The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has changed a lot of things about the college football season. But certain coaches needing to win games to keep their jobs certainly isn’t one of them. While some coaches are midway through the season and others are just getting started, there are plenty of coaches who are feeling the heat and are in win-now mode. Granted, the unusual circumstances of the season might give these guys a little leeway. However, that’s not going to give them much solace. As we reach the pseudo-midway point of the season, here are some coaches who are undeniably on the hot seat.
Tom Herman, Texas
Herman helped to boost his own expectations after going 10-4 and winning the Sugar Bowl in 2018. However, the Longhorns have fallen flat since then. After losing two Big 12 games this year already, Texas faces an uphill climb to get to the conference championship game. The Longhorns still have to play the three teams at the top of the standings. If the Longhorns lose two of those games and finish 6-4 in 2020, Texas could run out of patience with him. At a program like Texas, it’s not easy to survive two disappointing campaigns in a row.
The Longhorns may have to win the rest of their games and give the impression of progress to secure Herman’s job for 2021.
Matt Wells, Texas Tech
It’d be a little unfair to fire Wells after just two seasons. After all, he doesn’t have his own players and it’s not like the Red Raiders were a perennial powerhouse before he got there. On the other hand, things have not gone well for Wells in Lubbock. Texas Tech finished 9th in the Big 12 last season, ahead of only Kansas. There hasn’t been much improvement in 2020 thus far, although the Red Raiders did get a win over West Virginia this past week.
If Wells can’t get the Red Raiders to at least .500 this year, the school could decide to move on from him quickly. With both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State left on the schedule, that won’t be easy. Wells needs to deliver a statement win to keep the pressure off.
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
For the record, every coach at Vanderbilt faces an uphill battle. With the school’s academic standards, the Commodores can’t come close to recruiting the same caliber of talent as the rest of the SEC. To his credit, Mason has found a way to get Vandy to a bowl game twice in six seasons. But the goodwill he earned from those two bowl appearances is starting to wane after going 3-9 last season and starting this year 0-3.
It’s not just that the Commodores are losing, but they’ve been outscored 99-23 in three contests. It’s difficult to see where Vandy is going to have a serious chance to win a game this season. With his career record at 27-50, it’s unlikely Mason can survive a winless season.
Matt Viator, UL-Monroe
The Warhawks are possibly the worst team in the country this year. UL-Monroe is 0-6, and outside of a 35-30 loss to Georgia Southern, they haven’t been close to winning a game. The kicker is that they still have some of the best teams in the Sun Belt left on their schedule, not to mention a non-conference game with Louisiana Tech. Even under the circumstances, it’ll be difficult for Viator to keep his job if the Warhawks don’t win a game this season.
This is Viator's fifth season and he’s yet to record a winning season or take the program to a bowl game. Outside of a close loss to Florida State last season, Viator hasn’t accomplished much, which is why he’s at serious risk of losing his job.
Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Malzahn has had a good run at Auburn, highlighted by leading the Tigers to the BCS National Championship Game in 2013. But his seat is starting to get warm at a program with high expectations. The Tigers were a letdown in 2018 and they’re in the midst of another disappointing season. Auburn was embarrassed against Georgia, lost to South Carolina, and was fortunate to escape with wins against Arkansas and Ole Miss. Other than their road game against Georgia, the Tigers still have their most difficult games ahead of them. It’s not out of the question that Auburn could finish with a losing record based on the way they’ve played this season. If that happens, Malzahn is likely to be fired.
When you share a state with Nick Saban and play in the SEC West, you can’t afford to fall behind the competition. If Auburn keeps struggling, there will be little choice but to replace Malzahn.
Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee
Stockstill has been at Middle Tennessee since 2006 and led the program through plenty of good years. The Blue Raiders played in the Conference-USA Championship Game as recently as 2018, so Stockstill will get the benefit of the doubt because he’s earned it. However, things can only get so bad at Middle Tennessee before they make a coaching change. The Blue Raiders were 4-8 last year and have looked dreadful in 2020. They’ve managed to squeak out wins over Florida International and Rice to reach 2-5. But the Blue Raiders don’t win at least another couple of games down the stretch, there could be serious consideration to move on from Stockstill and try to infuse some life in the program with a younger coach.
Clay Helton, USC
In a lot of ways, it’s surprising that Helton is still the coach at USC. He’s 13-12 over the last two seasons since winning the Pac-12 championship in 2017. That conference title is probably the only thing that’s keeping him with the Trojans because they’ve fallen well short of expectations in back-to-back campaigns. It’ll be hard to evaluate Helton off a seven-game regular season with the Pac-12 set to begin play in November. But the Trojans almost have to go 7-0 for Helton to keep his job. Going 6-1 might be enough if USC reaches the Pac-12 Championship Game, but anything less will put Helton in a tenuous position after the season.
Chip Kelly, UCLA
UCLA knew it would take Kelly a little bit of time to get things moving in the right direction. But they certainly believed that the Bruins would be better than 7-17 in his first two seasons. Pandemic or not, this feels like a make-or-break season for Kelly. In a way, the conference-only schedule in 2020 will suit Kelly, who is 0-6 outside the Pac-12 at UCLA.
The Bruins will play a challenging schedule this season, including Kelly’s return to Oregon. But anything less than 4-3 in the seven-game season could put Kelly’s job in jeopardy.
Scott Frost, Nebraska
Being a former Nebraska player should give Frost a little more leeway because the fan base is surely behind him. But he returned to Lincoln with a lot of bravado after what he accomplished at Central Florida and he’s yet to deliver similar success with the Cornhuskers. Keep in mind that Nebraska lost five of its last six games in 2019, so momentum was working against him heading into 2020. Despite some close calls, Frost doesn’t exactly have a marquee win a Nebraska that he can point to as a sign of progress. The Big Ten didn’t do him any favors by making Ohio State and Penn State the two crossover games with the East Division. Nevertheless, one would expect that Frost needs to figure out how to get to 5-4 this season to feel secure about keeping his job for next season.
Kevin Sumlin, Arizona
Sumlin has been moving in the wrong direction since he arrived at Arizona. In 2018, the Wildcats were 5-5 late in the year but failed to reach a bowl game. Things got even worse last year when a promising 4-1 start turned into a 4-8 finish after the Wildcats lost seven in a row to end the season. That seven-game losing streak is hanging over Sumlin’s head going into the 2020 season, and things could get worse before they get better with the Wildcats facing Utah, USC and Washington to begin the season. If Sumlin can’t find a way to at least get to 4-3 this year, he may not get a fourth season with the Wildcats.
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