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TGS 2018 COLLEGE FB PREVIEW... EARLY "HOT SEAT" UPDATE

                                   by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

After a particualrly bloody coaching carousel last season, the early consensus is that fewer coaches enter 2018 on the proverbial "hot seat" simply because so many walked the plank in 2017.  That, however, could change, as many FBS mentors remain just one bad season away from slipping into trouble.  And, as we have seen in a variety of other instances, a handful of coaches have been finding their way into off-field trouble as well and suffering the consequences.  Indeed, the coaches not only have to win these days, they really have to behave themselves (which, apparently, is asking a lot of some of these guys).

With that as our backdrop, we take a quick look at those coaches we believe are in the most trouble heading into the fall.  But we're only in early summer...this list could look much different (and perhaps much longer) by the time we hit Columbus Day.

Mike Neu, Ball State...They work on a different time clock in the MAC, where schools are not inclined to buy out coaches with multiples of years remaining on their contracts. And Neu is something of a favorite son in Muncie from his days as a Cardinal player when as a QB he was named MAC Offensive MVP lonmg ago (1993). But his return as Card HC has not gone smoothly with a 2-year mark of 6-18 that included ten straight losses to close the 2017 campaign, dropping the last seven league games by an average score of 47-13. Injuries can only be blamed for so much of that collapse, and Neu might be another year away from risking real danger, though the hour-glass might be emptying on his Ball State career much sooner if anything close to last year’s debacle recurs.

Mike Jinks, Bowling Green...The post-Dino Babers era for the Falcons has been ugly, with Jinks recording a 6-16 mark in two years and not coming close to a bowl bid, with several blowout losses on the ledger. Last season’s 2-10 collapse was especially unsightly. They’ve done their fair share of winning over the past 20 years at BGSU, where Urban Meyer, Dave Clawson, and Babers used success to propel themselves to bigger and better things. Thus, can they tolerate another losing year (and looking mostly-bad doing so) from Jinks in 2018?

Kalani Sitake, BYU...There were some who believed Sitake might meet the axe late last season as the Cougs collapsed to 4-9 in his second year on the job. The old high-powered BYU offense has disappeared, and the school cannot tolerate its flagship football program being down in the dumps. Staff changes after last season's collapse suggested Sitake knows the pressure is on, and the clock is definitely ticking in Provo (where they aren't used to losing).

Brad Lambert, Charlotte...While Lambert has done all of the construction work at a program that only began in 2013 and fast-forwarded to the FBS level in its third season, the 49ers looked outclassed this past season when finishing 1-11 in modest C-USA. While expectations are still tempered, Lambert must put a competitive product on the field this fall or risk the consequences.

Scottie Montgomery, East Carolina...How do they feel now at Greenville for running out Ruffin McNeill, who had led the Pirates to almost-annual bowl games, and replacing him with Montgomery, whose teams have gone back-to-back 3-9 and absorbed countless vicious beatings along the way (such as this past season when allowing Memphis to drop a 70-point bomb in the season finale)? To this point, Montgomery has been a colossal failure at a program that won consistently in the decade prior to his arrival. It should be bowl-or-bust this fall for Montgomery, who is lucky to have the chance.

Lovie Smith, Illinois...This looks like bad idea from the start for the Illini administrators, who thought that Lovie could connect with recruits in Chicagoland. No evidence yet of that, and Lovie sure isn’t proving much of an upgrade on the field, with a 5-19 the past two years and working on 10 straight defeats. Illinois, who was rarely even within earshot in Big Ten action last season, saw a mass exodus of players transfer out after the season, while Lovie has made the obligatory staff changes, throwing several assistants (including o.c. Garrick McGee) under the bus after the 2-10 fiasco in 2017. Lovie has a contract that runs for three more years after 2018, but his actions suggest he knows the clock is ticking.  And in the days of the Big Ten Network and its TV riches, conference members have the means to pull the trigger on a low eight-figure buyout if things aren't working. A half-empty Memorial Stadium and a near-mutinous alumni and support base suggest Lovie has reason to fear unless the trajectory changes soon.  

David Beaty, Kansas...The well-meaning and personable Beaty has yet to find any traction at KU, where he’s won three games in as many years (and only one vs. an FBS foe, Texas, of all teams, in 2016, sealing Charlie Strong’s fate at Austin), and fortunate to be able to stick around for a fourth season. Beaty’s Texas roots have yet to result in any recruiting upgrades, and KU has to be running out of patience as it has undergone significant facility improvements the past couple of years (though KU Memorial Stadium ranks well below all other home stadiums in the Big 12). And all of that was before the AD who hired him, Sheahon Zenger, was canned in May, with school Chancellor Douglas Girod making a not-so-thinky-veiled warning to Beaty that things had better start improving on the field...and fast.  Another slow start by the Jayhawks in 2018 means Beaty might be unlikely to make it to Columbus Day, much less Halloween.

Bob Davie, New Mexico...Several Mountain West observers were a bit surprised that Davie stuck around a year ago after achieving his objective of propping up what was a dormant Lobos program that had won just 3 games total the previous three seasons when he took the job prior to the 2012 campaign. New Mexico had not only stabilized itself in Davie’s first five years but went to back-to-back bowl games in its home stadium, beating UTSA in 2016. Time for a triumphant exit in what figured to be Davie’s last college job before going back to the ESPN broadcast booth, perhaps? Maybe Davie wishes he had gone out on top (by Lobo standards, at least), as his team back-slid to 3-9 in 2017, then enduring a 30-day suspension in February for alleged administrative misconduct that included reported attempts to obstruct investigations into off-field transgressions by some of his players. After a seven-game skid to close 2017, the cloud layer is suddenly pretty thick in Albuquerque.

Larry Fedora, North Carolina...To be fair, Fedora didn't ask for some of the distractions he found once hired at Chapel Hill from Southern Miss after the 2011 campaign.  Though he was asked to clean up the mess from the aborted regime of Butch Davis (who had already been sacrificed before interim Everett Withers succeeded him), the academic fraud scandal, bubbling beneath the surface before Fedora was hired, caused unexpected distractions for several years before the Tar Heels finally wriggled free (controversially so) last autumn.  Whatever, it has left a cloud layer over Kenan Stadium that has yet to lift.  After a slow start, Fedora forged a modest breakthrough, capped by the Mitchell Trubisky team of 2016, but slipped back to 3-9 last season.  Defense continues to be an issue, and Fredora's succession of coordinators haven't been able to crack the code.  And the offense slowed considerably a year ago.  While Fedora might rightly maintain that off-field issues continue to hamper the progress of the program, he will nonetheless be walking on thin ice if the Heels sink below .500 again this fall.  

Everett Withers, Texas State...The bar is not set all that high in San Marcos, and after just two years on the job, the bottom would really have to drop out for the Bobcats this fall to put Withers in any immediate danger. But the Bobcats can at least see the bottom from where they have fallen the past two seasons, as consecutive 2-10 campaigns have raised doubts that Withers is going to be able to get TSU afloat anytime soon. Even in the Sun Belt, there are some standards that have to be met. Withers has made some obligatory staff changes and hopes for upgrades at the QB spot with more-athletic candidates slated to take snaps. Though the position has little experience for the Bobcats, who need to start showing some progress...and soon...for their coach to avoid falling into real trouble this fall.

Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech...Big 12 sources say that Kingsbury narrowly missed the axe in 2017, likely needing the season-ending win at Texas to be spared by AD Kirby Hocutt. Kingsbury’s high-water mark in Lubbock, however, remains the 8-5 mark he recorded in his first year of 2013, and his Red Raiders have never won more than four Big 12 games in a season. Working in Kingsbury’s favor are colorful offenses and the fact he is so well-liked in Lubbock that EVERYONE in the region wants him to succeed (unlike, say, Todd Graham this past season at Arizona State). But at some point Kingsbury is going to need something better than 7-6 or 6-7 records to stick around, and regional sources believe Hocutt has conveyed this to Kingsbury, thought to be on his way out this past season by several Big 12 onlookers.

Derek Mason, Vanderbilt...If looking for the moment where it all came finally tumbling down on Mason, perhaps the 59-0 loss to Alabama at Nashville in late September was the turning point downward. The Commodores were not just beaten, they were emasculated, and seemed as shell of a team afterward, though they did manage a 42-24 win over rudderless Tennessee in the finale. Still, Mason has not been able to sustain the momentum generated by predecessor James Franklin, as Vandy has made a bowl in just one of four seasons on Mason’s watch, and has yet to finish above .500. Though AD David Williams (whose more-fancy official title is “Vice Chancellor for Athletics”) is still said to be in Mason’s corner, the Dore support base is in near-revolt mode. Another non-bowl season this fall could doom Mason.


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