This week brings us to one of our most infamous roundtables of the off-season. Although we aren’t hoping for any coach to get fired, it is a fun debate. This year, this one may be harder to discuss, as six of the twelve MWC coaches are new and thus not on the hot seat. Regardless, the question is still which coach will be on the hot (or perhaps warm) seat in 2020?
I don’t see any coach as being on the hot seat. There was so much turnover this year, everyone should get a pass this year. But, I can see some “warm” seats. At the top of the warm seats is Gary Anderson. His Aggies suffered through a subpar season given they had Jordan Love as a quarterback, and their success the previous year. He previously coached Utah State from 2009-2012, and then left unceremoniously to coach Wisconsin. I’m sure that doesn’t sit well with Aggie fans, so I don’t think there is much patience there. But, unless the Aggies get less than 3 wins this year (unlikely), he is not in jeopardy. Second would be Brent Brennan at San Jose State, but I believe he has shown enough potential that he will be given a pass because the loss of Josh Love will probably lead to a setback. The only other coach even close to the warm seat in my opinion is Jay Norvell, but it is almost impossible to imagine a scenario where he would be fired.
Let’s look at the six coaches that are returning. Harsin, Calhoun, and Bohl can probably keep their respective jobs as long as they want. Brennan and Norvell are doing a fine job at San Jose State and Nevada. That leaves Gary Andersen. Andersen is only entering his second season in his second stint at Utah State, but 2019 was massively disappointing for a team that had a quarterback that was selected in the first round of the NFL draft. If there was ever a year that zero coaches got fired, it will probably be this year.
As my colleagues have stated before me, it is unlikely we will see any head coaching changes upon the conclusion of the 2020 season, barring extreme circumstances. If I had to choose a coach with the “hottest” seat entering next year, it would have to be Utah State’s Gary Andersen. The Aggies went 7-6 in 2019, even with Jordan Love under center which many fans were disappointed with. Although it is expected his team will take a significant step backward with the loss of their star QB, the impatience at Utah State may be enough to cost him his job. With lingering frustrations likely to spill over early and often during losses, Andersen will need his team to keep games close and finish with a record above 3 wins in order to keep his position.
No one goes into the season on the hot seat. As to who might have a warmer seat by the end of the season, I have two names in mind.
First, Gary Andersen. He is dealing with some higher expectations after the 2018 squad went 11-2. As such, the 2019 season with Jordan Love felt like a bit of a letdown by going 7-6. With a fairly difficult 2020 schedule, Andersen could be facing dropping back down to losing season in his 2nd season back as the head coach. I don’t think that would cost him his job this season, but Andersen would be on a hotter seat going into 2021 to get back to a winning season. Andersen only signed a 5-year contract, so Year 3 could be make or break.
Second, Brent Brennan. I know San Jose State was much improved last season at 5-7. Still, Brennan is 8-29 in 3 seasons in San Jose. Brennan did receive a 3-year extension after last season, so he is not likely to be fired after this season. Still, a warmer seat going into 2021 is likely if this team regresses back a bit in 2020 (say, 3-9). Such a season is entirely possible. The 2019 Spartans were carried by their offense which loses Josh Love at QB and most of the offensive line. The defense was ranked 106th in total defense last season and lost several players to graduation. This team will need to keep trying to win the shootouts and that might be hard for a team bringing in a grad transfer at QB, Nick Starkel. Also, the Spartans play 4 teams that played in bowl games last year within their first 5 games, so a quick start this fall looks difficult. If this season proves to be a struggle, Brennan could be on a hotter seat in 2021 to finally produce a winning season for San Jose State. That might be a difficult task for the 2021 Spartans which will be looking at replacing their productive receivers and QB, yet again.
Maybe after 50% turnover this past offseason, we could see a year with no turnover, or at the very least no coach being fired. Brennan and Norvell have been making slow and steady progress and I believed both received contract extensions this offseason. None of the first-year coaches are likely to get the ax after one season, especially in a conference that doesn’t have extra money laying around. It would be interesting to ponder if any first-year coaches are likely to jump for a better offer if they have a successful first year. Out of the new group, Addazio and Hoke were the most surprising choices, but again, barring a scandal, neither coach would be gone after one season with so much money on the line.
I would guess Andersen is the outlier, but I don’t see Utah State being in any hurry to push him out (nor should they be at this point). Last season was disappointing, but this year people should be more understanding, even if the “new factor” begins to fade a bit. Even so, I doubt even a terrible season could get his seat more than warm after just two years.
However, in lieu of an obvious selection, I will say maybe this is the year one of Calhoun, Harsin, and Bohl take their sustained success to a higher-paying gig. Otherwise I think the odds are these 12 coaches all return next year.
This is not an easy question to answer. The six coaches who were not fired were Bryan Harsin (Boise State), Troy Calhoun (Air Force), Craig Bohl (Wyoming), Gary Andersen (Utah State), Jay Norvell (Nevada) and Brett Brennan (San Jose State). I don’t think any coach in the conference currently is on the hot seat, partly because the coaches who were are now gone. I think the coach who is on the warmest seat is Brennan.
It’s not Harsin; he has reached double-digit wins the last four seasons and in five out of the last six years and the Broncos are the overwhelming favorite to win the conference. It’s not Calhoun; Air Force is coming off its first 11-win season since 1998 and could potentially reach double-digit wins this year. Calhoun also got a shiny six-year extension in February, so it appears he will stay in Colorado Springs for the foreseeable future. It can’t be Bohl; Wyoming has reached eight-plus wins in three of the last four years and is seemingly on its way up.
That leaves Norvell, Andersen and Brennan. Norvell, despite being 18-20, has put together two straight 7-plus win seasons after a tumultuous first year in 2017. It is worth noting that Brian Polian was fired by Nevada athletic director Doug Knuth after going 23-27 — Norvell would have to go 5-7 to reach that mark. Knuth was also hired three months after Polian, so the immediate bond was not on the same level since Knuth didn’t hire Polian — potentially prompting a shorter leash. Norvell also got a five-year extension in March. So, like Calhoun, Norvell has long-term job security. Andersen, who made changes on his coaching staff on both sides of the ball, is entering just his second-year of his second stint with Utah State. Barring a disastrous 2020 season, I still think it is likely he remains with the Aggies past this upcoming year.
It is difficult to single Brennan out. Yes, he did sign a three-year extension in December. Yes, he is coming off a 5-7 year in 2019, by far his best year with the Spartans (he went 3-22 in his first two years). In turn, yes, a large portion of last year’s success came on the offensive end behind quarterback Josh Love, the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year and an All-Mountain West first team selection. Love departs (graduation) with graduate transfer Nick Starkel and last year’s backup Nick Nash competing for the starting quarterback spot. Pair Love’s departure with SJSU has the third-hardest schedule in the Mountain West (38th-hardest nationally; SJSU plays five teams who won 10-plus games last year), the Spartans could be in for another long season.
I feel that the coaches who were on the hot seat got fired following the 2019 season. The six new coaches will all have time to prove themselves, and might bet a pass in their first year because of the pandemic and not being able to be on campus. Of the six remaining coaches, none of them are on the “hot (or warm) seat.” However, some have more pressure on them than others to perform based on the state of their programs. The three coaches that do not have to worry about their job are Bohl, Calhoun, and Harsin. Given their recent success, I believe those programs are satisfied with the directions they are going.
Another coach who is safe is Jay Norvell. I do not think he is on a hot seat, but I do think there is some pressure from within to perform. For starters, there are four new coaches in the West division, and given that it is his fourth season, he should be expected to compete for the division title. Also, the Wolf Pack have lost to UNLV the last two seasons for the Battle of the Fremont Cannon. I know that might sound ridiculous, but the rivalry has heightened the past few years, which has made the game more important between the two schools from the Silver State. I expect the Wolf Pack to play well this year under Norvell.
That leaves Gary Anderson and Brett Brennan. I think some expect for the Aggies to either regress or stay at six or seven wins based on the fact that they lost Jordan Love. Also, given that they play in the tougher division, it might be hard for them to compete for the Mountain West championship game. For Brennan, winning five games last year was like the Spartans winning the Mountain West championship, given where the program has been the past few years. But I think, like Norvell, with all the new coaches in the division, there will be pressure on Brennan to win games in the division. Also, because of how well last season went, there will be more eyes on him and the Spartans to see if they can follow up what they did last year.