There are few jobs more thankless than that of a college football coach, as the big man on campus can become public enemy No. 1 over the course of one bad season. Some coaches’ seats, like Brian Kelly's (pictured), are considerably warmer than others across the FBS landscape, but these 16 coaches are feeling a particularly strong pressure to perform as the 2012 season kicks off. -- SAM GARDNER (@sam_gardner, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Jim Grobe, Wake Forest, 12th season (68-67)
Grobe was the toast of Winston-Salem from 2006-2008 when he led the Demon Deacons to 28 wins, including an Orange Bowl appearance, but Wake has reverted back to its old ways in the three years since, going 14-23. Grobe’s contract runs through 2016, but he may not make it that far if the Deacs don’t improve.
John L. Smith, Arkansas, first season
How soon is too soon to end up on the hot seat? Mr. L. Smith hasn’t coached a game since taking over on an interim basis in April for the departed Bobby Petrino, but if the Razorbacks don’t live up to their SEC championship potential, Smith’s stay in Fayetteville could be short-lived.
Frank Spaziani, Boston College, third season (19-19)
After Boston College fired a successful coach in Jeff Jagodzinski in 2009 for interviewing with the New York Jets, the school expected Spaziani to pick up where Jagodzinski left off. Instead, BC has gotten progressively worse, with last year’s 4-8 finish dropping the Eagles to 19-19 since Spaziani took over.
Randy Edsall, Maryland, second season (2-10)
A 2-10 season wasn’t likely what Edsall had in mind for his first season in College Park after leading Connecticut to the Fiesta Bowl in 2010. Edsall needs his Terps to rebound in a big way to keep his job, but they’re going to have to do so without quarterbacks Danny O’Brien (transfer) and C.J. Brown (knee).
Mike Riley, Oregon State, 10th season (64-49)
In January 2010, after a string of 36 wins in four seasons, Oregon State extended Riley’s contract, keeping him in Corvallis through the 2019 season. In the two years since, the Beavers have gone 8-16, leaving many fans wondering if the decision to hand out an extension came a little too early.
Joker Phillips, Kentucky, third season (11-14)
No one envies Phillips’ task at Kentucky, having to lead a mediocre Wildcats team against the toughest conference docket in the country. But with a pair of sub-.500 seasons in his first two years on the job, Phillips has failed to match the production of his predecessor, Rich Brooks, and has many in Lexington anxious to see his stint on the sideline end.
Jeff Tedford, Cal, 11th season (79-48)
After going 12-13 in the last two years, including two losses to Stanford in the Big Game, some are starting to grumble that Tedford has overstayed his welcome in Berkeley. Without a resurgence in 2012, Cal’s first season in the renovated Memorial Stadium could be Tedford’s last.
Brian Kelly, Notre Dame, third season (16-10)
When Kelly left Cincinnati for Notre Dame following a 33-6 run in three full seasons with the Bearcats, excitement abounded in South Bend. But after back-to-back 8-5 seasons with the Irish, Kelly has left some fans wondering what all the hype was about. The nation’s toughest schedule awaits Kelly in 2012, and his job security may depend on how well his team traverses that challenging path.
Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech, third season (13-12)
Tuberville’s 13-12 mark in his first two seasons in Lubbock wouldn’t normally be grounds for firing, but when you’re coming off a successful tenure at Auburn and following in the footsteps of a wildly popular coach who won 84 games in 10 years on the Red Raiders sidelines, the expectations are bound to be a little bit higher.
Doug Marrone, Syracuse, third season (17-20)
After a 5-2 start last season, the Orange lost their final five games. This year won’t be any easier, as 'Cuse plays a tough non-conference schedule that includes Mizzou and No. 1 USC. And as the program transitions to its first year in the ACC next season, Syracuse could decide — should a bad season befall it this year — that a new coach is in order.
Kevin Wilson, Indiana, second season (1-11)
Indiana paid Wilson $1.1 million per win last season — which is to say that Wilson won one game in his first year in Bloomington. The Hoosiers have never been a Big Ten power, so expectations aren’t necessarily high, but if they don’t improve on the team’s worst season since 1984, Wilson could find himself job-hunting next spring.
George O'Leary, Central Florida, ninth season (50-51)
O’Leary has been the model of inconsistency in seven years at UCF, putting together a 50-51 record that included two 10-win seasons and two four-win seasons. O’Leary has also been embroiled in his share of controversy, starting with the death of wide-receiver Ereck Plancher during a 2008 practice. UCF is also currently appealing a 2012 bowl ban handed down by the NCAA in late July.
Paul Pasqualoni, Connecticut, second season (5-7)
The longtime Syracuse coach took over a Connecticut program coming off of a BCS bowl appearance and led it to a 5-7 season in his first year on the sideline. Perhaps expecting BCS staying power from the Huskies is wishful thinking, but UConn fans should at least be able to expect a bowl appearance from their football team.
David Cutcliffe, Duke, fifth season (15-33)
No one necessarily expects Duke to win, but that doesn’t mean the Blue Devils are OK with losing, either. In four seasons in Durham, Cutcliffe has won 15 games, which is more than the school’s previous nine seasons combined. But now that Duke is off the schneid, they’re expecting to get over the hump, and if they don’t get there, it could cost Cutcliffe his job.
Derek Dooley, Tennessee, third season (11-14)
The hottest seat in football might belong to Dooley, who has not performed that great in Knoxville following the exit of current USC coach Lane Kiffin. The expectation at Rocky Top has always been to compete for an SEC title, and they’ll only let Dooley blame Kiffin for his team’s poor performance for so long.
Mack Brown, Texas, 15th season (141–39 record at school)
The thought that Brown, who was arguably the most successful coach in football from 2000-2009, could be on the hot seat sounds absurd, but expectations are always going to be higher in Austin. After nine straight 10-win seasons, the Horns have gone 5-7 and 8-5 in the last two. Another subpar showing could at least call Brown’s job security into question.