TGS EXTRA!!! COLLEGE FOOTBALL REPORT...COACHES ON THE HOT SEAT
by Bruce Marshall, TGS EXTRA!!! Editor
The Following is the headline story in the Extra Points College Fotball feature in this week's 2012 kickoff edition of THE GOLD SHEET EXTRA!!! , available now! Try the combination subscriptions with THE GOLD SHEET, CKO, and/or Friday Update...best values!
Derek Dooley, Tennesseee...As the Volunteers fade further from the national limelight, threatening to become an SEC version of UCLA or Colorado, Dooley (entering his third year at UT) is likely to be caught in the crossfire unless he can forge a significant turnaround from last year's 5-7 disappointment. Although many in Vol Nation were about to give Dooley a mulligan after Tennessee appeared set to garner a minor bowl invitation despite being without injured QB Tyler Bray for much of last season, any remaining goodwill was erased in an unsightly 10-7 loss in the regular-season finale to a wretched Kentucky side that could not attempt, much less complete, a downfield pass with WR Matt Roark converted to an emergency QB for the Wildcats. And Dooley could not use the excuse of no Bray, who had returned to action before that ugly finale. Some SEC sources say Dooley was lucky to have survived the Kentucky result, and with a new AD (Dave Hart) on board these days in Knoxville, Dooley sits on the hottest of seats entering the fall.
Mack Brown, Texas...Mack Brown on the hot seat? Depending upon which Big 12 source you might believe, perhaps so. Although Brown has a staunch backer in AD DeLoss Dodds, regional sources note the 73-year-old Dodds is not likely to stay in place much longer after overseeing the introduction of the Longhorn TV Network. And Texas-exes are a notoriously impatient lot, having hit the eject button on the likes of Fred Akers, David McWilliams, and John Mackovic for transgressions similar to Mack's 13-12 mark over the past two seasons. There are also rumors in the region that Brown could be looking at retirement soon, and a scenario in which he and Dodds ride off into the sunset together cannot be dismissed. But anything resembling the last two disappointing seasons, and especially anything resembling last year's 55-17 loss to hated Oklahoma, could put Brown in some trouble. Longhorn fans won't stand for further underachieving with all of the blue-chip talent on the roster. Watch the QB play, which Mack has to get right this fall with holdover sophs David Ash and Case McCoy (Garrett Gilbert, who started in 2010 but was supplanted by the frosh a year ago, has transferred to SMU).
Joker Phillips, Kentucky...Like Derek Dooley, Joker enters his third year this fall, although in Phillips' case he's been a fixture in Lexington for much longer, having been the coach-in-waiting during the final years of the preceding Rich Brooks regime while serving as offensive coordinator. But whatever expertise Phillips may have had with the strike force sure wasn't evident a year ago as the Cats slipped to 5-7, and that record flatters to deceive, so unwatchable was UK at times when ranking near the bottom nationally in offensive stats (117th in scoring at a mere 15.8 ppg, 118th in total offense at a puny 259.8 ypg). With ballyhooed true frosh QB Patrick Towles (grandson of Hall-of-Fame pitcher and former Kentucky US Senator Jim Bunning) enduring a choppy preseason camp, Joker appears to be saddled with last year's less-than-desirable QB options Morgan Newton and Maxwell Smith as his alternatives to lead the Cats back to a bowl. If Joker can't, or even if he can at a-less-than-impressive 6-6 mark, he's in trouble, as the regional chatter has already begun that suggests Lexington is a likely landing spot for Bobby Petrino, who will be surfacing again somewhere (mark our words) in December.
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Frank Spaziani, Boston College...Spaziani makes no bones about being a defensive coach, and not much of an offensive mastermind. So conservative is Spaziani that it is said he would be comfy with Antonin Scalia as his offensive coordinator. But after cobbling together serviceable strike forces his first couple of years on the job, Spaziani's "O" was woeful a year ago (ranking 112th in both scoring and total offense), and Big Frank has brought in ex-Kent State HC Doug Martin as the new o.c. in hopes iof igniting the attack. He'll have to do so without top rush threat Montel Harris, who was dismissed from the program in the offseason. And now Spaziani's pride-and-joy defense will have to proceed without all-everything LB Luke Kuechly, drawing paychecks these days from the NFL Carolina Panthers. As if Spaziani didn't have enough to worry about after last year's 4-8 ugly-fest, he received recent word that his safety blanket, AD Gene DeFilippo, will be retiring at the end of September. The combination of a descending program and a new AD is often a recipe for a new coach; we just dare whoever takes over DeFilippo's job to have the nerve to tell the intimidating Spaziani that his services are no longer required.
Randy Edsall, Maryland...This might seem a bit of a surprise, given that Edsall is beginning only his second year in College Park. But things went so pear-shaped for the Terps during last season's 2-10 disaster that many Maryland backers are conceding that Edsall's hire from UConn might have been a mistake, also citing the adversarial relationship that has developed between Edsall and the D.C.-area press corps. A rash of defections from the program have further contributed to the instability, and the bad news continued in preseason camp when QB C.J. Brown was lost for the season due to an ACL injury, thrusting frosh Perry Hills into the starting lineup. With two seasons emerging as a new norm for coaches to turn things in the right direction (just ask Kansas' Turner Gill, Memphis' Larry Porter, or Akron's Rob Ianello, all dismissed after two dismal seasons on the job following last season), and the Terps having fallen off the map since Ralph Friedgen's 9-4 team in 2010 (and resultant negative press for the Friedgen dismissal and also allowing coach-in-waiting James Franklin to leave for Vanderbilt, where he has turned around the Commodores), the situation is fraught with peril for Edsall.
George O'Leary, UCF...O'Leary was already in some hot water in Olrando before the recent one-year bowl probation the Knights received from the NCAA regarding improper recruiting practices, a scandal that has also spilled to the school's hoops program and resulted in the temporary suspension of basketball coach Donnie Jones last winter. O'Leary already had to worry about the repercussions of a wildly-disappointing 4-8 campaign a year ago, one is which UCF was initially thought to be a stealth BCS contender after winning CUSA the preceding year. While O'Leary has hit a lot of peaks at UCF, he has also descended into a lot of valleys, including a winless mark in his first season and last year's letdown, featuring several close defeats of which never reflect well upon the coach. After 2011, O'Leary, in an act that confirms his hot-seat status, threw three assistants, including d.c. John Skladany, under the bus despite the fact the Knights ranked ninth nationally in total defense a year ago, and had to go through two replacement coordinators in the offseason after newly-hired Ted Roof bolted after four weeks to take the same d.c. job on Bill O'Brien's new staff, finally promoting LB Coach Jim Fleming to the position. If all of that wasn't enough, O'Leary is now working for a new AD, Todd Stansbury, recently hired from Oregon State. On the plus side for O'Leary? He has rebounded with winning records after his three previous sub-.500 seasons at UCF. Anything less this fall, and he walks the plank by December.
Mike Price, UTEP...CUSA sources are suggesting that even if the Miners forge an unlikely resurgence this fall, veteran HC Price is not likely to return in 2013. With a contract yet to be renewed beyond this season, many believe that Price will retire on a high note if UTEP cobbles together a rally this season. Others aren't so sure, but all concede that another non-winning mark, which would be Price's seventh straight at the Sun Bowl, would end a regime that many are now comparing to Tulane and Bob Toledo (who resigned under pressure before the conclusion of last season with the Green Wave). Another concern for Price backers is a rugged Miners schedule that opens with Oklahoma and could easily see UTEP mathematically out of bowl contention before the end of October. Among the many possible scenarios this fall in El Paso would be for Price to announce his departure effective the end of the season, although if UTEP is out of the bowl mix too early, that decision might be made for Price before he can beat administrators to the punch.
Dan Enos, Central Michigan...The former Michigan State QB has had a rough go in Mount Pleasant, as the Chips have descended to 3-9 marks in each of the past two seasons on his watch. Which looks even worse by comparison to the successes enjoyed by the CMU program under predecessors Butch Jones and Brian Kelly, who each moved to Cincinnati from Kelly-Shorts Stadium. Despite the poor record, Enos was given a symbolic one-year extension after last season, but MAC informers suggest that hardly amounts to any extra job security, with buyout terms likely reduced in the process. Besides, the ranks of coaches who are dismissed in the twelve months following an extension are too numerous to list (even the overmatched Mike Locksley at New Mexico was given a re-worked deal prior to last season, which, as is now customary, traded another year for a much-reduced buyout). We doubt Enos is Cincy or anywhere-else bound unless he authors a quick turnaround this fall. Which is a possibility if the defense can upgrade from last year's porous unit and not force sr. QB Ryan Radcliff into shootout mode every week. By the way, the Chips were also 1-11 vs. the pointspread (ouch!) last season for Enos.
Jeff Quinn, Buffalo...Quinn ought to feel fortunate, having surpassed the two-year threshold that claimed another Class-of-2010 MAC Coach, Akron's Ron Ianello, after last season. Not that it should make Quinn feel any more comfy after his Bulls side recorded a 5-19 mark over the past two seasons as the program continues the steep descent from the heights it reached when reaching bowl status in 2008 under predecessor Turner Gill. Quinn has a top-quality RB on hand in the form of workhorse Brandon Oliver, who gained nearly 1400 YR a year ago, but improvement at QB (whether from holdover Alex Zordich or frosh Joe Licata) is a necessity, and playmakers must emerge on defense. Quinn can probably survive another sub-.500 season but the program cannot afford to backslide from last year's 3-9 mark if the coach wants to last into 2013.
Jon Embree, Colorado...Recall mention of the likes of Turner Gill, Larry Porter, and Rob Ianello from earlier in this piece. All coaches who were dismissed after just two seasons on the job a year ago. Rest assured Embree is paying attention, because it has not been hard to identify the grumblings among Buffalo backers, many of whom being convinced before last year was complete that Embree was a blown hire. The Buff alum and former NFL assistant helped himself greatly when his CU team won two of its last three a year ago when it was whispered a movement might be afoot to pull the plug after the initial season, which ended at 3-9. It is not lost on recently-suffering Buff backers that one of the reasons Embree was hired was because of cost considerations, but having moved into a higher-rent district in the Pac-12 with TV revenues on the increase, the Buffs shouldn't be as cash-strapped if they have to look for a new coach after this season. Besides, in the new Pac-12 neighborhood, CU can ill afford to become an immediate also-ran and put itself off of the radar to the sort of higher-profile California recruits who have often made big contributions in Boulder. Nervous time for Embree, especially with the Buffs breaking in new QBs this fall. A loss in the opener to rival Colorado State (with a new coach of its own, Jim McElwain) could prove disastrous.
Mike Riley, Oregon State...Despite being one of the acknowledged nice guys of the profession, Riley has never been able to sell himself to a faction of critics in Corvallis whose ranks are growing after the Beavers missed a bowl for the second consecutive season a year ago. Riley helped invite some of the criticism last fall with a curious switch away from QB Ryan Katz, who impressed in his debut as a starter in 2010 but fell out of favor a year ago and has since transferred to San Diego State. Then-RS frosh Sean Mannion flashed some upside in Katz' place but hardly seemed an improvement a year ago as OSU slipped to an injury-plagued 3-9 record. With the Pac-12 rapidly becoming a coach's league with the additions of Mike Leach, Rich Rodriguez, and other high-profile names, and the North Division of the conference getting no easier, regional sources suggest that Riley might have to guide the Beavers back into the bowl mix if he wants to stick around into 2013.
David Cutcliffe, Duke...Even at Duke and its reduced football expectations, Blue Devils backers are eventually going to demand a winning record and a bowl bid, neither of which Cutcliffe has delivered since being hired for the 2008 season. ACC sources report the ex-Ole Miss HC and noted QB tutor (counting the Mannings among his prized pupils) is on the clock this fall after a pair of 3-9 campaigns. One Cutcliffe season has looked like the next in Durham, with the offense showing glimpses of progress before regressing into an imbalanced, all-pass and run-poor version (as a year ago when the Dookies ranked 115th nationally in rushing), while the defense has lacked sufficient playmakers and has had its lack of depth exposed in the second half of the season. Cutcliffe thinks he has a puncher's chance of altering those dynamics this fall, and has a capable sr. QB (Sean Renfree) to fire the offensive bullets, but let's see if the Blue Devils can finish fast for once under Cutcliffe. This fall, it might be needed to save his job.
Robb Akey, Idaho...The Vandals are about to enter some uncharted waters next season as they escape the burning building that is the WAC and move their football team into the FBS independent ranks, while aligning their other sports with the Big Sky. Sources suggest this is hopefully a temporary arrangement and that either the Mountain West (which is said to desire a 12-team league and could be looking for two new members, although it has rejected Idaho thus far) or maybe even the MAC (which likes its association with the Famous Potato Bowl in Boise and might want to have an Idaho connection in the loop) are still considered as possible landing spots for the Vandals. Whatever, it is no time for the football program to be losing altitude, but that's exactly what has happened at the Kibbie Dome in the wake of last year's 2-10 collapse. Sixth-year HC Robb Akey has used up almost all of the capital he accumulated from the bowl season of 2009, and Idaho must tighten its defense and hope one of its new QBs can step up in its final year of WAC competition. If not, and Idaho approximates last year's ugly mark, Akey might not last into 2013.
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