Entering the 2020 season, the assumption was that college football programs would be very hesitant to fire their coaches, even if their year didn’t go very well. Southern Miss immediately proved that wrong when they canned Jay Hopson after the season opener, and by the time we got to the national championship, Texas, Auburn, South Carolina, and Arizona (among others) had joined them.
The lesson I personally should take here is clear: Always assume schools are way more willing to fire a coach than they might seem. With that in mind, I have reviewed the upcoming season to identify one game that might get a coach dismissed for each week. For the sake of variety, each school will only be firing its coach once, though it would be amusing to put five different JIM HARBAUGH GONE games on here.
Week 0: Nebraska at Illinois
Bret Bielema’s last conference game at Wisconsin was a 70-31 win in the Big Ten title game against the Huskers. Let’s imagine he returns to the conference nearly a decade later and immediately beats Nebraska again, only with a team that went 2-6 last season. (One of those two wins was, yes, over Nebraska.) What would sting more for Husker boosters: the loss, or having to hear Bret crow about it?
Week 1: Louisiana Tech at Mississippi State
Louisiana Tech’s one of the schools that’s learned how to get a coach fired early, and beating Mississippi State in Starkville to start the year would surely send the Bulldogs into a fury. Enough fury to fire Mike Leach twelve games into his tenure? Listen, the SEC doesn’t tell you it just means more so they can make sensible choices.
Week 2: Kennesaw State at Georgia Tech
If the Owls win this game and rightfully claim the title of Atlanta’s True College Football Team, that might be the end for Geoff Collins, who lost to The Citadel in 2019 and has yet to finish with more than four wins in a Jackets season.
Week 3: Fresno State at UCLA
Chip Kelly’s had a slow start with the Bruins, though a lot of that struggle has been amplified by difficult non-conference opponents: Cincinnati and Oklahoma twice, and good San Diego State and Fresno State teams. “That was a really good loss to Fresno State” only gets you through so much, though, and another defeat at the hands (paws?) of the Bulldogs might be the end, considering UCLA hired a new athletic director last August.
Week 4: Liberty at Syracuse
When Liberty and Syracuse last met, the Flames averaged over seven yards a carry and beat the Orange by 17. My extremely learned advice for Dino Babers: Don’t let them do that again.
Week 5: Indiana at Penn State
Perhaps the biggest reach on this list, though not bigger than the reach Michael Penix used to score Indiana’s first win over the Nitt–OW PLEASE STOP THROWING THINGS AT ME.
Anyway, another loss to the Hoosiers probably doesn’t get James Franklin fired the next day, but you can sure see it becoming the inciting incident in a story about his termination a couple of months later!
Week 6: Michigan at Nebraska
If he loses to Nebraska, Jim Harbaugh will find himself tied to hundreds of balloons and floated into the Omaha sky. He’ll spend the next few days teaching geese blocking techniques while his agent frantically tries to get a deal done with the Bears.
Week 7: Texas Tech at Kansas
Like Louisiana Tech, Kansas has a knack for getting coaches canned before the season’s up, and a loss here would make Matt Wells 1-2 against the Jayhawks since he took the Texas Tech job. (And the one was a 16-13 win, which doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence.)
Week 8: LSU at Ole Miss
No, really, explain to me how Ed Orgeron loses to Lane Kiffin and LSU fans just take it in stride.
Week 9: Arizona at USC
Arizona’s the only Pac-12 team that made a coaching change last season, and the Wildcats have a real knack for ruining someone else’s year without necessarily helping their own all that much. Of course, this assumes Clay Helton can even be fired, a possibility the universe has thus far rejected at every turn. I gotta tell you, I’m gonna be pretty disappointed if it turns out Clay Helton is the Highlander. An immortal swordsman should be a way better recruiter!
Week 10: Pitt at Duke
Losing to Duke is the spiritual opposite of the Pitt Superweapon Experience, and I am confident it would happen because of Pat Narduzzi calling for a 29-yard field goal to cut into a five-point deficit with a minute to go. (The field goal misses, obviously.)
Week 11: Syracuse at Louisville
Scott Satterfield went from a miraculous turnaround in Year 1 at Louisville to writing the fanbase an apology letter at the end of Year 2 after he publicly gawked at several other jobs. If that downward trajectory continues, “losing at home to the Syracuse team that got blown out by Liberty” feels like a pretty good stopping point.
Week 12: Cal at Stanford
Maybe the last few years at Stanford have been David Shaw testing whether the “T-Rex can’t see you if you don’t move” principle works on coaching jobs. The Cardinal haven’t finished in the Top 25 since 2017, and they’ve finished third or worse in the North Division four times in the last five years. Despite beating Cal in 2020, Stanford hasn’t dominated the rivalry the way it did a decade ago, and a second loss to the Golden Bears in three years might be too much for Shaw to withstand.
Week 13: Virginia Tech at UVA
If you ask most Virginia Tech fans which loss they think should get Justin Fuente fired, they’ll start reading you the 2021 Hokie schedule in chronological order. But if Fuente, having failed to continue Virginia Tech’s 15-year winning streak over UVA in 2019, loses the Commonwealth Cup again? He’s either toast, or Hokie fans form a breakaway country and demand recognition from the United Nations. HOKRAINE* IS A PROUD LAND!!
*They wanted Turkey but couldn’t get the naming rights.