August 20, 2008

Willingham, Stoops among those feeling heat

More: McNabb will have role in next Syracuse hire | Can Ferentz right sinking ship at Iowa?

This is the second part of a three-part coaching series. Tuesday's part one looked at how coaches have fared this decade in their first seasons at a new school. Part two deals with coaches on the hot seat.

Thursday's part three looks at some hot coaching commodities or, in other words, guys who could be replacing those coaches on the hot seat.

Pac-10 brothers-in-arms Washington's Tyrone Willingham and Arizona's Mike Stoops have two of the hottest fannies in America. And that's why each has a red-hot sense of urgency to win this fall. A .500 record and no bowl won't cut it. The goal for each is to reach the postseason.

Or get fired. Both Willingham ans Stoops find themselves on our list of the 12 hottest coaching seats in America.

"I probably feel more relaxed now than I have at any time," Stoops told recently. "Whether the writing's on the wall, I don't know, but I know what my job is."

Just win, baby.

"The major key is to get your team to focus because usually those who are older have the ability to focus on the task at hand," Willingham says. "They're not easily distracted. Certain things don't enter into their thought process. They can eliminate those things and stay on task. Can you stay on track? Can you stay focused? Can you eliminate all the things that take you away from allowing yourself to be your best? That's what we'll start at, try to get them to be older."

It's difficult to say which coach inherited a worse situation. Washington was in shambles after Rick Neuheisel left following the 2002 season. Keith Gilbertson took over, but he was overmatched in two seasons that produced a 7-16 record. Stoops, meanwhile, walked into a horrendous situation in Tucson in the wake of the John Mackovic debacle. You name it, the Wildcats were devoid of it during Mackovic's reign from 2001-03.

Willingham is 11-25 overall and 6-20 in the Pac-10 in three seasons at Washington. The Huskies have finished in last place in the league twice (2005, '07) and were ninth in 2006. As for marquee wins, well, there haven't been any.

Some say Washington president Mark Emmert was going to can Willingham after last season, along with A.D. Todd Turner. But Willingham met with Emmert and bought himself another year. Turner wasn't so fortunate and was let go. Emmert wants to enhance Washington's rep as a major public university. To that end, he knows what a big-time football program can do for the image of a university. Remember: Emmert went to Washington from LSU, where he hired Nick Saban.

Stoops is 17-29 overall and 12-22 in the Pac-10 in four seasons at Arizona. Unlike Willingham, Stoops has enjoyed some bursts of success, including a 6-6 record in 2006. That was the Wildcats' first non-losing season since Dick Tomey led them to a 12-1 record in 1998. Stoops also has registered several victories over ranked teams, toppling the likes of No. 7 UCLA in 2005, No. 8 Cal in 2006 and No. 2 Oregon in 2007.

Arizona president Robert Shelton, who arrived on campus in 2006 after previously working at North Carolina, assured Stoops last season that he would be back in 2008. But sources say Shelton emphasized to Stoops that a bowl trip in 2008 is mandatory to keep his job. If Stoops fails, Arizona A.D. Jim Livengood who is taking some heat for a basketball program that's struggling also may be gone. Livengood already has hired two football coaches (Mackovic and Stoops). Rarely does an A.D. get the chance to hire a third after his first two didn't work out.

Stoops is better positioned to keep his job. Arizona will have its best offense yet under Stoops, and count on the defense Stoops' specialty to get better as the season progresses. A look at the schedule revels that it isn't crazy to think the Wildcats could be could be 7-0 when USC visits Oct. 25.

The outlook for Willingham isn't as bright. Offensive coordinator Tim Lappano has done a terrific job developing the offense and star quarterback Jake Locker, but the defense has struggled. New coordinator Ed Donatell is on the spot. But even an improved defense may not be enough to save the season, because the Huskies face a brutal schedule. Washington's foes went a combined 91-62 last year. Five foes are ranked in the first coaches' poll. And the first three games look like sure losses: at Oregon, vs. BYU, vs. Oklahoma. That means games four through six likely will decide Willingham's fate: vs. Stanford, at Arizona and vs. Oregon State.

1. Greg Robinson, Syracuse
He's 7-28 in three seasons, and the offense has been a vast wasteland since his arrival.
2. Tyrone Willingham, Washington
A 0-3 start would make things mighty unpleasant in Seattle.
3. Joe Glenn, Wyoming
He had great success in Division II (Northern Colorado) and Division I-AA (Montana), but it hasn't translated to Division I-A.
4. Mike Sanford, UNLV
He was Urban Meyer's offensive coordinator at Utah, but he has rolled snake eyes thus far in Vegas.
5. Mike Stoops, Arizona
Bob's brother faces a last stand of sorts this season.
6. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Myriad off-field problems including a high-profile sexual assault case involving two now-former players plus mediocrity on the field is a bad mixture.
7. Mike Price, UTEP
After a hot start in west Texas, things have cooled considerably. He needs to find a defense.
8. Hal Mumme, New Mexico State
His aerial circus hasn't played all that well in Las Cruces.
9. Brent Guy, Utah State
He's 6-29 in three seasons. A big question is whether anyone can win consistently with the program.
10. Rickey Bustle, Louisiana-Lafayette
He was a hot commodity when he left Virginia Tech to take over ULL before the 2002 season, but the Ragin' Cajuns have won just 26 games in his six seasons.
11. Mark Snyder, Marshall
The Herd has rabid fans, and they're not happy that Snyder has won just 12 games in his three seasons. New defensive coordinator Rick Minter was hired to get the defense turned around.
12. Dave Wannstedt, Pittsburgh
He hasn't gone to a bowl in his three seasons at Pitt, and the offense has been inconsistent during his tenure. But everything appears to be in place for a top-25 finish this season. Anything less than a bowl bid would make for more unhappy Panthers fans.

Part I: How the new coaches have fared

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for He can be reached at

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