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Seven-Step Drop: Clay Helton's Future, Florida State's Opening Lead off the 2019 Coaching Hot Seat Guide

Seven-Step Drop: Clay Helton's Future, Florida State's Opening Lead off the 2019 Coaching Hot Seat Guide

Seven-Step Drop: Clay Helton's Future, Florida State's Opening Lead off the 2019 Coaching Hot Seat Guide

Just when it looked like we would get a pretty straightforward path to the College Football Playoff in the final month of the season, ol' Herm Edwards decided to play to win the game and throw a bit of a wrench in those plans. While Arizona State's upset of Oregon shook up the postseason picture, the focus for others in the Pac-12 occurred earlier in the day one state over where USC wrapped up their regular season by thumping crosstown rival UCLA.

Trojans brass now faces a significant decision that will have an impact far beyond their own program as they decide the fate of embattled head coach Clay Helton. The team can still somehow make it all the way to the Rose Bowl with the help of a Colorado upset of Utah but a strong finish for the cardinal and gold has more than made life more complicated in Los Angeles despite a season-long uproar over the future of the program.

Whether it comes open in the coming weeks remains to be seen but another blue-blood gig is already in the thick of their search on the other coast at Florida State. The Seminoles turned heads when they ponied up to get rid of Willie Taggart and have a chance to be one of the first to fill their vacancy depending on how the closing stretch is handled by those with a hand in the matter.

It does not appear to be a turbulent coaching carousel in 2019 but those two marquee schools will be a barometer of just how wild things could get. Whether they knock over quite a few other dominoes remains to be seen but with the early signing period putting added pressure on decisions left and right, the next few days figure to get hot and heavy for many ADs and school presidents all around the country.

So after talking with a number of administrators, consultants and agents, here's a broad overview of who's firmly on the hot seat, who might go, and who will head into 2020 with a very warm (or cool) seat:

1. ACC:

Already open:Florida State

Polishing their resume: Steve Addazio (Boston College)

Could go either way: Dave Doeren (NC State)

All good for now: Dabo Swinney (Clemson), David Cutcliffe (Duke), Geoff Collins (Georgia Tech), Scott Satterfield (Louisville), Manny Diaz (Miami), Mack Brown (UNC), Pat Narduzzi (Pitt), Dino Babers (Syracuse), Bronco Mendenhall (Virginia), Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech), Dave Clawson (Wake Forest)

The bulk of the ACC head coaches will return next season barring a surprise but there's a number of tricky situations for two coaches and a market-driver of an opening at FSU.

In Tallahassee, administrative concerns have caused some to back away from the position but they will be going big-name hunting regardless. Matt Campbell out of Iowa State would qualify but more realistic options are Kentucky's Mark Stoops and Memphis' Mike Norvell. The latter in particular would be the best fit for what leadership wants to do in terms of generating excitement around the program after the way things have transpired recently.

At Boston College, the Eagles taking a step back in 2019 have pushed them toward the end of the Steve Addazio experiment as AD Martin Jarmond is set to make his first big move. Though the coach has done well in bringing the floor of the program up, the lack of a breakthrough after seven seasons and few wanting another lame-duck situation makes a change more likely than not.

As for Dave Doeren, the middling record he has put up with the Wolfpack combined with a huge slide this season makes it an interesting situation in Raleigh. His AD didn't hire him but a $6.6 million buyout and a rash of injuries likely are enough to bring him back unless the team really looks awful in the finale against UNC. Still, it's worth monitoring and a lack of similar openings could play in the school's favor this year.

7-Step Search Firm Says:  FSU should move quickly to lock up Norvell while Boston College needs to pull the cord on Addazio after thanking him for his service. Jason Candle would be a good fit on the Hill but Rutgers' not locking up Greg Schiano should be to BC's gain. Doeren has done enough to earn another year but making a move and bringing in Louisiana's BillyNapier would be just the kind of move to make a dent into the competitive division.

2. Big 12

Potential situations: Matt Rhule (Baylor), Matt Campbell (Iowa State), Lincoln Riley (Oklahoma)

All good for now: Les Miles (Kansas), Chris Klieman (Kansas State), Mike Gundy (Oklahoma State), Gary Patterson (TCU), Tom Herman (Texas), Matt Wells (Texas Tech), Neal Brown (West Virginia)

A good bet to have everybody return in 2020, the Big 12 seems the most stable of leagues after making four changes last offseason.

Matt Rhule has interviewed with NFL teams each of the last two years and could do so again for the right opportunity but he seems planted in Waco. His new contract will ward off most suitors either way. The other Matt, Campbell that is, is bound to come up at big gigs like USC and Florida State but he'll be picky about his next destination so leaving Ames isn't assured. Lincoln Riley isn't leaving for another college job but will be the first name out of everybody in the NFL's mouth as soon as the Dallas Cowboys make a move with Jason Garrett.

3. Big Ten

Already open: Rutgers

On the hot seat for 2020: Lovie Smith (Illinois)

Potential situations: James Franklin (Penn State), Mark Dantonio (Michigan State)

All good for now: Tom Allen (Indiana), Kirk Ferentz (Iowa), Mike Locksley (Maryland), Jim Harbaugh (Michigan), P.J. Fleck (Minnesota), Scott Frost (Nebraska), Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern), Ryan Day (Ohio State), Jeff Brohm (Purdue), Paul Chryst (Wisconsin)

Rutgers was the first opening in the Power 5 and while it appeared like it would be the first to fill its position, talks broke down in recent days with former head coach Greg Schiano about a return.

That marriage seemed like it was a fait accompli not long ago but now AD Pat Hobbs will go in a different direction — one he would actually prefer as he was never thrilled at the prospectus of a reunion with the demanding Schiano.

Former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones was one of the other finalists though it's possible Mississippi State's Joe Moorhead also gets more heavily involved in a second round of searching. Group of 5 head coaches like Chris Creighton and Toledo's Jason Candle remain an option while assistants with Jersey ties like Michigan's Anthony Campanile and the Los Angeles Rams' Jedd Fisch could get brought up in the mix. The preference is for somebody with head coaching experience though and Patriots assistant Bret Bielema could be a wild card.

Elsewhere, Illinois' shocking run to a bowl game will allow the administration to keep Lovie Smith around while James Franklin's name will pop up for the big openings at USC, FSU and elsewhere.

The greater unknown lies in East Lansing. The school administration won't fire Mark Dantonio nor does it appear that he will be leaving, remarking last week that he intends to be back "to complete the circle." A new athletic director being appointed in the next year or so seems likely but it's pretty clear to all in green and white that staff changes are coming in some form to the program, putting the pressure on Dantonio to do something he has resisted so far. How far he's willing to go in terms of bringing in some new blood to boost recruiting and the malaise on offense remains to be seen but will go a long way in determining how much this question comes up again in 2020.

7-Step Search Firm Says: The Scarlet Knights should call Tulane's Willie Fritz to rebuild the program or go all-in on the option with Army's Jeff Monken. They won't however, but it's the smarter move.

4. Pac-12

Polishing their resume: Clay Helton (USC)

On the hot seat for 2020: Kevin Sumlin (Arizona)

Potential situations: Mike Leach (Washington State)

All good for now: Herm Edwards (Arizona State), Justin Wilcox (Cal), Mel Tucker (Colorado), Mario Cristobal (Oregon), Jonathan Smith (Oregon State), David Shaw (Stanford), Chip Kelly (UCLA), Kyle Whittingham (Utah), Chris Petersen (Washington)

Mike Leach might be in line to make a surprise jump to a bigger program after flirting with Tennessee and others over the years but it's otherwise all quiet on the Western front.

Except, of course, at USC.

The Trojans have finished the season well down the stretch and now find themselves in the top 25 in all the polls with an outside shot at making the conference title game. That has led to plenty of speculation that the embattled head coach will be retained for at least one more year in cardinal and gold.

However, new AD Mike Bohn did discuss potential changes with the football program before being hired and boosters at the school have continued to push for a move to be made and a big name brought in to lead the program. USC hasn't swept the three California schools they play (Cal, Stanford, UCLA) and Notre Dame since 2008 and for as stabilizing a force as Helton has become, the lack of high-end wins (including just two of the team's eight this year over teams who will make a bowl) are likely to cost him the gig. His hefty buyout and associated staff turnover costs have often been cited as an obstacle but the money isn't as much of an issue as some think.

Maybe more concerning for the administration than the wins and losses has been the general fan apathy under Helton and a general belief that a program that should be in the College Football Playoff discussion on a regular basis hasn't been. Attendance has dipped under the 60,000 mark at the Coliseum for two years in a row for the first time since 2000-01 and the swaths of empty seats, even for Saturday's rivalry game against UCLA, have indicated that the lost revenue SC is losing out on make sticking with the status quo far costlier than Helton's buyout. And that's not even getting to recruiting, which is the worst it has ever been for the Trojans — especially in-state.

It's possible that school president Carol Folt continues to put her foot down and decides to keep the head coach in place on a whim but an opening sometime next week still appears quite likely.

Urban Meyer's candidacy has been a message board topic for nearly a year — and would be a coup, no doubt — but it remains to be seen if he'll be back on the sidelines after a year away no matter how attractive an opening USC is. Landing a top-tier candidate like Penn State's James Franklin would be the goal but Bohn likely will have somebody lined up as a quick "search" ensues once things become official.

7-Step Search Firm Says:  After checking in with Meyer and Franklin, USC can ultimately wind up finding the right fit in Iowa State's Matt Campbell.

5. SEC

Already open:Arkansas

Could go either way: Barry Odom (Missouri), Joe Moorhead (Mississippi State)

On the hot seat for 2020: Gus Malzahn (Auburn), Matt Luke (Ole Miss), Will Muschamp (South Carolina), Derek Mason (Vanderbilt)

Potential situations: Mark Stoops (Kentucky)

All good for now: Nick Saban (Alabama), Dan Mullen (Florida), Kirby Smart (Georgia), Ed Orgeron (LSU), Jeremy Pruitt (Tennessee), Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M)

Vanderbilt AD Malcolm Turner saying Derek Mason would be back next season eliminated one question mark in the conference but it's possible that next year is really the time where movement in the SEC comes to a head.

The Razorbacks job is the only one open for sure and the search will start with two native sons (Gus Malzahn and Memphis' Mike Norvell) before moving on to other candidates. Even despite the monetary lure, the program is likely to throw out in order to land a big fish, most understand the inherent difficulties of the job and lack of patience from fans and boosters alike. Only Malzahn knows if he wants to hit the reset button on his career at this point but the lateral SEC West move will still have to be seen to be believed. Norvell should have better options and after that things open up.

Washington State's Mike Leach and FAU's Lane Kiffin could get involved as the program works their way down the list too.

Missouri's situation remains fluid in the final few weeks, with NCAA sanctions and a pending appeal among the factors weighing on AD Jim Sterk. The Tigers are just 24-25 overall under the former linebacker, who has stabilized the program after plenty of turbulence but hasn't gotten the team back to the level that many in Columbia want. Odom's buyout is not an issue and while he's saved himself from the ax before with a strong close, that hasn't been the case in 2019.

A reset button could similarly happen at Mississippi State, where the program has backslid in two seasons under Joe Moorhead. AD John Cohen was widely lauded for the hire initially but the fit has proven to be just as awkward as some feared. Perhaps there's a lifeline in the form of Rutgers luring Moorhead back to the Northeast with the Bulldogs waiving his buyout to start fresh but we'll see how decisive the administration will be with Thursday's Egg Bowl perhaps playing a significant factor.

Elsewhere, Mark Stoops figures to be a top candidate at his old haunt of Florida State while a number of others will likely be brought back for hot seat-fueled 2020 campaigns. Hefty buyouts for Malzahn, Will Muschamp and Mason are a big reason for that, though the South Carolina administration generally likes their coach and would like to keep him around despite the bizarre and conflicting statements the AD and president have been putting out to the media.

7-Step Search Firm Says: A lack of big openings could make Mizzou an attractive opening this cycle and Toledo's Jason Candle would be a great fit. MSU should do everything they can to get Moorhead to Piscataway before moving quickly to hire UAB's Bill Clark. Everybody else should return as Arkansas makes the splash they need by doing something different and hiring Mike Leach... who makes quite the first impression calling the hogs for the first time.

6. Group of 5


Could go either way: Charlie Strong (USF), Philip Montgomery (Tulsa)

Potential situations: Luke Fickell (Cincinnati), Mike Norvell (Memphis), Willie Fritz (Tulane)

All good for now: Mike Houston (ECU), Dana Holgorsen (Houston), Ken Niumatalolo (Navy), Sonny Dykes (SMU), Rod Carey (Temple), Josh Heupel (UCF), Randy Edsall (UConn)

Either the bulk of the AAC coaches return or there's quite a bit of turnover in the coming months. What direction the league goes depends on a lot of factors and nobody may control the carousel quite like the coaches in this league.

As far as those who could be pushed out the door, the question for both USF and Tulsa, two fairly appealing gigs for many assistants, comes down to if the schools can come up with the buyout money.

The exact figure for Charlie Strong isn't public due to the nature of the athletic department setup (it's likely in the $5 million-plus range subject to mitigation) and he's coaching under an AD who didn't hire him. With Texas' own buyout money running out, his salary coming directly from the Bulls is set to nearly double in 2020 either way. Despite that, the direction in the program is stuck firmly in reverse, going just 3-13 against FBS foes the past season and a half after a 16-2 start. Rival UCF's success has added even more pressure to get things turned around but fan apathy in Tampa is running extremely high either way.

Given its location, history of success and potential facilities upgrades, this is still a pretty plum Group of 5 job that would draw plenty of interest, which will weigh on AD Michael Kelly in facing the biggest decision of his short tenure in charge.

Tulsa's decision has plenty to do with money as well. The cash-strapped school seems more likely to stick with the status quo rather than make an expensive change. Though the team hasn't won more than three games in any of the last three seasons, this year's Golden Hurricane have been vastly more competitive on the field with late leads against top-25-caliber teams like Memphis and SMU among others. It helps that they upset UCF and were solid enough against both Michigan State and Oklahoma State.

Outside of those two, anybody else leaving will likely be of their own volition. Fickell figures to be a leading candidate if any decent Big Ten job opens (particularly Michigan State) while Norvell might wind up being the hottest available name out there. Florida State and Arkansas will both have the Memphis coach at or near the top of their lists but he'll be selective and want assurances on salary, staff size and more before leaving a good situation with the Tigers.

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Willie Fritz will also gain some traction for schools who want a level-headed veteran who's done good work everywhere he's been but his age could work against him for some high-profile openings. Still, one last jump to the Power 5 level could be in the cards if the dominoes fall enough. Connecticut is leaving the league for life as an independent and the school doesn't appear to have any interest in jettisoning Randy Edsall in conjunction with the move despite having one of the worst FBS teams in the country.

Conference USA

Could go either way: Bobby Wilder (Old Dominion), Frank Wilson (UTSA)

Potential situations: Lane Kiffin (FAU), Rick Stockstill (Middle Tennessee), Bill Clark (UAB)

All good for now: Will Healy (Charlotte), Butch Davis (FIU), Skip Holtz (Louisiana Tech), Doc Holliday (Marshall), Seth Littrell (North Texas), Mike Bloomgren (Rice), Jay Hopson (Southern Miss), Dana Dimel (UTEP)

ODU is one to keep an eye on as they could move on from the only coach the program has known in Bobby Wilder. His buyout is huge by CUSA standards but after getting worse each of the last three seasons, 2019 has been rock bottom for the Monarchs. The bulk of the team is coming back and recruiting has been okay following the opening of a renovated stadium but that's among the most likely of changes if the money can be raised.

Frank Wilson at UTSA isn't safe either, though he has three years left on his deal and the program would have to pay the entire thing out to move on. That's a hefty buyout that may or may not happen, though a lame-duck 2020 seems increasingly likely with a decent showing over the closing stretch of this season.


All good for now: Tom Arth (Akron), Mike Neu (Ball State), Scott Loeffler (Bowling Green), Lance Leipold (Buffalo), Jim McElwain (CMU), Chris Creighton (EMU), Sean Lewis (Kent State), Chuck Martin (Miami-OH), Thomas Hammock (NIU), Frank Solich (Ohio), Jason Candle (Toledo), Tim Lester (WMU)

This parity-filled year in the MAC could produce the rarest of unicorns: no coaching changes in a conference that has one of the highest turnover rates of anybody. Now there are typically curveballs each and every offseason for the MAC but with Frank Solich likely to sign a contract extension and Mike Neu/Chuck Martin both turning things around, there's not much movement expected to happen. Jason Candle could be in the mix for some bigger gigs but he picked a bad year for the Rockets to take a step back.

Mountain West

Polishing their resume: Mike Bobo (Colorado State), Bob Davie (New Mexico), Tony Sanchez (UNLV)

Potential situations: Bryan Harsin (Boise State), Rocky Long (SDSU)

All good for now: Troy Calhoun (Air Force), Jeff Tedford (Fresno State), Nick Rolovich (Hawaii), Jay Norvell (Nevada), Brent Brennan (SJSU), Gary Andersen (Utah State), Craig Bohl (Wyoming)

Some relatively significant turnover could come out West this offseason.

Though it pains the school to pony up so much, Colorado State parting ways with Mike Bobo is widely expected in the industry and their timing could make things interesting. It's possible something could be negotiated between the two but his buyout drops $2.5 million after Jan. 1 so it's possible he sticks around through the early signing period before a move is actually made. Given the support the Rams have, a number of coordinators and assistant coaches view this as a very favorable opening.

Likewise, UNLV is also a near certainty to come open after the Tony Sanchez experiment went according to script after hiring the former high school head coach. The Rebels are moving into the new Raiders stadium next year so they'll want to make a splash but everything is in place for the program, facilities-wise, to dig themselves out of the bottom of the league with a good hire. One thing to note is that AD Desiree Reed-Francois is a strong candidate for the same position at UCLA this coming spring so it's possible some top-tier candidates will want either greater guarantees or will be slightly more skeptical of the job than normal.

Between Bob Davie's health, the team's play between the lines, and issues off the field, a change is also expected to be made in Albuquerque. The Lobos are not thrilled with the financial impact of Davie's buyout and bringing in a new staff but just two seasons over .500 since 2012 and an 8-27 record the past three has forced their hand.

Other than those three, everybody else should be back. Boise's Bryan Harsin could be in the mix for several Power 5 openings however but the offer would have to be overwhelming to pry him from his alma mater and a place he's very comfortable at. Rocky Long is expected back and should stick around for several more years but he'll turn 70 in two months so retirement will always be in the back of everybody's minds.

Sun Belt

Potential situations: Blake Anderson (Arkansas State), Eli Drinkwitz (Appalachian State), Billy Napier (Louisiana), Steve Campbell (South Alabama)

All good for now: Jamey Chadwell (Coastal Carolina) Chad Lunsford (Georgia Southern), Shawn Elliott (Georgia State), Matt Viator (ULM), Jake Spavital (Texas State), Chip Lindsey (Troy)

After a fair amount of turnover last offseason, things figure to be quite understated in 2019. South Alabama pulling the plug early on Steve Campbell is the league's only real chance there's an opening via firing (his mid-six-figure buyout still makes it difficult for the school, however) but Arkansas State/Appalachian State/Louisiana all could see their coaches nabbed by Power 5 programs given what they've accomplished, though all three coaches will be picky about the gigs knowing some others will come their way in the future.


Potential situations: Brian Kelly (Notre Dame)

All good for now: Jeff Monken (Army), Kalani Sitake (BYU), Hugh Freeze (Liberty), Doug Martin (NMSU), Walt Bell (UMass)

All is quiet on the independent front, though the possibility of Brian Kelly wanting a new challenge after over a decade in South Bend is always seemingly discussed by those outside of the Irish program. He seems content to retire at Notre Dame but a shocking move elsewhere can't be completely discounted, including to the pros for the right fit.

7. The NFL unknown

As always, what happens at the pro level tends to filter down and have an effect on the college game and that shouldn't change this year. While there is usually an oversized impact on the assistant coach level, we've seen franchises reach down into the college ranks more and more often regardless, including plucking somebody like Kliff Kingsbury to lead a team last year.

Though it doesn't portend to be an overactive year in the NFL in terms of changes, the potential for some big jobs coming open (especially in Dallas and possibly even Pittsburgh) could be enough to lure some big names up a level. Oklahoma's Lincoln Riley has already been connected to the Cowboys for two years now and he's far from the only impressive head coach who could get a look from forward-thinking owners looking to make a splash. Another Big 12 coach, Baylor's Matt Rhule, has interviewed with clubs twice in the past few years before backing out and even with a hefty new contract in Waco, a gig where he gets full control (especially one like the Giants) could be enough to lure him away.

Already open: Washington Redskins

Soon to come open: Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys

Potential openings: Detroit Lions, Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants

Tweet of the Week

Play of the Week

Stat of the Week

Quote of the Week

Superlatives of the Week

Best player: Chase Young, Ohio State

Team of the Week: Arizona State

Goat of the Week: Manny Diaz, Miami

Heisman Five: 1. Joe Burrow (LSU), 2. Chase Young (Ohio State), 3. Justin Fields (Ohio State), 4. Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma), 5. Chuba Hubbard (Oklahoma State)

Projected Playoff: 1. LSU, 2. Ohio State, 3. Clemson, 4. Oklahoma

Projected New Year's Six: Rose Bowl — Minnesota vs. Utah, Sugar Bowl — Oklahoma vs. Alabama, Orange Bowl — Virginia Tech vs. Georgia, Cotton Bowl — Florida vs. Memphis

Super 16

Here's my latest ballot in the FWAA/NFF Super 16 Poll:

1. Ohio State

2. LSU

3. Clemson

4. Utah

5. Georgia

6. Oklahoma

7. Alabama

8. Florida

9. Baylor

10. Penn State

11. Michigan

12. Oregon

13. Minnesota

14. Wisconsin

15. Notre Dame

16. Iowa

Best of the rest: Iowa State, Auburn, Memphis, Boise State, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, USC, Navy

Pre-Snap Reads

Ohio State at Michigan

For the first time this season, the Buckeyes looked mortal in that game against Penn State. At the same time, the Wolverines are playing as well as they have all year and will enter this rivalry game with plenty of motivation given the losing streak and what happened last year. Upset alert as a result? No, OSU rolls. The Pick: Ohio State -9

Alabama at Auburn

The Crimson Tide can still make the playoff but they'll have to get past their in-state rivals first. The Tigers have the best defense that Alabama has faced all year and even Auburn's lackluster offense should be able to move the ball some against the overmatched unit on the other side. Turnovers will be key as the Tigers keep this one super close throughout with both QBs looking better than expected. The Pick: Alabama -3

Wisconsin at Minnesota

How will the (Big Ten) West be won? With salty defense and by pounding the rock. The Badgers do that better than their counterparts but the Row the Boat crew have the ability to create more big plays. That leads to things evening out in the end as the visitors win by a field goal in the closing minutes. The Pick: Wisconsin -3

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.