Countdown to Coaching Carousel 2011: Stoops Memorial Edition

We’ve got a lot of ground to cover today, and I’m running late, so I’ll dispense with all the pleasantries and preliminaries and get right to the business of dealing out my bi-weekly take on college football’s coaches in peril, starting with the year’s surprising first casualty in the AQ ranks…

EARLY DEPARTURE

MIKE STOOPS
2011 Record: 1-5
Overall Record at Arizona: 41-50 (27-38)
When I was putting together the last edition of Countdown two weeks ago, I had a hunch things were about to go bad for Stoops and somewhat controversially added him to my little list. But I had no idea it would get THIS bad THIS quickly. I thought he would at least get a chance to grind through Arizona’s less daunting October schedule before the ax fell, but apparently that loss to previously winless Oregon State was just too much to swallow. Sure, to the astute, objective observer, Stoops seemed to have some good excuses for the Wildcats’ terrible start. It was indeed a very young, inexperienced team being put through a Murderer’s Row schedule right out of the gate. But to a FAN (and what is a booster but a fan with deeper pockets?), all they see are flashy names like Foles and Criner being put to waste. The people pouring their money into the program weren’t going to stand for that, and that’s why Stoops is gone today. Expectations can be your enemy (hello, Mike Sherman), especially if they’re unreasonable. And as out of the blue as the firing was, I can’t say he didn’t have it coming. His good Arizona teams of the past 3 seasons were just that, “good” and not much more. And if your record is still hovering under .500 roughly seven and a half years into your tenure (and losing ground by the week), I think it’s reasonable for someone to assume you’re never going to be a winner and look to make a change. Farewell.
The Too Early Buzz on His Replacement:  Mike Leach, Chris Peterson, Dan Mullen, Mike Bellotti.  We’ll catch up on this later in the season.

PROLONGING THE INEVITABLE

HOUSTON NUTT
2011 Record: 2-3
Next 2 Weeks: vs. Alabama, vs. Arkansas
He’s just barely hanging in there, but I guess that counts for something at this point, considering the bodies have already started dropping. Two weeks ago, we speculated that the doomsday clock at Ole Miss might strike midnight by the time we reconvened here if the Rebels lost to Fresno State, but Nutt rallied the troops and won a hard fought victory out West. However, it’s highly doubtful that game was a harbinger of better days in Oxford. That said, if he hasn’t been fired yet, it’s unlikely that upcoming expected beatings from Alabama and Arkansas will hasten his departure. Nutt’s new Drop Dead Date looks to be November 5th. While Alabama and LSU are battling it out for the right to play for championships, Ole Miss will be taking on Kentucky for the right to be known as Not The Worst Team in the SEC. Nutt won’t survive a loss there.
Chances for Survival: 10% (no change)

But, hey, it’s not all gloom and doom around here. Let’s take a minute to say goodbye to a trio of coaches who are officially off the hot seat (for now, at least). 

THE GRADUATES

DABO SWINNEY
2011 Record: 6-0
Next 2 Weeks: @ Maryland, vs, North Carolina
I’d say Swinney has definitively proven that Clemson’s late September surge was no fluke. His Tigers followed up their big win over Florida State with a resounding victory at Virginia Tech. In consecutive weeks, Swinney engineered the takedown of the ACC’s preseason favorites. Perhaps just as impressively, he also managed to avoid a let down game against pitiful Boston College, just the type of stumbling block that has tripped up plenty of upstart Clemson teams throughout history. As hesitant as I am to give Swinney’s team a clean bill of health with half the season still to go, unless Wake Forest is for real (I don’t think they are), no one else in the ACC Atlantic looks capable of mounting a challenge for them down the stretch. Swinney is in the clear.
Chances for Survival: 100%

RON ZOOK
2011 Record: 6-0
Next 2 Weeks: vs. Ohio State, @ Purdue
It’s over Illini fans. You’re stuck with him. After completing their season-opening home stand with a 5-0 record, Illinois went on the road and took care of business against Indiana to get bowl eligible. At this point, it’s looking like Zook has a very real shot at getting to 9, or even 10, wins this season. I’m sure they’ll stink again next year once the pressure lets up a bit, because that is The Zook Way. But until then…Zook reigns.
Chances for Survival: 100%

DENNIS ERICKSON
2011 Record: 5-1
Next 2 Weeks: @ Oregon, Bye
I realize it may be a bit premature to say this considering the Sun Devils have only played a third of their conference schedule, but Arizona State looks ready to run away with the Pac-12 South. Looking past the ineligible USC (who they beat anyway), their closest competition right now is UCLA, of all teams. In short, Erickson is the epitome of sitting pretty right now. And if he manages to pull an upset in Eugene this weekend, ASU fans may begin to catch the faint scent of roses in the air.
Chances for Survival: 100%

These next couple of guys are in the exact opposite situation of those three…

MOVING TO THE FRONT OF THE LINE

FRANK SPAZIANI
2011 Record: 1-5
Next 2 Weeks: Bye, @ Virginia Tech
Aside from Houston Nutt and the recently departed Stoops, I can’t think of another coach who’s done more to hurt himself this season than Spaziani. The loss to Wake Forest two weeks ago essentially doomed Boston College to it’s first losing record since the late 90’s. The only thing he can do now is hope to get this team close enough to .500 to be able to convince the power players at BC that his tenure there hasn’t become an unsalvageable disaster.
Chances for Survival: 25% (down from 50%)

MIKE SHERMAN
2011 Record: 3-2
Next 2 Weeks: vs. Baylor, @ Iowa State
Texas A&M recently made CFBZ’s list of the most disappointing teams in college football this season. And for good reason. Sherman’s boys followed up their massive collapse against Oklahoma State with an encore performance against Arkansas. And for good measure, they almost gave away the game against Texas Tech, but time ran out on them. As you may recall, Sherman made our list because of just how devastating the fallout from failed expectations can be. And believe me, the anguish of A&M fans is very, very real right now. Further disappointments could lead to a massive outcry against him. Maybe even as soon as this weekend, if things go poorly against Baylor.
Chances for Survival: 60% (down from 70%)

TOM O’BRIEN
2011 Record: 3-3
Next 2 Weeks: Bye, @ Virginia
No surprises in the win/loss column for Tom O’Brien since our last update. NC State was predictably trounced by Georgia Tech and then notched a victory over Central Michigan. However, for the 3rd time this season, the Wolfpack struggled to take care of business against a lower level team and needed a big 4th quarter to put the game away. These sorts of performances don’t do much to inspire confidence that this team is getting better, even in a suddenly very weak looking ACC Atlantic. Meanwhile, the Russell Wilson-led Wisconsin Badgers continue to look like an unstoppable juggernaut. Ouch.
Chances for Survival: 55% (down from 60%)

And now for our weekly roundup of endangered coaches who have either held steady or moderately improved their position since the last Countdown…

ON STAND-BY

MIKE RILEY
2011 Record: 1-4
Next 2 Weeks: vs. BYU, @ Washington State
Pulling out that win over Arizona on Saturday was crucial for Riley’s career. I don’t want to be so dramatic as to say it was a life and death situation, but if Oregon State would have lost that game and opened up at 0-5…well, we might have been talking about Riley up top instead of Mike Stoops. Now though, he’s able to use that win as a springboard into a very manageable slate of games (BYU, WSU, Utah). There remains at least some hope that the Beavers can shake off those early season doldrums and get back to .500 for the stretch run. But Riley really can’t afford to do worse than 2-1 in those games, and he REALLY can’t afford to drop that game to Washington State in 2 weeks. Things will get really nasty up in Corvallis then. 
Chances for Survival: 70% (no change)

RICK NEUHEISEL
2011 Record: 3-3
Next 2 Weeks: Bye, @ Arizona
Well, the bad news for Neuheisel is he can’t hang his hat on being undefeated in the conference anymore. Stanford put an end to that, as expected. The good news is that he hasn’t done much to make his situation any worse than it was before the season started. For the most part, his Bruins have beaten the teams they were expected to beat and lost to the teams that most reasonable observers expected them to lose to. At some point, he’s going to have to do better than that if he wants to keep his job, but for the time being, it’s good enough to keep him from getting Stooped.
Chances for Survival: 30% (no change)

DANNY HOPE
2011 Record: 3-2
Next 2 Weeks: @ Penn State, vs. Illinois
Since last we got together, Hope’s Boilermakers endured their anticipated whipping at the hands of Notre Dame, but then they paid that whipping forward to Minnesota. Much like Rick Neuheisel, Hope has essentially played par for the course thus far but will need to start pulling some upsets if he wants to ensure his survival. And, unfortunately for him, I don’t see a lot of winnable games left on Purdue’s schedule. Aside from the season-ending trip to Indiana, their next most winnable game looks to be against Ohio State. And, yes, that last statement should be of great concern to both Purdue and Ohio State.
Chances for Survival: 40% (no change)

MARK RICHT
2011 Record: 4-2
Next 2 Weeks: @ Vanderbilt, Bye
Last time, I said this October would be crucial for Richt’s future employment, and so far, so good. His Bulldogs have held serve through their first two games of the month, including a big win over rival Tennessee that reversed years’ worth of bad juju in Knoxville. So UGA has rebounded from their 0-2 start to go on a 4 game win streak and suddenly the vibe around Athens is extremely positive. In summation, Richt has done everything he’s needed to do to keep his job. Barring an upset at Vandy this weekend that could change the timbre completely, momentum will be squarely on Georgia’s side heading into the big showdown with Florida, where a win will all but guarantee that Richt is back in 2012.
Chances for Survival: 70% (up from 60%)

GREG SCHIANO
2011 Record: 4-1
Next 2 Weeks: vs. Navy, @ Louisville
Quick: Guess which team currently sits atop the Big East standings. It’s RUTGERS. Coming off back-to-back conference wins (including a smackdown of the momentarily tantalizing Pitt), Schiano has built himself a nice early cushion from which to mount the Scarlet Knights’ bid to return to bowl season. Of course, Rutgers has yet to play even half it’s games, so it remains to be seen whether they can play at this level consistently. Letdown losses to Navy and/or Louisville could turn public sentiment on a dime. And, again, expectations can be deadly. Sometimes teasing your fans that you could actually have a good season only to collapse in the end can be even more damaging than if you had been bad all the way through. And the critical consensus is that Rutgers has definitely outperformed their talent thus far. Something to watch for.
Chances for Survival: 75% (up from 60%)

PAUL WULFF
2011 Record: 3-2
Next 2 Weeks: vs. Stanford, vs. Oregon State
Wulff has consistently improved his position throughout the first 6 weeks of the season. With a whopping 3 wins, this Washington State team is already the winningest of Wulff’s tenure in Pullman. But while going on the road and beating Colorado in Week 5 was crucial for maintaining their early momentum, let’s not oversell it. The Cougars have beaten a Pac-12 opponent in 2 of the past 3 seasons. It’s not like this was some breakthrough. Wulff will still need flirt with bowl eligibility to keep his job. And to that end, WSU’s date with Oregon State at Qwest Field looms large.
Chances for Survival: 25% (up from 15%)

And to close things out, meet the newest addition to the family…

EXPRESS CHECK-IN

JOKER PHILLIPS
2011 Record: 2-4
Next 2 Weeks: Bye, vs. Jacksonville State
BY POPULAR DEMAND. I’ve been reluctant to add Phillips to the Countdown since he’s only in his 2nd year as head coach at Kentucky. But this team seems to be getting progressively worse as the season goes on, and it’s never good for a coach when his team stinks on the side of the ball that he specializes in (offense, in this case). Yet as bad as the Wildcats have been through the first half of the season, Phillips’ fate will ultimately be decided by how his team competes through a much more manageable back 6, featuring games against both Mississippi schools and Vanderbilt, all teams that Kentucky should be competitive with. Speaking of Vanderbilt, they made a bold decision not to be beholden to the chosen successor of a beloved former coach at the expense of the win column when they abruptly bounced Robbie Cadlwell out of town last year. If Phillips can’t get this season turned around, Kentucky may find themselves forced to make a similar decision if Rich Brooks’ man proves to be no Rich Brooks.
Chances for Survival: 60%

See you back in 2 weeks.

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