2008 Spring Previews - Coaches Who Must Win
Washington head coach Ty Willingham
Washington head coach Ty Willingham
Posted Mar 3, 2008

What ten big-name coaches have to come up with big seasons? Which ones will be fired without a big 2008, which ones need to get their mojo back, and which need a strong year to get off the hot seat?

Spring Preview 2008

The 20 Big Questions - No. 11

By Pete Fiutak 

- The 2008 Big Spring Questions  
No. 20 - Top 40 Non-Conference Games
No. 16-19 - BCS Busters, Rule Changes & More
No. 15 - Ranking the Conferences
No. 14 - Who Could Be This Year's Kansas?
(breaking through big after a bad year)
No. 13 - 5 Teams That Could Tumble

No. 12 - Who Could Be This Year's Missouri?
(going from good to special)

11. Ten coaches who need to win big this year are ...

Some of these big-name coaches will be gone next year if they don't have big seasons, some will be on double-secret probation in 2009 without a strong 2008, and some just need to turn things around and make their already good teams special again.

Three Big-Name Coaches Who'll Be Gone Without A Big Year

Chuck Long, San Diego State

This isn't exactly how things were supposed to work out. This was Chuck Long, a college football legend and rising offensive mastermind who helped keep the Oklahoma offense booming, coming to San Diego State, a supposed sleeping lion of a program that just needed a few breaks and a little head coaching star power to become a major Mountain West player. This was supposed to be a stepping-stone for Long as he swooped in for a few years and made the Aztecs strong before inevitably leaving for a bigger-name school. Even with loads of offensive experience returning last year, and a NFL-caliber quarterback in Kevin O'Connell to carry things, the offense didn't exactly take off, and the defense continued to be lousy giving Long a 7-17 record in two years. Injuries have been a problem, and Long likely won't be canned even with a third straight lousy season, but there had better be some positive signs or 2009 will be a make-or-break season for his coaching career.

Greg Robinson, Syracuse 

How in the name of
Skaneateles is Greg Robinson still the head football coach at the University of Syracuse? Who would've ever thought Orange fans would be pining for the Paul Pasqualoni era? In three years his teams have produced a 7-28 record with two of those wins coming against Buffalo, one against a 2006 Miami University squad that went 2-10, and one against a 2006 Illinois team that went 2-10. Worse yet, the attendance isn't there, and very soon, it's going to be a straight money issue if the fan base doesn't start coming back. Robinson has said he's going to start doing more with the defense, he has a few fantastic offensive pieces to build around, but the time to let the program grow it over. There has to be a major sign of improvement, or else things will change ... and quickly.

Mike Stoops, Arizona

In four years, Stoops has gone 17-29 without a bowl appearance. It seems like every season that Arizona is the Breakthrough Program To Watch, but it hasn't happened yet while that other team up the road in Tempe appears to be on the verge of really, really big things. The team always teases with big wins, like last year's victory over Oregon and the 24-20 win over Cal two years ago, but it's never consistent. Considering UA hasn't been to a bowl game since the 1998 Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska to close out a 12-1 season, the fan base isn't going to be patient for too much longer.

Four Big-Name Coaches Who'll Get One More Chance If They Don't Rock in 2008. One More.

Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville

How do you have Brian Brohm, a dizzying array of offensive weapons, and the nation's sixth best offense and still go 6-6? Oh yeah, the defense. While changes are being made in Louisville, there are living, breathing expectations for a program that won the Orange Bowl two years ago and could realistically put the words national and championship in its dreams. Considering the success of John L. Smith and Bobby Petrino, Kragthrorpe, one of the nation's hot coaches after an excellent stint at Tulsa, didn't keep the train rolling as expected. No, 2007 wasn't a total disaster, four of the six losses came by seven points or fewer, but losing to arch-rival Kentucky and to a woeful Syracuse made the fans grouchy. This is a place that considers itself a football power now, and anything else than being in the hunt for the Big East title will do.

Mike Price, UTEP

It's not that Price hasn't made UTEP a consistent Conference USA power, it's that his teams have gone into the tank late in the last few seasons despite having some of the best talent in the league. Remember, before Price, UTEP had won two games in three straight seasons, and he set the bar way high with a stunning 8-4 turnaround. However, even in that big 2004 campaign, the Miners lost their final two games including a 33-28 loss to Colorado in the Houston Bowl. That started a horrible trend of closing out seasons going 0-3 in the final three games of 2005 while blowing the Conference USA title and getting blasted by Toledo in the GMAC Bowl. He went 1-5 in the final six games of 2006 and 0-6 to finish 200, and now the program has been lapped by Houston, Tulsa, and UCF, while East Carolina and SMU have been strong.

Ty Willingham, Washington

Willingham was going to show all those Notre Damers who made a big push for change in South Bend, one many thought was unwarranted, by turning around a once-giant of a Washington program. While the recruiting hasn't been bad, it hasn't exactly been lucky. For example, J.R. Hasty was one of the nation's top running backs and the jewel of Willingham's first recruiting class, but instead of being the star to build around, he was never eligible and never got a chance. Forget that Jake Locker is one of the nation's premier young stars. Pay no attention to a brutal schedule that wasn't exactly conducive to rebuilding. This is Washington, a national powerhouse that was competing for Rose Bowls and national titles not all that long ago, and going 11-25 in three seasons isn't going to get it done. Starting out this year at Oregon, against a loaded BYU, and against Oklahoma isn't exactly a way to get things back on track.

Charlie Weis, Notre Dame

Thanks to one of the nation's best recruiting classes, Weis has bought himself at least one more lousy season with 2009 looking like something special if all the talent shines through as expected, but another 3-9 season will make things very, very ugly. Weis proved he could coach Ty Willingham's players, but when it came time to reload, he came up with the worst season in Notre Dame history complete with a loss to Navy. Worse yet, for supposedly being an offensive mastermind, his attack was the worst in America, and that simply can't happen again with a QB like Jimmy Clausen to work with. Don't think Weis's fat contact will be a deterrent for anything; Notre Dame could buy out the head man with the loose change in its pocket.

Three Big-Name Coaches Who Won't Ever Be Fired, But Need To Get Their Mojo Back

Mack Brown, Texas

Remember, we're talking about elite of the elite of the elite expectations here. Brown went 10-3 last year with a Holiday Bowl win, and has gone 20-6 in the last two seasons, but as everyone knows, you can't lose rivalry games. Forget that the Longhorns have won ten or more games in seven straight seasons, compared to six straight seasons at USC, three straight at Ohio State, and two straight at Oklahoma, but they lost last year to the Sooners and lost two years in a row to Texas A&M. The rich alumni will only take guff from their Aggie and Sooner co-workers for so long.

Almost every other program would take Texas's record over the last several years in a heartbeat, but with the national title the goal every year, the grumbling has started again that Brown is a guy who can get the ball on the green, but can't putt. Was 2005 an aberration because of an all-timer of a season from a college football legend? Did Vince Young overcome the coaching? It's not fair; remember, only three current head coaches, Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden and Dennis Erickson have two D-I national championships (sorry Pete Carroll fans, we live in a BCS world now ... you get 1.5), so the pressure on Brown is unfair. But again, this is Texas.

Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

A few years ago, Ferentz was one of the nation's hottest coaches, rumored for just about every open NFL job, or at the very least, certain to bolt to one of the elite of the elite powerhouse programs after taking his talent-challenged Iowa teams to 31 wins in three seasons. Injuries and inconsistencies were the theme from 2005 to 2007 going 7-5, 6-7 and 6-6 in three disappointing campaigns. While that's hardly falling off the map, the team gagged late in 2006 and completely choked last year in the regular season finale against Western Michigan to stay home for the bowl season for the first time since 2000. Oh yeah, and Michigan and Ohio State weren't on last season's schedule. Ferentz isn't going to be fired, he's still doing a decent job, but the window has slammed shut on his shot at bolting for a bigger job, and now there's a question of whether or not the program is going stale. He's going into his tenth year as the head man. This is when Iowa should be rocking and rolling, not regrouping.

Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

Wasn't the Ol' Ball Coach supposed to be able to just show up and make any SEC team an instant contender? Unfortunately, the rest of the league just got really, really, really loaded with top-shelf coaches like Nick Saban, Les Miles, Urban Meyer, and Bobby Petrino, to go along with established A listers like Tommy Tuberville, Mark Richt and Houston Nutt. In other words, Spurrier is just another great coach in a league full of them. He worked a little bit of magic in his first two years, and injuries took their toll on last year's squad, but now it's year four and this is his program; the buck stops under the visor. The SEC is a cruel, heartless place, and while Spurrier will never be fired, the five-game losing streak to close out last year means he has to produce now and show the Gamecock faithful that yes, you really can win in Columbia.