The 2016 season is still a few months away, but some coaches in the Power-5 conferences are already feeling the heat of a warm seat. Some have expectations they need to live up to, while others are trying to save struggling programs. But out of all those coaches, which five have the hottest seats heading into the season?
Charlie Strong, Texas
This one is really unfair, but it’s true that Strong is on the hot seat. Strong will be in his third year at Texas, as it seems like some within the school were expecting an immediate turnaround from the poor status that Mack Brown left the program in.
The good news for Strong is that he landed a pretty good recruiting class for 2016. While that might not make an on-field impact immediately, it does show that he is able to connect with recruits even when the program is struggling. Hopefully Strong gets a change to be the coach for recruits, because it will be unfortunate for him if he gets the boot, and then some other coach is able to clean house with the recruits that Strong got.
Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech won the Orange Bowl just 15 months ago, so it may be a surprise to some to see Johnson’s name here. However, the Yellow Jackets has a disastrous 2015 season, missing a bowl game for the first time in almost 20 years. The state of recruiting for Georgia Tech has always been mediocre, but Johnson’s most recent classes leave something to be desired, even by Tech’s standards.
The one thing keeping Johnson in Atlanta? He is a well-paid head coach, and Georgia Tech can’t exactly afford to buy him out with all of the basketball coaches they are paying right now. (seriously, they are paying the buyouts for two former head basketball coaches right now) That alone might be enough to keep Johnson’s job safe.
Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Another intriguing name here, as the Tigers were just in a national title game a couple of years ago. Auburn followed that up with a decent 8-5 season in 2014, but some with the program are weary about potential progress after a 7-6 debacle of a season in 2015.
Depending on your perspective, the following may be good or bad news for Malzahn: they have an awesomely hard schedule in 2016. Auburn opens the season with Clemson at home, and then they have Georgia, Ole Miss, and Alabama all on the road later in the season. Luckily they get Arkansas and LSU at home, but reasonably, all of those games could be losses. How would the Auburn faithful react to another 6-6 regular season?
Les Miles, LSU
Miles is an odd case here, because for all intents and purposes, he was gone from LSU at the end of the 2015 season. However, the outcry to his potentially firing likely saved his job — which is a good thing — but how long with the administration let that last?
LSU returns 18 starters from a 9-3 team and a lot of publications have them as one of the top Playoff contenders for the 2016 season. If they get there, then assuredly Miles is safe going forward. But if they stumble like they did in 2015, and have something like eight or nine wins, is that enough to get Miles out of the position? It shouldn’t be, but it just might be for those with the power in Baton Rouge.
Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Rich Rod’s tenure at Arizona has been… okay. The Wildcats made the Fiesta Bowl in 2014, which was the cap to a 10-win season and a berth in the Pac-12 championship game. They weren’t able to replicate that success in 2015, though, as an early injury to star linebacker Scooby Wright III severely hampered Arizona, leading them to a 6-6 regular season.
Arizona has a somewhat difficult schedule in 2016, but there are definitely some opportunities for them to score a couple of big wins; they have Stanford, Arizona State, Washington, and USC all at home. Say they split those games, and will all four sure-fire games against Hawaii, Oregon State, Colorado, and Grambling State, and they are at six wins with a couple of toss-ups in BYU, Washington State, and Utah left on the schedule. (at UCLA is a longshot, most likely)
The opportunity is there for them to get eight wins against that schedule, which would keep Rich Rod safe. Drop below that, though, and things might get a little uneasy in Tuscon.
Think some other coaches deserve to be on the hot seat? Let us know in the comments!