With a minimum of new coaching positions at the major powers opening this off-season, next year could be and probably will be a bloodbath. A number of men at the BCS conferences will be on the hot seat; not everyone will put together enough wins to ward off the guillotine.
Who might be on a quest to save their neck? And what other coaches are in situations to keep an eye on?
Phil Fulmer. Seven years removed from his national championship, he finds himself floating down the river on thin ice. A rash of off field issues, poor quarterback play, and assorted injuries have submarined the Volunteers. More worrisome to those in Knoxville is the resurgence of Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, and now South Carolina with Steve Spurrier, A.K.A. ‘Big Orange Killer.' Fulmer has not won the SEC since 1998, is 2-4 in his last 6 bowls (3-5 in his last 8), and this year he and his team are home for the holidays. Another poor season and he is likely out. I think they improve enough to keep his job. 60-40 he is still in Knoxville until 2007. My guess is 80-20 he loses his job soon thereafter unless David Cutcliffe can rekindle the Manning magic.
Bobby Johnson at Vanderbilt needs to prove this year was not a fluke. He was 6-29 coming into this season and now sits at 11-35 over a four year period. For the non math majors that is a record of roughly 3-8. The Commodores know they aren't going to win the SEC, but 3-8 is awful. They can do better than that; 4-7 or even 5-6 is not too much to ask. 80-20 he loses his job after next season.
Rich Brooks. The class he is putting together at Kentucky will be a nice bonus for the new head coach unless they set the world on fire in 2007. He did have a young team this season so I give him a fighting chance. History teaches us however that good coaches leave Kentucky as soon as possible while bad ones just get fired. Either way, Brooks probably only stays in Lexington for a limited period of time. 50-50 shot to last another year.
Houston Nutt. He was hand picked by Broyles and has done well by Arkansas. They in turn have done well by him. The problem of course is that Arkansas is not what it once was. Joining the SEC hurt the Razorbacks football program. Geographically positioned in the northwest corner of the state, they used to recruit Texas heavily. Texas is now Big 12 country and Texas boys would rather play in that league. This means Arkansas gets precious little talent as compared to the LSU, Auburn, and Alabama types in the SEC West. Nutt's team was young this year, but with a career mark of only 57-40 at Arkansas and a 4-7 mark in 2005...He needs at least seven wins and probably eight to guarantee job security. Worse for him is the fact that alumni have started openly questioning Butch Davis if he would take the job if offered. 60-40 Nutt loses his job.
Sylvester Croom. With the NCAA trouble and overall mess left behind by Jackie Sherrill, Croom probably gets a pass. Croom is still dealing with a depleted roster and has played a number of underclassmen. Next season should be the payoff. Still, two straight 3-8 seasons have folks in Starkville nervous. The Bulldogs should improve by at least two wins with a couple of upsets in the SEC. If it is 3-8 or worse again... Croom could be job hunting. 75-25 he gets until 2007 to show he can get it done.
John L. Smith. After exiting Louisville in a bridge burning ceremony equal to only that of ‘Bridge Over the River Kwai,' he sits at 18-18 after three seasons in East Lansing. Smith needs Stanton and the rest of his team to bail him out. The problem is this year's team was the most likely to get them over the proverbial hump but folded. They exhibited what Smith's teams normally do - a lack of discipline. You almost have to feel sorry for the Spartans, but then again, they let their best coach in 40 years get away without a fight a few years back. 80-20 Smith loses his job. If he doesn't lose it this coming season, then the axe falls in 2007.
Joe Paterno. Paterno is included on this list because at his age. He doesn't appear ready to retire, but everyone knows he isn't getting any younger. Paterno is good for the sport; he has been the head coach in Happy Valley since 1966. Think about that for just one moment. Lyndon Johnson was in the White House, man hadn't stepped foot on the moon, and Kennedy had been assassinated only three years earlier. The parents of some of his players on the current roster had not even been born. I say chances are only 50-50 Paterno is on the sidelines after 2006.
Al Groh. With a 37 and 25 record, this isn't exactly what the Cavaliers administration thought they would get after unceremoniously dumping the venerable George Welsh. Welsh built their program, but they thought they could do better even though the final six years he was in Charlottesville he managed a 45-27 mark with an ACC title. Groh will have to win his bowl, win the ACC, and get eight other victories just to equal those figures. My guess is Groh can't quite get it done. The Cavaliers will finish somewhere around 7-5, and the administration will have to decide to fire him or not. 50-50 he sticks around until 2007. 75-25 he loses his job before the end of 2008.
Jim Bunting. 5-6 isn't acceptable for North Carolina Football - at least it shouldn't be. Here is a gem of a program with the right coach. Mack Brown showed that winning was possible in Chapel Hill. With just 24 wins against 36 losses, Bunting needs next year to be his breakout or he will be tossed out. 90-10 Bunting loses his job.
Bobby Bowden. Like Joe Paterno, this man won't be fired, but age creates talk about how long he'll stick around. Bowden will probably try to promote from within his staff, but every season he sticks around fielding a less than stellar team decreases his chances. My guess is 70-30 odds he won't be on the sidelines in five years.
Chuck Amato. Some believe his job security is only so-so. If N.C. State fires him for anything other than some sort of scandal, they will have made a tremendous mistake. He may need to find a couple of new assistants, but he has guided their program to a mark of 44-29. That is a whale of an improvement on the 41-40 mark of his predecessor. 90-10 he keeps his job until 2007.
Tommy Bowden. Some men defy time. Astronauts defy gravity. Bowden defies the odds. Every season he is said to be on the chopping block. Every year he pulls off a couple of big wins down the stretch to save his hide. With this year's team full of juniors and sophomores (meaning most of them return for 2006), I think he keeps his job until 2007 where he is once again in a 'make or break' year. His 51-33 mark at Clemson is admirable considering their status in the new ACC. Tiger fans, alums, and administrators need to recognize they aren't Miami, Virginia Tech, or Florida State, nor are they likely to be confused with those three any time soon. 75-25 Bowden keeps his job until 2007. 90-10 at some point the Tiger alums and administration will think they can do better and fire him.
Dennis Franchione. How the mighty have fallen. Five years ago there were no coaches in the sport whose star shone so brightly. He was a ‘can't miss' hire by the Aggies with Tide followers in near shock as they watched their program disintegrate before their very eyes. Three years later and a 16-19 record means he has to win at least eight games in 2006. Actually, he probably needs nine victories to guarantee himself another season. Remember this is the program that fired R.C. Slocum - the winningest coach in the history of their school (.721 winning percentage) after three years near .500. 90-10 he loses his job unless significant improvements are made.
Gary Barnett. Whoops! Looks like this program already acted. I'm not sure Dan Hawkins is the best fit, but there you have it. Hawkins is on the clock.
Bill Callahan. With a 12-10 mark in two seasons in Lincoln, Callahan needs a bowl win over Michigan in the worst way. If he gets it he probably survives next season even if he doesn't get to eight wins. If he doesn't then there will be serious soul searching going on for the Cornhuskers. Callahan appears to be one of the worst case scenarios when you hire a new head coach. He is like that interior decorator you hire to just spiff up your home that comes in and rips out all the walls, makes a pile in the yard of your grandmother's antiques before burning them, and he throws all the family photos in the trash. In sum, he has been 'Extreme Makeover' without the happy ending. He better produce and fast. This is the program that didn't dip below nine wins for close to 40 years and fired Frank Solich after 9-4, 12-1, 10-2, 11-2, 7-7, and 9-3 seasons. 100% Callahan loses his job either in 2006 or 2007. 90-10 he loses it after 2006.
Gary Pinkel. Missouri is one of those difficult programs to figure out. They appear to have the ability to play big time football, but then again...They have only done so a couple of times in their history. More likely is this is a program that will be stuck in the middle gear unless a genius happens to drop in and stick around. Despite a 28-30 mark, he should be retained. 75-25 Pinkel keeps his job next season unless the bottom drops out.
Pete Carroll. Carroll is no fool. It has been reported he has feelers out with NFL clubs for a job after this season is over. With the exodus of talented juniors and seniors like Winston Justice, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Matt Leinart, and Darnell Bing looking more likely every day, Carroll's stock will never be higher. Those coming to play for him are in for a rude shock. They will discover - as did Matt Leinart - that the staff of USC is not going to let them know when they are ready to abandon ship until they are in the middle of the ocean. The coaches will take the life raft and let their passengers fend for themselves. My guess is 65-35 he quietly finds an NFL club to take him after the season and signing day are both over and recruits can't opt out (see Norm Chow, Leinart, and the 2005 draft for reference). 90-10 Carroll will not be at USC in 3 years.
Mike Stoops – The thrill is gone. The bloom is off the rose. Pick your adage. He was supposed to be the next wunderkind of the sport. His older brother, Bob Stoops, had brought Oklahoma back to national prominence and repeatedly credited his younger brother with being the architect of the defense. Mike Stoops was just 3-8 in 2004 and 2005. The biggest positive for this program is they can proudly tell one another, "At least we're not the Washington Huskies." Stoops will get until 2007 and possibly even 2008 to turn the ship around. Mackovic's mutiny created enough fuss that the university community will not want to go through the firing process again unless absolutely necessary. 90-10 Stoops stays until at least the 2007 season.
Though this shouldn't qualify as a BCS league, its coaches do appear to have their programs headed in the right direction. This is due as much to the overall weakness of their schedules as anything else. It's pretty easy to make it to bowl eligibility when you have just one team even worthy of top 15 ranking in the entire conference. The defection of Virginia Tech and Miami should have resulted in their BCS status being revoked.