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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Pat Forde

Forde-Yard Dash: Who’s on the Hot Seat?

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where goal posts keep going swimming:

First Quarter: Culture of Excess | Second Quarter: Heisman Watch

Third Quarter: Hot Seats Everywhere

No head coaches have been fired yet this season, an unusual show of restraint in recent times. But coordinators have started to go, most notably Iowa OC Brian Ferentz last week and USC DC Alex Grinch (21) this week. Those two have one thing in common: They should have been fired last year. Retaining them after bad 2022 performances did their respective teams no favors.

Where else is change looming? The Dash offers some heat checks on coordinators and head coaches.

Napier will likely get another season himself, but staffing changes should be mandatory in Gainesville. 

Kim Klement Neitzel/USA TODAY Sports

Florida (22). To the disappointment of some fans, the school administration has little appetite for firing Billy Napier, whose record thus far in Gainesville is 11–11 with difficult upcoming games at LSU, at Missouri and home against Florida State. Florida has been through a spin cycle of Will Muschamp (four years), Jim McElwain (three years) and Dan Mullen (four years), so another quick change is not the answer. Napier has recruiting going in the right direction, and he should get another season to show he can improve the on-field product.

That said, staff changes should be mandatory. Nobody is more disposable than special teams “GameChanger” coordinator Chris Couch, whose units have been a mess this season and reinforced that point at the end of regulation Saturday against Arkansas. Positioned for a 39-yard field goal for the win in the final seconds of regulation, the Gators’ kicking team was hit with an illegal substitution penalty. Pushed back five yards, they missed from 44 and lost in overtime to a 2–6 team.

Then there is defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong, whose hiring from Southern Mississippi was considered a coup but hasn’t worked out very well. Florida's 6.76 yards allowed per play in conference games is last in the SEC, and it has given up more than six yards per play in every league game.

Wisconsin (23). The Luke Fickell makeover is also going to require more time. He went 4–8 his first year at Cincinnati before jumping up to 11 wins in Year 2, and the Badgers will be hoping for a similarly sharp upward trajectory from what is currently a 5–4 dud of a season.

Injuries to star running back Braelon Allen, valuable backup Chez Mellusi and starting quarterback Tanner Mordecai caught up with Wisconsin in a deflating loss to Indiana on Saturday. But really, coordinator Phil Longo’s Air Raid offense has been trending downward for several weeks. In September, the Badgers averaged 34.3 points per game, 428 yards per game and 6.1 yards per play. Since then: 15.8 points per game, 334 yards per game and 4.6 yards per play. Yes, the competition has gotten tougher in recent weeks, but the offensive makeover has been a struggle for a team that was expected to rise to the modest heights of the top of the Big Ten West.

Mississippi State (24). First-year head coach Zach Arnett was a quick hire after the death of Mike Leach by an interim athletic director, and he comes with a cheap buyout. While slipping below .500 and scoring a total of 23 points in their last three games, the Bulldogs have acutely felt the loss of quarterback Will Rogers to a shoulder injury. Rogers told ESPN’s Tom Hart that he will be back for the Egg Bowl, but the Bulldogs could be 5–6 at that point and simply trying to salvage a bowl bid—is that good enough for athletic director Zac Selmon to retain a coach he didn’t hire?

Syracuse (25). For the second straight season, the Orange have spit the bit after a promising start. Last year Syracuse won its first six games and finished 7–6; this year it won its first four and has lost its next five, most of them badly. In Year 8 of muddling along with Dino Babers, the school has to decide how much it cares about chasing football success. If Babers gets another season he might need to change offensive coordinators; Jason Beck is leading a unit that is averaging 8.8 points per game in ACC play. Yes, there have been key injuries, but those happen to virtually everyone. Syracuse needed to have a backup QB better prepared than Carlos Del Rio-Wilson, who has thrown six interceptions in his last 28 passes. Yikes.

LSU (26). Fans are howling for the head of defensive coordinator Matt House, who is in danger of becoming the Alex Grinch of the SEC. House’s unit has scuttled any playoff hopes and is doing great damage to Jayden Daniels’s Heisman Trophy candidacy. The Tigers have given up an average of 47.3 points in their three losses, and twice have allowed more than 30 points in wins. Alabama converted 11 of 14 third downs against LSU on Saturday as the Tigers repeatedly failed to corral quarterback Jalen Milroe and get off the field.

Cincinnati (27). The Bearcats are working through a bad case of buyer’s remorse. For reasons that remain unclear—perhaps panic—they hired a heavily unpopular Scott Satterfield away from Louisville, a move that saved the Cardinals the expense of firing him and paved the way to hire massive upgrade Jeff Brohm. Satterfield inherited a Cincinnati program that had waning talent from its recent glory days, just in time for the tougher competition of the Big 12. The result is a 2–7 record, 0–6 in league play. The Bearcats haven’t had more takeaways than giveaways since the season opener against FCS Eastern Kentucky. Satterfield assuredly will be given more than a single rebuilding year, but some of his assistants might not be.

Arkansas (28). Beating Florida on Saturday was big for Sam Pittman for multiple reasons. It offered a ray of happiness for Razorbacks fans in a dismal season, but it also guaranteed that his buyout will be $16 million, which might be more than the school wants to spend. Pittman’s contract calls for him to get 75% of his remaining salary if his record from 2021 to the present is .500 or better, and beating the Gators gets him to 19–16 with three games left this season. After already eating nearly $3 million in firing offensive coordinator Dan Enos just eight games into a three-year contract, Arkansas might need to hold its powder regarding Pittman and give him a fifth season—especially if he can rally this 3–6 group to bowl eligibility.

Miami (29). The Hurricanes hired alum Mario Cristobal away from Oregon to be their program savior, but so far he’s a high-priced disappointment. Cristobal’s two-season record is 11–10, including the ghastly coaching mismanagement that cost The U the game against Georgia Tech and a brutal 20–6 loss to North Carolina State on Saturday. He’s already rinsed his coordinators after last year’s 5–7 bust, so it remains to be seen where Cristobal will go in preparation for year three.

The one tradition Cristobal is keeping alive is Miami’s heritage of quarterback controversies. Tyler Van Dyke has gone from rising star in 2021 to people calling for his benching in ’23, particularly after throwing zero touchdowns and five interceptions in the Hurricanes’ last two games. At varying points over the last 15 years, Miami fans have anointed Jacory Harris, Stephen Morris, Brad Kaaya, Malik Rosier, Jarren Williams and N’Kosi Perry as the Next Big Thing, only to eventually grow cold on almost all of them and seek someone else.

At the school that once celebrated Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde, Gino Torretta, Steve Walsh and Ken Dorsey, Van Dyke is the latest QB they have fallen out of love with.

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