Akron's firing of third-year head coach Tom Arth this week makes sense in the win-loss column, but not anywhere else. Arth was in his second season of a turnaround at FCS Chattanooga when he was hired by the Zips in 2018, and he leaves Akron with a 3-24 record. That's a brutal mark, but when you consider that Akron built from zero wins in '19 to one in '20 to two wins this season (and they almost completed a furious fourth-quarter comeback against Ball State Tuesday night before Zach Gibson's fumble in the red zone), progress has been measurable for the basement program.
Along with Northeast Ohio rival Kent State, Akron has occupied the bottom of the MAC for quite a while, and in a conference known for its fluidity among programs, the Zips' ineptitude has stood out even as Kent's Sean Lewis has turned around the Golden Flashes program.
Before Arth, journeyman head coach Terry Bowden went 35-52 in seven seasons and finished with more than six wins only twice. That's worth noting now because Bowden was hired by lowly ULM this offseason and has the Warhawks off to a surprising 4-4 start, including an upset of Liberty.
So is the problem Akron, or the coaches the school hires? It’s not an easy question to answer, and it's one that a handful of other doormats are in the process of figuring out as well:
Rice's Mike Bloomgren, who sought to bring a Stanford blueprint to Texas, is 10-28 in his fourth season. The Owls haven't won more than three games in a season under Bloomgren, who replaced the fired David Bailiff (57-80 overall). If Bloomgren's Stanford plan fails, the Owls will be at a major crossroads trying to develop a consistent identity as a tough academic destination with small resources in a football-mad state.
UNLV's Marcus Arroyo just got to Vegas, but the Runnin' Rebels are 0-14 since he took over for Tony Sanchez (20-40 overall). It's never a good thing when the athletic director who hires you leaves, and Arroyo just lost Desiree Reed-Francois to Missouri. Arroyo literally needs to win now, even if it's just once.
Texas State's Jake Spavital is 7-25 in San Marcos and is now known primarily as the first college head coach in the history of Texas to take an entire signing class without a high school player. Contrast that with Jeff Traylor's success at UTSA, and Spav's days are all but over. The problem for Texas State is that this program has never found its place in the increasingly competitive Sun Belt, and it won’t get any easier.
North Texas: Another Lone Star program, North Texas, seems to be approaching a brutal decision with long-time head coach Seth Littrell. The Mean Green are 2-6, and Littrell is now 10-20 since back-to-back nine-win seasons in 2017 and '18. Entering the 2018-19 coaching carousel, Littrell was a very hot commodity and almost became the successor to Bill Snyder at Kansas State. Now he seems destined to serve as a cautionary tale for future Group of Five head coaches who don't quickly jump to bigger jobs.
Colorado State: When the Rams dismissed veteran SEC assistant Mike Bobo two years ago, the reasoning was that CSU wanted to swing big and land a name that could push a program that's spent, built, and marketed itself as a Boise-caliber G5 into actually becoming one. Instead, a wonky, weird search assisted by Urban Meyer yielded Steve Addazio, the milquetoast Boston College head coach who never won more than seven games in a season over his seven years. CSU is now 4-8 under Addazio, but the buyout is hefty: At $5 million this season and $3 million after 2022, it's safe to assume Addazio sticks around for a little while longer, despite the fact that CSU is still quite far from becoming Boise.
South Florida: When Clemson co-OC Jeff Scott took this job, the cons had started to overwhelm the pros at a program once thought to be highly promising and capable of springboarding coaches. USF has failed to support football in almost every single way compared to UCF, but Scott is only 3-14 in his second season at a place that's still under the impression that winning is easy. Scott needs more time, and a firing after this year (even if the Bulls lose out) would have ripple effects in the coaching industry. Consider Scott's situation safe, but some form of tangible progress has to be visible in '22.
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– Steven Godfrey is a senior writer for Vox Media's Secret Base, and co-host of The Split Zone Duo podcast. Follow him on Twitter @38Godfrey