With the college football season about to start there is a lot of excitement and hype, but for some coaches this season is a make it or break it year. If they don’t have good seasons they will be packing their bags and looking for new jobs. Here are the coaches that need to have good seasons:
Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Kelly almost wore out his welcome with a 4-8 record last season, but it is hard to fire a coach a year after making the Fiesta Bowl. Overall in his time at Notre Dame he has made one New Year’s Six Bowl Game and one National Championship, while underachieving in other years.
His career record at Notre Dame is 59-31. That’s not good enough to be the head coach of one of the most storied teams of all time. It goes beyond the record with Kelly, as he has made fans cringe every time he yells at players and places blame on them rather than being accountable.
The Fighting Irish only have eleven starters returning from a team that wasn’t good last season. There hope to save Kelly’s job lies in winning a lot of the close games that they lost last season. Eight of their games were decided by one possession, with seven of them being losses.
A more detailed description of Kelly’s time at Notre Dame is laid out here. In order to save his job he needs to at least go 8-4 this season, which won’t be easy with teams like Georgia, USC and Stanford on the schedule.
Jim Mora, UCLA
Mora has recruited a lot of talent to the UCLA campus, but they have not been able to capitalize on it. His total record at UCLA is 41-24 over five seasons, but last season really put a damper on things. The Bruins finished the year 4-8.
The saving grace for Mora may be that they give him a pass for last season based on how many injuries the team suffered. They were a better team than their record said and had quarterback Josh Rosen stayed healthy they would’ve been able to get to a bowl game. Even if they give him a pass for last season he needs to produce a good season again this ye
Only 10 starters return to the team, which could make things difficult on Mora. They still have a lot of talent, but players who didn’t play much last year will need to help out more.
Mora likely needs to win about eight games to feel somewhat comfortable after the season. Making a bowl game would be a good way to get back on track, but may not be enough to save his job.
Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
He is entering his sixth year at Arizona and had a pretty successful start to his time in the desert. He made four straight bowl games including the Fiesta Bowl in 2014. The problem is that the program has gone down hill from there.
Following the 2014 season, the Wildcats are 10-15, including a 3-9 record last season. The record has been bad and Rich Rod, who is no stranger to criticism, has been criticized for leaving players in while visibly concussed, but has said he errs on the side of caution.
The good news is that 14 starters return this season, which should help them improve on their record from last season. In the Pac-12 though there aren’t too many easy wins to be had. They do get the benefit of playing Cal and Oregon State in their crossover games.
Rodriguez needs to make a bowl game this season to save his job. Anything less than that and he may be fired.
Todd Graham, Arizona State
With an eight win season and two ten win seasons in his first three years, Graham was also a coach that got off to a hot start. Since his third year, he has not had a winning record in any season. He has a career mark of 39-26, which includes a record of 11-14 over the last two seasons.
Graham has been seen as a job-jumper and will leave a school at a moments’ notice for a perceived better opportunity. He likely doesn’t have too many offers on the table at this time, but if he isn’t loyal to a school, why should a school be loyal to him?
Eleven starters return for him, but his team had a 5-7 record last season. Running backs Kalen Ballege and Demario Richard are good players, but they lack the same level of talent they had just a few years ago. Their schedule is tough, which won’t do Graham any favors.
In order to keep his job, Graham needs to improve on their 5-7 record last season. That may not be quite good enough, but is the minimum that needs to be done for him to keep his job.
Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
A lot of people liked the hire of Kliff Kingsbury at the time. He was a young, energetic coach that had broken records as a quarterback at Texas Tech. In his four years he has just two bowl appearances with the Red Raiders.
Kingsbury has an overall record of 24-26 and a terrible 13-23 record in conference play. The offense has been good, but the defense is unable to stop anyone and that will be Kingsbury’s downfall, unless a miracle happens this season.
Ten starters return, but Texas Tech will need a new quarterback because Patrick Mahommes left early for the NFL. The offense will likely take a huge step back, while the defense won’t get much better. They have challenging non-conference games against Arizona State and at Houston and haven’t ever gotten more than four conference wins in a season under Kingsbury.
For Kingsbury to return to Lubbock in 2018 he needs to make a bowl game and win at least four conference games in doing so. This is a tall task with the roster turnover and the Red Raiders will likely be looking for a new coach.
Brett Bielema, Arkansas
Bielema was a great steal of a hire from Wisconsin, but has not done well at Arkansas. They are in a very tough SEC West, but have not been consistent. Unlike other coaches on this list, Bielema has been fairly consistent after his first season in Fayetteville.
He started with a record of 3-9 and has finished with at least seven wins every year since. That brings his total record to 25-26. What’s worse is his 10-22 record against the SEC in that time. While making bowl games is good, a record that bad in conference can’t be tolerated for too much longer.
Austin Allen returns at quarterback and the offense should be solid. The defense brings back five starters, but the unit wasn’t particularly good. They have one tough non-conference game against TCU. Other than that they need to capitalize on an SEC West that has some teams that are relatively down right now. This includes: Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Texas A&M.
It is more than possible for this team to win seven or eight games this year. That will be good enough to bring back Bielema for another year. If the Razorbacks somehow fail to make a bowl game this season, he may be on his way out.
Butch Jones, Tennessee
The question for Butch Jones is: How patient can a die hard fan base be? Two straight 9-4 seasons aren’t bad, but it’s not up to Tennessee’s expectations. They haven’t been able to win the SEC East, which has been down the last several years. This is unfortunate timing, but it’s a make it or break it year for Jones.
Jones started the Volunteers off with a 5-7 record, but has followed it up with three straight bowl appearances. His overall record at Tennessee is 30-21, but the record in conference play is just 14-18. Doing a lot of the same would be good at most programs, other than the lousy conference record, but it just doesn’t cut it for the Volunteers.
Tennessee has 12 starters back from last year’s team, which includes some talent. The problem is replacing Josh Dobbs. Dobbs was a great dual-threat quarterback, who bailed them out of a lot of close games last season. Through the first five games of the season, four of those were won because they had a poised quarterback in Dobbs down the stretch. A couple of guys are battling for the position, but none will be as effective as Dobbs in their first season.
The schedule provides some tough games against Georgia Tech, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky and LSU. They won’t lose all of them, but will lose some. Jones needs to get them to eight wins to feel safe, but even eight wins can’t quell a rabid bunch of fans and boosters: Just ask Bo Pelini.
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Sumlin is on the hot seat at some point in every season. After a big win, the Aggies can’t fathom being without him. After losing games down the stretch, his seat gets warm.
Out of all the coaches on this list, Sumlin has the best record, when taking into account his circumstances, at 44-21. This is impressive, but he also has a winning record in the tough SEC West at 21-19. He has never missed a bowl game at Texas A&M and never finished with fewer than eight wins.
The Aggies have had to deal with a lot of transfers over the past few seasons, but have talent. Armani Watts is one of the best safeties in the country, while Christian Kirk is a wide receiver that might be drafted in the top ten of the 2018 NFL Draft. The problem could be quarterback play, which has been hit hard by the transfers.
They have a tough non-conference game at UCLA, then have to go back to battle the SEC West, Florida and South Carolina. Eight wins should again be good enough to save Sumlin’s job, but with how inconsistent his hot seat is, nothing is for certain.
Other notable power five coaches whose seats could be hot with a bad season: David Beaty (Kansas), Dave Doern (NC State), Dave Clawson (Wake Forest), Steve Adazzio (Boston College), Mike Reilly (Nebraska), Gary Anderson (Oregon State), Barry Odom (Missouri).
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