Week 9 of the college football season was a pretty good one for many of the sport's embattled coaches. It was definitely a positive Saturday for a number of guys who you can find on hot seat lists throughout the year.
The pair of struggling Los Angeles coaches both got big wins. Clay Helton staved off a huge upset loss for USC with a comeback win at Colorado, while Chip Kelly's UCLA Bruins scored an upset of previously ranked Arizona State.
October has been kind to Lovie Smith. His Illinois team, two weeks removed from beating Wisconsin, got to .500 with a win over Purdue.
Even Jeremy Pruitt is putting in work to cool off a seat that couldn't have been hotter in early September. The Vols now have two wins in three weeks after beating South Carolina. They were split by a loss to Alabama, but you can argue that they looked more competitive than most would have guessed in that game vs. the Crimson Tide. If not for the brutal fumble in the end zone by Jarrett Guarantano, which was returned for a touchdown, it would've been a relatively tight game.
That game leads us into our three coaches that are in real trouble after this weekend's action...
Will Muschamp – South Carolina
2019: 3-5 (2-4 SEC) – Last Week: 41-21 L at Tennessee
2018: 7-6 (4-4 SEC)
Career: 53-43 (25-22 at South Carolina)
Muschamp was riding high after the win over Georgia a few weeks ago. The Gamecocks showed some serious gut, pulling out that win after Ryan Hilinski went out.
The promise of that game has been squandered pretty quickly. The following week, the Gamecocks fell to Florida. It is hard to count that one too hard against Muschamp, as the team played hard and was competitive against a highly-ranked team.
Yesterday's game, though, reignites Muschamp hot seat talks. The Vols have improved from the brutal start to the 2019 season, but if South Carolina really wanted to make a statement that it was closer to the top of the division than the bottom, it absolutely needed a win at Rocky Top. Instead, the team got a beat down at the hands of Jeremy Pruitt's club.
At 3-5, a bowl game is looking very unlikely. Next week's game against Vanderbilt is winnable but no gimme at all. The Commodores are not a great team, but they are coming off of a bye, which was preceded by a big win over ranked Mizzou. After that: a ranked Appalachian State team that may wind up in a New Year's Six bowl, a very solid Texas A&M team, and, of course, Clemson. Per FPI, the win probabilities for each of those games descends pretty starkly: 88.2-percent vs. Vandy, 66.3 vs. App State, 21.8 at A&M, and just 10.4-percent vs. Clemson.
Mark Dantonio – Michigan State
2019: 4-4 (2-3 Big Ten) – Last Week: 28-7 L vs. Penn State
2018: 7-6 (5-4 Big Ten)
Career: 129-72 (111-55 at Michigan State)
Mark Dantonio has one of the most successful coaching tenures in college football. He has three Big Ten titles, a Rose Bowl win, and two trips to the Cotton Bowl, including a College Football Playoff bid. Most Big Ten coaches would do anything for that level of success in the Big Ten East, much of which came during the heart of Urban Meyer's reign.
And yet, the diminishing returns have been significant in recent years for MSU.
Since 2016, the Spartans are 24-22, with a 15-17 record in conference play. That includes a 10-win season. Things have gotten pretty bleak.
After last season, rather than making major moves to his coaching staff, Dantonio opted to shuffle the deck, switching the position assignments for a few coaches. It doesn't appear to have paid dividends.
On Saturday, the team got blown out at home by a Penn State team that it has recently dominated in East Lansing. Losing to a very good Nittany Lions team isn't the end of the world, but Michigan State wasn't competitive and looked out of sorts and poorly coached.
That is not something you could generally say before, even of some of his lesser teams. If South Carolina winds up moving on from Muschamp, its most famous alum in coaching—Dantonio—may very well be available. Unfortunately for all involved, he'll be damaged goods if MSU can't claw back to put together a respectable season.
The Spartans finish up with a feisty Illinois team, at Michigan, which just destroyed Notre Dame at home, and then at bad Rutgers and Maryland teams. Seven or even eight wins is attainable, but Michigan State's time as a true Big Ten East contender under Dantonio appears to be behind it. Hot seat talk continues to grow for him as Michigan State struggles.
Chad Morris – Arkansas
2019: 2-6 (0-5 SEC) – Last Week: 48-7 L at Alabama
2018: 2-10 (0-8 SEC)
Career: 18-38 (4-16 at Arkansas)
With established powers like Alabama and LSU cruising, and other teams like Auburn and Texas A&M looking like solid Top 25 teams more often than not, getting a program off the ground in the SEC West is not easy. Arkansas is definitely a tough job.
Still, we've seen the Razorbacks taken to impressive heights in the not-so-distant past. Before he was fired for off-field indiscretions, Bobby Petrino had the team flirting with the top five on occasion. Bret Bielema wasn't able to build on that, but even he had some moments.
Chad Morris, hired from SMU to establish a dynamic, modern offense in Fayetteville after Bielema largely played Big Ten ground-and-pound ball, is still looking for his first SEC win two months into his second season. The list of teams Arkansas has picked up wins against in the last two years: Eastern Illinois, Tulsa, Portland State, Colorado State. That run also features losses to Colorado State and North Texas in 2018, and San Jose State this fall.
A new coaching hire deserves time, and two seasons seems like a very short amount of time to put someone on the hot seat for a job as daunting as Arkansas, especially with how good the SEC West has been, but there haven't been really tangible signs of improvement. Two years in, you need to at least show that, and maybe notch a decent conference win or two.
Arkansas finishes with Mississippi State and Western Kentucky at home, followed by LSU on the road and Missouri in Little Rock. FPI has the WKU game as a 66-percent chance of a win for Arkansas, but even that seems a bit high at this point.