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It may be hard to believe, but we have reached the midseason point in college football. For some head coaches, that means the clock is ticking on whether they will have the same job next season. Whether head coaches like it or not, the college football coaching carousel never stops spinning.
Head coaches get fired every season, and there are plenty of factors that contribute to athletic directors’ decisions. Most of the time it’s on-field performance, including wins and losses. But things like recruiting and other off-the-field things are factors, as well. Let’s run through which coaches are on the hot seat after Week 6 of college football.
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It’s been just two seasons since the Tigers won a national championship under Ed Orgeron. But since that national title won with quarterback and future No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Joe Burrow, LSU has gone 8-8 under Orgeron. LSU finished 2020 5-5 with losses to unranked Mississippi State, Missouri and Auburn. That paired with losses to Alabama and Texas A&M caused the Tigers to miss out on a bowl game for the first time since 1999.
There have been other issues, as well. Orgeron was added as a defendant over the summer in a Title IX lawsuit against LSU. The head coach was accused of failing to report a student’s allegation of rape made against Tigers running back Derrius Guice to the school’s Title IX office.
On the field, LSU is just one of four teams since 1936 (when the modern AP Poll era began) to go 9-7 or worse in its next 16 games after its national title, per ESPN Stats and Info. TCU went 6-10 after it won the 1938 title, Minnesota went 9-7 after its 1941 title and Auburn went 9-7 after its national championship in 2010.
LSU dropped to 3-3 last week after a 42-21 loss to Kentucky; the Tigers lost 24-19 to Auburn the week before. Unfortunately for Orgeron, it doesn’t look like he will return to winning ways anytime soon. LSU plays No. 20 Florida this week, where the Tigers are currently 11.5-point underdogs at home. LSU then has three more games against ranked opponents, including at No. 13 Ole Miss, at No. 5 Alabama following a bye and No. 17 Arkansas at home on Nov. 13. The Tigers then get Louisiana-Monroe at home before the season finale against No. 21 Texas A&M. So yeah, it seems unlikely that LSU will even finish at .500 this year.
LSU has had a number of key players go down to season-ending injuries, too—the list includes starting cornerbacks Derek Stingley Jr. and Eli Wicks leading receiver Kayshon Boutte. Losing key players is a stroke of bad luck for any head coach, but Orgeron’s time in Baton Rouge appears to be running out.
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In four seasons at Nebraska, head coach Scott Frost has gone 15-24, including a 3-4 record so far in 2021. Although the Cornhuskers came close to upsetting No. 8 Michigan last week, moral victories won’t be enough to keep Frost at the end of the season. The Huskers were tied with Michican with 1:45 left in the game, but a fumble by quarterback Adrian Martinez allowed the Wolverines to kick a game-winning 39-yard field goal to win it.
The loss to Michigan brings Frost’s record to 0-3 against the Wolverines, 0-10 vs. ranked opponents, and 5-16 in games that are decided by just one possession.
“We’ve been close for a while,” Frost told ESPN ahead of last week’s game. “We’re really close now. We’ve got a team that can compete with just about anybody. Then, once you’ve built that team, it’s learning how to win, then it’s learning how to handle winning. We’re right in the middle of all that.”
Nebraska still has some tough games left on its schedule, too. This week the Huskers go on the road to face Minnesota, who has beaten Nebraska two years in a row. After a bye week, the team faces Purdue at home before hosting No. 6 Ohio State. Nebraska’s final two games of the season include a road trip to face Wisconsin before the season finale against No. 2 Iowa. If Frost can upset either Ohio State or Iowa, that might be enough to have him stick around for a fifth season in Lincoln. The other factor that may help give Frost one more year is Nebraska’s new athletic director. Bill Moos, who hired Frost in Dec. 2017, announced his retirement over the summer.
“The programs that are successful, it’s not just XYZ coach is so successful,” new Nebraska AD Trev Alberts said via ESPN. “It is an athletic department, university-wide culture commitment, unity of purpose. I’m not sure that Scott was the beneficiary of that necessarily.”
We’ll see if Frost can put together a winning season for the first time ever at Nebraska this year.
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Miami Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz is still in his third season as the Canes head coach, but things aren’t going too well. Although Miami entered the season as the No. 14 team in the country, the Canes got blown out by No. 1 Alabama in Week 1 and things have gone downhill from there. In Week 2, the Canes nearly lost to Appalachian State at home, kicking a 43-yard field goal with 2:04 left to ultimately win it 25-23. Miami lost to Michigan State the next week.
In Week 5, the Canes lost in disastrous fashion at home to Virginia. Trailing the entire game, the Canes offense got the ball back with 5:29 to go down 30-28 in the fourth. Miami drove to Virginia’s 14-yard line, and UVA called a timeout with 1:37 left. Instead of attempting to score a touchdown, Miami ran three straight run plays for no gain to drain the clock ahead of a 33-yard field-goal attempt. Of course, the kick doinked off the left upright to give UVA the win.
What’s worse is that Miami will be without its starting quarterback going forward. Earlier this week, the school announced D’Eriq King will have season-ending shoulder surgery stemming from an injury he suffered earlier in the year. True freshman QB Tyler Van Dyke, who threw for 203 yards and a touchdown in the loss to UVA, will be the starter moving forward.
How Miami’s remaining schedule will go is anyone’s guess in a wide open ACC Coastal. This week, the Canes go on the road to face North Carolina, which has defeated Miami two years in a row. Miami then gets No. 22 NC State at home before finishing its season with five straight division opponents. Most notably, the Canes cap the year with a road trip to Florida State, a home game against Virginia Tech before ending the regular season with a trip to Duke.
While Miami may want to move on from Diaz after this season regardless, it may not be able to afford to. The head coach has an $8 million buyout on his current contract, which could make hiring whoever they’d want a bit tricky.
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The Wazzu head coach is still in just his second season as the Cougs’ head coach. But thanks to a state COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all state employees, there are several questions surrounding Nick Rolovich’s future in Pullman, Wash.
In July, the head coach said publicly that he declined the vaccine for personal reasons. But in August, Washington governor Jay Inslee announced that he would be expanding the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate to include all school employees, including coaches at the state’s colleges and universities. That includes Rolovich as the football team’s head coach at Wazzu. The state is giving employees until Oct. 18 to get vaccinated, and Rolovich has reportedly applied for a religious exemption from getting vaccinated, per Brent Schrotenboer of USA Today:
At WSU, applications for religious exemptions are reviewed by a committee and are ‘blinded’ so that the reviewers don’t know who the applicant is, according to [WSU spokesperson Phil] Weiler, who explained the process generally.
‘The religious exemption questions ask requestors to explain specifically what tenets of their religious practice prevent them from being vaccinated or from receiving other types of medical care,’ Weiler said. In addition, they are asked to explain why they consider this to be a ‘sincerely held belief.’
Per the Seattle Times, the state of Washington has granted seven requests for religious exemptions out of 3,891 requests as of Sept. 6. If Rolovich’s exemption request is denied, the head coach could be at risk of losing his job as Wazzu’s head coach given the state’s mandate. That’s a decision that will be left for Cougs’ AD Pat Chun and school president Kirk Schulz.
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Gerry Broome/Associated Press
‘Noles head coach Mike Norvell’s second season in Tallahassee didn’t get off to the best start. FSU opened the season 0-4, including an embarrassing home loss to Jacksonville State. The loss marked the first time in school history that the ‘Noles fell to an FCS team. The ‘Noles’ start was also the first 0-4 start since 1974.
The good news for Norvell is that since that rocky start, Florida State got its first win of the season at home during Week 5 against Syracuse, winning 33-30, and then followed that with a 35-25 road win against North Carolina. The ‘Noles entered that game as 17.5-point underdogs.
This week, the ‘Noles have a bye week before facing 1-5 UMass on Oct. 23. After that, it’s the start of arguably the toughest stretch of Florida State’s season thus far. First, the ‘Noles visit Clemson on Oct. 30, followed by a home game against No. 22 NC State. And then it’s Miami at home before finishing their season on the road against Boston College and in-state rival No. 20 Florida. UMass and Miami might be the only two winnable games in that stretch for now.
While a losing season in 2021 would give Florida State its fourth straight year below .500, Norvell’s contract may be the biggest reason he stays next season. Florida State paid former head coach Willie Taggart over $14 million when he was fired midseason in 2019. The school gave Norvell a six-year, $26.5 million contract when he was hired in Dec. 2019. Florida State may be ready to move on from Norvell by the time this season is over, but it may not have the money to do so.
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Justin Fuente has been the head man in Blacksburg for six seasons, and he has compiled a 41-28 record in that time. While the Hokies have been to four bowl games during Fuente’s tenure, Tech has won the ACC Coastal just once—during Fuente’s first season on 2016. The Clemson Tigers defeated the Hokies 38-10 in the ACC Championship that year.
VT’s 5-6 season last year marked the second losing season for the Hokies under Fuente. Although the Hokies opened this season with an upset win over No. 10 North Carolina, VT is now 3-2 on the year with losses to West Virginia and Notre Dame. Not to mention UNC has fallen to 3-3 on the season, so that win has lost a lot of its luster. Although Tech kept things entertaining throughout its game against the Fighting Irish, the defense gave up 10 points late in the fourth quarter, including a 48-yard field goal with 17 seconds left to give ND a 31-29 win.
As far as what Fuente could do to get a winning season and perhaps keep his job for one more year, winning the ACC Coastal would help. As it stands now, the Hokies are second in the division standings behind Pitt thanks to the win over UNC. VT gets Pitt at home on oct. 23, followed by a home game against Syracuse before traveling to Georgia Tech on Oct. 30. The Hokies’ last three games of the season are just as critical, including vs. Duke on Nov. 13, at Miami on Nov. 20 and a road trip to face in-state rival Virginia to close out the regular season.
If Fuente fails to win the Coastal and puts together his third losing season in four years instead, it might be hard to justify VT keeping him for one more season.
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Texas Tech hasn’t been able to do much ever since former Red Raiders coach Mike Leach left in 2009. That still holds true for Matt Wells, who was hired in Lubbock after compiling a 44-34 record at Utah State. Wells led the Aggies to four bowl game appearances in his six seasons there. Unfortunately, that winning blueprint hasn’t carried over for Wells at Tech. The Red Raiders are 12-16 under him, and they have yet to have a winning season. Although Tech is currently sitting at 4-2, the toughest part of its schedule remains in front.
The end of October through November looks the most ominous, featuring a game at No. 4 Oklahoma on Oct. 30, followed by a bye before playing Iowa State at home Nov. 13. The Red Raiders then finish the season with No. 12 Oklahoma State at home and a road trip to 5-1 Baylor on Nov. 27.
If Wells can manage to put together a winning, bowl-eligible season, he might be able to stick around for one more year. Given the stretch of games Tech has in front of it, that may be easier said than done. If not, it wouldn’t be too surprising if Tech decides to move on from Wells. Tech could have a number of head coaching candidates eager to get the Red Raiders back to their winning ways. Current SMU head coach Sonny Dykes, Arkansas offensive coordinator Kendal Briles and Ole Miss OC Jeff Lebby would all be interesting candidates for the job.