It’s just about time to spin the coaching carousel, and surely, even more names will be added to the list as other coaches get fired in the coming weeks. One coach — on the verge of losing his job — just might have rescued himself. At the very least, he gave himself the opportunity to firmly secure another go-round in 2016.
Others weren’t as fortunate.
Here are a few stories of coaches who walked on the line between safety and impending travel plans this past weekend:
KEVIN WILSON, INDIANA — SAFER GROUND
The Hoosiers needed to go to a bowl this season. Moreover, with Iowa, Ohio State, and Michigan all coming to Bloomington this season, Indiana had to make use of a favorable schedule rotation. The 2016 slate won’t be as kind in terms of its division of home and road assignments. Indiana has consistently put forth a strong effort at home in 2015, but a decisive loss at Penn State suggested that this past Saturday’s trip to Maryland would be anything but easy.
When Indiana fell behind by 18 points (21-3) in the game’s first 10 minutes, the chances of a 6-6 season seemed remote. “Well, this just isn’t going to work out” — or some similar combination of words — either flowed through the mind or tripped lightly off the lips of Indiana fans everywhere.
Kevin Wilson was coaching his next-to-last game unless his team rallied.
Well… his team rallied. A 27-0 surge, part of a 44-7 avalanche over the game’s final 50 minutes, turned that 21-3 ditch into a 47-28 scenic outlook. The view will be even better if Indiana can win the Old Oaken Bucket against Purdue and wrap up a non-losing regular season. If the Hoosiers do that, it’s hard to see how Wilson doesn’t stay on the job.
What a difference a 27-0 run makes.
CLAY HELTON: INTERIM TO BE TERMINATED
The fun is over for anyone and everyone who wanted an “Orgeron” to develop at USC. An “Orgeron” is an instance in which an interim coach captures the hearts and minds of the players and the fan base, guiding a team to a good finish and thereby creating a groundswell of support for his permanent candidacy.
While Pat Haden’s decision to hire Steve Sarkisian was foolish — Orgeron probably wouldn’t have been meaningfully worse — it would not have been enlightened to entrust “Da Coach O” with that much power and responsibility. Interim gigs and permanent gigs are very different animals.
Thankfully, USC fans don’t have to worry about an “Orgeron” occurring this December or January. It’s not as though the chances were ever that good, but after Oregon thumped the Trojans in Eugene, Clay Helton can know that he won’t be the leader of the program in 2016. This allows everyone to move on and find a fresh start.
Don’t weep for Helton beyond the extent to which he might have to relocate and go through all those hassles. He’s improved his standing in the coaching fraternity with his handling of an impossible situation in L.A. He would not be a bad choice for a lower-tier FBS head coaching gig if he wanted it.
Speaking of that…
DOUG MARTIN: LATE-STAGE INTRIGUE
The head coach at New Mexico State was 0-7 this season and 4-27 overall. Yes, coaching New Mexico State football is the exact antithesis of coaching NMSU basketball. The former is one of college football’s most barren and forsaken outposts, the latter a conference powerhouse with a streak of NCAA tournament appearances and consistently laudable performances over the past decade. With this in mind, football coaches in Las Cruces, New Mexico, must be given time.
Yet, 4-27 and an 0-7 start to 2015 would certainly suggest that nothing’s happening.
Well, after a three-game winning streak — highlighted by an upset of former conference ruler Louisiana-Lafayette this past Saturday — Martin might have a case for one more year on the job. He is, at least, making the debate a legitimate one. He’s not safe the way Wilson will be if Indiana beats Purdue, but he’s given his athletic director fresh reason to reconsider the matter.
BILL CUBIT: INADEQUATE INTERIM
Minnesota is one of several teams in the broad and mushy middle of the Big Ten. The Golden Gophers have struggled this season after reaching much greater heights in 2014. Losing to Minnesota and allowing 32 points simply won’t inspire confidence that Bill Cubit, Tim Beckman’s interim replacement, should be the pilot of this program in Champaign. When one realizes that Illinois is searching for a new athletic director, the loss of any appreciable degree of leverage matters. Cubit could change minds with a win over Northwestern this week, but the odds have definitely shifted toward an exit at Illinois.
MARK RICHT AND DANA HOLGORSEN: LOSS AVOIDANCE
Remember how Dan Hawkins losing to Kansas at Colorado meant the end for him? Had Dana Holgorsen lost to Kansas, the idea of him getting fired would have been reasonable, albeit debatable. Sure, no one expected West Virginia to lose that game, but of course, just about no one expected Colorado to lose to Kansas and blow a bajillion-point lead.
It’s similar for Richt. Had he lost to Georgia Southern at home, yes, his job would have come under fresh(er) scrutiny. Merely avoiding that loss probably enabled Richt to avoid a hotter seat. That said, if a miserable Georgia Tech team thrashes the Dawgs this weekend, we could revisit this conversation again.