Every year there a number of head coaches who know that they are on the hot seat. They need their team to win a certain number of games or show enough improvement that they can keep their jobs. In a lot of cases these coaches are either fired, like Charlie Strong and Les Miles, or get one more year to prove themselves, like Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury.
But here are three examples of coaches who were on the hot seat early in 2016 and completely exceeded expectations. They’ve gone from being on the hot seat to a hot commodity head coach in the space of one season.
Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
Heading into his fourth year as head coach of the Buffaloes, MacIntyre had reached the point where the rebuild was supposed to translate the promise of improvement into actual wins.
After just one win in conference play last year the Buffaloes have won the PAC-12 North this year and will play Washington this Friday in the PAC-12 title game. Their two losses this year have come to top ten teams on the road in Michigan and USC. Suddenly MacIntyre is being potentially linked with the open head coaching vacancy at Oregon rather than a candidate to be fired in 2016.
Clay Helton, USC
Despite entering what would be his first full season as head coach of the Trojans, Clay Helton was under pressure after starting 1-3 that included a blowout loss to start the season against Alabama. He wasn’t a popular choice to begin with amongst boosters either at a school that expects to be challenging for national titles on a regular basis.
Fast forward nine weeks and USC have won eight straight games including wins over both teams in the PAC-12 championship game. If they had won either the Stanford or Utah games then they’d be a popular choice for the college football playoff. Clay Helton now has a team that will almost certainly go to the Rose Bowl and be one of the favourites to challenge the national title in 2017.
Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
Dave Clawson was in a similar situation to Mike MacIntyre above in that he’d tried to rebuild the program over time and was now expected to win more games than his previous seasons. Some of the sparkle from earlier in the season has been lost with disappointing losses to Army and Boston College in recent weeks. Getting bowl eligible whilst playing in a division that has Clemson, Florida State and Louisville is still very impressive.
James Franklin, Penn State
Since moving to State College from Vanderbilt, James Franklin dealt with the aftermath of the NCAA sanctions that afflicted Penn State. Over the past two seasons the pressure has built and Franklin was expected to show some improvement on the field to keep his job.
After a mixed start to the season that saw the Nittany Lions lose two road games in September. Penn State has now won eight straight games including a huge home win over Ohio State. This weekend they now go to the Big Ten championship game to face Wisconsin which didn’t seem possible pre-season with Michigan and Ohio State in their division. Suddenly James Franklin is being praised for turning this team round and have them on the cusp of a Big Ten title and possibly a place in the playoff.