College football programs around the country are beginning their spring practices and are still months away from their 2019 season openers. Still, a number of FBS head coaches are already on the hot seat … in March! Yes, before even playing a single series of football in 2019 these coaches are in desperate need of a turnaround. Otherwise, you’ll see their names among those fired either during or after the coming season.
CHRIS ASH, RUTGERS Ash’s problem is simply the State University of New Jersey’s problem – they joined the Big Ten. Ash, who was the former defensive coordinator at Ohio State, is 7-29 in three seasons at Rutgers. Somehow, he even got a contract extension through the 2022 season from the university after going winless in Big Ten play last season. Ash’s team was so bad last year it got blown out 55-14 by… wait for it… Kansas!
It won’t get any easier in 2019. The Scarlet Knights will play Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State as they do every season. Rutgers might figure it can’t do any worse whether they fire Ash or not, but don’t look for him to be around in 2020.
CLAY HELTON, USC Helton is lucky to still have a job. You simply don’t go from 11-3 to 5-7 at USC and get a mulligan. Apparently, Helton is getting one anyway. The former interim head coach had one of the youngest lineups in the nation a year ago. His quarterback, JT Daniels, skipped his last year of high school and wound up the Trojans starting quarterback. Let that sink in.
After a 5-7 season, the Trojans should improve immensely. They are still uber-talented and most of their starting lineups return in 2019. Expectations will be high and they will need to be met or Helton is going to be shown the door.
WILLIE TAGGART, FSU It was a match made in college football (or heaven). Taggart spent a solid year at Oregon and then returned home to Florida to coach the Seminoles last season. Taggart was to have a starting quarterback returning, a stud running back (Cam Akers), and more in his first season at Florida State. All that turned into a season where the Seminoles had a hard time finding the end zone on offense and couldn’t stop anybody on defense. The result was a 5-7 campaign.
Making matters worse entering 2019 is the quarterback situation where James Blackmon is the only scholarship quarterback in the program. The Seminoles still have tons of talent, but is Year 2 is anything like Year 1 then Year 3 is out the door.
GETTING HOTTER There are several other coaches whose seats might not be as hot as the three coaches above, but they are still sitting on a pretty warm seat. Lovie Smith at Illinois needs some sort of breakthrough. Smith has gone 3-9, 2-10, and 4-8, but his buyout of $12 million might keep him around.
Randy Edsall’s second tour of duty at UConn has not gone as planned. After going 3-9 in 2017, the Huskies went 1-11 and had the nation’s worst defense. UConn gave up over 600 yards per game. If there isn’t some change in 2019, Edsall is likely out.
Kevin Sumlin’s seat at Arizona is noticeably hotter after the Wildcats failed to get to a bowl game. Justin Fuente needs to right the ship at Virginia Tech where he went 6-7 last year. That came after 10-4 and 9-4 seasons in 2016 and ’17. Don’t forget Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, who has a season ticket for a hot seat. After going 8-5 and losing to Tennessee, there are cries for his dismissal. Malzahn is probably safe. If Auburn fires him, they will owe him nearly $30 million.