The pressure is always on college football coaches to succeed. Whether it’s the pressure to win or the pressure to recruit high-level players, heavy is the head that wears the crown in college football circles.
With that in mind, some coaches enter the 2017 college football season in great standing with their schools and fanbases. Think Clemson’s Dabo Swinney for a great example of that. Others, though, could be entering do-or-die seasons. Every win, and every loss, could be the difference between having a job and not having a job heading into the 2018 season.
These six coaches fit that bill.
Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
It has been four seasons since Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish were in the BCS Championship game — a game they lost to Alabama. The glow from that run has been gone for some time now. Kelly is entering his eighth season at Notre Dame, and after a 4-8 campaign, the Irish will be looking forward to 2017, hoping to bounce back from their first bowl-less season since 2009.
The 2016 season was a terrible one for Kelly and the Irish. The school was hit with NCAA sanctions that forced the team to vacate victories in 2012 and 2013 thanks to academic violations committed by a student-trainer helping out two players. And sure, the Irish will appeal those penalties, but it certainly doesn’t look good for Kelly.
On the field, The Irish could only beat Nevada, Syracuse, Miami and Army in ’16. They lost to Texas to start the season, lost to a bad Michigan State team and were defeated by both Stanford and USC. The latter was a 45-27 loss.
If it wasn’t for Kelly’s abilities as a recruiter, one has to wonder if Notre Dame wouldn’t have already decided to go in a different direction, and he was reportedly thinking about it as well.
The 2017 season is a huge one for both Kelly and the Notre Dame football program.
Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
Kliff Kingsbury has celebrity status in Lubbock due to his prolific career as a Red Raider and his young and “hip” sense of fashion as a coach.
With that said, behind all the shiny lights and hype is a coach with only one bowl win since being named the head man at Texas Tech in 2013. He won the Holiday Bowl in his first season but missed bowl eligibility in 2014 and 2016. The Red Raiders lost the Texas Bowl in 2015.
Kingsbury is 24-26 overall at Tech. He started off strong with an 8-5 campaign in ’13 but has since gone 4-8, 7-6 and 5-7.
One more losing season could be his last season as head coach in Lubbock.
Butch Jones, Tennessee
Butch Jones is a great recruiter, and it’s not like he’s been a bad coach. He was 27-13 in three seasons at Central Michigan and went 23-14 in three seasons at Cincinnati. He took over Tennessee and started out with a 5-7 season but has since gone 7-6, 9-4 and 9-4 in 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively.
The Volunteers have also won three consecutive bowl games.
Here’s the problem for Jones, though: His teams have vastly underperformed.
He’s one of the best recruiters in the country and has brought a ton of talent to Rocky Top. But for some reason or another, the Volunteers haven’t been able to get over the hump.
This past season, the Vols were considered a favorite to upset Alabama and win the SEC. And for a time, that looked possible. Tennessee started the 2016 season 5-0 with wins over No. 19 Florida and No. 25 Georgia but then went on to lose three in a row. The Vols also lost their season-ending contest against Vanderbilt, a barely bowl eligible team.
Sure, the Vols bounced back to make the season interesting and yes, they won their bowl game, but how much longer will Tennessee’s administration and fan base be patient with underwhelming results?
Only time will tell, but 2017 could be huge in that regard. It’s time to put up or shut up for Jones.
Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Rich-Rod is entering his sixth season as head coach at Arizona. Outside of a 10-4 season in 2014 that ended with a loss in the Fiesta Bowl, the Wildcats have been mediocre — and things seem to be getting worse.
Case in point? Arizona went 8-5 in Rodriguez’s first two seasons and won two bowl games. The 2014 season was the aforementioned 10-4 campaign. Arizona has gone 7-6 and 3-9 since then. In 2016, Rodriguez and company lost eight in a row before upsetting Arizona State, 56-35.
Rodriguez is a character and a decent recruiter. But if Arizona football wants to be anywhere near competitive with the likes of its basketball team, perhaps 2017 will be Rich-Rod’s last season if he can’t turn things around
Chris Ash, Rutgers
Generally, coaches get around three seasons to prove who they really are. In those three seasons, they get some wiggle room to get their system in place, start recruiting “their players” and by that time they should have full ownership of the direction of the team.
For Chris Ash at Rutgers, though, year two may be even more important than year three. In fact, making some noise in year two is vital for the former Ohio State standout assistant.
In his first season as a head coach, Rutgers went 2-10. That’s not terribly surprising because it’s not like Rutgers was a football powerhouse to begin with, but the numbers were troubling.
The Scarlet Knights went 0-9 against conference opponents. They started out the season with promise, winning two of the first three games of the season, but then went on to lose nine in a row to end the 2016 campaign. That includes a 58-0 loss to Ohio State, a 78-0 loss to Michigan (a game so lopsided hugs were doled out when Rutgers finally gained a first down), a 49-0 loss to a bad Michigan State team and a 39-0 loss to Penn State.
Ash doesn’t need to beat those Big Ten powers in 2017, but he needs to find a way to at least limit the point output from his big-time opponents — especially considering he’s a former defensive coach. And he needs to find a way to put some points up on the board in those type of contests.
If he can’t do that, he may not get that all-important year three.
Steve Addazio, Boston College
Steve Addazio has been the head coach at Boston College for four seasons, and 2016 was easily his best year. The Eagles went 7-6 and won the Quick Lane Bowl against Maryland, 36-30.
So why is 2017 so important for him? Because of exactly what has been mentioned above: 2016 was his best season.
Addazio went 7-6 in both 2013 and 2014 with two bowl game losses. He then put up a 3-9 season in 2015 that saw Boston College lose to every single ACC team on its schedule.
Despite the big bowl win to end the 2016 season, BC still could only manage two ACC wins in 2016, beating North Carolina State and barely beating Wake Forest
So, with an Athletic Director who’s in the last year of his contract and only two wins over conference opponents in the last two seasons, can Addazio make it past 2017 if the Eagles can’t start turning it around in conference?
The answer to that question is a big, fat no.
Boston College needs to pick up a few more ACC wins in 2017 in order for Addazio to keep his job.