The college football coaches hot seat rankings for Week 14 is quickly shrinking as firings and reprieves continue in earnest.
The hot seat is undergoing its usual late-November shrinkage, as decisions are made in one direction or another. Certain coaches, like Charlie Strong, were unable to avoid the axe over the weekend, while others, such as Derek Mason and Dave Doeren, earned much-needed job security with bowl-clinching upsets over rivals. Decisions loom in the next few days. And futures hang in the balance, particularly in places like Eugene, South Bend and Knoxville.
Which head coaches are fielding the most pressure to turn things around and improve plummeting job approval ratings as the regular season nears an end? We break down who’s sitting on the hottest seats entering the final weekend of the 2016 season.
10. Jim Mora, UCLA (Last Week – 10)
Assuming Mora is back in 2017, which is the most likely scenario, he could be facing a win-or-else situation in his sixth season with the program. The coach has raised the bar since replacing Rick Neuheisel, but Mora’s last two seasons have been his worst with the school. And going 4-8, capped by Saturday’s lopsided loss to Cal, has obviously heightened the pressure, even in a year marked by injuries. Josh Rosen can make next year his last as an amateur, so Mora better maximize it by turning UCLA back into a contender.
9. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M (9)
Sumlin needed to finish strong to quell rumors that his future in College Station was in jeopardy. Yeah, that didn’t happen. The Aggies were cooked, stuffed and then reheated by LSU on Thanksgiving night, 54-39, in an awful all-around effort that could leave the administration kicking the tires of potential successors. Sumlin peaked during the Johnny Manziel years, and rose all the way to No. 6 this season, but he’s hit a wall at Texas A&M, which could be the cost of doing business in one of the country’s nastiest divisions.
8. Todd Graham, Arizona State (NR)
Graham isn’t going anywhere, at least that’s what Sun Devil Vice President for University Athletics Ray Anderson said a week ago. However, Graham’s seat will be as warm as Tempe in July next season, thanks to a second straight losing campaign. On Oct. 8, Arizona State defeated UCLA to pull within a victory of bowl-eligibility. It never got it, losing the final six games, capped by an embarrassing, 56-35 loss to rival Arizona, which is in even worse shape than the Sun Devils. ASU isn’t ready to make a change, which is fine. But Graham better reward that patience in 2017, when his young team is a year older and hopefully a lot healthier.
7. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech (NR)
Kingsbury and his high-octane passing attack have been the face of the Red Raiders for the past four seasons. At what point, though, will the administration and the locals start demanding more than just mediocrity and a slew of aerial records? Kingsbury is now 24-26, fresh off a 5-7 season that concluded with a 54-35 victory over Baylor on Friday. It was a rare victory over a Power Five opponent with a winning record. If Kingsbury can’t do something with the defense in Lubbock, he’ll be little more than a novelty act who coaches up quarterbacks, dances well and makes blocs of the fan base swoon. And a well-paid one for the foreseeable future, since his buyout is close to $10 million if fired today.
6. Steve Addazio, Boston College (6)
And exhale. The 6-6 Eagles are one of the programs that really, really benefits from a bowl game appearance—any bowl game appearance. They earned that bid with Saturday’s road victory over Wake Forest. A postseason return the year after going 3-9 might be enough to save Addazio’s job, even though he’s still just 23-27 through four seasons on The Heights. The coach has the defensive side of the ball figured out, but the inability to score continues to vex he and his staff.
5. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona (7)
Where was this squad all year? The Wildcats saved their best for last—and for their rival—blasting Arizona State, 56-35, behind a 511-yard rushing assault. This was vintage RichRod, tabling the passing game in favor of big plays on the ground from quarterback Brandon Hawkins and backs Samaje Grant and Zach Green. Will it be enough to earn another year in Tucson or simply a nostalgic flash from the old West Virginia days? The smart money is on Rodriguez getting 2017 to turn things around, with Dawkins running the offense for the entire year.
4. Butch Jones, Tennessee (NR)
Hot seat. Then no hot seat. Now back on the coals. It’s been a turbulent year for Jones and his Vols, who rose into the top 10 with a 5-0 start, but dropped four of their final six with FBS opponents. A depleted defense collapsed in the final three games, highlighted by another dismal effort in Saturday’s loss to rival Vanderbilt in Nashville. Heavily favored to win a weak SEC East this year, Tennessee finished in a three-way tie for second place, two games behind Florida. Jones has elevated the talent level during his four years, but folks in Knoxville will be understandably salty until that translates into better results on the field.
3. Jim Grobe, Baylor (3)
Grobe has done the best he could under unusually difficult circumstances. He arrived just a couple of months before the start of the season, taking the reins of a program mired in scandal and already faced with wholesale changes from graduations. Grobe was the adult in the room, a good choice to keep the seat warm until the administration found a permanent replacement for Art Briles. The Bears are skidding to the end of the regular season, losers of five straight, so the school now has the tricky task of hiring a coach who can clear the air and begin building upon what Briles had started.
2. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame (4)
If Kelly is back in South Bend for an eighth season, which is looking increasingly shaky, it’ll have had nothing to do with the way his kids performed in 2016. The Irish played poorly every step of the way, and someone is going to pay the price. Someone already has, former defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. Kelly could be next now that his program finished 4-8, with a microcosmic blowout loss to rival USC. He lost this team, and then he seemingly lost his own drive, which could signal a changing guard for a school that does not tolerate apathy. Adding insult to injury, ND was punished last week for an academic scandal that occurred in 2012 and 2013.
1. Mark Helfrich, Oregon (2)
Saturday in Corvallis was a fitting end to this dismal Duck season. Cold, dreary and another deflating loss, this time to Oregon State, Oregon’s first Civil War defeat in nine years. It was also likely the scene of Helfrich’s final game as the school’s head coach. By the usual standard in Eugene, rock bottom has officially been reached. At 4-8, including 2-7 in the Pac-12, this goes down as the Ducks’ worst season since 1991, when Mike Bellotti was still offensive coordinator to Rick Brooks. Helfrich might be someone’s offensive coordinator a year from now, because he’s unlikely to be running Oregon in 2017. If, as expected, he is fired in the next day or two, his successor will inherit a roster rich in young talent and upside potential.