College Football Betting: Under the Radar Hot Seat Head Coaches
Every year I track beat writers of college football teams that have hit a bad run or the program is just flat. I highly recommend when researching preseason or preview writers to look for authors who will write without bias. If a team is not capable of producing wins but you’re constantly being sold they are right on the cusp or a constant contender, you have to read between the lines. Coaches are everything to me. The more I can find out in May, the more I can project where the team is heading come September.
The big-name schools like USC and head coaches such as Clay Helton are dead giveaways. You have to win when you take on the USC job, but the real money makers for me are the non-power 5 schools. Specifically, I look for a head coach that was miraculous in his first season or two and then slowly declines as do his recruiting classes.
A hot seat head coach is useful to me in wagering for several reasons. The truly desperate head coach will change his systems on defense and/or offense in a Hail Mary attempt. Remember there are sometimes millions upon millions of dollars on the line here. Some go out without a whimper (John Bonamego – CMU, Terry Bowden – Akron, and Bobby Petrino – Louisville were all examples in 2018) and some go completely against the grain to save their job (Scottie Montgomery – ECU and David Beaty – Kansas went complete opposite of who they were in 2018) in a last-ditch effort.
The quicker I can dissect a head coach who is on his way out, the sooner I can truly make an accurate power number and that will normally lead to a bit of value in the fade.
Here are the five “hot seat” head coaches that many have yet to notice.
1. Tony Sanchez (UNLV) – Sanchez was hired from a local powerhouse high school program Bishop Gorman. It was a hire to create a buzz among recruits and reignite a stagnant offense. On the surface, it made a lot of sense and specifically from a financial standpoint.
A new stadium and a renewed energy are in the air for the Rebels. He has one last season and a lot of big recruits for a Mountain West school, as well as a senior quarterback.
Sanchez has both recruited well and scored points when his offenses have been healthy. His flaw is an inability to develop talent, and his defenses have never been able to tackle the top 100 of FBS lists.
He has to at a bare minimum make a bowl and beat rival Nevada this season. I expect UNLV to go fishing for the biggest name they can find and afford if Sanchez can’t come up aces in 2019.
2. Mike Neu (Ball State) – The all-time passing leader in Ball State history was brought in with almost no coaching experience. But what he did have was a pedigree of working with quarterbacks. He was brought in to renew a lack of passing offense and to install a much more exciting brand of football.
His first year was a glimpse into what Ball State could be, going 4-8 but improving the offense by almost a full touchdown a game and uncovering star running back James Gilbert and quarterback Riley Neal – both sophomores at the time. They had little to no defense but there was a buzz around the program.
In the next two seasons, Neu won just six games combined while being near the bottom of every defensive statistical category nationally while playing large rotations of freshmen and sophomores.
The task for Neu got even more difficult as star running back James Gilbert transferred (KSU) and three-year starting quarterback Riley Neal followed suit (Vanderbilt) leaving Neu to save his job with a defense now full of veterans who haven’t tasted much success.
3. Charlie Strong (USF) – It seems impossible for Strong to be on the hot seat to most. But he inherited a 13-0 team and went from 10 wins in year one to seven wins last year, losing his final six games in an embarrassing fashion.
Strong, the ultimate disciplinarian, continues to dismiss players every off-season and his recruiting, which is usually off the charts, has begun to slip. He finished 2018 with a six-game slide and his calling card of hard-nosed defense has regressed every single year since his first season at Texas. He has an all-conference offense that he inherited but has always been stubborn to allow new system (spread, RPO, tempo) offensive coordinators to toy with what worked with him at Louisville.
He did a typical Strong move and fired a couple of coordinators and then went very anti-Strong hiring a new offensive coordinator who will move to a much faster offense. If he actually embraces this system and doesn’t get hands on with the that side of the ball, there’s a chance he gets an extension. But I’ve given up on Strong as his “my way or the highway” attitude has grown old on his players, assistants and this bettor.
4. Bob Davie (New Mexico) - There are some universities that simply cannot afford to play the coaching carousel game. This has to be the only explanation for Davie as we have watched the Lobos fall so terribly the last two seasons. All the while, Davie has been placed on administrative leave for sexual allegations – much less than what cost Rich Rodriquez his job last summer.
What’s puzzling about Davie is after his first four seasons he was 18-32, and then miraculously won nine games in 2016 while finishing atop the Mountain West. He took that off-season to toy with his best offense and started experimenting with passing the ball more. Instead of developing his young players he went with tons of JUCOs.
He has gone 3-9 in back-to-back campaigns and fallen into the “we don’t even recruit freshmen” category at this point. Davie signed 11 JUCOs this past winter. He also went with his third OC in four years and surprise; he will run a new offense, which is a hybrid option. If he doesn’t reach a bowl (a long shot currently), I feel it’s his last year as a head coach.
5. Frank Wilson (UTSA) – It was only two off-seasons ago when Wilson, who was Les Miles head recruiter and responsible for bringing Leonard Fournette to LSU, was being regarded as the next big SEC hire. His first year at UTSA was well above expectations. He took the Roadrunners to a bowl in a clear rebuilding year. He built his first two seasons of six wins a piece on an incredible defense and a plodding offense that took advantage of special teams and turnovers. In 2017 there was more regression in the offense, and the defense collapsed late.
Wilson saw the first ever UTSA first round NFL draft pick in defensive end Marcus Davenport in 2018 and that was the only highlight of the entire year. The offense further declined and Wilson, a proud defense-first head coach, saw his defense completely collapse in a 3-9 season.
He has now gone 4-16 in his last 20 games and he has yet to break the top 100 of FBS in total offense in his first three seasons. You can be bad but don’t be bad and boring is a good rule to look for when it comes to coaches on the brink. UTSA, much like Charlotte (who let go of a head coach this past December), plays in a fairly large metro area with a large recruiting base. You can’t have six wins as a ceiling while also getting beat badly in a non-shootout competitive form.
Look for the coach that throws in the towel Week 4 as there’s money to be made there. Look for the head coach who shows he has life left in him and there is also money to be made.
Below are some honorable mention hot seat head coaches.
Clay Helton – USC
Chris Ash – Rutgers
Paul Chryst – Wisconsin
Lovie Smith – Illinois
Bobby Wilder – Old Dominion
Brett Brennan – San Jose St.
Randy Edsall – UConn (FCS move being considered and no rush to replace because of financial obligation)
Chuck Martin – Miami-Ohio
I believe we have hit the stage of college football where every coach is constantly on the chopping block except for only a few elite types. But pinpointing the head coach who knows his time is close to up is as useful as an injury list or weather report in Week 6 of the season.
Thank you and enjoy your summer.