Saturday evening ended with USC looking decidedly ordinary at Arizona State, and Arizona trying in vain to find LaMichael James.
And something occurred to me: I can’t remember a time when so many coaches in the league were under fire to some degree. To use the term “hot seat” wouldn’t be accurate in all cases, since some guys simply won’t be fired no matter what the final two months bring.
Essentially, there are two camps of the beleaguered: Those whose jobs are in jeopardy this year, and a few coaches who have had success previously but are now being questioned (in most cases, because they have a lousy team).
Coacheshotseat.com is taking an overheated view of the league’s hot-seat headset collection, naming as their Nos. 3-4-5-6-8 targets nationally this week Oregon State’s Mike Riley, UCLA’s Rick Neuheisel, Washington State’s Paul Wulff, Cal’s Jeff Tedford and Arizona’s Mike Stoops. That’s five of the top 10.
I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, but all of those five, plus two more, have reason for frown wrinkles. As we speak, my sweating seven, declining from least vulnerable to the most:
7. Riley. It’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately profession, and Beaver faithful haven’t had much to rally around since OSU played Oregon two straight years (2008-09) with the Rose Bowl at stake. Now it’s going to be two straight bowl-less seasons. Even with some dubious decision-making in 2011 (quarterbacks; the Castro Masaniai suspension) Riley ought to be untouchable. He’s the best thing the Beavers have ever had.
6. Lane Kiffin, USC. It’s a rocky time to be the Trojans coach, and it probably will get worse. A three-year stretch during which they lose 30 scholarships begins in February. And there’s always the reality that Pat Haden, the USC athletic director, didn’t hire Kiffin.
5. Stoops. By nightfall Saturday, these will be the last nine games Arizona has played, dating to November of 2010: Stanford (twice), USC (twice), Oregon (twice), Oklahoma State (twice), Arizona State and Northern Arizona. If the Wildcats are 1-4 after playing USC, it’s going to be uphill to scrape together the requisite five more wins to become bowl-eligible for a fourth straight year. And athletic director Greg Byrne didn’t hire Stoops.
4. Tedford. The Bears’ loss to Washington Saturday dropped them to 17-20 in league games since 2007. The dubious play-calling near the goal-line on Cal’s final series didn’t endear Tedford to his detractors.
3. Dennis Erickson, Arizona State. The Sun Devils (3-1) are riding high and Erickson appears to be weathering a hot-seat season in which his team probably has to return to a bowl game, at minimum. But if they lose to Utah and Oregon consecutively Oct. 8 and 15, he could again feel the heat.
2. Wulff. No secret here. The Cougars at least have to threaten to get to a bowl game, something made more difficult by the temporary loss of quarterback Jeff Tuel.
1. Neuheisel. The victory at Oregon State eases some tension, but next up is a road game at Stanford. Last week, the LA Times’ T.J. Simers quoted the UCLA media guide on Dan Guerrero, referred to there as an athletic director “who has clearly established a pattern of ‘image and substance’ that few in his profession can match.” Simers: “And here I thought he was best known for going 0 for 2 when it comes to hiring football coaches.”