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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Coaching Moves

Fire My Coach, Please: Week 14

With a long season in the books, let’s take one final look at 10 coaches with questionable job security. Well, perhaps not final: maybe I’ll dust off this old standby once more in January, though we’ll surely see fewer dismissals of coaches whose teams went to bowl play than those who fell short of expectations. Thus far this season, we’ve seen 10 coaches lose their jobs: Steve Roberts, Stan Parrish, Dan Hawkins, Bill Lynch, Doug Martin, Rickey Bustle, Randy Shannon, Tim Brewster, Todd Dodge and Robbie Caldwell. Eight of those names were featured at one time or another on this list; Shannon never popped up, nor Caldwell, though I never thought to include the latter because of his interim status. So congratulations to me, I guess. The coaching quote of the week is from Dan McCarney, who was hired this week to replace Dodge at North Texas:

“Why not North Texas? Why not bowl games? Why not championships? We don’t have to make excuses for anything. We don’t have to talk about what we don’t have because of the leadership of [university administration]. We’re going to try to make this one of the most special places in all of college football.”

1. Mike Locksley, New Mexico (Last week: No. 1)

2010 record 1-11
Overall record (since 2009) 2-22

The constant throughout this season has been Locksley: the top spot has fluctuated among three players on the Heisman list and both Oregon and Alabama have split time atop the 1-120 re-ranking, but Locksley has maintained a healthy lead over all comers since October. Next season, if Locksley does return — and he will, barring a change of heart — this post will be renamed in his honor.

2. Steve Fairchild, Colorado St. (Last week: No. 4)

2010 record 3-9
Overall record (since 2008) 13-24

Another coach who isn’t going anywhere, though he’ll need a big season in 2011 to solidify his tenuous job status. How much went wrong with Fairchild and the Rams in 2010? Well, at least his team didn’t start 3-1 and then drop eight straight to end the year; this team was pitiful throughout, crowning an entirely forgettable season with a lopsided loss to Wyoming. What will Fairchild do for an encore in 2011? If the last two seasons are of any evidence — three wins.

3. Neil Callaway, U.A.B. (Last week: No. 5)

2010 record 4-8
Overall record (since 2007) 15-33

Callaway has been informed that he’ll return in 2010, though that came with a price: he had to fire defensive coordinator Eric Schumann, an original member of Callaway’s staff with the Blazers. One can only assume that Callaway was willing to pay this price, as the other option, more than likely, was his own walking papers. Callaway also received a one-year extension through 2012, though that means very, very little. If he doesn’t get U.A.B. to six wins next fall, Callaway will be out of a job.

4. Bob Toledo, Tulane (Last week: No. 7)

2010 record 4-8
Overall record (since 2007) 13-35

Four wins, all followed by two losses. That’s how you get to 4-8; that the four-win finish marks an improvement for Tulane under Toledo is upsetting. Can the Green Wave do better? One would think so. Of course, either the university thinks that four wins is fine or it believes better days lie ahead under Toledo — I don’t follow the logic in either scenario.

5. Rick Neuheisel, U.C.L.A. (Last week: No. 8 )

2010 record 4-7
Overall record (since 2008) 15-21

Not reaching bowl eligibility is bad news for Neuheisel. For starters, this was a great time for U.C.L.A. to take a step forward: U.S.C.’s troubles have opened up a hole in the Pac-10, not to mention in the Los Angeles area. In addition, it was vital that Neuheisel continued to build upon the slight progression he team made from 2008 through last season, when the Bruins improved from 4-8 to 7-6. With the Trojans looming, U.C.L.A. might be looking at another 4-8 finish. That’s really not good for Neuheisel.

6. David Bailiff, Rice (Last week No. 6)

2010 record 4-8
Overall record (since 2007) 17-30

Bailiff likely saved his job by winning two straight to end the year. Three weeks ago, when Rice was 2-8, struggling to make ends meet on either side of the ball, it was easy to picture Rice looking elsewhere in 2011 — I had already imagined Major Applewhite, currently an assistant at Texas, being Bailiff’s replacement. However, the last two weeks of the regular season saw Rice play magnificently on offense and slightly better on defense, giving the team some momentum heading into 2011.

7. Dabo Swinney, Clemson (Last week: No. 10)

2010 record 6-6
Overall record (since 2008) 19-14

Swinney’s future depends on the job status of athletic director Terry Don Phillips: if Phillips is asked to resign — not there is much truth to any rumors — Swinney will assuredly be the next to go. Why? If for no other reason, because Clemson deserves better than 606: this is a very good team, one with a star on defense, talent on offense and the wherewithal to have been far more competitive in a weak A.C.C. Atlantic division. Even if Phillips does remain, he might be forced to make a coaching change should Clemson not turn things around in 2011.

8. Dennis Erickson, Arizona State (Last week: No. –)

2010 record 5-6
Overall record (since 2007) 24-24

It’s hard to ignore the following statistic, even if it has been regurgitated far too often: since starting 8-0 in 2007, Erickson’s debut season, the Sun Devils are 16-24. That’s not good; you would have thought, four years ago, that it was far likely to be reversed, that A.S.U. would struggle early before hitting its stride in 2008 and beyond. That hasn’t been the case. While Arizona State lies one win away from six victories heading into tonight’s game against Arizona, it would need an N.C.A.A. dispensation to head to bowl play: two of those five wins have come against F.C.S. competition, which is embarrassing in its own right.

9. Paul Wulff, Washington State (Last week: No. 9)

2010 record 2-9
Overall record (since 2008) 5-31

I’m going to stick by what I’ve said over the last few weeks, since Washington State proved itself to far more competitive in conference play than it had been in each of the last two seasons: Wulff will return in 2011 — if his Cougars put up a good fight in the Apple Cup. Washington State doesn’t even need to win, in my opinion. The Cougars simply need to keep it tight — above all else, Wulff cannot afford to be embarrassed. If his team loses by 30 points, for instance, I could see the university opting to go int a different direction.

10. Larry Porter, Memphis (Last week: No. –)

2010 record 1-11
Overall record (since 2010) 1-11

Porter’s debut season could not have gone much worse: if New Mexico and Akron were bad in 2010, Memphis was atrocious. Like Ron English before him, Porter will be given time — especially on the recruiting trail — to turn things around. However, if Memphis is this bad in 2011, the unthinkable might occur: fans might look back fondly on Tommy West. Yes, it’s a possibility.

Dropped out

Bill Lynch, Indiana (Last week: No. 2)
Rickey Bustle, U.L.-Lafayette (Last week: No. 3)

Previous lists

Week 13 list Mike Locksley, No. 1
Week 12 list Mike Locksley, No. 1
Week 11 list Mike Locksley, No. 1
Week 10 list Mike Locksley, No. 1
Week 9 list Mike Locksley, No. 1
Week 8 list Mike Locksley, No. 1
Week 7 list Mike Locksley, No. 1
Week 6 list Mike Locksley, No. 1
Week 5 list Mike Locksley, No. 1

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  1. tulaneoutlaw says:

    Toledo has already been asked back for next year and given a 1 year extension. I don’t follow the logic of that either. Thought you’d want to know so you could update the list.

    Paul: Those one-year extensions are pretty meaningless. Just removes the “lame duck” label from Toledo and Callaway heading into next season. I still think Toledo deserves to remain on the list, though why Tulane doesn’t think it can do better is a bit confusing.

  2. ibleedcsugreen says:

    UNM AD already announced Locksley is coming back for 2011. I know for a fact Steve Fairchild is back next year as well, but there MIGHT be staff changes (longshot, but possible).

    Paul: Yeah, both were guaranteed of coming back regardless of their finish. But since there aren’t 10 coaches due to lose their job between now and next season, I have to list guys who are simply on the hot seat. Both Locksley and Fairchild are definitely on the hot seat.

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