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Who Replaces 2020 College Football Hot Seat Head Coaches?

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Even in an unprecedented year, the reality of being a head coach in college football is that your job is never completely secure. Athletic departments, administrators, boosters and fans can all turn on you in an instant, ensuring that the coaching carousel never stops spinning. While the 2020 coaching carousel may be slightly less active considering that so many athletic departments are strapped for cash, there's also several big-name programs looking to make moves.

Illinois Fighting Illini

Illinois AD Josh Whitman made quite the splashy hire back in March of 2016, landing former Chicago Bears HC Lovie Smith. Lovie was well-liked by former coaches and players alike, and he injected an energy into the Illinois program that had been missing. Unfortunately, that energy just hasn't translated to wins on the field, as the Illini are 15-37 under his leadership. While Illinois made a bowl last season, the early returns in 2020 aren't very reassuring. They are 0-3, with a pair of embarrassing defeats to Wisconsin and Minnesota. Another last place finish in the West is likely, making it clear a change is needed.

The Pick: Sean Lewis (Kent State HC)

Sean Lewis doesn't have a large body of work as head coach to go off of, entering his third season with Kent State in 2020. With that being said, he's quickly made in impact in recruiting and on-field performance for the Golden Flashes, taking them from 2-10 to 7-6 in 2019, capped off by a bowl win. The return of the MAC this past week gave Lewis an opportunity to show what he can do, as Kent State won over Eastern Michigan. If he continues on his current trajectory, a step up from the MAC seems extremely likely. There could be some turned off by his youth, as he is just 34, meaning he would immediately become the youngest in the Big Ten. But, at a place like Illinois they should be willing to take a chance on a youngster and see if it works out.

Others to Watch: Chris Creighton (Eastern Michigan HC), Matt Entz (North Dakota State HC), Marcus Freeman (Cincinnati DC)

Michigan Wolverines

Since a season-opening domination of Minnesota, things have gone downhill quick in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines lost to rival Michigan State (who promptly went on to lose this weekend by 42 to winless Iowa) then to Indiana, a team who hasn't beat UM since the late 1980s. Jim Harbaugh has long been on somewhat of a hot seat with the Wolverines, but these last two weeks have really felt like his tenure is coming to a close. He has done a great job restoring Michigan into a respectable program, but they're stuck in a tough spot, and it doesn't get any easier watching Ohio State continue to run the league. The Wolverines know they can attract big names to this job, so holding on to Harbaugh just feels unnecessary.

The Pick: Matt Campbell (Iowa State HC)

Matt Campbell continues to be one of the hottest names on the coaching market, turning Iowa State from a Big 12 bottom-feeder into a legit conference title contender. It only seems natural that Campbell is going to make the jump at some point, but to where? Campbell played at both Pittsburgh and Mount Union, and ISU is his first coaching gig outside the state of Ohio. Michigan is certainly a jump up, considering the history and potential of the program, even in the brutal Big Ten East. And, Campbell would check off every box for the Wolverines; he's young, energetic, and should be able to recruit.

Others to Watch: Luke Fickell (Cincinnati HC), Marcus Freeman (Cincinnati DC), Sean Lewis (Kent State HC), Bob Stoops (former Oklahoma HC)

South Carolina Gamecocks

Will Muschamp was never a popular hire when South Carolina brought him on to replace the departed Steve Spurrier. To be fair, Muschamp has had some success with the Gamecocks, leading them to a 9-4 mark in 2017, but since that point he has gone a total of 13-18. That includes a 2-4 start to the 2020 campaign, topped off by a 41-point loss to Texas A&M this past Saturday. South Carolina's seen the potential of the program when they have a top-tier coach, and there's a lot of young talent on this roster that could be very exciting. It just doesn't seem like Muschamp is going to be the guy to unleash it.

The Pick: Hugh Freeze (Liberty HC)

Hugh Freeze's coaching career arc has been a fascinating one, and he's only been coaching in college football since 2006. That 2006 gig was as TE coach at Ole Miss, the school where he would return less than a decade later as the head man, following pit stops at Arkansas State and Lambuth (Tennessee). Its hard to argue with the results during his head coaching stint in Oxford, as Freeze went 35-29 in a tough place to win. In addition to the wins, Freeze also led the Rebels to a Peach and Sugar Bowl, and the team finished ranked twice. After recruiting violations surfaced in Ole Miss, along with various other unsavory details, he was fired. His return to college football has been at Liberty, a school that made the transition to FBS back in 2019. In a year and a half with the Flames he is 15-5, and just got the school's biggest victory in its history, taking down the state's best program, Virginia Tech. It just seems inevitable another school will take a chance on Freeze, even with the off-the-field questions. Winning cures every illness, and Freeze has done just that in his career.

Others to Watch: Jamey Chadwell (Coastal Carolina HC), Mike Bobo (South Carolina OC), Billy Napier (Louisiana-Lafayette HC), Willie Fritz (Tulane HC)

Syracuse Orange

Syracuse's decision to hire Dino Babers wasn't a shocking one considering his success in previous head coaching stops. Babers had already established himself as one of the premier offensive minds in college football before taking over at Eastern Illinois and then Bowling Green. In a total of four seasons with those programs, he had won 37 games and three conference titles. After two 4-8 campaigns to begin his run with the Orange, Babers looked like he had his breakthrough in 2018. Syracuse went 10-3, nearly upset Clemson, and finished ranked 15th overall. 2019 looked like it could be a chance for Babers and the program itself to continue the momentum, but they slipped back to 5-7. That has given way to a 1-7 start in 2020, with 'Cuse looking like they'll finish last in the 15-team ACC. Recruiting and winning in upstate New York may be tough, but a 24-33 mark doesn't really cut it.

The Pick: Doug Marrone (Jacksonville Jaguars HC)

Re-hiring former coaches has become a little bit of a trend in college football as of late, with names like Mack Brown and Greg Schiano having early success in their second runs at UNC and Rutgers. Syracuse could follow along the trend by bringing in one of their former head coaches, Jacksonville's Doug Marrone. Marrone led the Orange from 2009-2012 before making the jump to the NFL, where he has coached the Buffalo Bills and Jaguars. Marrone's numbers at Syracuse weren't jaw-dropping, but he went 25-25 and won two bowls in four seasons. I think 'Cuse would be just fine with seven-eight win seasons, particularly one that is well-liked by alumni. There's a good chance Marrone gets fired from Jacksonville after 2020, setting this hire up perfectly.

Others to Watch: Lane Leipold (Buffalo HC), Sean Gleeson (Rutgers OC), Joe Harasymiak (former Maine HC, Minnesota co-DC), Greg Gattuso (Albany HC)

UCLA Bruins

It seems like ages ago Florida & UCLA were battling for the services of Chip Kelly, who had recently been fired by the San Francisco 49ers. UCLA ended up winning the bid for Kelly, and it looked like it had the potential to be a great hire. Two and a half years later, it seems like it's time to move on in Westwood, as the Bruins are now 7-18 under his leadership. It's hard to know whether Kelly simply has lost his touch, or the rest of college football has caught up with him, but the innovative offenses he once ran at Oregon are long gone. Instead, Kelly UCLA teams have been lackluster offensively, and he's struggled to develop the quarterback position. A season-opening loss to Colorado, a team breaking in former UCLA head man Karl Dorrell, felt like the beginning of the end for Chip's run here.

The Pick: Bryan Harsin (Boise State HC)

There isn't really an obvious name in the works for this job if Kelly does indeed get fired, but I've long thought Bryan Harsin would be a good fit. Harsin had big shoes to fill when he took over at Boise following Chris Petersen, and he's delivered. Since taking over prior to the 2014 campaign, Harsin has amassed a 66-18 overall record, plus a 42-8 mark in the Mountain West. His Broncos have won three conference titles in that span, and have played in the MWC Championship Game a total of five times. Harsin has done all this playing with relatively subpar talent, at least compared to what he should be able to recruit at a place like UCLA. Of course, the primary reason Harsin might not want to leave Boise is the fact he is a BSU alum, and getting his first real opportunity in coaching as a grad assistant with the Broncos. But, a place with the resources like UCLA may just be able to reel him away, especially if the money follows.

Others to Watch: Andy Avalos (Oregon DC), Graham Harrell (USC OC), Brent Brennan (San Jose State HC), Jay Hill (Weber State HC), Troy Calhoun (Air Force HC)

Vanderbilt Commodores

Vanderbilt has a number of disadvantages built into its football program that make things difficult for any head coach that sets up in Nashville, and it becomes even more difficult when the coach you're following is James Franklin. Even so, Derek Mason simply has not gotten it done with Vandy, going 27-52 over his time there. There has been small steps towards progress, such as two bowl appearances but Mason has now lost 14 of his last 17 games. It simply is time for the Commodores to move on and while Vanderbilt is a difficult job, there are still coaches that would be thrilled to make the jump to the SEC.

The Pick: Clark Lea (Notre Dame DC)

Clark Lea may not be a household name even amongst college football fans, but the work he has done with the Notre Dame defense has been phenomenal. Not only are its numbers terrific, but the Irish keep sending defenders to the NFL, especially in the front seven. It only seems natural Lea could be in line for a promotion, and Vanderbilt is a great fit. Lea began his playing career at Belmont before transferring to Vanderbilt, where he was a three-year contributor at fullback. Since his playing career he's risen steadily up the coaching ranks, with stops at South Dakota State, UCLA, Bowling Green, Syracuse, Wake Forest, and of course Notre Dame. It only makes sense for him to return home (he's originally from Nashville) and take a stab at this opportunity.

Others to Watch: Barry Odom (Arkansas DC), Jeff Fisher (former Tennessee Titans HC), Will Healy (Charlotte HC), Rhett Lashlee (Miami OC)

Others Job To Watch

USC: Clay Helton

Texas: Tom Herman

Virginia Tech: Justin Fuente

Texas Tech: Matt Wells

Arizona: Kevin Sumlin

Iowa: Kirk Ferentz

Tennessee: Jeremy Pruitt

Other Coaches In Line For Promotion (not previously mentioned above)

Brent Venables, Clemson DC

Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin DC

Sonny Dykes, SMU HC

Alex Grinch, Oklahoma DC

Kalani Sitake, BYU HC

Steve Sarkisian, Alabama OC

Kevin Steele, Auburn DC

Bill Clark, UAB HC

Dan Lanning, Georgia DC

Bobby Hauck, Montana HC

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