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College football head coaches under most pressure in 2020

Jesse Reed
© Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Any head coach running a top-flight college football program is under a ton of pressure every single year, but looking at the 2020 season it’s clear some are dealing with much more than others.

That’s the group we’re looking at here.

The obvious coach everyone highlights is Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. He’s yet to get a contract extension heading into Year 6, and that’s a big problem. But for the sake of keeping it fresh, we’re going to look at other coaches not named Harbaugh who are on the hot seat heading into 2020.

These five coaches will have to win, or else, in 2020 to ensure they still have jobs in 2021.

Tom Herman, Texas Longhorns

The Texas Longhorns were supposed to be “back” in 2019 after going 10-4 and winning the Sugar Bowl over Georgia following the 2018 campaign. Then, the wheels fell off last season, when the team’s defense fell apart, finishing with the 65th-ranked defense in the nation.

The one redeeming thing about last year’s team is that Herman rallied his players to play their best with a stunning blowout win over No. 12 Utah in the Alamo Bowl.

Herman has been at Texas for three years now. He’s certainly helped the program gain some momentum, winning bowls after each season. But if Sam Ehlinger and Co. don’t play a heck of a lot better with more consistency in 2020, the Longhorns may be unwilling to see if Herman can turn it around heading into Year 5.

Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee Volunteers

Early on last season, it sure looked like the Volunteers were going to continue spiraling downward as they opened the season going 1-4 in the first five games. Then, the light flicked on, and suddenly Tennessee was a force. The Vols finished the season with seven wins in their last games, including a thrilling victory over Indiana in the Gator Bowl.

The reason Pruitt is facing so much pressure in 2020 is that now there’s an expectation that his program is going to take another step in the right direction. He’s entering Year 3 at Tennessee, and if things fall apart next season it shouldn’t shock anyone if the university gets antsy and looks to make a big splash heading into 2021.

Scott Frost, Nebraska Cornhuskers

When the Nebraska Cornhuskers signed Scott Frost, he was one of the hottest names in college football. His stunning turnaround of the UCF program, leading the Knights to an undefeated 2018 season, just his second with the program, had everyone thinking he might be able to do the same in the Big Ten.

Two years into the experience, and Cornhuskers fans are perhaps even more frustrated now than ever, as their team has gone 9-15 and missed a bowl game each year. Even worse, they only improved their record by one game in the second year of his tenure.

If Frost is going to turn Nebraska into a powerhouse again, as he was hired to do, then the time is now. Otherwise, the university will have to be forced with the proposition of potentially starting over again from scratch.

Clay Helton, USC Trojans

One of the most prominent programs in college football, USC has not been nationally relevant since 2016, and Clay Helton has been on the hot seat the past two seasons running.

Since going 10-3 and winning the Pac-12 title in 2017, Helton’s Trojans have gone 13-12, and the 5-7 record in 2018 was the program’s first losing season since 2000. With that in mind, many were absolutely floored when new athletic director Mike Bohn opted to keep Helton for the 2020 campaign.

With that in mind, it won’t be a shock whatsoever if the Trojans end up canning Helton midseason if the program doesn’t start hot and stay hot next season.

Manny Diaz, Miami Hurricanes

There isn’t a lot of patience for losing at The U.

Diaz was hired after Mark Richt abruptly retired following a disappointing 2018 season that saw the Hurricanes go 7-6 and get blown out in the Pinstripe Bowl by Wisconsin. Instead of a turnaround, the football program took a step backward in 2019, going 6-7, barely making it into a bowl game then getting embarrassed by Louisville in the Independence Bowl.

Sure, it’s only been a single season. But Diaz and the Hurricanes are swinging for the fences in 2020 with the arrival of Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed joining the program as the Chief of Staff. If they strike out, his time at Miami may come to a swift end.