BY RALPH D. RUSSO
Mark Helfrich went into last season with a 33-8 record in three years as Oregon coach and an appearance in the national championship game.
He then went 4-8 and was fired. Point is, just about every coach outside of Nick Saban and Urban Meyer can be considered on the hot seat.
For this exercise, let’s narrow the definition: a coach who is in danger of being fired if his team does not improve upon last season. Finances also have to be taken into consideration. Paying an eight-figure buyout is just not something most schools want to do.
Six coaches who need to get better in 2017:
Dave Doeren, North Carolina State
Doeren was in trouble last season, but the Wolfpack beat North Carolina to end the season and give athletic director Debbie Yow an excuse to give him one more shot and concentrate on the basketball program — where a change did end up being made. Doeren is 25-26 in four seasons, with no victories against ACC Atlantic Division rivals Clemson, Florida State and Louisville. The roster has never been better under Doeren and just getting by is unlikely to be good enough again.
Hugh Freeze, Mississippi
Freeze’s status is complicated by the on-going NCAA investigation of his program. By record, Freeze should be fine. Even after going 5-7 in 2016, he is 39-25 in five seasons in Oxford. But that NCAA cloud and sanctions possibly looming puts Freeze in a tight spot if another Rebels’ season ends near the bottom of the SEC West.
Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Kelly knows another clunker after Notre Dame went 4-8 last season would likely force the hand of athletic director Jack Swarbick. Kelly’s position is bolstered by the six-year contract extension he signed after the 2015 season. Notre Dame does not make Kelly’s contract public, but a safe guess is that his buyout is upward of $15 million. Kelly is probably safer than most Notre Dame fans want to believe.
Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
The former Red Raider quarterback started his coaching career 7-0 but is 17-26 since, including 9-23 against the Big 12. There is certainly a desire among many in Lubbock to see Kingsbury succeed, but at this point, the football program is stuck on repeat. Excellent offense. Stunningly bad defense. Kingsbury will likely get one more season to fix this.
Jim Mora, UCLA
Mora’s career arc with the Bruins has been interesting. His hiring did not excite many UCLA fans, but two straight 10-win seasons in Years Two and Three turned around plenty of skeptics and ramped up expectations. Since then, Mora is 12-13 overall and 7-11 in the Pac-12. A healthy Josh Rosen at quarterback alone should make UCLA better than it was last year, but the schedule is tough (Texas A&M, Memphis, Stanford, Washington, USC). UCLA’s $280 million Under Armour deal could make it a lot easier to swallow Mora’s $12 million buyout after this season.
Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
The reality is Arizona probably can’t do much better than Rodriguez as a coach, but the athletic director who hired him (Greg Byrne, now at Alabama) is gone and the Wildcats went 3-9 last year. A modest step forward would likely be enough to keep RichRod safe, but the Wildcats play only six home games and have five Pac-12 road games. Forecasting another three- or four-win season is not a stretch.
Six more coaches in precarious position heading into 2017:
Steve Adazzio, Boston College
David Bailiff, Rice,
Todd Graham, Arizona State
Paul Haynes, Kent State
Butch Jones, Tennessee
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
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