August 28, 2011

Dienhart: Ten hottest seats in coaching

It's a list no coach wants to be on. It's the hot-seat list. And it's time to fan the flames over those coaches who need to win - right now.

No coach sits on a hotter seat than UCLA's Rick Neuheisel. Upon taking the job at his alma mater, Neuheisel went right after crosstown rival USC. Neuheisel said that "when you're at UCLA, you have to have your passion bucket full when you play the Trojans." Neuheisel also appeared in an ad created by UCLA that proclaimed, "The football monopoly in L.A. is officially over."

No one ever said Neuheisel was shy or bashful. But the results haven't matched the rhetoric: One bowl appearance, two eighth-place finishes and one ninth-place finish in the Pac-10 and a 15-22 overall record, which includes 8-19 in league play.

Here's a look at the 10 hottest seats nationally.

10. Ron Zook, Illinois. Zook's issue isn't that the Illini are on a downward trend. To the contrary, he has Illinois pointed in the right direction: The Illini are coming off a bowl appearance and have some mojo. Zook's problem is his entire body of work. He has been to only two bowls in six seasons in Champaign and is 28-45 overall and 16-32 in the Big Ten. Even worse, Zook has lost his biggest ally and supporter in athletic director Ron Guenther, who has retired. New A.D. Mike Thomas will scrutinize Zook closely.

9. Bob Toledo, Tulane. Tulane is a tough gig. Toledo is 13-35 in four seasons, with his best season being his first: 4-8 overall and 3-5 in Conference USA. The Green Wave are coming off a 4-8 season, but the program showed some signs of life last season. Will that continue this season? If it doesn't, Toledo could be fired.

8. Neil Callaway, UAB. The guy has one of the toughest jobs in America. Considering that, Callaway has done OK. But his record still is 15-33 in four seasons. His best C-USA mark is 4-4, and he's never finished higher than a tie for fourth in C-USA East. Will changing coaches really matter? This program has been to one bowl ever, the 2004 Hawaii Bowl.

7. Dabo Swinney, Clemson. After Tommy Bowden was fired five games into the 2008 season, Swinney got the job by posting a 4-3 mark the rest of the way. He then delivered Clemson's first trip to the ACC title game in 2009, but he removed any goodwill he had built with a 6-7 flop last season. South Carolina's rise puts additional scrutiny on Swinney, who is banking on a revamped offense to return Clemson to the ACC elite. Hmm - wonder if Clemson A.D. Terry Don Phillips has Rich Rodriguez, a former Clemson assistant, on speed dial?

6. Mark Richt, Georgia. The last time we saw Richt, his team was losing to UCF in the Liberty Bowl. Unacceptable. And Bulldogs fans can't like his 2-8 mark against Florida. Richt is a great guy, but things are trending down in Athens. In the past two seasons, Georgia is 14-12 overall and 7-9 in the SEC; Richt's predecessor, Jim Donnan, was fired after consecutive 8-4 finishes in 1999 and 2000.

5. Steve Fairchild, Colorado State. Things looked good following a 7-6 record and a bowl trip in 2008, Fairchild's first season as coach. But the Rams have followed that with consecutive 3-9 seasons, including a 0-8 record in the Mountain West in 2009.

4. Paul Wulff, Washington State. Three seasons, five wins and two last-place finishes - that's no way to impress the boss. Even worse, many of the defeats have been gruesome: 66-3, 63-14, 66-13, 69-0, 58-0, 52-6, 48-7, 65-17, 50-16 and 42-0. But, hey, Wulff does have one win over Washington (in 2008), so he has that going for him.

3. Dennis Erickson, Arizona State. It all started so well for Erickson in Tempe. He notched a 10-3 record and a first-place tie in the Pac-10 in his debut in 2007, capping the season with a Holiday Bowl trip. Since then, the Sun Devils have gone 15-21 overall and 10-17 in the Pac-10, with no winning seasons and no bowls. There are high expectations this season, and for Erickson's sake, the Sun Devils need to meet them.

2. Mike Locksley, New Mexico. A 2-22 record is bad enough. But a 2-22 record coupled with an altercation with an assistant and an age- and sex-discrimination complaint filed by an administrative assistant? That's almost too much baggage for any coach to survive.

1. Rick Neuheisel, UCLA. Upon arrival at his alma mater after the 2007 season, UCLA and Neuheisel took aim at USC. But it all has proven to be a lot of hot air. Neuheisel is 0-3 against USC, getting outscored 84-28. He's 15-22 overall with one bowl (the EagleBank) and no finish higher than eighth in the Pac-10.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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