USC's Clay Helton leads the hot seat rankings for 2019
College football’s 2019 season features 27 new coaches, so the hot seat talk and carousel could be less active this fall than it was last November. However, as usual, plenty of coaches are feeling pressure for the 2019 season. USC's Clay Helton takes the top spot after a disappointing 5-7 mark in 2018, with New Mexico's Bob Davie, Rutgers' Chris Ash and UNLV's Tony Sanchez bringing up the next tier.
Who are the coaches sitting on the hot seat as the 2019 season approaches? Athlon ranks the coaches sitting on the hottest seat for the upcoming year:
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2019
15. Brent Brennan, San Jose State
San Jose State isn’t an easy job, and Brennan inherited a program in need of repair. However, the Spartans are just 3-22 over the last two years and are coming off a 1-11 campaign. Of San Jose State’s 11 losses last fall, eight came by 10 points or more. Brennan’s team averaged only 21.3 points a game and surrendered 36.6 in 2018.
14. Mike Bobo, Colorado State
Each of Bobo’s first three years in Fort Collins were identical in terms of the outcome. Colorado State finished 7-6 overall, 5-3 in Mountain West play and earned a bowl trip. However, the Rams regressed to 3-9 last fall, dropping Bobo’s record to 24-27 overall. Addressing the defense has to be a priority for Bobo this offseason. Colorado State has finished sixth or lower in scoring defense within the Mountain West every year under his watch.
13. Matt Luke, Ole Miss
As a former player at Ole Miss, Luke certainly knows what it takes to win in Oxford. The former offensive lineman took over under difficult circumstances in replacing Hugh Freeze prior to the 2017 campaign. Despite the late ascension into the head coach role, he went 6-6 in his first year (2017) and landed the full-time gig. The program was banned from postseason play last fall but still returned enough talent to push for a winning mark. Instead, the Rebels finished 5-7 and won only one game (Arkansas) in SEC play. There’s also a wild card factor in play: Ole Miss has an interim athletic director. Would a new hire during the season or after impact Luke’s status?
12. Frank Wilson, UTSA
High expectations surrounded Wilson’s hire at UTSA. As an assistant coach at LSU, he was regarded as one of the top recruiters in college football. Additionally, Wilson guided the Roadrunners to six victories and a bowl trip in his first year (2016). But since that season, UTSA is 9-14 from 2017-18 and struggled mightily (14.2 ppg) on offense last fall.
11. Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio)
The RedHawks have been on the cusp of a breakthrough year under Martin, but this team has not eclipsed more than six victories since his tenure began in 2014. Martin is 22-39 overall, but 19 of those losses took place in the first two years in Oxford. Since 2016, Miami has won at least five games every season and finished 6-7 with a bowl trip in ’16. The RedHawks did not make a bowl after a 6-6 mark last fall. Can Martin guide this program to a winning mark in his sixth year at the helm?
10. Bobby Wilder, Old Dominion
Wilder has been the only coach for Old Dominion since the program restarted its football team prior to the 2009 season. The Monarchs went 9-2 that fall and earned back-to-back trips to the FCS Playoffs in 2011-12. The program transitioned to the FBS level in 2014 and peaked with a 10-3 record and bowl trip in ’16. However, ODU is only 9-15 over its last two years and has a losing mark in Conference USA in three of the last four seasons. Wilder has proven he can win in Norfolk but improvement is needed in 2019.
9. Steve Addazio, Boston College
Consistent is the best way to sum up Addazio’s tenure at Boston College. He’s won exactly seven games in five of his six years at the helm. The other season (2015) was a 3-9 campaign with a winless mark in ACC action. Addazio is 38-38 overall and 18-30 in ACC play. He’s never recorded a winning mark within the ACC but has five bowl trips in his tenure. Addazio has been solid so far, but can he elevate this program to the next level?
8. Lovie Smith, Illinois
Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman showed his confidence in Smith by handing the former NFL coach a two-year extension in November. But while Smith has the confidence of the administration and needed time to rebuild this program, progress will be critical in 2019. The Fighting Illini are just 9-27 over the last three years and have only four wins in Big Ten play during that span. There were some signs of improvement last fall. Illinois finished 4-8 and lost two other matchups by eight points or less.
7. Mike Neu, Ball State
The 2019 season is a make-or-break year for Neu at his alma mater. The former Ball State quarterback is 10-26 since taking over prior to the 2016 season. The Cardinals have won four games twice (2016 and ’18) under Neu but also have a 2-10 mark (2017). With 18 starters returning this fall, Neu has a chance to deliver a breakout year and guide Ball State to its first bowl game since 2013.
6. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
After a 10-4 record and SEC West title, Auburn had high expectations going into the 2018 season. However, the Tigers regressed to 8-5 and finished 3-5 in league play. The eight-win campaign put Malzahn’s record at 53-27 overall but just 28-20 within the SEC. Auburn has experienced some highs under Malzahn, which included a trip to the national championship game in 2013 and the 10-win campaign in ’17. However, the Tigers did not eclipse more than eight wins in his other four years at the helm. Also, Auburn is only 17-15 in SEC play since 2015. The 2018 season ended with plenty of rumors about Malzahn’s future and progress is needed to avoid that same discussion in November.
5. Philip Montgomery, Tulsa
Montgomery’s tenure at Tulsa started off with back-to-back bowl games and 16 wins from 2015-16. After a 6-7 mark in his debut, Montgomery guided the Golden Hurricane to a 10-3 finish in 2016. However, Tulsa is only 5-19 over the last two years and has just three victories in AAC play during that span. Another sign of concern for Montgomery is his specialty – the offense. After averaging 42.5 points a game in 2016, the Golden Hurricane regressed to 29.3 ppg in ’17 and 24.1 last fall.
4. Tony Sanchez, UNLV
UNLV needs to build some momentum with a move to the new Raiders stadium on tap for 2020. The pressure is on Sanchez to deliver a breakout year after a 16-32 mark over the last four season. The Rebels went 5-7 in 2017 – the best mark of Sanchez’s tenure – but regressed to 4-8 and 2-6 in league play last fall. Sanchez was a successful high school coach at Bishop Gorman prior to taking over at UNLV, but he’s still looking for his first bowl trip and won’t be helped by a tough slate in 2019.
3. Chris Ash, Rutgers
Rutgers is a tough job and life in the Big Ten East Division isn’t easy. However, Ash enters his fourth year with a 7-29 record and a 3-24 mark in Big Ten play. The Scarlet Knights have two winless seasons (2016 and ’18) within conference action under Ash’s direction. After a 4-8 mark in 2017, the ‘18 campaign was a setback for this staff. Rutgers had only one game of more than 17 points, averaged only 13.5 a contest for the entire 2018 season, gave up 31.4 points a game and had six losses by 20 or more points.
2. Bob Davie, New Mexico
It’s no secret Davie is squarely on the hot seat after back-to-back 3-9 campaigns. New Mexico is just 33-54 under his direction since 2012 and has only two years of more than two victories in Mountain West play in that span. The high point of Davie’s tenure took place from 2015-16. New Mexico went 7-6 in ’15 and followed that year up with a 9-4 mark the next season. However, the Lobos never maintained that success and are just 2-14 in league play over the last two years. Davie was also suspended 30 days in February of 2018 after an investigation into the football program.
1. Clay Helton, USC
Losing records are rare at USC. Considering the Trojans have just two losing records since 1992, it’s easy to see why Helton is squarely on the hot seat in 2019. After winning 21 games and a Pac-12 title from 2016-17, USC slumped to 5-7 last fall. The Trojans beat only one team (Washington State) with a winning record and finished 2018 with losses to UCLA and Notre Dame. A revamped coaching staff should help Helton’s chances of a rebound in 2019. However, the schedule isn’t kind, and USC has big question marks along the offensive line and in the secondary.