The college football landscape is quite the carousel of trust and support. One minute as a coach you can be as beloved as any man in the state and the next, they have your head on a stick ready to throw you to the wolves. Each season, the names of those in need for a major turnaround are well known and 2012 will bring no exception to that. While some may have a little leverage, each guy on this list could really use a strong season to take some of the heat off of him. As we look at the coaches facing the most pressure to win in 2012, lets remember that your standing is only as strong as your most recent season and any guy here could be safe next season if he takes the right steps this year.
Frank Spaziani, Boston College
Record: 20-19 (3 years)
It has been a tough few years for coach Spaziani after he was asked to replace Jeff Jagodzinski, who was canned by the Eagles for interviewing for an NFL position before the 2009 season. Despite being with the Eagles program for 15 years now, Spaziani hasn’t gotten the results to match a program that was a competitive team for a number of years and in 2007 climbed as high as #2 in the BCS Standings with Matt Ryan. Spaziani has had a falling out with some assistants who went on to take different jobs elsewhere and has struggled to recruit the talent level the Eagles had been bringing in for a number of years. The toughest part of the whole ordeal is Spaziani was a terrific assistant, producing elite running back Mike Cloud when he became the team’s running backs coach. After only two seasons, he took over the defense that became a staple of the Eagles program and was regularly among the best in the Big East. Like Wade Phillips and Norv Turner in the NFL, the question is whether he is just in over his head as a head coach. The Eagles have maxed out at eight wins in his three years as head coach and lost their two bowl appearances during that span. Last season was a tough one to pin solely on Spaziani as the Eagles offense was a mess from the get-go and the quarterback play the team possessed wasn’t going to give them a chance to win many games. Leading rusher Montel Harris missing just about the entire season with a knee injury didn’t help matters any either. With an emerging Clemson team and Florida State (still) “back”, the Eagles have a steep climb to get back into competing for Atlantic Division titles. This years recruiting class is ranked 11th out of 12 in the ACC and it doesn’t appear much help is on the way. The one thing going for him is AD Gene DiFilippo seems to be bending over backwards in support for him, but how long can he stand behind a guy who won three games last year? He was given an extension through 2015 a couple years ago but his presence hasn’t helped recruiting and if there’s one thing that can save you during tough seasons, it is recruiting. I’m really not sure what Spaz has going for him at this point.
Derek Dooley, Tennessee
Record: 11-14 (2 years)
There may not be a coach in America facing more pressure in 2012 than Derek Dooley. The son of legendary Georgia Bulldogs coach Vince Dooley, who won six SEC titles and one national championship, Dooley inherited a Vols program in 2010 that was going through a bit of a rocky period. Moving onto their third coach in as many years, they had quite a bit of turnover and as a result have struggled. The most surprising thing perhaps about his hire was his track record before the Volunteers brought him in. Dooley was the head coach at Louisiana Tech for three years and only had one winning season during that time frame. He was coming off a 4-8 record, including 3-5 in the WAC, which tied for fifth when he was chosen to replace Lane Kiffin in Knoxville. His first year saw struggles as his team had to rally to win four straight to end the year to gain bowl eligibility before losing to North Carolina in the Music City Bowl. This past season, the Volunteers’ record probably didn’t reflect his performance as much as it did injuries. The Vols lost QB Tyler Bray and WR Justin Hunter for significant parts of the season and the quaterbacks behind Bray simply made it very difficult to win each week as neither were ready for the job. Still, that has not stopped the criticism from falling on his shoulders. An end of the season loss to Kentucky, which snapped a 26 game winning streak in the series, kept the Vols from appearing in a bowl game. When you combine that with the fact the Vols had their first back-to-back losing seasons in 100 years these past two seasons, it is no wonder he faces so much scrutiny. Considering this program fired a coach who won an SEC East title the year before he was fired and owned a national title, Dooley really has little room to expect much. The one dilemma staring Tennessee in the face is a $5 million price tag that was negotiated into his initial contract that would be the required payout if he is fired before February 15th, 2013. Still, with an athletic department as elite as Tennessee’s, I can’t imagine they’d let that price hinder them from relieving a coach they want out. With Bray and Hunter back to join Da’Rick Rodgers and a very solid secondary, it may very well be eight wins or bust for Dooley if he wants to be on the sidelines of Tennessee in 2013.
Randy Edsall, Maryland
Record: 2-10 (1 year)
It takes a special kind of failure to be put on this list after only one year on the job but Randy Edsall found a way to pull it off. Edsall was supposed to be a stud when he came to Maryland after leading the Connecticut Huskies to a Fiesta Bowl appearance in his last year on the job. By all accounts, Edsall had the credentials to come down to Maryland and continue building the program Ralph Friedgen had fluctuated up and down with during his ten seasons as coach. However, things really couldn’t have gone much worse for Maryland last season. Coming off a 9-4 season including an end of season bowl win that kept them in the top 25, the Terrapins were confident with a young talented QB and young coach that their program was on the rise. Yet, the team seemed to peak on opening night, winning a Monday night opener vs Miami before losing ten of their final eleven games. The Terrapins lost to Clemson by blowing a huge second half lead. They were blown out at home by Temple. Then, they finished the season with another blown lead against North Carolina State. Danny O’Brien, the young quarterback who had been so good for them the year before, struggled immensely and ultimately ended up in Edsall’s dog house, giving way to C.J Brown. However, the end of the season didn’t spell the end of the trouble for Edsall. O’Brien elected to transfer to Wisconsin, one of twenty four players to leave the program since he took over. The team also will have new coordinators on both sides of the ball this upcoming year. There’s still five years left on Edsall’s deal, which makes it a hefty price to relieve him but that’s not stopping some in the Maryland fanbase from voicing their opinions. Things can’t get much worse for Edsall in year two, so I expect him to bounce back this year with a more respectable season. Still, he’s feeling as much heat as any coach in college football this year.
Mike Riley, Oregon State
Record: 72-63 (11 years)
We’ve seen this story from Mike Riley at Oregon St. In fact, if his first two years at Oregon St. were an indication of what could be expected down the road then perhaps he doesn’t belong on this list at all. After leaving to take the Chargers job in 1999, he eventually returned to Oregon St. in 2003 to continue the progress the program had made under Dennis Erickson, including a Fiesta Bowl blowout win over Notre Dame. From 2003-2009, the Beavers won at least seven games six times and only missed the postseason once. Five of those six bowl trips resulted in wins and perhaps most importantly the Beavers were neck and neck with state rival Oregon during most years. Riley had the ability to bring in a number of talented teams and keep them in PAC-12 contention, although they were only able to take that next step and compete for a BCS berth once. With a shot at the Rose Bowl on the line, the Ducks blew out Oregon St. 65-38. After a stretch of big upsets over top-ranked Pac-12 teams, the Beavers have fallen on hard times. It started in 2010 when a Beavers team that was picked as a preseason top 25 team by many fell on its face, finishing 5-7 and having to watch Oregon celebrate a trip to the national championship game on their field. Last year was a mess from the beginning as Oregon St. finished the year 3-9 with only one win over a team with a winning record. One other thing that certainly can’t be helping Riley is Oregon’s emergence from just a PAC-12 contender to a national power. The Ducks have become a team in the top 10 nearly every year under Chip Kelly and have expanded their recruiting gap over the Beaves. Mike Riley is a good football coach. He’s proven that many times. Now, it’s just a question of whether he can again start bringing in the talent required to compete. With his extension through 2019, he has some leverage due to a hefty buyout, but he’s certainly feeling the heat heading into 2012.
Jeff Tedford, California
Record: 79-48 (9 years)
When compared to the other names on this list, one may look at Jeff Tedford’s record and wonder how a guy 31 games over .500% finds himself on this list with the others. For Tedford, he’s done very well for himself at Cal after taking over in 2002. Since that time he’s only had one losing season, finished in the top four of the conference six times, earned a split of a conference title, and has coaches numerous NFL talents under his watch. That list includes DeSean Jackson, Marshawn Lynch, Jahvid Best, and Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers. The problem for Tedford is one that plagues many coaches in their career: His past success is hurting him. Tedford had California competing for conference crowns early in his tenure and had his 2004 team finish the year in the top 10. In 2007, the Golden Bears started 5-0 and climbed as high as number two in the polls before losing six games that season, a collapse that made it hard to deflect criticism. The last three season,s Tedford has maxed out at eight wins and hasn’t won a bowl game in that frame. After his early success, he was paid for his accomplishments and as a result is one of the higher paid coaches in America. At $2.8 million this season, Tedford will be tied for the 17th-highest paid coach in America ahead of guys like Frank Beamer, Brady Hoke, Mark Dantonio, Bret Bielema, and Bill Snyder. Considering Cal has been finishing around 6th-7th most years in the conference, one has to wonder if that investment is starting to look questionable to the athletic department. It used to be just Oregon, Stanford and USC ahead of Cal in the Pac-12 pecking order but in the new divisional format they’ve watched Washington surge past the Bears. They know Tedford can coach, but how long do you allow a guy to correct a program that seems to have plateaued? That seems to be the question California has to ponder.
Some others I’ll be watching: Tommy Tuberville (Texas Tech), Joker Phillips (Kentucky), Kevin Wilson (Indiana), DeWayne Walker (New Mexico St), David Cutcliffe (Duke), Dan Enos (Central Michigan), Skip Holtz (USF) and yes, even Will Muschamp (Florida).