If you’re looking for job security, don’t become a college football coach. Aside from a select few, college coaches change jobs at astounding rates. Of the 130 FBS programs, only 30 have held onto the same head coach for the last five years.
Some coaches retire, some move on to greener pastures at a higher-ranked program or even the NFL, but the most likely way for any given coach’s tenure to end is with an unceremonious boot out the door. Athletics directors, especially at elite programs, have high expectations, and are not afraid to move on quickly if they aren’t being met.
Last year, 10 head coaches were told to hand in their baseball caps and collared T-shirts. In 2020, there’s sure to be more. Here are the 10 I think are on the thinnest ice heading into the season.
10. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M Aggies
One thing is clear, Fisher isn’t going to be fired any time soon. Not because of his results or reputation, but because of his massive, fully guaranteed, $75 million contract. At the time of signing this contract drew criticism, and early results are showing that it may have been a huge mistake. Fisher’s results haven’t been too bad, with 17 total wins including two bowl victories. But that contract comes with pressure. Texas A&M isn’t paying him $7.5 million a year to win the Texas Bowl. The Aggies should be reaching at least double-digit wins, and actually beating some of the top SEC teams. So far they haven’t done that, and if Fisher doesn’t change that soon, his seat will really start to burn — not that he’ll actually be in danger of losing it.
9. Manny Diaz, Miami Hurricanes
The Miami football program expects better than what it has gotten under Manny Diaz. Even though their glory days of consistent title-contention ended 20 years ago, the Hurricanes should not be losing to a 5-7 Duke team then getting shut out in the Independence Bowl. In 2019, Diaz’s defense, while still solid, got worse, and the offense continued to be lackluster at best. Hopefully for Diaz, new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee can turn the offense around, and the team goes with it. Otherwise, Diaz’s time in Miami may be approaching an early end.
8. Scott Frost, Nebraska Cornhuskers
The Scott Frost era in Nebraska wasn’t supposed to go like this. He arrived fresh off leading UCF to an undefeated season, and seemed destined to reach even greater heights at the helm of a Power Five team. Instead, his record so far is 9-16, and his Cornhuskers have yet to reach a bowl game. He has drawn criticism for his in-game decision making from fans, and is 0-6 against ranked opponents. Frost is well-regarded enough that he’s not too likely to actually be fired in 2020, but he’ll only be able to rely on his reputation for so long without improved results.
7. Randy Edsall, Connecticut Huskies
While other coaches on this list might find themselves here because their programs have high expectations, and they’ve been good-not-great, Randy Edsall’s Huskies have been just plain terrible. In his three seasons as head coach, UConn has won a grand total of six games. They haven’t beaten an in-conference opponent since 2017. In 2019, the Huskies allowed the third-most points per game, while scoring the 11th-least. Sure UConn is no powerhouse football program, but this is just embarrassing. The university will have to try something new if Edsall doesn’t perform next season.
6. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt Commodores
It’s unclear why Mason hasn’t been fired yet. He was already popping up on lists like this heading into 2018. That season, the Commodores went 6-7. That was enough for him to stay for a 3-9 2019, after which he somehow still appears to be hanging on. The only reason he isn’t higher on this list is that Vanderbilt’s decision makers are clearly determined to give him a more than fair chance. If finishing the season with the nation’s sixth-worst offense wasn’t enough to get him fired, it’s unclear what will. But that breaking point surely has to be coming, so Mason will have to get his team to pick things up in 2020 if he wants to keep surviving.
5. Will Muschamp, South Carolina Gamecocks
Last year was the first time Muschamp has failed to lead the Gamecocks to a bowl game. Their 4-8 record was also the worst in his tenure, a continuation of a downward trend three years in the making. In Muschamp’s defense, playing in the stacked SEC is always tough: According to Sports Reference, South Carolina faced the fourth-hardest schedule in 2019. Unfortunately for Muschamp, their schedule isn’t looking any easier in 2020. Easy wins will be few and far between next season, and if Muschamp doesn’t find a few more wins somewhere, it may be his last.
4. Chip Kelly, UCLA Bruins
If Chip Kelly wasn’t Chip Kelly, he might be gone already. The Bruins are hoping for something like his success at Oregon, where he led the Ducks to two Rose Bowls and one Championship game and maintained an incredible 86.6 win percentage. However, so far at UCLA Kelly has a win percentage under 30, and has only won five games against teams at or above .500. While Kelly is supposed to be an offensive genius, his UCLA teams have been 80th and 98th in the country points per game — and their defense has been even worse. Kelly has to turn things around, and fast, to hold onto his job.
3. Tom Herman, Texas Longhorns
Herman is another coach who finds himself on this list due to the expectations of his program. Texas football is Texas football, and despite their struggles over the last decade, the Longhorns still boast one of the most talented rosters in the country. These factors make Herman’s 8-5 record and Alamo Bowl victory not enough to secure his seat heading into 2020. Texas fans and leadership expect to be competing for national titles, not losing to Iowa State and TCU. If Herman puts forth another middling year in 2020, Texas will be back in the head coach market.
2. Kevin Sumlin, Arizona Wildcats
Sumlin was hired at Arizona in 2018 after a successful stint at Texas A&M, where he earned a reputation as a quarterback guru and capable head coach. Since arriving at Arizona, he has failed to live up to that reputation. In 2019, Arizona finished with a 4-8 record and at the bottom of the Pac-12 South. Meanwhile, electric Wildcat quarterback Khalil Tate regressed under Sumlin’s tutelage. Tate’s best year in completion percentage, passer rating and rushing production was 2017, before Sumlin arrived. If Sumlin doesn’t start delivering on his reputation soon, he will be hoping that reputation is enough to find him another job.
1. Clay Helton, USC Trojans
Just two years ago, seeing Helton on this list would have been shocking. In his first two full years as the head of the Trojans, he had a record of 21-6 including a Rose Bowl victory. However, Helton’s last two seasons have been a different story. The Trojans are 13-12 in that time, and thanks in part to a string of bad injury luck, limped to the end of the season with a Holiday Bowl loss. At another school, Helton’s early successes might earn him time to turn things around, but not at USC, where consistently loaded rosters and a history of greatness keep expectations sky-high. His seat was already heating up last season, and it will take a near-perfect 2020 for him to hold on another year.