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B1G Football 2021 Coaching Hot Seats Week 12
Week 11 of the Big Ten football season saw us lose our second B1G coordinator of the season as Matt Lubick and the majority of the Nebraska offensive coaching staff was shown the door by AD Trev Alberts. Lubick is the first B1G coordinator fired outright this season since Kerry Coombs was merely demoted (but let’s be honest, Coombs is likely out of a job come January). In other coaching hot seat news, Scott Frost will be returning for a 5th year to man the helm of the S.S. Nebraska. Little does he know it’s a fake wheel and AD Trev Alberts is in actual control of the ship now.
Lubick took over for previous Nebraska OC Troy Walters in January 2020. Under Lubick’s leadership, the Cornhusker’s offense struggled. In 2020 their 23.1 points/game was good for 102nd in FBS football. Their 2021 season’s points/game of 28.6 has been better and good for 65th, but that’s buoyed by 52 and 56 point explosions against Fordham and Northwestern respectively as Nebraska has failed to clear 30 in any other competitions.
We waive good-bye to Matt Lubick this week and will take a moment to remember his greatest hits at Nebraska. In 2020, Lubick’s offense cleared 30 points once (Nebraska’s 30 spot against PSU was aided by a defensive TD) and it came against the reason for this column existing: Bob Diaco. In 2021, Nebraska’s two good offensive performances were against FCS Fordham (which okay, it technically counts) and Northwestern (which is the reason a 1-6 in B1G play Nebraska has a positive points differential in B1G play and why Jim O’Neil has his own spot on the hot seat rankings). I wish Matt Lubick the best of luck in his job search.
As for the deadpool competition, we have a winner and it’s me! Not really sure how this happened as I’ve been telling everyone for months now that Lubick would be the first B1G coordinator fired this year. Only one participant had picked Matt Lubick in time for the pick to count. User TheNate changed what would have been the competition winning pick away from Matt Lubick just hours before the news broke that Lubick was being let go immediately. I’ll also give a shoutout to user wesd2005 for selecting Matt Lubick last week, but per the rules of the competition his pick came too close to the firing. Had the pick been in time he would have place second in the deadpool competition as his date for Lubick being let go was a day after my own.
Despite having won the 2021 deadpool competition, I’ll continue to track the rest of the deadpool and users may continue to play for second place. Details on how to play can still be found in this previous post. Only update to that post is that I reduced the the amount of time that a pick must be made before a firing from 1 full week to 4 days. That will allow everyone to make picks the final week of the season. Current standings/entries to the deadpool are as follows:
- BoilerUp89 - Matt Lubick Nov 29 at 9:36AM - 21 days off from actual firing
06Lion - Matt Barnes Oct 31 at 4:09 AM?
Atinat - Matt Barnes Oct 25 at 10:21 AM
Danwesley Meyer - Nick Sheridan two hours after Indiana loses the Bucket game
g0purdu3 - IU OC, Nick Sheridan. Monday, November 29th, 10 am eastern
greenie71 - Scott Frost Oct 3 2:00 PM
HeWasAHSQB - Scott Frost Nov 29
Hollywood Hawk Hogan - Jim O’Neil in the library with Pat Fitzgerald’s leg cast at 4:20 pm on Saturday, November 27, 2021. (This is my favorite pick so far)
HoustonBoiler - Nick Sheridan Nov 28 11:00 AM
HusCat - Scott Frost the day after the Iowa game
IronMonkee - Mike Sanford Jr. 11:00 AM 11/14 after he gets us shut out by Iowa
LandofSkyBlueWatersGopher - Mike Sanford, Nov. 28, 10:00 am CT
rich52K - O’Neill Dec 1
The JRod - Scott Frost Oct 30 between 6-8 pm
TheNate - Nick Sheridan, in Sarah’s she-shed, with hand delivered note, at 7:22pm on November 29th
whersmyelephant - Tony Peterson Oct 11
If I missed someone let me know. Good luck to you guys playing for second, although the Scott Frost pickers are probably finishing in a tie for last this season.
The Hot Seat Rankings:
Buyouts and years left on contracts are roughly at the end of the season. Technically some contracts change in December and some in January but it’s close enough.
1. Indiana Hoosiers OC Nick Sheridan (previously 1). 2nd season. Salary - $500k. Years left on contract - 0?. Buyout at end of season - $0?.
During their most recent game against the sleeping giant that is Rutgers, the Hoosier fan base started stripping in an act of protest against the continued employment of Nick Sheridan. An entire section of the stands was filled with these shirtless protestors in the 2nd quarter. Realizing the futility of their protest to enact change during the actual game, the protest fizzled at halftime. I bring this story up because it is infinitely most entertaining than the Indiana offense right now. Against Rutgers Indiana had SIX turnovers, went 1/14 on third down, and eked out a paltry 262 yards. Indiana is dead last in points scored during Big Ten play at 73 (that’s 10.4 points per game for those of you keeping track at home). The question isn’t whether Nick Sheridan will be let go, the question is when will the decision become official. Next up: Indiana football fans transition to basketball season as the team tries to score more than once against Minnesota.
2. Northwestern Wildcats DC Jim O’Neil (previously 3). 1st season. Salary - PRIVATE SCHOOL DOLLARS. Years left on contract - PRIVATE SCHOOL YEARS. Buyout at end of season - PRIVATE SCHOOL DOLLARS.
Against the division leading Badgers, the Wildcats gave up 497 yards of offense and 35 points. If it wasn’t for the 3 turnovers they caused, it could have been even worse. On the positive side of things the Northwestern defense did outscore the Northwestern offense as their fumble return for a TD in the 4th quarter was the Wildcats only score of the game. The Wildcats are one of 3 B1G teams to allow over 200 points in B1G play so far (227) and the only one of those that plays the anemic offenses that populate the West division. What makes this more of a disaster for O’Neil is that managed to do this with a team that a) won the division last season, b) gave up a 5th best in FBS football 15.9 points/game last season, and c) O’Neil replaced highly successful longtime DC Mike Hankwitz this offseason. Prior to coming to NU, O’Neil worked mostly as a defensive position coach in the NFL. As a DC, O’Neil has gone 2-14 with the 49ers in 2016, 7-9 and 3-13 with the Browns in 2014 and 2015, and 6-5 with Towson in 2005. There’s very little evidence to suggest that O’Neil can be a successful play caller on defense at any level or develop defensive players in college. The question is how stubborn will Pat Fitzgerald be regarding his friend. Next up: The Wildcats try to slow down a Purdue offense that has been hot.
3. THE Ohio State Buckeyes DC Matt Barnes [de facto DC, de jure DB coach] (previously 4). 1st season as DB coach. Salary - 450k. Years left on contract - 1*.
OSU got the win against their B1G rivals Purdue. But they did it mostly be outscoring Purdue as their offense got over 600 yards and a shit ton of points. The defense gave up 31 points, 481 yards total (including 390 yards + 4 TDs thru the air), and a healthy 4.8 yards per carry to the worse rushing attack in the Big Ten. Barnes is the interim DC so anything short of fantastic is going to make it difficult for him to get the promotion full time. The play of the secondary means he might even have to be somewhat concerned about getting the DB coach job back as well. *Barnes’s contract details are as a DB coach. This ranking is for him keeping the DC role. Next up: Ohio State faces their first serious divisional threat of the season in Michigan State.
4. Minnesota Golden Gophers OC Mike Sanford Jr. (previously N/R). 2nd season. Salary - $650k. Years left on contract - 0. Buyout at end of season - $0.
Sanford is rapidly ascending up this list. In the latest display of play calling mistakes, the Gophers ran the ball 50! times despite being down their top 3 running backs. Chris Autman-Bell is one of the better WRs in the B1G (I want to say he’s the 10th best behind Bell, Dotson, and 7 OSU WRs) and despite that he only got 5 catches on the day. Before Sanford arrived, Tanner Morgan was a 3000 yard passer and had a 30:7 TD to INT ratio in 2019. Under Sanford’s tutelage, Morgan has seen his completion percentage plummet from 66% to 57% (2019 to 2021), yards per attempt drop from over 10 to 7.7 (2019 to 2021), and in the 17 combined games from the 2020 and 2021 seasons Morgan has managed just 2914 yards and 14 TDs to 12 INTs. Minnesota’s overall offensive numbers aren’t truly awful - they’ve scored over 30 points 6 times - and head coach P.J. Fleck has zero pressure to make changes as he just secured a long contract extension so if Fleck wants Sanford could be back in 2022. But the evidence suggests that would be a mistake. Sanford’s original two year contract expires January 31, 2022. This is not necessarily a sign that Sanford wasn’t trusted coming into this season - Joe Rossi and most of the Minnesota position coaches also have contracts set to expire that day. I should also mention my gratitude to the Gophers administration for making the contract details of their entire coaching staff so public. Next up: Minnesota will try to get things going on offense against a flailing Indiana defense.
5. Maryland Terrapins DC Brian Stewart (previously N/R). 1st season. Salary - $775k. Years left on contract - 2. Buyout at end of season - 1.675M.
Maryland has given up a league worst 274 points this season (9 teams have given up less than 200). The Terrapins have held a single Big Ten offense under 30 points - Illinois. Even Indiana put up 35 points on these guys. So why isn’t Stewart higher up on this list? Well for one thing, there’s a decent chance that Maryland makes a bowl this season for the first time under Locksley. While the defense has been a complete disaster, the record appears to be progress for the Terrapins (assuming they can beat Rutgers). And believe it or not, but Maryland is actually giving up slightly less points per game than last season. Granted this year includes a game against Howard, but last year didn’t include Ohio State so these things even out somewhat. Additionally Stewart was given a three year contract and while it’s cheaper than replacing a head coach, he wouldn’t be a cheap buyout - nor would Maryland be likely to bring in a more qualified coach at this time. Finally, Locksley is in year 3 and needs to start keeping some coaches around. Last offseason, Locksley replaced both coordinators and 3 position coaches (half of his assistant staff). Next up: Maryland plays Michigan and attempts to secure a bowl berth.
Others to Watch:
Northwestern Wildcats OC Mike Bajakian - Northwestern’s offense was outscored by their defense this past week. On the year Northwestern is one or two B1G teams that have scored less than 100 points in conference play (89). Since their season opener against MSU where they scored 21 points, Northwestern has only managed 7, 21, 7, 14, 12, and 7. That’s not a recipe for success. While Northwestern went to Indianapolis last season, it was on the back of their defense not their offense. Bajakian does have a few things going for him though. One, he’s dealing with injuries to big contributors on the offense and has been all year. Secondly, the defense has been even worse and has been drawing the ire of fans that could have been directed toward Bajakian. Third, Fitzgerald is pretty stubborn. Fitz has fired both coordinators in the same season before, but that was way back in 2007 and he hadn’t hired the DC, he inherited him. Is Fitz really going to start over with both coordinators at the same time. Next up: Northwestern heads to Wrigley Field and Bajakian will try to put together an offensive game plan that doesn’t produce a baseball score.
Indiana Hoosiers DC Charlton Warren - Warren begins the list of guys whom I currently think have better than 50% odds of returning next season but nevertheless have put together season long performances that are deserving of getting them listed in the Others to Watch section. I can’t in good conscience leave a defensive coordinator giving up 30+ points per game off this list. Rutgers scored 35% of their total points on the season against Indiana this past week. The saving grace for Warren (and reason I think he will return for 2022) is the recruiting class he’s helped put together. Despite an awful, awful season Indiana’s recruiting class is still ranked 6th in the conference (and has the 3rd highest average recruit ranking). So far they’ve been able to avoid the rash of decommitments that usually occur during a season like this one. Warren is a good recruiter and combined with the offense taking most of the heat for the team’s woes I think he will be back. Wouldn’t be shocked if Tom Allen decided to move on, but the recruits are a much needed boost to Allen’s long term program building. Next up: The season continues with Minnesota. Warren gets to face Mike Sanford’s juggernaut of an offense.
Nebraska Cornhuskers DC Erik Chinander - It appears that Chinander is safe for next year as Trev Alberts took a pickaxe to the Nebraska coaching staff this past week. Chinander and the defensive position coaches survived suggesting that Alberts is mostly happy with their performance this season. I suspect one of the LB coaches is still gone (as you don’t need two LB coaches) but otherwise there is a decent chance the rest of the defensive coaches come back for Scott Frost’s encore performance. Nothing is completely off the table (with the exception of Scott Frost being let go for performance reasons) in the next few weeks so Chinander will hang onto the back of the watchlist portion for the remainder of the season. I’d recommend that he doesn’t give up 30+ points in the remaining games. Next up: Nebraska plays Wisconsin.
Nebraska Cornhuskers HC Scott Frost (previously 5) - Trev Alberts made the announcement that Scott Frost would be returning for a year 5. I’m going to take him at his word and remove Frost from the top 5 rankings for the remainder of this season - barring some sort of fileable offense becoming public knowledge. Frost is the heavy favorite to begin the 2022 rankings in the #1 spot. Next up: Scott Frost tries to find assistants that will be willing to sink on his ship.
Moving off the watch list:
Michigan Wolverines HC Jim Harbaugh - Coming into the season I was of the opinion that Harbaugh needed to get a win out of the MSU, PSU, OSU contingent or otherwise I wouldn’t be shocked if Michigan moved on. We’ll call this the Mark Richt scenario. But luckily for Harbaugh, the Wolverines got the win against the Nittany Lions and Harbaugh appears headed to a 10 win regular season. When Mark Richt was fired for losing to his rivals, he was coming off a 9-3 season. Similarly Bo Pelini was 9-3 when he was let go. There have also been several coaches let go following 8 win seasons. But in the past decade of college football, no coach* has been fired for on-field reasons when they reached 10 wins (Bobby Petrino was fired in April following an 11-2 season because he crashed his motorcycle). So long as Harbaugh takes care of business against Maryland, he will get to 10 wins and should return for 2022. *Per my quick search
Head Coaches That Will Be Safe After 3 Wins:
- Indiana - I’m 99.9% certain that Tom Allen will be coming back to Indiana next year. There is a 0.1% chance that a 2-10 record combined with a 70 point loss to Purdue sets their AD over the edge and he does something dumb. The 70 point loss isn’t all that likely, but the 2-10 record is looking like a strong possibility now. This doesn’t mean I think Allen isn’t coming back next year. It just means that at a lot of programs coaches are fired for turning in 2 win seasons during years that their teams are expecting to compete for the conference. I don’t think Indiana follows the lead of those other programs, but I’m being overly cautious here for a 5th year head coach.
After 6 Wins:
- Maryland - A bowl game would be a big win for Locksley in year 3.
Coaches that have reached safe threshold for 2021 (barring scandal):
Michigan State HC, OC, DC
Rutgers HC, OC, DC - Rutgers made me feel better about their coordinators job security with a convincing win against the Hoosiers. They still have a decent chance for a bowl game and that’s good enough for year 2.
Iowa HC, OC, DC - Sorry, not sorry Iowa fans
Minnesota HC, DC
Wisconsin HC, DC
Purdue HC, OC, DC
Ohio State HC, OC
Illinois HC, DC
Penn State HC, OC, DC