College Football Coaching Carousel: Who's Feeling the Heat?

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Well, we've made it through the first month of the season, and as promised, I'm back to assess the damage. (On a personal note, I'm very proud of myself for actually following through on a project for the site, for once.) With most teams having played a third of their schedule at this point, I think we're beginning to form a clearer picture of which coaches are in trouble and which coaches can perhaps dare to dream of spending 2012 at the same address.

You may notice that the Countdown has sprawled a bit since our Preseason Primer thanks to some surprising early season results. So in an effort to keep things orderly, I've divided up the list into a few different groupings. First, we'll visit with a coach who's seat on the Carousel has already been reserved. Then, to show that I'm not such a mean guy, we'll take note of a few coaches who have significantly improved their position. After that, I'll introduce you to a few new faces on the Countdown that might surprise you. And finally, we'll catch up with the remainder of the Countdown's Primer class to see how they're doing. Simple enough, right? Keep in mind that while this is a de facto "who's on the hot seat" list, a few of the coaches you come across may not fit that bill at this present moment and are instead cases where I see job-threatening trouble brewing on the horizon.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't take a moment to recognize our first coaching casualty of the 2011 season, erstwhile New Mexico head man, Mike Locksley. As you may recall, I tend to restrict the focus of the Countdown to BCS conference coaches for the sake of brevity, so Locksley was notably absent from the Primer. But if we did include mid-major coaches, he would have been tops on the list. Locksley produced more scandals than wins in his two and a half years in Albuquerque and, without a doubt, will go down as one of the worst hires in modern college football history. In honor of his passing, I now direct your attention to a very special individual who is a virtual lock to be next to join him on the unemployment line (which I believe starts at a booster's pocket and leads straight to a gig as an analyst at ESPN these days):

2011 Record: 1-3
Next 2 Weeks: @ Fresno State, Bye
No coach featured in the Preseason Primer has fared worse than Nutt through the first month of the season. He's done. Not only have his Ole Miss Rebels lost 3 games, they've lost in awful fashion: giving away the game against BYU on a horrible coaching decision, almost getting SHUT OUT by Vanderbilt, and then only managing to score on Georgia via a pair of trick plays. There is no hope for this team or this man. Pay attention this weekend. If Ole Miss lays an egg against Fresno State, the administration could move to oust Nutt during the bye week. At 1-4 with the bulk of the SEC schedule left to play, not even the faintest hope of salvaging the season would remain. Might as well get a head start on the Carousel. Mike Locksley is available.
Chances for Survival: 10% (down from 40%)

Now with that unpleasantness out of the way, let's get happy. Here are a few guys that are SITTING PRETTY:

2011 Record: 4-0
Next 2 Weeks: @ Virginia Tech, vs. Boston College
No other coach in the country has seen their perception change so radically as Swinney has this season. From beleaguered to emboldened, Swinney has transformed himself into the hootin', hollerin', fist-pumpin', love-feelin', DON'T GIVE A CRAP toast of the ACC in just two short weeks. One wonders how long he can keep this up, but with this win over Florida State, he has seized control of the Atlantic Division and silenced his doubters. At this point, it would take an epic collapse for Swinney to lose his job this season. Of course, with this being Clemson we're talking about, you can't rule it out just yet. However, if he manages another big upset in Blacksburg this weekend, an appearance in the conference championship game looks far more likely.
Chances for Survival: 75% (up from 50%)

2011 Record: 4-0
Next 2 Weeks: vs. Northwestern, @ Indiana
Zook's Illini have held serve through the first 4 games of their season-opening 5-game home stand, including a very solid win over Arizona State, and in the process, have gained sure footing for Zook to mount the latest in his never-ending string of campaigns to save his job. They haven't convinced me they're capable of contending for anything important yet, but they are in great position to open up 6-0 and take a shot at 8 or 9 wins from there. The continuation of the Zook Dynasty seems inevitable. Illini Fans For A Better Tomorrow might want to consider pulling for Northwestern this weekend.
Chances for Survival: 70% (up from 50%)

2011 Record: 3-1
Next 2 Weeks: vs. Oregon State, @ Utah
Erickson made a major breakthrough last weekend, delivering Arizona State fans their first taste of victory over USC this century in emphatic fashion. The Sun Devils now look to be on pace to win at least 8 games, and a win over Utah in two weeks will make them the prohibitive favorites to represent the South in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game. If ASU is 6-0 next time we get together, we may be wishing Erickson a fond farewell from the Countdown.
Chances for Survival: 70% (up from 50%)

And now meet a quartet of coaches who's seasons have started in unexpectedly disastrous fashion and landed them in the EXPRESS CHECK-IN line for the Carousel:

2011 Record: 0-3
Next 2 Weeks: @ Arizona State, vs. Arizona
I almost hate to add Riley to the list, but as the only winless coach in a BCS conference through the first month of the season, I'm afraid it's mandatory. But that 0-3 record probably isn't as bad as it looks. Yes, the Sacramento State loss is ugly, but you would expect Oregon State to lose at Wisconsin. And UCLA, whether good or bad, have historically dominated that series, even in Corvalis. So there's still hope that this team can show better over their final 9 games. All that said, if this team doesn't improve and continues on it's current trajectory, this will mark Riley's second straight losing season. And while I don't profess to be in touch with West Coast fandom (my general assumption is that they're willing to tolerate a lot of mediocrity), or the college football climate in Oregon specifically, two years in a row without a bowl game is tough for any fan base to swallow. I bet it doesn't help to have an in-state rival that's blowing up like Oregon is either. So we'll be keeping an eye out for trouble here. Riley did recently sign a lengthy extension with OSU, but as we're all aware by now, those contracts don't mean anything anymore. 
Chances for Survival: 70%

2011 Record: 1-3
Next 2 Weeks: vs. Wake Forest, @ Clemson
The story of Frank Spaziani's tenure as head coach at Boston College is looking more and more like a cautionary tale of what can happen when a spurned school makes an emotional decision to hire from "in the family" (see Stewart, Bill). BC was previously on a roll, winning a minimum of 9 games for 5 straight years (including back-to-back ACC title game appearances under Jagodzinski), but has been trending downward under Spaziani's watch, culminating in a breathtaking 0-3 opening mark in 2011 before sweet, merciful UMass laid down for their first win. With games against Clemson, Virginia Tech, Florida State, and Notre Dame to come, this weekend's home date with Wake Forest is a crucial swing game for Spaziani. A loss almost certainly dooms this team to a losing record, a calamity that hasn't befallen the Eagles' program this millennium.
Chances for Survival: 50%

2011 Record: 1-3
Next 2 Weeks: @ USC, @ Oregon State
Coming off 3 consecutive winning seasons and with an exciting array of offensive talent returning, I don't imagine many would have expected to find Stoops on a list like this, but here he is. Despite going to 3 straight bowl games, his Wildcat teams were never SO impressive as to build up the amount of good will necessary to offset an out-of-nowhere losing season in Year 8 of his tenure. (In fact, Arizona was casually swatted by BCS-caliber competition in it's last two bowls.) The losing becomes even more unpalatable when you take into account all the flashy talent like Nick Foles and Juron Criner that fans and administration see as being "squandered" in the process. Stoops badly needs a win this weekend against USC, or the back 6 games on his schedule will turn into a desperate struggle for bowl eligibility and, perhaps, his job.
Chances for Survival: 60%

2011 Record: 2-2
Next 2 Weeks: vs. Georgia Tech, vs. Central Michigan
For a guy who wasn't on any "hot seat" list prior to the season, 2-2 probably doesn't look like such an egregious record as to suddenly merit inclusion on one now. But O'Brien was most definitely on the hot seat heading into the 2010 season, before Russell Wilson "arrived" as a player and led the Wolfpack to the first winning season of O'Brien's 4 year tenure. Following that season, O'Brien took the calculated risk of sending Wilson on his way and hitching his wagon to Mike Glennon. How's that working out so far? Well, the losses have been ugly. They were throttled by Cincinnati, and Wake Forest had a 21-point lead on them until a late rally cut it to only a 7-point loss. But the wins might be even uglier. The first thing that jumps out about them are the opponents: Liberty and South Alabama, both non-FBS teams. Secondly, they struggled with both. Liberty was within 9 points until late in the 4th. What's more, as a result of playing those teams, NC State must win 7 games to qualify for a bowl. And I don't see 5 sure wins left on their schedule. I wonder how much credit NC State's administration will give O'Brien for the 2010 season if the Woflpack ends up home for the holidays while Russell Wilson is playing in a BCS bowl.
Chances for Survival: 60% 

And how are our old friends who opened the season ON STAND-BY for a spot on the Carousel?

2011 Record: 2-2
Next 2 Weeks: vs. Mississippi State, @ Tennessee
Heading into the season, it was a well-known, some might have said "likely," possibility that Georgia could open at 0-2. So I don't think the fact that it came to pass hurt Richt's chances of survival, in and of itself. However, what his failure to steal a big win from Boise and/or South Carolina DID do is make it much more important for Richt to pile up 9 or 10 wins on the remainder of his schedule, and especially to score some big wins against the remaining rivals. So far so good against the teams he's supposed to beat, but the month of October will be crucial for his future employment. If Georgia can go 3-1 or 4-0 (including wins over Tennessee & Florida) over that span, they can puff up their record on a suddenly weak-looking November schedule on the way to Georgia Tech. But if it goes badly, no one is going to care if they "finish strong" over New Mexico State and Kentucky.
Chances for Survival: 60% (down from 80%)

2011 Record: 2-1
Next 2 Weeks: vs. Arkansas (neutral), @ Texas Tech
Sherman was a controversial pick to be featured in my Preseason Primer for the Carousel. I largely based his inclusion on the possibility of a huge backlash if the Aggies failed to meet expectations. Well, after squashing two powder puffs, the Aggies suffered their first stumble of the season in a come-from-ahead loss to one of their top conference rivals, Oklahoma State. Of course, A&M has only played 3 games thus far, and the Cowboys are a pretty good team, so I'm not ready to downgrade his chances for survival just yet. But we've now seen our first evidence that the possibility of last year's 6-game win streak being a fluke is very, very real. So he stays on the list, for now. The next two games will be very telling.
Chances for Survival: 70% (no change)

2011 Record: 2-1
Next 2 Weeks: @ Syracuse, vs. Pittsburgh
This is another case where I just don't have enough empirical evidence to adjust the chances for survival one way or the other. That said, no early season loss to a mid-major makes 2011 an improvement for Rutgers, so far.
Chances for Survival: 60% (no change)

2011 Record: 2-2
Next 2 Weeks: @ Stanford, vs. Washington State
Dropping rematches to 2 of the 4 teams the Bruins beat during last year's 4-8 debacle (Houston and Texas) hasn't done Neuheisel any favors as far as convincing people that 2011 is going to be any better. But that road trip to newly, mystifyingly pitiful Oregon State came at just the right time, and he managed to keep that death knell from ringing too loudly for a while longer. For the time being at least, he can hang his hat on being 1-0 in the conference. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!
Chances for Survival: 30% (no change)

2011 Record: 2-1
Next 2 Weeks: @ Colorado, @ UCLA
It's been a long time since Washington State opened a season at 2-0. And I bet that thumping of UNLV made everyone in Pullman feel really good, like an actual BCS conference school for a change. So Wulff has got that going for him. But if the Cougars end up 2-10 again, no one is going to be using that UNLV game as proof that he should stick around for Year 5. Those next two games are going to be really interesting, though.
Chances for Survival: 15% (up from 10%)

2011 Record: 2-1
Next 2 Weeks: vs. Notre Dame, vs. Minnesota
It's not like the season has started horribly for Purdue or anything. In fact, they've suffered early season losses to mid-majors each of the last 2 years. But that's kind of the problem, isn't it? When you're having to scratch and claw for a bowl berth, you can't afford to be dropping games to Rice, no matter where they're played. But this is the status quo for Hope's tenure. I wonder how much more Purdue is willing to endure.
Chances for Survival: 40% (no change)

Well, that's all for now.  Check back in two weeks to see if these guys are sinking or swimming, and if maybe some new faces join the list.