College football can be a brutal business but at the end of the day it is just that…..a business. If you don’t produce at the level expected, you can be sent packing at any moment or possibly be fired on the tarmac following a bad loss.
You could argue that barring any major scandals perhaps most coaches with questionable job security should receive a mulligan on this year.
Due to the unprecedented impact of Covid-19 on sports and remaining uncertainty on how the next few months will unfold, it’s not 100 percent fair if things don’t go too smoothly this year for certain teams. Sure Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia and the likewise should still be able to compete at a high level this year.
Others don’t have as many pieces already in place and had a tough mountain to climb before Covid-19. The landscape now for teams–some of which never even opened up spring practice at all–have programs virtually scrambling to play catch up against far superior teams that have now lapped them once more in a limited spring session they missed out on completely.
Throw in those teams with new coordinators attempting to install new systems on offense or defense via Zoom calls and….yeah….yikes!
Without question this year will be unlike any other and I think we all could be more graceful towards others. Unfortunately, that’s likely not how it will play out when it comes to coaches. Come hell or high water, administrations, alumni and fans want wins and championships.
Today, I take a look at five head football coaches who desperately need to make the most out of the 2020 season if they intend on NOT being included in the nationwide unemployment rate currently plaguing the country due to Covid-19.
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
When Harbaugh was hired in December 2014, I remember all of the headlines pushing a narrative that Michigan was on its way back to the round table of college football’s elite. While Harbaugh hasn’t exactly wet the bed at 47-18 overall, he’s hardly made the splash Wolverine fans have hoped for, either. He is 0-5 against Ohio State and hasn’t even won the division since arriving in Ann Arbor.
With a $7.5 million annual salary and roughly $10 million buyout if he were to be canned after the 2020 season, perhaps his seat isn’t on fire. But make no mistake the seat warmers are definitely switched to the “ON” position. Another loss to the Buckeyes (which seems pretty likely at the moment) and no division or conference title will absolutely put 2021 in do-or-die mode for Harbaugh.
Chip Kelly, UCLA
Chip Kelly is 7-17 through his first two seasons at UCLA including a 4-8 mark in 2019. Since returning to the Pac-12, it has been a night and day difference for Kelly compared to his success in Eugene. One of his biggest issues thus far has been defense….or the lack thereof. It is hard to win when you’re giving up 34 points per game. One would think perhaps Kelly would have made a change in that area in the off-season and you’d be right….kind of.
Instead of firing defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro, they instead signed him to a new one-year deal earlier this year which will pay him $700,000. Yikes. Perhaps with home visits from Stanford (Sept. 26), Utah (Oct. 29) and USC (Nov. 21) the Bruins can find some magic at The Rose Bowl in 2020? UCLA would owe Kelly a flat $9 million buyout if they let him go before Jan. 2022.
Tom Herman, Texas
If you are paid over $6.7 million per year to coach, you are probably expected to produce better records than 8-5….especially if you are the head coach of the Texas Longhorns. However, entering year four, Texas doesn’t seem to be any closer to the glory days of Mack Brown than they were with Charlie Strong. (Yeah, I went there!) With a new contract signed in May, it appears Texas is willing to ride this one out but regret could begin to set in come December 2020 after another mediocre season (by their terms) out in Austin.
Luckily, he’s got a fighter’s chance at taking a step forward with senior signal caller Sam Ehlinger under center. The Longhorns open with South Florida (Sept. 5) who will be led by first-year head coach and former Clemson Co-Offensive Coordinator Jeff Scott. They get a rematch with much Joe Burrow-less LSU squad in Tiger Stadium (Sept. 12) and will face a Oklahoma squad that likely won’t have a Heisman candidate at quarterback this season. (I think)
Will Muschamp, South Carolina
Will Muschamp knows he has to produce and produce quickly. After accepting an buyout adjustment following last season’s 4-8 mark which followed 2018’s 7-6 season (ended with a 28-0 Belk Bowl loss to Virginia), it could now or never for Muschamp who still owns a $13.75 million buyout. Mike Bobo replaces an extremely overpaid Bryan McClendon at offensive coordinator after he was demoted to WR coach in the off-season. He was still set to make $1 million per year at this demoted position. However, he’s since joined Oregon’s coaching staff in that same role.
After losing key playmakers all over the field from Javon Kinlaw (first round to San Francisco), Bryan Edwards (third round to Las Vegas) D.J. Wonnum (fourth round to Minnesota) along with the entire running back room, the Gamecocks have their work cut out for them in year five of the Muschamp era. South Carolina will rely on a still-talented yet less experienced defensive front and veteran secondary to compliment sophomore quarterback Ryan Hilinksi.
Clay Helton, University of Southern California
There was talk that Clay Helton was going to be fired last season and one report even went on record saying he was soon to be dismissed. We know now that wasn’t the case but the fact remains there was enough speculation to believe his job security was in danger.
Helton enters year five as the head coach of the Trojans with a mark of 40-22 and did himself no favors last year going 8-5 overall. 2020 will be no walk in the park competition wise for USC. The Trojans open the season with a neutral site (Arlington, Texas) draw against Alabama before closing out September with a trip to Stanford (Sept. 19) prior to hosting Arizona State (Sept. 26). Additionally, USC heads to Utah (Oct. 10) and Oregon (Nov. 7) before closing things out against Notre Dame at home in the regular season finale (Nov. 28). Good luck with that, coach.