From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about the most important questions yet unanswered for the season. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our ”Burning Questions” articles here.
One area of college football that Ohio State rarely has to worry about is the coaching hot seat. Since 2001, Ohio State has had just three head coaches, four if you count the 2011 season where the Buckeyes were led by interim head coach Luke Fickell. The hiring of Jim Tressel in 2001 was the last time Ohio State was truly part of the coaching carousel. Urban Meyer was an obvious hire to take over for Fickell following 2011, and the Buckeyes kept things in-house when Meyer retired, hiring offensive assistant Ryan Day.
Even though some Ohio State fans have turned up the heat on Ryan Day, it’s hard to believe that Day truly is on the “hot seat”. Despite Day’s inability to lead his team to victory over Michigan the last two years, Ohio State won the Rose Bowl at the end of the 2021 season, and made it to the playoff last year for the third time under Day. With the College Football Playoff expanding to 12 teams next year, it’ll likely take a lot to go wrong for the Buckeyes to part ways with Day.
Just look at last year in college football, where Auburn, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and a number of other Power 5 schools decided a change was needed at head coach. This year will feature some more programs looking to shake things up, and the cycle will continue year after year. What we want to know today is what coach is on college football’s hot seat this year?
Today’s question: What college football head coach is on the hot seat this year?
We’d love to hear your choices. Either respond to us on Twitter at @Landgrant33 or leave your choice in the comments.
Brett’s answer: Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald
I know Northwestern isn’t an easy place to win at, and it’s not an attractive job. Pat Fitzgerald has been great for his alma mater. Not only did Fitzgerald step up when head coach Randy Walker passed away, but he has led the Wildcats to some strong seasons. In his 17 seasons as head coach in Evanston, Fitzgerald has a 110-101 record, and led the Wildcats to 10 bowl games, posting a 5-5 record in those contests.
Things have started to go downhill for Northwestern over the last few years, though. Following the 2017 and 2018 seasons where the Wildcats were a combined 19-8, over the past four years Northwestern has gone 14-31. Half of those wins came in the COVID-shortened 2020 season where the Wildcats were 7-2. Last season Northwestern was 1-11, with their only win coming in the season opener against Nebraska in Ireland.
Standards around college football are being raised as conferences are negotiating higher television contracts. As new, expensive facilities are being built, program budgets are going up, and spots in the CFP are expanding, more is being expected out of programs. Northwestern isn’t immune to all of this. A $260 million dollar football facility opened on the lakeshore in 2018, and it sounds like a new football stadium at the school is in the works.
Fitzgerald can certainly be credited with helping the school to be competitive enough to bring in the donations needed for the football facility to be built, as well as there to be plans for a new stadium. Northwestern can’t allow the results of the last couple seasons to become the norm. It feels like Fitzgerald isn’t one that is welcoming to change, either. Lately it seems like whenever Fitzgerald is criticized for anything, it isn’t his fault, but instead the fault of social media or it’s because the work ethic of student-athletes isn’t like it was when he was in college.
Sometimes it is hard for those that have been together for so long to separate. If Northwestern finds itself in the basement of the Big Ten West again this year, it could be time for the Wildcats to rip off the band-aid. Better than prolonging the inevitable.
Matt’s answer: Syracuse’s Dino Babers
While I was tempted to go with a Big Ten name, just to keep it in the conference (I was leaning towards Indiana’s Tom Allen), I didn’t think his seat was hot enough just yet. I then thought about maybe going with former Ohio State defensive coordinator (who probably could have had a much bigger job had he stayed another year) Jeff Hafley at Boston College.
However, I am going to go with a guy whose seat I think is hot, but also who has one of the weirdest trajectories in recent years; that guy is Syracuse head coach Dino Babers. Now, I am old enough to remember when the Orange were ranked as high as No. 14 in the country. In fact, you are also old enough to remember that, because if you are reading this, certainly you were alive following Week 7 of the 2022 college football season.
Babers’ squad won its first six games of the campaign, climbing into the top-15. However, they lost their next five, beat Hafley’s BC Eagles in the regular season finale, and then fell to Minnesota in Pinstripe Bowl to finish 7-6. That marked only the team’s second winning season since Babers got to town in 2016, following its 10-3 mark in 2018.
I know that the ‘Cuse is not nearly the football factory that it once was, but there have been moments over Dino’s seven seasons when it felt like the team was turning a corner. They’ve played Clemson incredibly well, including in 2017 when they knocked off the then-No. 2 Tigers in the Carrier Dome. That is what Syracuse fans demand of their team, and with an ACC that currently has no quality teams north of (or even near) the Mason-Dixon line (I’m not counting you, Notre Dame), there is room for a program to carve itself a little niche on that side of the conference.
Babers is 36-49 during his tenure at Syracuse, meaning he’s averaging a 5-7 season. That’s certainly not going to cut it long term, even if the school has essentially given up on being competitive. I think there’s an opening in the ACC, and if Syracuse wants to get back even a modicum of relevance in the sport, bringing in a new coach now to turn things around could be the best way to do it.
I personally like Dino. I think he’s fun and charismatic and he was considered to be Ohio State’s next head coach before Gene Smith decided to give the reins to Ryan Day, but, unless he can figure out a way to be more consistently competent this year, I think he will end up being an offensive analyst at Alabama next season (if Saban would even have him).