been fired repeatedly over the years in short order after receiving extensions if things go awry.
Mel Tucker, Michigan State
The question at Michigan State: Would you rather pay a coach who is not coaching your football team or admit you made a mistake hiring said coach and continue mediocrity? Because paying some $77 million to have Tucker to go away is a lot to ask for a program that isn’t regularly competing for championships. This will be the case as long as Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan are part of the Big Ten.
Honorable mention: Dana Holgorsen, Houston; Jeff Hafley, Boston College; Mario Cristobal, Miami
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football coaches hot seat: Jimbo Fisher, Tom Allen lead list