I don’t like putting coaches on the hot seat.
To me, an athletic director is the only person who can really do that. Well, that or a coach who does something off the field to make us question his short- and long-term future (what’s good, Tim Beckman?).
But while I’m not big on saying “Coach X needs X amount of wins to keep his job,” I think it’s fair to evaluate what would make a fanbase feel good about a coach long-term.
I think coaches entering their first or second seasons are basically off limits. It’s too early. The new hasn’t even worn off yet.
In Year 3, however, that’s a different story. Year 3 is the time that a coach finally has his own players dominating the roster, and for the rebuilding programs, it’s when we should see significant progress.
Three B1G coaches are entering Year 3, and all three of them have to show significant progress for their fanbases to make them feel like they’re the person who can be the long-term solution.
Let’s break down each of their situations and the strides they have to make in Year 3:
1. Lovie Smith, Illinois
I’m on record saying that I no longer believe that Smith is capable of pulling this off. I’m not sold on his ability to develop talent and coach in the college game. I understand he had a complete overhaul to pull off, but man, the 2-year marks are horrendous:
- 5-19 overall
- 2-16 vs. B1G
- Outscored 269-601 vs. B1G (-18.4 point differential per game)
- 1-14 vs. bowl-eligible teams
- Second-worst scoring offense among P5 teams in 2016
- Worst scoring offense among P5 teams in 2017
- 1 NFL draft pick
I mean, that’s awful. I don’t know what an Illinois fan can look at based on Smith’s first two years and feel good about. Rebuilding job or not, that’s terrible for someone making $3.5 million.
Smith cannot continue that in Year 3. It doesn’t matter how young the roster is (yes, I know Illinois had its youngest team in program history last year). There’s too much money to be made from winning football, and 2-3 wins isn’t winning football.
I think Smith can ease some nerves by getting to the 5-win mark and just being more competitive against the conference as a whole. During that 10-game losing streak Illinois finished 2017 on, it played in just one game that was decided by single digits. You’ve got to at least look like you’re capable of winning a ballgame. Right?
Josh Whitman isn’t putting Smith on any hot seat yet. Still, I question how much patience Smith will have if he has another year in the B1G basement.
2. Chris Ash, Rutgers
I thought Ash had the toughest rebuilding job of any B1G coach in the Playoff era, so I give him a longer leash than the other two coaches on this list. Ash had to deal with an NCAA investigation from the Kyle Flood era, and he had massive roster turnover because of the countless suspensions (I think it was a dozen?) that Rutgers had in 2015.
Having said that, his long-term future will be in jeopardy if he only wins three games in 2018. Ash made some noticeable progress in Year 2 — it’s not easy to win three games in the B1G East — that had to make Rutgers AD Pat Hobbs feel good about the long-term vision.
Year 3 for Ash is simply about not having the disastrous games against B1G powers. While the Knights weren’t complete doormats against the nation’s elite in 2017, they were still outscored 137-13 against Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State. Progress has to be made there. Those programs aren’t going anywhere on Rutgers’ schedule.
And no, running these plays won’t be the answer:
This isn’t football, Rutgers. pic.twitter.com/D53Hfi4LLG
— Connor O’Gara (@cjogara) October 1, 2017
The challenge for Ash, who still has a young team, is that Rutgers’ 2018 schedule is extremely backloaded. I actually think there’s a decent chance that the Knights could tie their 2017 win total (4) by the first week of October. Rutgers returns 81 percent of its defensive production (No. 18 in FBS), and it’ll be better in the third year of the defensive-minded Ash at the helm.
Well, it should be.
3. D.J. Durkin, Maryland
I’ve got a take that I don’t think Maryland fans are going to want to hear.
If I had to bet on one B1G coach getting fired at the end of the 2018 season, it’d be Durkin. Why? It’s not that I think he’s a bad coach and an inferior recruiter. I think he’s been as advertised in both of those departments.
But there’s a new athletic director in town. Even though Damon Evans was at Maryland when Durkin was hired, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he has long-term job security. New athletic directors want their performance to be evaluated on their hire, not somebody else’s.
That complicates things for Durkin. Another 4-win season wouldn’t necessarily mean Durkin is gone, but that doesn’t exactly say to a new A.D. “I’m your guy.”
Like Ash, there’s a competitive factor that has to be taken into account. Maryland has to be better against the East’s best. Allowing 60-plus points and getting outscored 128-17 by Ohio State and Penn State shows how far Maryland is from getting to where it wants to be. It would help if Maryland had a healthy quarterback from start to finish.
Simply getting back to the 6-win year that Durkin had in Year 1 would be a nice bounce-back mark, especially with how challenging the schedule looks again.
It’d be a good year for Durkin to reach the postseason and show his new boss that he’s still the man for the job.