Commentary

Hot seat temp rises for coaches

Originally Published: August 15, 2012
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

When then-Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was named Longhorns coach Mack Brown's eventual successor in November 2008, Muschamp asked Brown why he thought he was ready for the job.

"You're not," Brown told him. "I'd been a head coach at North Carolina for 10 years and Appalachian State for one year and Tulane for four years, and I wasn't ready for this job at Texas. Every job is different. Every job has its own set of circumstances, its own positives and its own negatives. You have to work yourself into the job."

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesWith a game under their belt, coach Will Muschamp and Florida could have a slight edge Saturday against Texas A&M.

If only that was a reality for today's college coaches. With top coaches being paid millions of dollars each season, there's an annual expectation that they'll guide their teams to multimillion-dollar BCS bowl games and conference titles.

And there's no more on-the-job training.

Heading into the 2012 season, you can probably count the number of totally secure coaches on two hands.

Alabama's Nick Saban, Oregon's Chip Kelly, LSU's Les Miles and Michigan's Brady Hoke would probably be near the top of the list. But even those coaches will enter the coming season facing pressure to duplicate or even exceed what their teams did last season.

Even Georgia coach Mark Richt, who guided the Bulldogs to an SEC East title last season, needs to prove that last season wasn't a fluke (or the result of a soft schedule). While Richt probably coached his way off the hot seat, others like California's Jeff Tedford, Oregon State's Mike Riley, Kentucky's Joker Phillips, Maryland's Randy Edsall and Boston College's Frank Spaziani will enter the 2012 season under the spotlight.

In college football today, when fickle fans can voice their displeasure in 140 characters or less, coaches have decreasing shelf lives and increasing expectations to win right away.

As Muschamp begins his second season at Florida, he is already facing mounting pressure to win. The Gators went 7-6 in Muschamp's rookie season as a head coach after he replaced Urban Meyer, who led Florida to BCS national championships in 2006 and '08. It didn't seem to matter that the Gators lost quarterback John Brantley to injuries and were forced to play freshmen Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel against one of the country's most difficult schedules in 2011.

"It was a very frustrating, disappointing first year," Muschamp said. "We certainly didn't meet the expectation level that we expect at Florida on the field. But I do feel like we have built a very solid foundation for where we're headed. We didn't get the results we wanted on the field. I feel like in the locker room, the weight room, the attitude of our football team, the discipline of our team, we're headed in the right direction. Every decision I make is for the long-term success of our program. As I've said plenty of times, we're building a program, not a team. That's where we are right now."

[+] EnlargeDerek Dooley
Jim Brown/US PresswireDerek Dooley's Vols return a roster full of experienced players in 2012.

How long does a coach have to build a program these days?

For Tennessee's Derek Dooley, it might be only three seasons. Perhaps no coach in the country faces more pressure this season than Dooley, whose Volunteers went 11-14 in his first two seasons. Tennessee finished 5-7 in 2011, having lost quarterback Tyler Bray for five games and star receiver Justin Hunter for the final nine contests. Unfortunately for Dooley, there are no mulligans -- and very little patience -- in the SEC.

"I feel better today about where we are as a program than at any point since I've been in Knoxville, and I mean that," Dooley said. "And probably the No. 1 reason for that is for the first time we have a settled roster. Our roster's in place; we have a full 85 on scholarship and we have 19 starters back, so we have a lot of experience."

With the Volunteers finally playing with a full deck, Dooley knows his team needs to be more competitive in the SEC East -- Tennessee was 1-7 against league competition last season -- or he might not be around on Rocky Top in 2013.

"It's kind of like that song -- a little less conversation and a little more action," Dooley said. "We have to go out and prove it, and that's what we intend to do this year."

The Volunteers open the season Aug. 31 against NC State at Atlanta's Georgia Dome in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic. After playing SEC West heavyweights Alabama, Arkansas and LSU last season, the Volunteers have only the Crimson Tide this season, at home Oct. 20.

"I don't think he's on the hot seat," Bray said. "I think the team's on the hot seat. The team hasn't executed the game plan the way we should have. We haven't had the seasons Tennessee's had in the past, but we're going to try to change that."

Brian Kelly spent the past two seasons trying to change the way Notre Dame has played for much of the past two decades. After back-to-back 8-5 seasons, Fighting Irish fans are starting to grow a little impatient with their coach. But with Notre Dame playing one of the country's most difficult schedules this season -- at Michigan State, Oklahoma and Southern Cal and home versus Michigan and Stanford -- its results might not be much better in Year 3.

"I think [the pressure] is the same," Kelly said. "Any time you play a game that's worth keeping score, it's something that you want to win. So I think success for us is winning in everything that we do, on the field [and] off the field. Successful businesses and organizations have their own internal goals, and we've got some internal goals. But we'll be judged by wins and losses, and we know that. There are a lot of things that go into it when we talk about success. We have some internal things that we keep within the house but know full well that success is going to be judged by wins."

If nothing else, Kelly believes he has a better understanding of his players and they of him after two seasons.

"There is so much more of a comfort level that I have with the players and they have with me after three years," Kelly said. "They know me a lot better. I know them so much better. There is just a sense and feeling within the room that we're all on the same page. I think that happens over time. You know, you wish you could get it done immediately, but I think going into Year 3, there is definitely a connection that we all have. Maybe it's because I'm doing a better job, too, as the head coach."

As Kelly said, wins and losses will ultimately determine how he's doing.

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball

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