If you’re a Division I college football head coach and your name isn’t Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh, or Dabo Swinney, you’re officially entering this fall — at least in some capacity — on the hot seat. The sport’s what-have-you-done-for-me-lately culture has spiked to newfound levels, and as former Georgia and current University of Miami coach Mark Richt knows all too well, some are closer to the chopping block than others. Here are five coaches who will have to fight to save their jobs in the 2016 season:
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
The days of the SwagCopter and #YESSIR! hashtags have been replaced by an era of crippling quarterback transfers and rank misogyny. Since Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel left College Station in 2014, the Aggies have gone 7–9 in conference play and have finished near the bottom of the mighty SEC West twice. Graduate transfer Trevor Knight may prove to be a decent one-year rental at QB, but the departures of Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray — as well as the decommitment of prized recruit Tate Martell — have left A&M with a distressingly murky future at the position. Sumlin’s stock has plummeted since the glory days of 2012 and 2013, when the Aggies backed up their hard-partying ways with a 20–6 record and consecutive bowl triumphs. While A&M has committed $5 million per year to Sumlin through 2019, patience is starting to wear thin.
Charlie Strong, Texas
Roughly 106 miles west of College Station, Strong’s seat is similarly ablaze at Texas. In his two seasons in Austin, the Longhorns have gone 11–14, leading just about everyone in the Lone Star State — including the official Twitter account of the Texas Rangers — to call for his dismissal. The school’s Nick Saban rumors will never fully die, and Houston coach Tom Herman seems like a natural successor for the Longhorns … if the Aggies don’t pounce on him first. Accordingly, an upset of Oklahoma (and a giant gold cowboy hat) won’t be enough to save Strong’s job this year. He’ll need to lead Texas to a winning season, perform well down the stretch, and find a goddamn quarterback to replace Colt McCoy. (We know: McCoy left Texas six years ago.)
Les Miles, LSU
Miles was thought to be a dead man walking toward the end of the 2015 campaign, but LSU ultimately decided against making a coaching change, largely because of the massive buyout it would’ve taken to fire him. In turn, the Mad Hatter delivered a superb 2016 recruiting class, which included five-star defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence and 6-foot-7 offensive tackle Willie Allen.
Of course, no one has ever questioned Miles’s ability to attract blue-chip talent to Baton Rouge, but his recruiting prowess hasn’t quite translated to on-field successes in recent years. The Tigers haven’t played in the SEC Championship Game since the 2011 season, and Saban’s astonishing dominance at Alabama has significantly raised expectations for his fellow SEC West coaches. To survive another year, Miles’s best bet is to relentlessly feed junior running back Leonard Fournette and pray that he doesn’t get injured. It should be pointed out: There are worse plans.
Gus Malzahn, Auburn
As is the case with Miles, Malzahn probably doesn’t deserve to be on the hot seat, but I don’t make the rules — I just enforce them. After taking Auburn to the brink of a national title in his debut season as the Tigers head coach, Malzahn’s teams have been decidedly average (and nowhere near as lucky as the famously #blessed 2013 squad), especially compared to Saban’s juggernaut in Tuscaloosa. Sports on Earth’s Matt Brown astutely points out that Malzahn has won only two of his last 11 SEC games, and this season’s schedule is shaping up to be a toughie. Auburn’s opening-night showdown with no. 2 Clemson could set the tone for the rest of the fall, and unfortunately for Malzahn, the predominantly orange Tigers are favored to win by a touchdown.
Side note: I really, really want college football’s top WAG, Kristi Malzahn, to give an interview on her husband’s job security. Remember this gem?
Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
If college football coaches were evaluated solely on the quality of their hair, Holgorsen would be the richest man in the NCAA. Alas, Holgo’s contract only runs through 2017, and West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons may be itching to make his first football hire. (Holgorsen was hired by former AD Oliver Luck, who resigned from his post in December 2014.) While the Mountaineers rebounded nicely from their disastrous 4–8 campaign in 2013 to go 15–11 over the last two seasons, they haven’t been able to keep pace with their primary Big 12 rivals. Last year, they lost to Oklahoma, Baylor, and TCU by a combined 74 points.
If the Mountaineers get off to a slow start this year, two things are likely: Holgo will down even more Red Bulls than usual, and the only thing in Morgantown hotter than Holgorsen’s seat will be all of the burning couches.