College football coaching hot seat and retirement watch for 2023


The 2022 head-coaching carousel went mostly as expected, at least with outright firings.

Four coaches entered the college football season on the hottest seats — Nebraska’s Scott Frost, Auburn’s Bryan Harsin, Arizona State’s Herm Edwards and Georgia Tech’s Geoff Collins — and all four lost their jobs by November. There were other somewhat expected firings, such as Colorado’s Karl Dorrell, and some voluntary coach movement, such as Scott Satterfield moving from Louisville to Cincinnati, and Jeff Brohm from Purdue to Louisville. The carousel also provided some surprises, such as Paul Chryst’s ouster at Wisconsin and Ken Niumatalolo’s at Navy.

The number of changes (24) stood out, but the overall cycle wasn’t particularly notable.

There aren’t as many obvious hot-seat candidates at Power 5 programs entering the 2023 season. The Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 could see no shuffling at all. But the potential exists for some notable changes, especially in the state of Texas, if things go poorly for deep-pocketed programs. Texas A&M owes Jimbo Fisher an incredible sum of money. Steve Sarkisian is only in his third season at Texas. But both will enter the fall with pressure to perform better.

Another potential Tier 1 job to watch is Florida, which has cycled through coaches since Urban Meyer resigned. The Gators have had four coaches since 2011 and certainly would like to establish continuity with Billy Napier. But after a rough first season, the Jaden Rashada mess and a murky outlook, Napier will need to deliver this fall.

Here’s the early look at the coaching hot seat, broken down by conference and in two main categories: obvious hot-seat candidates and those to keep an eye on when the season kicks off. As in past years, I’ve included a few coaches who aren’t in danger of being fired but could be retirement candidates.

Let’s get started.


Hot seat: Dino Babers, Syracuse
Keep an eye on: Jeff Hafley, Boston College
Possible retirement: Mack Brown, North Carolina

Syracuse: Babers appears here for the second straight year, even though Syracuse rebounded last season to finish 7-6. The Orange dropped six of their final seven games after a great start, though, recording their lone win down the stretch against a 3-9 Boston College team.

Syracuse lost both of its coordinators after the season: Robert Anae (offense) went to NC State and Tony White (defense) left for Nebraska. Babers chose continuity to fill both spots, promoting quarterbacks coach Jason Beck and hiring Rocky Long, one of White’s mentors, as defensive coordinator. But the staff will have a different look. Syracuse has finished .500 or better in the ACC just twice in Babers’ seven seasons.

Boston College: Hafley is 15-20 in three seasons at Boston College, which was decimated by injuries last fall. A return to bowl eligibility should keep him at BC for Year 5, and he’s signed through the 2026 season. “They don’t have a quick trigger finger,” an industry source said. But another 3-9 type clunker could tempt athletic director Blake James (who didn’t hire Hafley) to make a change.

North Carolina: Brown is 71 and has clearly boosted UNC’s program in his return to Chapel Hill. He received a one-year contract extension earlier this month but will be an annual retirement candidate until he decides the time has come.

Big 12

Hot seat: Neal Brown, West Virginia
Keep an eye on: Steve Sarkisian, Texas; Dana Holgorsen, Houston

West Virginia: Brown will enter the fall in a similar position as the Frost-Harsin-Edwards-Collins group in 2022. He has a chance to change the trajectory in Morgantown, but it had better happen quickly. WVU fired Shane Lyons, the athletic director who hired Brown, in mid-November and focused on landing a replacement rather than a full-scale overhaul. New AD Wren Baker, a respected administrator in the Group of 5 ranks, will have a chance to evaluate Brown, who has two five-win seasons and two six-win seasons as Mountaineers head coach.

WVU’s offense surprisingly has been the main obstacle for Brown, who will turn to Chad Scott, promoted from running backs coach to coordinator, as the unit’s third playcaller in as many seasons. The team ranks 91st nationally in scoring and 107th in yards per play under Brown. The schedule will be an area to watch as WVU faces two Power 5 opponents in nonleague play (Penn State and Pitt) plus the Big 12 slate.

Texas: Sarkisian is 13-12 at Texas, continuing a head-coaching tenure — no 10-win seasons, only one nine-win season — that hasn’t come close to what he accomplished as a coordinator. He’s signed through 2026 and would be owed $12.6 million if fired this year, but Texas has the funds if the team backslides this fall. The arrival of decorated quarterback recruit Arch Manning helps Sarkisian’s chances of coaching in 2024. What could hurt him: two attractive replacement candidates within the state in Sonny Dykes, who just took TCU to the national title game, and UTSA’s Jeff Traylor.

Houston: Holgorsen’s name surprisingly bubbled up a few times in December as potentially being in some job danger. Although those rumors were dispelled, he has had only one good season out of four at Houston, which enters the Big 12 this fall and could go through some growing pains. Holgorsen has strong relationships around the university but soon must deliver better results.

Big Ten

Hot seat: None
Keep an eye on: Tom Allen, Indiana; Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Possible retirement: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

This could be a quiet year in the Big Ten coaching cycle without any obvious hot-seat situations. Both Allen and Fitzgerald have contracts that heavily favor them remaining in 2024, even if their teams continue to struggle.

Indiana: Allen, who is 6-18 in the past two seasons, received a seven-year contract in March 2021. Indiana would owe his full remaining compensation if it fired him without cause before Dec. 1, 2024, so a dismissal this year would cost in the $20 million range.

A third straight season near the bottom of the standings could prompt IU to consider a change, but the buyout makes it difficult for a school not known for spending wildly on football. Allen is an Indiana native who loves the school and has been a good program ambassador, qualities that can help extend his clock.

Northwestern: Not long ago, Fitzgerald was arguably the safest Power 5 coach in the country. He still has security because of a 10-year contract he received in early 2021, following Northwestern’s second Big Ten West Division title in three seasons. But the team has cratered since, going 4-20 the past two seasons, including 1-11 last fall, its worst mark since 1989. Fitzgerald’s three worst records have come in the past four seasons.

Northwestern is struggling in the transfer portal/NIL era, and its 2023 outlook isn’t promising. Almost any other coach would be squarely on the hot seat, but Fitzgerald is one of the program’s most decorated ex-players.

Iowa: Ferentz is signed through 2029 and essentially will determine when he wants to hang it up. He turns 68 in August but remains in good health and could coach several more seasons. But the stress of last season, especially around a struggling offense coordinated by his son, Brian, could take a toll as he evaluates how much longer he wants to coach.


Hot seat: Justin Wilcox, Cal
Keep an eye on: Chip Kelly, UCLA
Possible retirement: Kyle Whittingham, Utah

The Pac-12 was the most active league in the last carousel, as one-third of its coaching jobs changed hands. There’s a chance the league has zero firings in the upcoming cycle, as several mid-tier coaches received contract extensions and many are coming off of very good seasons.

Cal: This is the main hot spot to watch with Wilcox. Very little has gone well for the program since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, as the team is 10-18 in the past three seasons. The most notable development came in December 2021, when Wilcox turned down a chance to return to Oregon, his alma mater. Weeks later, he received a contract extension through the 2027 season.

Wilcox isn’t one of the highest-paid Power 5 coaches, but Cal’s financial issues are well-documented. The school might balk at firing a coach with so much time left on his contract, but the buyout money ($3.75 million) isn’t too steep. Another factor to watch is athletic director Jim Knowlton, whose status is increasingly shaky given the struggles in both football and men’s basketball, and a scandal involving the women’s swimming program.

UCLA: Kelly has three years remaining on an extension deal he reached with UCLA in January 2022. The program is on a good trajectory, going 17-8 the past two seasons, and another extension could be coming. But the Bruins haven’t had a true breakthrough under Kelly, who is 27-29 at the school. UCLA will enter the Big Ten in 2024, which could be a natural pivot point for the program, especially if the team struggles next season. Athletic director Martin Jarmond did not hire Kelly, and Kelly also could elect to move on at some point soon.

Utah: Whittingham, who turns 64 in November, is at the very top of his game following consecutive Pac-12 championships and Rose Bowl appearances. He doesn’t want to coach well past 65, but still has goals to achieve, like a Rose Bowl championship and Utah’s first-ever CFP appearance. If those boxes are checked, the most significant coach in school history could head for his beloved ski slopes.


Hot seat: None
Keep an eye on: Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M; Eliah Drinkwitz, Missouri; Billy Napier, Florida
Possible retirement: Nick Saban, Alabama

The SEC is college football’s ultimate pressure cooker, so it feels odd not to list any coach in the obvious hot seat category. If not for his contract, Fisher would be.

Texas A&M: After a 2022 season that began with Texas A&M ranked No. 6, the Aggies finished 5-7. Texas A&M’s reputation as the sport’s ultimate spend-big, win-little program has played out during Fisher’s tenure. He has just one season with fewer than four losses.

His buyout drops from $86 million late last fall to $76.8 million this year, still a prohibitive sum for almost any school. Even minimal improvement likely would be enough to secure Fisher a sixth season in College Station. Texas A&M has a lot of new faces in key roles, including offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino, who relieves Fisher as the playcaller. There’s clear boom-or-bust potential with the 2023 Aggies, creating a must-watch situation around Fisher all fall.

Missouri: In early November, Drinkwitz received a small contract extension through 2027, a decision that surprised some around the industry. He went on to finish 6-7 for the second straight season, bringing his overall Missouri record to 17-19. Drinkwitz has some good relationships around the university, but he wasn’t hired by athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois. A non-bowl season plus continued struggles on offense — Missouri is 81st in scoring during Drinkwitz’s tenure — would create real tension around his status. The buyout doesn’t change significantly with his amended contract.

Florida: Napier would really need things to go wrong to not reach Year 3 in Gainesville. He inherited a messy situation. But Florida continues to fall behind Georgia, winner of the past two national championships. The Gators’ other main rival, Tennessee, is finally winning big again behind a high-flying offense that Florida fans would love. Napier is signed through 2027, and his success is tied to athletic director Scott Stricklin, who likely won’t be able to hire a third football coach at UF. But if the Gators struggle to reach bowl eligibility and can’t find a good path forward on offense, there will be some desire for a complete reset. Napier asked for a lot when he arrived and Florida came through for him. Soon, he must do the same.

Alabama: Saban turns 72 on Halloween. Although he still has great energy to compete, his protégé, Georgia coach Kirby Smart, has pulled ahead. If Saban can win one more national title — and beat Georgia in the process — he might be tempted to exit.

Group of 5

Hot seat: Ryan Silverfield, Memphis; Butch Jones, Arkansas State; Mike Bloomgren, Rice; Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio); Ken Wilson, Nevada; Dana Dimel, UTEP
Keep an eye on: Danny Gonzales, New Mexico; Scot Loeffler, Bowling Green; Terry Bowden, Louisiana-Monroe; Thomas Hammock, Northern Illinois; Shawn Clark, Appalachian State
Possible retirement: Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee; Don Brown, UMass; Craig Bohl, Wyoming; Brady Hoke, San Diego State; Jim McElwain, Central Michigan

The Group of 5 could be the more active spot for coaching changes. We won’t get into all of the names above, but the MAC is an especially interesting league to watch, as several changes are possible — for several reasons.

Memphis: Silverfield is the only holdover from last year’s hot seat. He went 6-6 in the regular season for the second straight year before guiding Memphis to a win in the First Responder Bowl. But at 21-16 overall — and 11-13 in AAC play — he likely will need to contend for the league title to ensure a fourth full season at the helm of a top Group of 5 job. Silverfield, who has been on the Memphis staff since 2016, is signed through the 2025 season and his buyout, which was around $3.5 million last season, has decreased.

Arkansas State: Hiring Butch Jones after the 2020 season drew strong reviews (me included), but the former coach at Tennessee, Cincinnati and Central Michigan is just 5-19 in his fourth FBS job. Jones has dropped 14 of 16 Sun Belt games, so Year 3 progress is essential to show athletic director Jeff Purinton that things are on the upswing.

Nevada: Wilson is only in Year 2 at Nevada, but a winless Mountain West record at a program used to success turns up the heat in a hurry. Like others on this list, he’s also working for an athletic director (Stephanie Rempe) who did not hire him.

New Mexico: The school has been patient with Gonzales, an alum who came up under former Lobos coach Rocky Long. He’s just 7-24 in three seasons and went 0-8 in Mountain West play last fall. A fourth bowl-less season could spell the end, but athletic director Eddie Nunez remains supportive.

San Diego State: Hoke turns 65 in November. Would he want to stay on through a possible transition to the Pac-12?

Central Michigan: McElwain, 60, suffered a seizure before the 2022 season and could be nearing retirement as he enters his fifth year at CMU.

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