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Spring Football 2024: Coaches on the Hot Seat

Billy Napier, Florida

The current world of college football coaching continues to experience an evolution in the transfer portal and NIL era. At a time when building and maintaining a roster has never been more difficult, coaches are being rewarded with larger contracts and more money than ever before. But, all that cash isn't resulting in more job security. Instead, college football programs are hiring and firing at an astonishing rate, and you never can be quite sure which way the coaching carousel is going to turn next. That means that the 2024 carousel should be a wild one once again, and we already have an idea who could be on the chopping block next. Not every hot seat is the same, so I've decided to split the coaches under pressure this fall into three categories all with one, obvious underlying goal this year - to win football games.

Hot Seat Level: Flaming

These coaches could have easily been let go last fall, but managed to hold on to their jobs - for the time being. As they enter 2024, every single defeat could be their final at their respective schools, making this year a true make-or-break.

Billy Napier, Florida

Record at Florida: 11-14, 6-10 SEC (entering Year 3)

There is no coach who enters the fall under as much pressure as Billy Napier at Florida. 25 games into his tenure with the Gators, Napier is 11-14 with a 6-10 mark in the SEC, and he faces concerns both on the field and off of it as he looks head to 2024. The Gators face down arguably the toughest schedule in all of FBS ball this season, with games against in-state rivals Miami, UCF, and Florida State on top of a full SEC conference schedule. Add in the news that broke just last week that one-time Florida commit Jaden Rashada, who is now a Georgia Bulldog, would be bringing a lawsuit against Napier and several others involved with the Gator program claiming he was defrauded of millions in NIL funds, Napier is facing down challenges from all sides. The good news is that his third Florida team looks like his best, at least on paper. Graham Mertz proved to be capable last year as the starting quarterback, Eugene Wilson is one of the best young receivers in all of college football, and the defense has NFL talents at al three levels. But with this schedule, even if Florida were to exceed expectations, it feels like their ceiling is right around 7-8 wins. That's simply not going to cut it in Gainesville, and it feels like a near certainty the program will be on the search for a new head man come winter.

Sam Pittman, Arkansas

Record at Arkansas: 23-25, 11-23 SEC (entering Year 5)

Sam Pittman was considered an outside-the-box hire by Arkansas at the time prior to the 2020 season, and despite some bright spots, he enters 2024 on a flaming hot seat in Fayetteville. To be fair to Pittman, he inherited a brutal situation – the Razorbacks had won just four games total in the two years prior under Chad Morris , and Pittman’s nine-win campaign in 2021, just months removed from the Morris disaster, earned him National Coach of the Year consideration. Building on that success has proven to be quite the challenge, with the Razorbacks going 11-14 over the last two seasons, including faltering to a 4-8 mark last fall. Needless to say, Pittman acted fast over the offseason, shuffling his staff and making one of the splashiest coordinator hires of the cycle by bringing back Bobby Petrino to the program as OC. Perhaps that will finally jolt an offense that felt lifeless throughout the majority of 2023, but Arkansas will be breaking in several new faces on that side of the ball, including new QB Taylen Green. With a precarious schedule, the Razorbacks are going to have to scrap to make a bowl, which isn't exactly where the program hoped to be in Year Five of the Pittman tenure. We'll learn quite a bit about Arkansas' chances for a successful season within the first two weeks of the season, when they travel to Stillwater to match up with Oklahoma State. A win could set the stage for a rebound campaign, but a loss? It could be the type of deflating defeat that sinks their hopes right before a critical part of their schedule in late September to mid-October - and ultimately lead to Pittman's demise. 

Dave Aranda, Baylor

Record at Baylor: 23-25, 15-21 Big 12 (entering Year 5)

Dave Aranda is a prime example of just how quickly things can change in the fast-paced world of college football coaching. After winning the Big 12 in his second season in charge at Baylor back in 2021, Aranda was openly being considered for both the USC and LSU job openings and looked to be the next big thing in college football. Fast forward two years, Aranda is hanging on by a thread in Waco after going 9-16 the last two seasons, and will need to hit the ground running to save his job in 2024. More and more, the 2021 Baylor team has looked like more of a fluke than anything else, and many of the positive traits that defined that team haven't shown up in any of the other Aranda-coached teams. There's been a lack of discipline, energy, and overall execution, all of which is hard to reverse over the course of one offseason. The new-look Big 12 may provide an easier pathway back up the conference totem pole and Aranda and staff have worked hard to fill holes in the transfer portal. But after going 3-9 last fall, it's tough to imagine the Bears turning things completely around and finding themselves in the conference title mix. On the contrary, a tricky September schedule, which includes two Big 12 league games and the ever-tricky Air Force Falcons, may create a situation where Aranda doesn't even last into the season's second month.

Hot Seat Level: Warm

The coaches here aren't likely to be fired midseason, but will need to show tangible progress to ensure they stick around for 2025 and beyond.

Justin Wilcox, California

Record at California: 36-43, 21-37 Pac-12 (entering Year 8)

It's a new day in Berkeley, as the Cal Golden Bears begin life in the ACC in 2024, the type of change that may breathe new life into the program. Since bottoming out at 1-11 in 2013 during Sonny Dykes' first season at the helm, the Golden Bears have been stuck in a frustrating place of mediocrity. They have gone to four bowl games since 2014, with three of them coming under the leadership of Justin Wilcox, but haven't been able to string together any long-term success. With the move to the ACC and Wilcox entering his eighth season in charge, it feels like this fall could be his final opportunity to show he has things moving back in a positive direction. Making a bowl last season, albeit an eventual loss in the Independence Bowl, was solid progress but doesn't it feel like the bar should be higher for Wilcox after nearly a decade in charge at one of the premier institutions on the West Coast? If there is a saving grace for Wilcox, it's the fact that the financial situation for California athletics looks increasingly grim, with reports that the program suffered a nearly $9 million deficit in 2023. The hope is that the move to the ACC will eventually deliver the program a much-needed influx of cash, but in the short-term it may make things worse, with Cal likely taking less revenue from the Pac-12 and increased travel and logistics costs. Even so, it's hard to justify holding on to a football coach who, despite some occasional bright moments, is under .500 overall and managed just a 21-37 record in the Pac-12.

Scott Satterfield, Cincinnati

Record at Cincinnati: 3-9, 1-8 Big 12 (entering Year 2)

Just five years ago, Scott Satterfield looked like he was on a path to being one of the best head coaches anywhere in the country. He was fresh off a successful stint at Appalachian State, where he oversaw their transition from FCS power to the FBS level, and had put together an impressive single season turnaround at Louisville in 2019, going from two wins to eight in his first season at the helm. Fast forward to 2024, Satterfield's stock has dipped in a major way, and he enters the season under considerable pressure in Year Two with Cincinnati. Last year was a wakeup call for the program as they began life in the Big 12, going just 3-9 overall and 1-8 in the new-look conference, with the lone league win coming against another newcomer (Houston). To be fair to Satterfield, there were several close losses and the Bearcats could have easily backed their way into a bowl, but considering the fact he wasn't a super popular hire at the time after Luke Fickell left for Madison, it wasn't the ringing debut the 51-year old head man was looking for. Satterfield will benefit from another full offseason with the group and hopes to have plugged holes through the portal, but there are still serious questions throughout the roster. First off foremost, who will be the starting QB now that Emory Jones has finally exhausted his eligibility? Indiana transfer Brendan Sorsby looks to have the inside track, but who else will help open things up on this side of the ball? The talent on this roster is lacking considerably when compared to their other power conference foes and unless Satterfield can whip up some magic, it feels like it could be another long season for a program that was playing in the College Football Playoff just two and a half years ago.

Hot Seat Level: Prove It Year

It's not fair to consider these coaches on the hot seat, especially the first guy on this list, but 2024 will be an important fall for each. Whether it's Ryan Day looking to prove he can deliver the National Title to Ohio State that has eluded him so far, or Brent Venables showing he can handle Oklahoma's new reality in the SEC, each has something to prove this year.

Ryan Day, Ohio State

Record at Ohio State: 56-8, 39-3 Big Ten (entering Year 6)

Remember when Jim Harbaugh seemingly couldn't get over the hump, couldn't beat Ohio State, and seemed perpetually stuck playing second fiddle to the Buckeyes in the Big Ten? Things have now reversed, and it's Ryan Day who is looking to prove the doubters wrong after three straight losses to Michigan. Now, context here is important (and awfully forgotten about with the Ryan Day discourse) - these past three Michigan teams have been some of the greatest teams in program history, with three straight conference titles and Playoff appearances, with a National Title to boot. Still, Buckeye fans are beginning to get restless and with just one Playoff victory to his credit, it's time for Day to start delivering even more than what we've seen to this point. Fortunately, 2024 sets up perfectly to be the breakthrough year for Ohio State and Day, if the new offensive pieces can gel in short order. Although the Big Ten is adding four strong programs to the mix, Michigan could be due for a step-back after Harbaugh's departure, as will newcomer Washington most likely. Even more important, Ohio State returns an overwhelming amount of star power to their roster, with several major names holding off on the NFL for one more year run, including TreVeyon Henderson, Emeka Egbuka, J.T. Tuimoloau, and more. Add in the successes in the portal by landing Quinshon Judkins from Ole Miss and Caleb Downs from Alabama, all the ingredients are there for this to be truly be the year - now it's time for Day to show he can do it.

Mario Cristobal, Miami (FL)

Record at Miami: 12-13, 6-10 ACC (entering Year 3)

After cycling through coach after coach, it looked like Miami finally got their guy when they hired alum Mario Cristobal to run the program after his successful run at Oregon. Cristobal, an offensive linemen on two National Championship winning Hurricane teams, had both the knowledge of the program and the coach skillset to finally help "The U" fulfill their vast potential. However, two years in, the results have been... mixed. The debut campaign was a stinker, with the Hurricanes going 5-7 and missing a bowl all together, finishing off fifth in a weak ACC Coastal. 2023 looked like it could be a turnaround campaign and set the stage for exciting things to come, but it also fell a little flat. A 4-0 start was erased by an atrocious decision by Cristobal to keep running the ball instead of kneeling against Georgia Tech, resulting in a shocking Yellow Jacket comeback. Then came the three game losing streak in November and a head-scratching bowl performance in a defeat to Rutgers, all in all equaling a 7-6 second season for Cristobal. 25 games in, 12-13 overall and a 6-10 record in an ACC that has been mediocre to bad the last two years, has not cut it. So, the ever-important Year Three feels even more crucial for Cristobal, and to his credit, his work in both high school recruiting and in the transfer portal has Miami flush with talent. But, plenty of coaches over the years at Miami have made the big splashes in the offseason or built a roster loaded with NFL talent - winning football games consistently has been the problem in Coral Gables, and time will tell if Cristobal is able to flip the script this fall.

Brent Venables, Oklahoma

Record at Oklahoma: 16-10, 10-8 Big 12 (entering Year 3)

Much like Cristobal, the debut season for Brent Venables in 2022 did not go as planned. The Sooners entered the season ranked No. 9 in the nation, but between an injury to starting QB Dillon Gabriel and an atrocious defense, they managed to just get to .500 at 6-6 on the regular season. Among those six losses was a 49-0 drubbing at the hands of Texas in the Red River Showdown, the largest margin of victory by the Longhorns in the long history of the rivalry. Fortunately, 2023 was a reversal of fortunes for Venables and the Sooners, as Gabriel was healthy and they made strides on both sides of the ball. Oklahoma would jump to a 7-0 start, before their Playoff hopes and eventual Big 12 Title hopes were dashed by losses to Kansas and Oklahoma State. Still, winning 10 games after such a surprisingly bad debut was quite the response from Venables and this staff and there's significant momentum around the program as they look to 2024. However, 2024 will also usher in their first season of SEC football, a significant step up for a program that has dominated life in the Big 12 for over two decades. No longer are the Sooners going to hold such a massive talent advantage over their competition. On the contrary, they are going to be facing teams just as big, strong, and athletic, with universities as committed to building a winning football program as Oklahoma is. Of course, Venables and staff have known this was coming and have looked to bulk up along the lines and bring in a different type of athlete than what Lincoln Riley leaned on during his time in Norman, but this is still a major adjustment and unlike Texas, the Sooners aren't fresh off a Playoff berth. Venable seems like the right guy for this transition, but it will be a huge one. How he, and this entire program, responds will make all the difference this year and beyond.

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