As we’ve previously mentioned here at Crystal Ball Run, it’s no secret that we’re in the midst of the doldrums of the college football news cycle. Simply put, there isn’t much going on, and even when “news” does break, it’s usually not good. Even the “best” day in June doesn’t carry nearly the excitement of the worst in September, October or November.
Still, there’s no reason to worry, since- as we also mentioned last week- the staff here at Crystal Ball Run has decided to take things into our own hands and decided if there is no news to report, than heck, we’re going to make the news ourselves. That’s because from now until games kick off August 30, every week here at Crystal Ball Run will have some sort of college football “theme” to it. Our will then take that theme and break it down from every angle possible, giving you the best content you’ll find anywhere on the web.
For example, as you may have noticed, last week was “Heisman Week” (really, how could you miss it). And if you noticed, we took it well beyond the favorites to win the award, but also gave you a bit of history on the stiff-armed statue, gave you Vegas odds, and hit you with defensive players to watch out for, non-BCS contenders, and even shared some of the biggest snubs in the modern history of the sport. Overall, it was a fun time, and we’re certainly glad to have started our theme weeks with some solid Heisman discussion.
This week though, we completely switch gears and are going from the players on the field to the coaches on the sidelines, with “Hot Seat Week.”
The 2012 Hot Seat Cycle certainly isn’t quite as hot as 2011, when Mike Sherman, Houston Nutt, Mike Stoops, Dennis Erickson, Paul Wulff, Ron Zook and others lost their jobs, but it is intriguing none the less.
As a matter of fact, let’s start off “Hot Seat Week” by giving you the five coaches who most need a big year in 2012 to survive into 2013.
5. Randy Edsall, Maryland- 76-80 overall, 2-10 at Maryland (2nd season): As a general rule, I’ve never been a believer in firing a coach after just two seasons, and in most cases three. But if there’s ever been an exception to the rule, Randy Edsall could very well be it.
Look, we’ve already extensively gone over the grease fire that was Randy Edsall’s first season in College Park (even naming him our “Dud of the Year”), so adding too much else really would be piling on at this point. At the same time, reflecting back, you could really make the case that it was one of the single worst coaching jobs in the history of modern college football.
Here’s the truth: Edsall got the keys to a nine-win team with plenty of returning talent, and proceeded to drive the Maryland football program directly off a cliff. The team went just 2-10 in 2011, with those two “wins” coming in the opener against Miami- when virtually the entire Miami defense was suspended for Nevin Shapiro-gate- and the second over FCS opponent Towson. Of the 10 losses, they came by an average of 17 points, including a 31-point drubbing by, umm, Temple, and a shocker against NC State, where Edsall’s crew blew a 27-point second half lead to lose 56-41. Yikes!
Of course if it were just about the wins and losses, then Edsall would likely be ok. Unfortunately, that’s hardly the story, as the sub-context below the context is that Edsall isn’t only losing games on the field, but also apparently lost his locker room at some point too. Since taking over in January 2011, upwards of 30 players have left the program, including former starting quarterback Danny O’Brien, and both starting tackles, Max Garcia and R.J. Dill. Simply put, a coach can overcome losing games. It’s not nearly as easy to continually overcome losing top players.
Because of it, Edsall comes into 2012 in a precarious situation. He and his program have nowhere to go but up, but unfortunately there’s already so much residual bad blood, that even improving by a few wins might not be enough.
It may be “bowl game or bust” for Edsall in year two in College Park.
4. Joker Phillips, Kentucky- 11-14 at overall, 11-14 at Kentucky (3rd season): When I was in Kentucky earlier this year, I had a chance to meet Phillips, and afterward a Kentucky insider summed things up nicely: “Poor Joker. He’s a great guy. But man, he walked into an impossible situation.” Frankly, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Under the best of circumstances, the Kentucky job is one of the toughest nationally. Not only are you competing in the rugged SEC, in a state with little local talent to draw from, but you’re doing it at the one place where basketball will always be more important than football. That’s not an easy sell, especially when you’re recruiting against Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and others, where college football is undoubtedly king.
What makes Phillips job even tougher is that he’s replacing the uber-successful (by Kentucky standards) Rich Brooks, who took the Wildcats football program to places it had simply never been before. In Brooks last four years, Kentucky went to four straight bowl games, meaning that while Phillips’ 11-14 mark in his two years may have cut it once upon a time, it no longer will. It doesn’t help that Kentucky plays a painfully boring brand of football that saw the team average just 15.8 points per game last season, good for 117th out of 120 Division I schools.
Had it not been for a win over Tennessee to close the year (the Wildcats first over the Vols in 26 years), many believe Phillips might not have survived year two, meaning that like Edsall, it appears as though it might be “bowl game or bust” for Phillips in 2012.
3. Frank Spaziani, Boston College- 20-19 overall, 20-19 at Boston College (4th season): Like Phillips, Spaziani may be a victim of the success of those who came before him in Chestnut Hill. Boston College has never been known as a college football super-power, yet despite that, they still won at least eight games in nine of the 10 years before he took over. It was success that wasn’t simply wasn’t sustainable forever.
However, whether it was sustainable or not, there is no doubt that the program continues to take steps in the wrong direction under Spaziani. The team has gone from eight wins in his first year to seven wins in 2010 to just a 4-8 mark last season, and maybe worst of all, have lost their identity. For a team that has produced elite quarterbacks like Matt Ryan and the Hasselbeck brothers over the years, Boston College finished 100th in passing offense last year, and 112th nationally in scoring at just 18.2 points per game. Understand that it’s one thing to be bad. It’s quite another to be boring. And right now, Boston College is both.
And with a schedule that includes games against Miami and Clemson as well as a trip to Northwestern by the end of September, it doesn’t appear as though things are going to get better any time soon in Chestnut Hill. Don’t be stunned if Spaziani is handed his pink slip before the end of the season.
2. Mike Riley, Oregon State- 72-63 overall, 72-63 at Oregon State (11th season at the school over two separate spans): Following college football on a day-to-day basis like we do here at Crystal Ball Run (and like you do as fans) it’s amazing how quickly a coach can go from penthouse to outhouse.
Reflecting back it was just four seasons ago that Oregon State was the toast of the college football world when they upset USC (keeping the Trojans from a National Championship game appearance that year), and it was only three years ago that they were one win from winning the Pac-10 (at the time) and going to the Rose Bowl. At that point, Riley was considered one of the elite coaches in the sport, a guy that got more out of his talent than just about anyone in college football.
Since then it’s been a disaster though.
As the profile as the Pac-12 has gone up in the last few years, and as better coaches have taken the reigns of major programs, Oregon State has gone in the opposite direction. The Beavers are just 8-16 in the last two years, and are coming off a disastrous 3-9 campaign last year that started with an opening night loss to FCS school Sacramento State, and never really got better from there. Even Oregon State’s wins came with a grain of salt; for example, just days after Arizona lost to the Beavers, the Wildcats fired Mike Stoops.
Next up on the chopping block could be Riley. Corvallis is a tough place to win, but a third straight losing season could earn Riley a pink slip from the school.
1. Derek Dooley, Tennessee- 28-34 overall, 11-14 at Tennessee (third season at Tennessee): Honestly, there’s little we can say about Dooley in this space that you don’t already know. The coach came to Tennessee under less than ideal circumstances, and simply didn’t inherit enough talent to compete in the always tough SEC. At the same time, there are few places in the conference where going 11-14 over a two year period is acceptable, and Tennessee is hardly one of them.
The one thing Dooley has going for him that almost no one else on this list does is talent. Simply put, the Vols have everything needed to compete right away, get eight or nine wins, and get Dooley off the hot seat. Tyler Bray is one of the most physically gifted passers in college football, and speaking of “physically gifted” there isn’t a pair of receivers with more natural skill than Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers. The running game is a work in progress and the defense is young, but both should be much improved by the middle to the end of the season.
For Dooley, the key really comes down to surviving the first few weeks of a tough schedule. The Vols open the season against NC State in the Georgia Dome, and from there have a visit from Florida and a trip between the Hedges, all before the end of September. If they can win a few of those games (ideally at least two), they could get on a roll, and compete for an SEC East title. If they lose a two or all three of those games (and lose their confidence in the process), Dooley might not make it past the middle of the season.
Simply put, all the pieces are in place for Tennessee to have a huge year under Derek Dooley. But the pressure is on.
That’s why Dooley is the No. 1 coach on our “Hot Seat” list entering the season.
For all his articles, opinions and insights into college football, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.