Let’s be honest. There is really only one coach in the Big 12 entering this season who needs to win now in order to save his job, and everybody knows it is Kliff Kingsbury. That sounds harsh, but this is the situation when four of the coaches in the conference are entering their first or second season at their current school. As well as David Beaty, who is entering year three of the massive overhaul at Kansas with a new contract extension through 2021 under his belt.
As for the rest of the conference, Mike Gundy signed a contract this offseason that should keep him at Oklahoma State until he retires, and Gary Patterson already has a statue at TCU. Dana Holgorsen, who entered last season on the hot seat, signed a five-year contract extension after leading the Mountaineers to a 10-win season. That only leaves the legendary Bill Snyder who will turn 78 years old this season, and while this may be his last season, he definitely isn’t on the hot seat.
It has been an up and down ride for one of Lubbock’s favorite sons. Kliff Kingsbury, who took over at Texas Tech in 2013 under a five-year contract, won his first seven games at Tech only to finish the regular season by dropping the next five. However, a surprise victory in the Holiday Bowl against a nationally ranked Arizona State team resulted in a contract extension through 2020 worth $24.2 million.
Since signing that extension, the Red Raiders have amassed a record of just 16-21 overall and 9-18 in conference. That’s not exactly what most Red Raiders fans were hoping for. Meanwhile, a defense that has never been much better than mediocre since the turn of the century has reached new lows in futility the last three seasons. Tech hit rock bottom last season finishing dead last in the FBS in points and yards allowed. Don’t bother with secondary metrics such as points per drive or yards per play because it does not paint a much prettier picture.
A blowout defeat to Iowa State 66-10 towards the end of last season had fans speculating whether Kingsbury would see Christmas in Lubbock. The team would rally to finish the season with a comfortable win over a reeling Baylor squad. At the conclusion of the season, Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt announced during a press conference that Kingsbury would return as head coach in 2017. However, Hocutt sent a loud and clear message to his coach moving forward.
“I look for coach Kingsbury to have much greater involvement and engagement on the defensive side of the ball beginning this spring as this program moves forward.” He later added, “He’ll have to lean more on offensive coordinator, other position coaches to fulfill [day-to-day] responsibilities so he can be more engaged on the defensive side of the ball. So, it’s the day-to-day scripting, planning, individual meetings that take place that others will have to step forward and take those responsibilities off his plate.”
Kliff Kingsbury is entering his fifth season as head coach, and that is a fair amount of time to judge the direction of a program. He is being given the chance to show progress by taking on more of a CEO approach during practice and game preparation. Kingsbury is also banking on coaching staff continuity, with defensive coordinator David Gibbs heading into his third season, paying off. Kingsbury’s increased involvement on defense is definitely a positive move for the team, but it may have been made one year too late.
The Big 12 as a whole appears to be on the rise heading into 2017 and improvements at perennial bottom dwellers Kansas and Iowa State will only make finding wins more difficult. Ultimately, I think the administration has realistic expectations heading into the season. The team just needs to show improvement on defense and get back to a bowl game in order to at least buy Kingsbury another year to continue to show progress. I am just not sure he has the horses to meet even modest expectations this season.
Don’t worry, I am not taking the blow hard stance that Lincoln Riley is on the hot seat before coaching a single game at Oklahoma. He is, however, in a unique situation that definitely comes with added pressure. It is not every offseason that the winningest coach at a blue blood program retires unexpectedly two months before the start of the upcoming season. Not to mention when the program is still winning conference championships and competing for national titles.
Riley has inherited a double-edged sword. On one hand, he is in a terrific position to have early success that will allow him to maintain the upward trajectory of the program. On the other hand, if the Sooners do not meet expectations, then the blame will inevitably fall at Riley’s feet. The prerequisite for success in college football, excluding perhaps Alabama, is great quarterback play. So, the good news for Riley is that he is set for this year. However, his tenure at Oklahoma will be defined by either Kyler Murray or Austin Kendall, especially with heralded recruit Chris Robison no longer with the program. If neither of those two quarterbacks play to expectations, then Lincoln Riley could find himself in trouble (see Mark Helfrich at Oregon).
Again, Tom Herman is not beginning his job on the hot seat, but he is under the pressure that inherently comes with being the head coach at Texas. The difference between Herman and Riley entering 2017 is that Herman is not expected to compete for championships right away. Still, with the instant successes of Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh at fellow blue bloods Ohio State and Michigan, respectively, Texas expects to see results quickly.
As far as the recruiting services are concerned, Herman has taken over a talented team, but these players are not accustomed to winning. They also did not sign with Texas to play for him. I believe Herman’s sentiments towards his players are sincere, but he is an intense coach and very demanding of his players. How these players respond to adversity during a difficult schedule to begin the season could have a major impact on the momentum of this program.
Texas got their guy with Herman, and he is going to be provided the chance to bring in and develop his own players. His currently top five ranked recruiting class and immediate impact to facility upgrades has the Longhorn faithful believing he is the right guy for the job. However, a couple more seasons of .500 football will make his seat in Austin quite uncomfortable.