2009 Spring Preview - Coaches Who Must Win
Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis
Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis
Posted Mar 19, 2009

From legends who won't be fired but need to get their groove back, to coaches about to be on the hot seat, to coaches who need to win or be fired, here are ten big-name coaches who have to win big this year. Check out who will be under the microscope in the next installment of the CFN 2009 Pre-Spring Overview.

Spring Preview 2009

The 20 Big Questions ... No. 10

By Pete Fiutak 

With spring ball underway, here are the 20 Big Questions to start off the offseason.

Spring Preview 2009
20 Big Questions

- No, 11 - Is the SEC worth the hype?

- No. 12 - Will the Pac 10 finally get some respect?
- No, 13 - The top BCS. vs. non-BCS games

- No. 14 - Why no Big East love?
- No, 15 - Does the Big Ten suck?

- No. 16 - Was the Big 12 exposed?

- No, 17 - Just how good is the ACC?
- No. 18 - Are we any closer to a playoff?

- No, 19 - Potential BCS Busters

- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 1 to 10)
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 11 to 20)
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 21 to 30)
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 31 to 40)
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 41 to 50
10. 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

Al Groh, Virginia

There are 12 teams in the conference and ten went to bowls. Duke, as expected, was one team that missed out. Virginia was the other. Groh has been hanging around by a thread over the last eight years with his tremendous recruiting classes of the early part of his tenure failing to pan out, and the struggles with consistency over the last few years putting the spotlight on for 2009. While going 56-44 over eight years is decent, it’s not like the program is getting any better in an ever improving ACC and it’s not like anyone will be picking the Cavaliers to win the ACC this season. Groh has been great at cranking out a few pro talents every year, OT Eugene Monroe and LB Clint Sintim are the stars going into this year’s draft, but the offense has been inconsistent and the defense hasn’t picked up the slack.

Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville 

It wasn’t all that long ago, 2006 to be exact, when Louisville was a late Rutgers field goal away from playing for the national championship. It wasn’t like the Cardinals were a fluke, either. That team, led by QB Brian Brohm and coached by Bobby Petrino, beat eight teams that finished with winning records with the only loss coming to the Scarlet Knight team that finished 11-2. Petrino bolted for the Atlanta Falcons, but the success was supposed to keep on coming with Steve Kragthope the hot head coach of the moment. It was supposedly a coup for the Cardinals, but the team was a major flop in 2007 going 6-6 and missing out on a bowl game for the first time in a decade. The offense didn’t do much last year scoring more than 24 points against just three FBS teams while a 5-2 start turned into a 5-7 disaster with a  five-game losing streak to close things out. After the Cardinal fans had a taste of success under John L. Smith and then Petrino, another season without a bowl, and without being a factor in the Big East race, won’t do.

Charlie Weis, Notre Dame

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Being an arrogant blowhard is nothing new for a college football head coach, in fact it’s usually a prerequisite. But when you come in bragging that your team will have a “schematic advantage” over everyone else, and your personality is about as pleasant as getting the back of your thigh shaved off by a cheese grater, there’s going to be a backlash when there are lean times. When you’re known as an offensive mastermind and your team comes up with the worst offensive year in the history of Notre Dame football, job security will be an issue. The Irish wasn’t all that bad last year, but the mediocre season and a blowout loss to USC all but kicked Weis out on his can. Instead, he was given one more year with a “BCS or bust” demand/threat. To be fair, forgetting about the Ty Willingham coaching time frame side of the equation, had he been able to sell the idea that he deserved a year for his recruiting classes of a few years ago to mature, people would’ve bought it. With a light schedule and a team good enough to come up with a double-digit win season, the potential is there to come up with a great year, even if the Irish fall just short of getting to the BCS. Weis probably doesn’t have to get to the BCS to keep his job as long as the team shows major signs of improvement, but anything less than a big step forward will mean a new era in South Bend next year at this time.

Four Big-Name Coaches Who'll Get One More Chance If They Don't Rock in 2009. One More.

Bret Bielema, Wisconsin

It wasn’t all that long ago that Bielema was seen as college football’s hottest young head coach. He was so highly thought of that he was locked up and anointed in a succession plan by Barry Alvarez. As is always the case at a big-time school, one disappointing season, especially one with so many disastrous moments, starts to get some fans buzzing about making a change. Bielema is still considered a rising coach, and he’d get another job in a heartbeat if he’s let go, but he was badly outcoached at times. Even though Wisconsin is no longer considered in the mix like it was last year, the potential is still there for there to be a quick turnaround if the defense toughens up and if there’s better quarterback play. A second straight down year, even a losing one, won’t mean Bielema will be gone, but the program will have to show signs that it can get back on the fast track in the near future.

Gene Chizik, Auburn

There will be a very, very short leash on the Chizik era. He has put together a tremendous coaching staff and he’s in far better situation talent-wise than he was in at Iowa State, but he has done nothing, nothing, to show that he’s worthy of being a head coach anywhere, much less at a place like Auburn. The word rebuild doesn’t fly for the top SEC schools with a win-now-or-else attitude, especially for a program with a fan base that has to sit back and groove on the rising success from its arch-rival. Did offensive coordinator Tony Franklin get time to get the pieces in place to properly run the attack last year? Yeah, bad example, but considering all the controversy and skepticism surrounding the hiring of Chizik, he can’t afford a losing season in year one if he wants to breathe relatively easily in year two.

Rich Rodriguez, Michigan

In the be careful for what you wish for department, there was a segment of the Michigan fan base that couldn’t wait to see Lloyd Carr move on. Going to the Rose Bowl and winning Big Ten title games were nice, but year after year of not being in the national title hunt, after winning it all in 1997, started to wear a bit thin for some. Even with the huge 2006 season, when the Wolverines were this close from being in the national title, all the warm and fuzzy feelings went bye-bye with a Rose Bowl loss to USC. The idea was that the button-down program needed to undergo a philosophical change, within reason, or at least needed some new blood. Greg Schiano said no and Les Miles couldn’t take the job he so desperately wanted because he had a little thing called the national championship getting in his way, but Rich Rodriguez was hardly a booby prize. Remember, RichRod had West Virginia a healthy Pat White away from playing for the 2007 national title (which, oddly enough, might have meant the timing would’ve worked out for Miles to be even more in the mix for the Michigan job since it would’ve been a West Virginia – Ohio State BCS Championship), and also remember that Michigan needed to undergo a major personnel face-lift. Everyone knew that the pieces weren’t in place for the Wolverines to be great last year, but no one saw a 3-9 disaster complete with a loss to Toledo and a 42-7 embarrassment at Ohio State. Rodriguez needs to show that the program is on the right track, and a fantastic recruiting class was a good start. A winning season would be better.

Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

When you’re winning SEC championships and cranking out offensive juggernauts, rotating the quarterbacks and monkeying with the attack makes you quirky. A genius. When you go 28-21 in four years, get destroyed against an arch-rival (Clemson) and fail to show up in the bowl game (a 31-10 loss to Iowa), things aren’t working out well, even if you’re an all-timer of a legend. A Steve Spurrier-led team was 97th in the nation in yards?! 96th in scoring?! 112th in rushing?! Most galling was the lack of effectiveness from the quarterbacks that led the nation’s 93rd most efficient passing game. The biggest problem was the lack of improvement as the quarterbacks kept throwing interceptions, the offense kept sputtering, and the team kept failing with a three game losing streak to close things out (scoring just 30 points in the defeats). Considering the Gamecocks lost their final five games of 2007, and with the team failing to come close to being in the race for the SEC title, Spurrier has got to show off why he’s still considered one of the great coaches in SEC history.

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

Dan Hawkins, Colorado

The Buffaloes were devastated by injuries in a 5-7 season, and while it was a bad break for last year, losing four of the last five games and seven of the last nine, it’s a plus for this season with an influx of talent about to kick in thanks to the return of so many key contributors. That’s the hope, anyway. With a disastrous 13-24 start, the Hawkins era hasn’t exactly worked out as expected when he was lured away from Boise State. Even so, he’s not on any sort of hot seat and there’s no talk whatsoever about anything other than how improved the Buffs should be. He’s still considered an elite head coach and he’s still thought of as a tremendously inventive offensive mind, but the results have to start kicking in.

Rick Neuheisel, UCLA

Neuheisel is one of the best offensive coaches in the game. Norm Chow is the offensive coordinator. So how is it that QB Kevin Craft never got any better? Why is it that the offense got worse as the season went on? The 4-8 record wasn’t expected, but it was accepted considering there was so much work needing to be done to stock the depleted shelves. To be fair, losing the No. 1 and 2 quarterbacks (Ben Olsen and Patrick Cowan) before the season didn’t help matters, and a nightmare of an O line proved to be a killer. A fantastic recruiting class was a great step forward considering Neuheisel came to Westwood claiming he was ready to go head-to-head with USC for players, but it’s going to be at least another year before the Bruins can make some noise in the Pac 10 race. In the meantime, getting to a bowl game would be a solid sign that the program is headed in the right direction.

Bill Snyder, Kansas State

There’s no question that Snyder did one of the greatest jobs in the history of college football by taking the miserable program and making it one of the nation’s powerhouses. However, lost in the memory of all the success was the clunker of an ending to his era going just 9-13 in the two years after the high point, the 2003 Big 12 Championship win over Oklahoma. It’s not like Ron Prince was awful in his time in Manhattan, but there didn’t appear to be much hope of being back in the hunt for a conference title any time soon. KSU has always needed to rely heavily on JUCO transfers to succeed, but the formula didn’t work under Prince. Now, it’s been six years since Kansas State was relevant, and while Snyder doesn’t have to do anywhere near the work he had to do the first time around, this won’t be easy in a far improved Big 12.