We’re past the point where most college football coaches get fired. There could be some fallout from bowl season, and other unforeseen circumstances like the Rich Rodriguez situation at Arizona a few years ago, but for the most part, we have a good idea of what the coaching ranks will look like next year.
Right now, Boston College is the only Power Five program still open. That search has been remarkably quiet.
Other programs open include Colorado State, Fresno State, New Mexico, and Appalachian State. There are some pretty interesting opportunities in there, but nothing huge. If the NFL comes calling for a major coach, it could start things up again, but many more firings would be surprising at this point.
With that being said, it isn’t too difficult to see who will be on the hot seat entering next season. The coaches that survived, to the chagrin of many fans, this go around will need to win big next year.
That includes some pretty major names.
Will Muschamp – South Carolina
2019: 4-8 (3-5 SEC)
Career: 56-46 (26-25 at South Carolina, 15-17 SEC)
The powers that be at South Carolina made it clear pretty early on that Will Muschamp would retain his job heading into 2020. The reasoning that they used shouldn’t inspire much confidence heading into 2020.
After the 2018 season, a 7-6 year, athletic director Ray Tanner gave Muschamp what now looks like one of the worst contract extensions in college football, which included a buyout in excess of $19 million. That only drops to $18.8 million on December 31.
School president Robert Caslen gave a pretty frank reaction to a question about paying that kind of money to make a move by The Greenville News.
“If I wanted to do that — I’m not saying I would — but where am I going to come up with $18 million?” Caslen asked. “There’s so much more, as the president of a university, I could do with $18 million than to buy out a coach’s contract.
“I could build a parking garage, or I could revamp the stadium. There are so many more things you could do. So, why would I do that?”
Muschamp needs a serious rebound in 2020, or the calls for his job may be joined by those for Tanner’s a year from now.
Clay Helton – USC
2019: 8-4 (7-2 Pac-12)
Career: 40-21 (31-12 Pac-12)
Most coaches would be in very good shape with Clay Helton’s record at USC. The Trojans went to back-to-back New Year’s Six bowls during the 2016-17 seasons, winning an incredible Rose Bowl in Helton’s first full season as head coach.
Expectations at USC are much higher though, the Trojan fans have been told for over a year now that the likes of Urban Meyer or James Franklin could jump at the chance to coach the team.
Helton didn’t have a bad season by any means. With multiple injuries to blue-chip quarterbacks during the year, Helton’s team was one of the best in the Pac-12, beating South Division champion Utah along the way. At the end of the year, fans were still very upset that he was retained, and school president Carol Folt and athletic director Mike Bohn, both of whom are very new to USC, are catching a lot of the heat from the decision as well.
It would be surprising to see Helton back at USC in 2021, short of a Pac-12 Championship and another huge bowl bid next fall.
USC will face Iowa in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27.
Joe Moorhead – Mississippi State
2019: 6-6 (3-5 SEC)
Career: 52-24 (14-11 at Mississippi State, 7-9 SEC)
Dan Mullen’s highly successful tenure at Mississippi State might’ve obfuscated just how hard that job is. All things considered, Joe Moorhead has done a solid job given what the Bulldogs have historically done in the SEC. The offense, which Moorhead became known for as head coach at Fordham and offensive coordinator at Penn State, hasn’t always been there though.
Around midseason, Moorhead started popping up as a name for the Rutgers job, which gave some indication that things might not be great in Starkville. By season’s end, there was even indication that a loss in the Egg Bowl would cost him his job.
Of course, after what looked like a game-tying touchdown, Ole Miss’ Elijah Moore was penalized for mimicking a dog peeing in the end zone, Luke Logan missed the extra point after being pushed back 15 yards, and Moorhead’s Bulldogs escaped with a win, and Ole Miss coach Matt Luke lost his job somewhat unexpectedly.
After the game, Moorhead had this to say:
Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead: "This is my team, this is my school, this is my program. You'll have to drag my Yankee ass out of here."
— Tyler Horka (@tbhorka) November 29, 2019
That doesn’t sound like a guy who is on firm ground entering the 2020 college football season.
MSU faces Louisville in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30.
Kevin Sumlin – Arizona
2019: 4-8 (2-7 Pac-12)
Career: 95-58 (9-15 at Arizona, 6-12 Pac-12)
Kevin Sumlin seemed like a no-brainer at the time he was hired. He could never quite replicate the success he had with Johnny Manziel during the end of his tenure at Texas A&M, but his teams were consistently decent in the brutal SEC West. Making the jump to Arizona, where he inherited quarterback Khalil Tate, who entered 2018 with serious Heisman buzz, made all the sense in the world.
Things just haven’t worked for the former A&M and Houston head coach.
Tate’s passing numbers dipped from where they were under Rich Rodriguez in 2017, when he took over as starter mid-season, and his Lamar Jackson-esque rushing numbers absolutely cratered. He went from one of the most exciting players in college football to an average quarterback. The defense was even worse, ranking 109th in the country per SP+ this year.
Giving Sumlin a third year is very fair, but he needs to take a big step forward in 2020, or this experiment should be over.
Mark Dantonio – Michigan State
2019: 6-6 (4-5 Big Ten)
Career: 131-74 (113-57 at Michigan State, 69-39 Big Ten)
Mark Dantonio may be a future Hall of Famer for his Michigan State tenure. It wasn’t long ago that most would count him among their 5-to-10 best coaches in the country. Over the last few years, he’s lost the thread a bit.
In 2015, the Spartans made the College Football Playoff, with a 12-1 record and a Big Ten title. The sold loss that year came by one point to Nebraska.
Former MSU coach Nick Saban’s Alabama squad crushed the Spartans in that game, 38-0. You may be able to point to that game as a turning point.
The following year, Michigan State went just 3-9, missing a bowl for the first time under Dantonio. The Spartans rebounded to go 10-3 in 2017, but the last two years can only be described as middling. Sparty is just 1-5 against the other three major powers in the Big Ten East—Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State—in 2018-19. Those are the teams that MSU has typically measured itself against.
Dantonio has earned plenty of rope in East Lansing. However, he hasn’t really shown a willingness to really shake things up. After last year, he famously shuffled the jobs that his assistants held, rather than made major changes to personnel. After a disappointing 6-6 season, it looked like he just rearranged deck chairs in retrospect, though the non-moves earned plenty of criticism at the time.
It is unclear if Michigan State, as currently constituted, would fire Mark Dantonio, but without a leap forward next college football season, it wouldn’t surprise to see him resign.
Michigan State faces Wake Forest in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 27.