College football coaches on the hot seat heading into the season
Kirthmon F. Dozier via Imagn Content Services, LLC

College football coaches on the hot seat heading into the season

What a difference a year makes. One year ago, college coaches weren't sure if there was going to even be a season, let alone able to properly prepare for one. Several conferences ... most notably the Big Ten and Pac-12 ... announced they weren't going to play football in the fall before mounting pressure forced them to change their mind. Most schools played a conference-heavy schedule with no spring game and limited preparation -- and with everything from who you were playing to what players were available to you up in the air.

Despite that, coaches were fired after the most difficult season in memory so there is no cooling down the hot seat no matter what kind of obstacles are thrown in the way.

There is no shortage of coaches who need to show their athletic directors ... and fans ... that they are steering their programs down the right path. There are some big-time programs with big-time questions heading into the 2021 season that need to be answered. With a "normal" season of an offseason and a locked-in schedule, here are some coaches who will need to get it done in 2021 or they may be looking for a new job. 

 
1 of 18

Tom Arth, Akron

Tom Arth, Akron
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, building up Akron was going to be difficult for anyone, but Arth's predecessor ... Terry Bowden ... was able to do so. Arth replaced Bowden and the ship has sunk. After an 0-12 mark in 2019, the Zips sloshed to a 1-5 record in a weird MAC season. The Akron athletics program is in some financial straits, cutting programs and flailing under a new AD. Arth got his name as a successful DIII coach at John Carroll before moving on to a mediocre stint at Chattanooga. For most programs, the financial implications of firing Arth wouldn't be an issue but would Akron be able to swing it while trying to pay a new coach to figure it out? Arth needs to show something to help end that discussion.

 
2 of 18

Dino Babers, Syracuse

Dino Babers, Syracuse
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Nearly any coach coming off a 1-10 season would be sitting on the hot seat, and Babers is no different. Just three years ago, Syracuse had a 10-win season one year after knocking off Clemson and Babers was a buzz-worthy coach. He's won just 6 of 23 games since, with last year's blowout loss to Liberty stinging quite a bit. If the Orange can't trend back towards being somewhat competitive in the ACC, look for a change to be made. 

 
3 of 18

Walt Bell, UMass

Walt Bell, UMass
Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

In two seasons at UMass, Bell's Minutemen have gone 1-15, with the lone win against winless Akron in 2019. Last year's 0-4 season saw the Minutemen outscored 161-12 ... though every game was on the road. In 2019, UMass allowed an FBS-record 52.7 points and 561 yards allowed per game. Bell jumped off the Florida State ship as it was sinking under Willie Taggart but now helms over his own disaster. This UMass job is a tough one -- an independent tucked away in the northeast -- that having a dreadful record isn't shocking, but how bad they have been losing is. 

 
4 of 18

Jeff Brohm, Purdue

Jeff Brohm, Purdue
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Remember back in 2018 when Purdue popped Ohio State and killed the Buckeyes' national championship hopes? For Boilermaker fans, that seems like a long time ago. Since that game, Purdue is 8-16 overall and just 7-13 in league play and the program looks like it's sinking back into the days of Darrell Hazell. They are bringing in one of the lowest-rated recruiting classes in the Big Ten to try to turn this back around. Time could be running out for Brohm. 

 
5 of 18

Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech

Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The 11-year Paul Johnson era with the Yellow Jackets brought a level of success -- nine bowls, seven winning seasons, three ACC title game appearances, and the 2009 ACC championship. Of course, converting Johnson's triple-option attack into Collins' spread offense was going to take some time and roster overhaul, and that has been the case with two three-win seasons. The defense cannot get much worse than what they've been and the offense looks promising with the young, athletic Jeff Sims at quarterback. Success is relative, so if the Jackets hover around the .500 mark, shore up the defense and the offense looks like it's starting to develop into its new identity then Collins should be alright. But if Tech has another 3 or 4 win season and there could be some tough decisions to make. 

 
6 of 18

David Cutcliffe, Duke

David Cutcliffe, Duke
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Cutcliffe has been fantastic for Duke. He turned around a laughingstock program into one that has enjoyed five winning seasons under his watch, including playing in the 2013 ACC championship game. But the Blue Devils have finished 6th in the Coastal Division three out of four seasons before finishing 14th in the 15-team ACC standings last year. Now with longtime athletic director Kevin White retiring from Duke (and the subsequent upcoming retirement of basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski), changes are coming to Durham. Cutcliffe, 66, could be another looming change if the losing continues.

 
7 of 18

Manny Diaz, Miami

Manny Diaz, Miami
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Diaz may be the ACC coach in the biggest trouble. Getting throttled by Alabama happens, but a close win over Appalachian State and a beatdown from Michigan State is alarming. Diaz is a defensive guy and the Hurricanes are not playing well on that side of the ball. A tell-tale sign of a coach's grasp on his team is how many mistakes are being made, and Miami is turning the ball over and giving up too many big plays.

 
8 of 18

Dana Dimel, UTEP

Dana Dimel, UTEP
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We are entering Year Four of the Dimel era in El Paso and things better turn around quickly. Last year was a more respectable showing -- going 3-5, after a pair of 1-11 seasons. Still, those three wins were over Stephen A. Austin, Abilene Christian, and Louisiana-Monroe, they failed to win a conference game for the second straight year (and are 1-19 in Conference USA play under Dimel) and they were throttled by Texas, 59-3. UTEP wasn't going to be an easy fix -- the Miners have had just one winning season in the last 15 years -- but going 5-27 in three years is unacceptable. Substantial progress must be made.  

 
9 of 18

Scott Frost, Nebraska

Scott Frost, Nebraska
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

This should be the year that Frost has Nebraska showing promise -- and equating that with wins. The honeymoon is over for the former Huskers quarterback and the guy who put UCF on the national stage. He is 12-20 in three seasons and now has his recruits in place to start to turn this thing around. Nebraska has been spinning in place since joining the Big Ten and they don't want to have to replace another coach. Frost already has more losses in fewer games than Mike Riley, the man he replaced, which means that he doesn't have much more time to stall.

 
10 of 18

Justin Fuente, Virgina Tech

Justin Fuente, Virgina Tech
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

When your AD says, "I understand the hot-seat talk, and the best way to get off that is to win some games and do it right, so that's what we're planning on doing", that's not the most ringing endorsement. After all, that comes after a 5-6 season where the Hokies' 27-year bowl streak came to an end. One of the most stable programs in America under Frank Beamer has turned into a mess under Fuente, and he may have already been fired if not for an expensive buyout during tough financial times. If Tech cannot be a contender in an improving ACC Coastal Division, it may be time to move on. 

 
11 of 18

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
Kirthmon F. Dozier via Imagn Content Services, LLC

You would think that by now, Harbaugh's seat would be scalding hot. Michigan can't beat Ohio State (they didn't even play them in 2020) and can't get into a Big Ten championship game, let alone win one. He is just 1-4 in bowl games. Yet he signed a contract extension and got a vote of confidence from the athletic director so it seems that, in the short term, his job is relatively safe. Still, if the Wolverines have a devastating start to the season -- one that everyone expects to be just mediocre, to begin with -- he could find himself out. 

 
12 of 18

Dana Holgorsen, Houston

Dana Holgorsen, Houston
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Remember, Holgorsen was the West Virginia head coach who left a Power 5 job to come to Houston to take over the Cougars. Now he's entering his third year in Houston and this might be a make-or-break season. After going 4-8 in 2019, his Cougars cobbled together a 3-5 record despite getting hit hard by COVID cancellations (their first five games of the season were axed). The defense has been lacking and a program that was getting a lot of buzz a few years ago has lost its mojo. This is a manageable schedule, with no Cincinnati or UCF on the slate. There are expectations that, if not met, could force a change. 

 
13 of 18

Chip Kelly, UCLA

Chip Kelly, UCLA
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Clay Helton isn't the only college coach in Los Angeles who is on the hot seat. In 2017, the UCLA Bruins went all-in on Chip Kelly and it hasn't paid off yet. Kelly is 10-21 in Westwood and those high-octane offenses he's known for haven't exactly happened. The 2020 season was better, as their 3-4 record featured really close losses to Colorado, Oregon, USC, and Stanford, so things are trending up. Still, the Bruins look nothing like Kelly's Oregon teams that dominated the Pac-12 a decade ago and the cross-town Trojans seemingly are ahead of the curve at this moment. 

 
14 of 18

Mike Leach, Mississippi State

Mike Leach, Mississippi State
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The good news? Leach's first game at Mississippi State was a 10-point win at defending champion LSU. The bad news? The Bulldogs lost the next four games by a total score of 114-30. Mississippi State got to a bowl game, but that was despite a 3-7 record and an awkward bowl season where some really bad teams qualified for bowls. It was already going to be interesting to see if Leach's style was going to work in the SEC and it was a mixed bag in 2020. With a more normal offseason to implement his offense, maybe the SEC defenses will have a tougher time slowing the Bulldogs down. But with Lane Kiffin getting off to a better start at Ole Miss, Leach may not survive another ugly season.  

 
15 of 18

Doug Martin, New Mexico State

Doug Martin, New Mexico State
Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Martin's situation is a bit different than most coaches on this list. After going 5-19 in the last two seasons in Las Cruces, the Aggies shut down their football program in 2020 due to the pandemic. They would reappear in February to play two games, a 26-point loss to Tarleton State and a 7-point win over Dixie State. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for where the Aggies program is at. In seven seasons, Martin's Aggies have won more than three games just once. 

 
16 of 18

Mike Norvell, Florida State

Mike Norvell, Florida State
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Maybe saying Norvell is on the hot seat is a bit premature. He just entering his second season at Florida State with his first coming during the pandemic. The Seminoles went 3-7 last year with a win over North Carolina to their credit (along with Duke and Jacksonville State). This is Florida State, though, who reached elite status under both Bobby Bowden and Jimbo Fisher and were quick to dump Willie Taggart after two lackluster seasons. Norvell has overhauled the roster, ridding himself of the players that didn't like playing for him (most originally signed to play for Fisher or Taggart) and brought in UCF transfer McKenzie Milton. While being a contender in the Atlantic Division would be great, just looking like a team on the rise should be enough to keep Norvell around. Another sunken season could force FSU to look for yet another coach. 

 
17 of 18

Jeff Scott, South Florida

Jeff Scott, South Florida
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

USF went 1-8 last season, Scott's first, and began 2021 getting destroyed by NC State and Florida by a combined score of 87-20. The Bulls did beat Florida A&M, but the schedule still has Cincinnati and road trips to BYU, UCF and SMU. This was a program that was competing for AAC titles not too long ago and just watched the Big 12 expand without them. If Scott can't get this team competitive, they may have to cut bait. 

 
18 of 18

Matt Wells, Texas Tech

Matt Wells, Texas Tech
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Tech has been kind of a mess since Mike Leach left in 2009. The Red Raiders haven't had a winning Big 12 record since and have only reached a bowl game in five of 11 seasons. The problem is that things have gotten worse under Wells, who followed up a 4-8 season in 2019 with a 4-6 mark last year (and losing 13 of 18 league games). What may save Wells is money: his contract (which ends in 2024) is favorable for him if he gets fired, and would come off the heels of buying out Kliff Kingsberry in 2018 and buying out Wells' contract at Utah State. The Big 12 is more competitive, top to bottom, and Tech has been falling by the wayside.  

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