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The Countdown

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

Need to Know

The 2012 Locksley: Winter Watch List

They’re the survivors. Purdue’s Danny Hope barely nudged into bowl play, removing himself from the hot seat in the process — and landing a contract extension, in fact. George O’Leary’s common flirtations with mediocrity has led him to alter the makeup of his coaching staff, though he remains entrenched at U.C.F. as the program begins its move to the Big East. Another Conference USA head coache, Rice’s David Bailiff, putters along the road to mediocrity yet seems to experience minimal challenges to his job security. Middle Tennessee State’s Rick Stockstill is made of Teflon, if not some similarly strong fluorocarbon solid, as is UTEP’s Mike Price.

They’re all back in 2012, albeit with some staffing changes. Idaho’s Robb Akey will need to replace at least one assistant, if not two. O’Leary will have nearly an entirely new set of defensive assistants. Rice forced Bailiff to relieve his defensive coordinator and running backs coach of their duties. And Stockstill, thanks in part to circumstances outside of his control, will have yet another offensive coordinator in 2012.

They’re survivors: the seat may warm, but the coaches aren’t going anywhere. They will, however, be part of the 2012 Locksley watch list, highlighting coaches — most already on notice — who will enter next fall under a heavy weight of expectations. Those expectations? Improvement, pure and simple, but for more than a handful, it’s bowl or bust.

1. Frank Spaziani, Boston College

2011 record 4-8
Overall (since 2009) 20-19

One can only think — or hope, depending on where you stand — that Spaziani needs to lead the Eagles back into bowl play in 2012. That won’t be an easy task: the offense is already in shambles, and the defense might enter next fall without star linebacker Luke Kuechly, who could opt to forego his final season of eligibility. The problems go deeper than one player, however, and Boston College will be considered heavy underdogs in a fairly strong A.C.C. Atlantic come next August.

2. Dan Enos, Central Michigan

2011 record 3-9
Overall (since 2010) 6-18

Perhaps it’s an unwillingness to admit failure: Central Michigan did make back-to-back inspired hires in Brian Kelly and Butch Jones prior to selecting Enos, then of Michigan State, as Jones’ successor heading into the 2010 season. Enos has done terribly; the Chippewas look nothing like the team that dominated the MAC from 2006-9, and the onus should fall on a coach who has failed to maintain, let alone build upon, the sort of success prevalent under Kelly and Jones.

3. Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee State

2011 record 2-10
Overall (since 2006) 35-40

The Blue Raiders ended the year in such a foul fashion that it would not have been overly surprising to see the university opt to dismiss Stockstill, one of the finest coaches in program history, at the tail end of a 10-loss season. It was that bad — it might have been the worst defensive performance by any team in the country during the regular season. And those 10 losses stand out, especially given the fact that the Blue Raiders were fresh off consecutive bowl berths. But Stockstill’s saving grace is that fact mentioned above: he’s accomplished quite a bit with Middle Tennessee, and he’ll get the benefit of the doubt after a horrific 2011 campaign.

4. David Bailiff, Rice

2011 record 4-8
Overall (since 2007) 23-37

Bailiff won 10 games in 2008, tying Jess Nealy’s school record for wins in a season, but has combined for nine wins over his three remaining years with the program. It’s no surprise that he’ll be in the market for a new defensive coordinator heading into next season: the Owls fired Chuck Driesbach, Bailiff’s coordinator since 2007, after his defense allowed at least 400 points for the fifth consecutive season. Bailiff’s job security is tenuous; the program has taken a substantial step back since 2008, but there is a chance that this year’s young team turns the corner next season.

5. Mike Price, UTEP

2011 record 5-7
Overall (since 2004) 45-52

Is UTEP happy with hovering around .500 every fall? Few programs are, but UTEP is a different breed. Price has been in town long enough to forget what things were like prior to his arrival, but as a reminder: the Miners won more than five games only once from 1989-2003. So he wasn’t walking into Alabama, for instance, though that’s probably not the best comparison to make in this particular situation. For UTEP, the concerns lie in Price’s long-term future with the program: has it grown stale — does UTEP need to make a change — or does he still have enough gas in the tank?

6. Robb Akey, Idaho

2011 record 2-10
Overall (since 2007) 19-43

Let’s just it this way: Idaho could do a whole lot worse. A lot worse. Much, much worse. But Akey may be a victim of his own success. In 2009, he led the Vandals to a completely unforeseeable 8-5 finish capped by a wonderfully wacky bowl win over Bowling Green. Last fall, Akey piloted the Vandals to another six wins; the 14 victories over a two-year span was a program-high since 1998-99. But Idaho bottomed out this fall, sliding back to its pre-2008 level at 2-10. So Akey, thanks in part to the nice two-year stretch, returns to the hot seat. Fair? Unfair? Think of both sides: Akey’s job will be in jeopardy because he has failed to keep Idaho in the WAC race, but he wouldn’t have even reached 2011 had he not had those two nice seasons.

7. Derek Dooley, Tennessee

2011 record 5-7
Overall (since 2010) 12-14

It’s easy to lose patience, especially at Tennessee. But those who deride Dooley’s two-year mark miss the forest for the trees; he inherited a mess, and it was only logical that things would get at least a little worse before they got better. This bad, however? This might have been the worst U.T. team in decades, for starters, and the Volunteers have posted back-to-back losing season — thanks to a bowl loss in 2010 — for the first time in exactly 100 years: 3-5-1 in 1910, 3-4-2 in 1911. Dooley has a strong supporter in new athletic director Dave Hart, but Tennessee needs to show some results in 2012. Anything less than a bowl berth would put Dooley and Hart in a very tight spot.

8. Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech

2011 record 5-7
Overall 13-12

Like the two names that follow him on this list, it’s easy to see Tuberville get at least two more seasons to regain his foothold in Lubbock. Nevertheless, his Red Raiders took enough of a slide in 2011 — from bowl play to 5-7 — to force Tuberville’s hand on his coaching staff, leading Texas Tech to dismiss a pair of coaches and reassign a third. That’s never a good sign. Nor is this: Tuberville’s second season marked Tech’s first losing campaign in 19 years. In potentially worse news, Mike Leach has resurfaced at Washington State; if he wins immediately in Pullman, it may place Tuberville under an even brighter spotlight.

9. Bobby Hauck, U.N.L.V.

2011 record 2-10
Overall (since 2010) 4-21

At some point, Hauck is going to need to show some signs of improvement. And this doesn’t necessarily need to manifest itself in the win column, though an added victory here or there — especially in 2012 — certainly wouldn’t hurt. In 2010, all 11 of U.N.L.V.’s losses came by at least 17 points. That total dropped to nine in 2011, albeit in one fewer game, but that’s not the sort of progression most had looked for in Hauck’s second season. Worse yet: the Rebels lost to New Mexico. With Locksley or without, that’s a pitiful loss.

10. Randy Edsall, Maryland

2011 record 2-10
Overall (since 2011) 2-10

Edsall’s contract — the buyout, more specifically — is prohibitive enough to make his job security one of the strongest among the A.C.C.’s crop of head coaches. But how much can Maryland really take? There are the losses: 10 of ‘em, including eight straight to end the year, and only one win against F.B.S. competition. Then there’s the rampant attrition, with seven players opting to transfer since the end of the regular season. And there’s the failed assistant search: not just Gary Crowton, who was fired after one season, but also defensive coordinator Todd Bradford, who was hired as Edsall’s inside linebackers coach before being promoted following Don Brown’s departure for Connecticut. It was a foul debut.

Also under consideration

George O’Leary, U.C.F.
Danny Hope, Purdue
Todd Berry, Louisiana-Monroe
David Cutcliffe, Duke
Dave Clawson, Bowling Green
Jeff Quinn, Buffalo
Jeff Tedford, California

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  1. michael says:

    still hoping to hear something about the firing of Pat Hill and the hiring of Tim DeRuyter. Any thoughts on that situation?

  2. 4.0 Point Stance says:

    Joker Phillips not even on the watch list? I guess they came on strong… well, stronger… at the end of the year. I think you have Edsall and Tuberville too low. BCS level jobs always come with shorter leashes than non-BCS schools. Edsall had a shorter honeymoon than any coach I’ve ever seen; first time I’ve ever seen serious discussion that a first year coach should be fired. Crowton took the heat, but they’d have been within reasonable bounds in cleaning out the whole AD. Tuberville’s worst nightmare is to muddle through another 5-7 season while Leach takes Wazzu to a bowl.

  3. schedule nit says:

    Every time you mention Mike Price and Alabama together, I have a small heart attack.

    I still root against him, every game.

    Sounds like Tuberville is rounding back into form. Started out 4-0, no less. If it hadn’t been for the Oklahoma meltdown, a nice 0-8 stretch probably would have ended it, no? Granted that was a very tough 8 game schedule.

  4. Lee says:

    Derek Dooley shouldn’t be on the hot seat. He inherited an absolute MESS/TRAIN WRECK. Fulmer had done a pretty descent job of lowering the overall talent level and then Lane “Hbday Britney SPears” Kiffen dropped a tactical nuke on Knoxville and evacted his dad to Los Angelos to avoid the “fall out.”

    Dooley needs 5-6 years to fix this crap. I hope he does because it is always much better for my Gators when the UF/TENN game means something. It has been nothing but a warm up for the last 7-8 years. I think Dooley is a good coach.

    Everyone also forgets how his team got screwed versus LSU and UNC last year. Give him those two wins and his seat would be a lot cooler.

    They will go bowling next year.

  5. Lee says:

    Los Angeles…..$H!T

  6. Wayne says:

    I think karma demands that Mike Leach find immediate success at Washington St just to remind Texas Tech that letting Craig James make decisions concerning their program is a poor, poor idea.

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