10 NCAA Football Coaches on the Hot Seat in 2021

By Dan Vasta in College Football
| June 30, 2021 5:19 am PDT

Every summer some college football coaches enter the season with an immense amount of pressure.

The power five coaches are held accountable for nationally televised embarrassments. Some are calling the shots for one of the more premier programs in the history of the sport.

Expectations and entertainment are two of the biggest reasons people follow their beloved programs. If a team is not winning and looking ugly in the process, boosters and program backers get fed up.

Certain lofty expectations are too much to overcome, and it continues to go downhill season after season. That seems to be the case for my top choice for hot-seat coaches, going from worst to first.

Without further ado, here are the top college football coaches on the hot seat in 2021.

David Cutcliffe – Duke

This long-time coach has helped the likes of Peyton Manning while he was in Tennessee and Eli Manning, during his time at Ole Miss. The success rate was exceptional and his ability to be the top quarterback whisperer out there was impressive.

What Lincoln Riley currently is, many believed Cutcliffe was such back in his prime.

That doesn’t keep David Cutcliffe off this list of top 10 college football coaches at risk of being fired, unfortunately.

The Blue Devils have had some major issues these last few years. They went 8-5 three seasons ago in 2018, but have had just one 8-win season since 2015.

Here’s how they fared over that span.

  • 2016: 4-8
  • 2017: 7-6
  • 2018: 8-5
  • 2019: 5-7

Cutcliffe has not been able to do enough with the little talent the program can haul in every year.

The contract for Cutcliffe is through the 2022-23 season, but the loss could continue to pile up this season. The schedule is tough, and they might be the worst team in the entire ACC.

A two or three-win season isn’t going to cut it despite other options not likely being much better. Turning 67 in September does have some in Durham wondering if Cutcliffe will coach a few more seasons, too.

The expectations for Duke have never been very high, but an aging Cutcliffe also hasn’t raised the bar. He easily enters 2021 as one of the top college football coaches on the hot seat.

Justin Fuente – Virginia Tech

Another college football coach on the hot seat in 2021 is Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente.

Entering his sixth season in Blacksburg, Fuente has had plenty of inconsistencies and the Hokies are hoping for more success. The expectations are lofty, and they have not posted a Top 25 season to end a year since 2017.

Virginia Tech once upon a time was consistently playing in BCS bowl games with the upper-echelon teams in the nation. They had the top defensive backs for many years with experienced quarterbacks that were athletic enough to lead Frank Beamer to national prominence.

Justin Fuente has had whispers recently that he is not the right guy for the job despite solid success after taking over for Beamer. Fuente and the Hokies expect nine-plus wins or else the season is a bit of a disappointment.

They want to challenge North Carolina and Miami in the Coastal and it will be easier said than done. That’s especially true when you note they have just the fourth best win total in the ACC this year.

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Fuente needs a solid Top 25 type of season or else he may not make it to 2024 when his contract expires.

We have seen boosters take over a program before. They often control the program with the money they have around. If the Hokies are disappointed yet again, this could be it for Fuente in Blacksburg.

Geoff Collins – Georgia Tech

A lot of folks in Atlanta are still hoping things will turn around quickly after a few bumps in the road. 2018 was the last bowl appearance for the Yellow Jackets and it has not been since 2016 that the program has won nine or more games.

Jeff Sims seemed like the future a few years ago, but he now enters his junior year. The pieces around him are still trying to develop into relevance. A 13-22 record through three seasons is not what the folks are hoping continues.

Some blame Paul Johnson due to all the success he brought with the triple-option attack that gave major woes to opposing ACC squads. The current spread pro-style that Collins has used should be beneficial to Sims, who is an athletic quarterback.

Unfortunately, the defense has been an absolute disaster. See where they ranked last year.

  • 109th in scoring defense (36.8 points allowed per game)
  • 107th in yards allowed per game (459.3)

If things do not quickly change, Collins won’t make it much longer. This has been a respectable program over the years that has lost most of its luster.

Mike Leach – Mississippi State

Mike Leach is the biggest pirate fan I know next to Jack Sparrow, but he sure brings in a ton of viewers with his pass-happy offense.

He’s also quite the interesting personality.

The magical season that was in 2020 allowed a 3-7 Bulldogs squad to appear in a bowl game against a Top 25 caliber of a squad in Tulsa. Mississippi State picked up the victory to finish 4-7 on the season, but it was certainly disappointing overall after picking a season-opening victory on the road in Baton Rouge.

The team then lost their next four, which was a tough pill to swallow after all that excitement in the season opener. Arkansas, Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Alabama all took it to the Bulldogs. Only the narrow loss to Kentucky was within single digits.

The bad news is the SEC West is not going to get any easier on Leach and the Bulldogs. The folks in Stark Vegas are expecting bowl games every season. Those cowbells are annoying for the opposition with all the havoc that is wrecked on them. The noises are loud and certainly obnoxious.

Life in the SEC is never easy and going on the road was woeful last season. Their 1-4 mark had a margin of defeat at a whopping 77 points. If we see another losing season plus no bowl game, it would not be shocking to see Leach packing his bags.

The finish of the Armed Forces Bowl was an absolute disgrace to collegiate sports. The brawl that ensued is no way to handle yourself on or off the field.

Some could blame the officials for allowing the trash-talking all game long since it was a heated matchup, but you can’t be that big of a joke on national television.

Leach did not show much remorse in his postgame interview and the program will be watched with keen eyes entering 2021.

Dana Holgorsen – Houston

The coaching career Dana Holgorsen had about a decade ago seemed like he was the mad scientist that nobody could match.

When he coached West Virginia to a 70-point mark in a blowout victory over Clemson in the Orange Bowl, many wondered if Holgorsen would get the opportunity to coach for any power five program he wanted.

He was a Dr. Wiley-like-looking mad scientist that no opposing defensive coordinator could figure out.

It turned out the likes of Tavon Austin, Geno Smith, and Stedman Bailey were better than most players we have seen in a while. He eventually left the program after a respectable 8-4 season in 2018, but it has been ugly thus far with the Houston Cougars.

A 7-13 record through two seasons with a troubling New Mexico Bowl ugly loss to Hawai’i is not getting it done.

The quarterback play has not been nearly as productive as we have seen from his Oklahoma State and West Virginia days. He is the one in charge of getting the best players possible and the American Athletic Conference is very respectable.

If the team cannot find ways to matriculate the ball down the field with more production, there will be more losing seasons ahead for them and Holgorsen could be out of a job.

Dino Babers – Syracuse

Another basement cellar in a power five conference could have some major issues yet again.

The funny part is that Syracuse was a trendy Orange Bowl pick just two years ago after they were coming off a magical double-digit season that included a victory in the Camping World Bowl.

Oddly enough it was the final game coached by West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen, who we just got done talking about.

Otto is my favorite mascot in America and the Orange are hoping for an offense that was similar to the one Eric Dungey orchestrated. The offense has been abysmal and last season was not a fun one.

Just look at where their offense ranked in key categories.

  • 117th in points per game (17.8)
  • 125th in yards per game (265.3)
  • 124th in yards per play (4.2)

Their scoring average was the most eye-popping, as that was a major drop-off from the season prior that ranked No. 69 (28.3 PPG).

Babers has been known for his productive offenses, and yet the team has lacked the execution, and some are pointing to the lack of talent as well.

The ACC Atlantic is not dominant after Clemson, so it is not like we have several Top 30 programs that make life tough.

This is a division that is very manageable to pick up six or seven wins overall. Yet, Babers and Syracuse have been underwhelming in four of the last five seasons (winning five or fewer in all but one year in the Babers tenure).

It is likely time to step up or step aside for Syracuse and Babers in 2021.

Jeff Brohm – Purdue

Jeff Brohm has been a mastermind on the offensive side of the football and having some players either opt-out or get injured has not helped Purdue out these past few seasons.

Rondale Moore and David Bell seemed destined to become the top pass-catching duo in the Big Ten last season before Moore opted for the NFL Draft, where he went in the second round (No. 49 overall).

A 19-25 career record at Purdue does not seem atrocious, but it surely is disappointing if you’d ask coach Brohm.

Purdue decimated Ohio State on a Saturday night in October of 2018, 49-20. Moore hauled in 12 passes for 170 yards and two scores in the blowout. It was the only loss that entire season for Ohio State.

Purdue picked up three wins at home over Top 25 foes and yet they could not finish the season on a high note. Sadly, Purdue was demolished by Auburn in the Music City Bowl, 63-14.

It was nearly the most lopsided bowl loss in the history of the sport and things have not gone smoothly since then. Purdue is just 6-13 prior to playing that bowl game.

Brohm desperately needs an appearance in any bowl game, to be honest. The offense was fun to watch a few years ago and they seemed destined to become a quiet contender such as Northwestern and Iowa, but instead, they have fallen on hard times.

It sure would be a major buyout, but we are getting towards dangerous territory with Purdue having to fork over a ton of money if they want a new man in charge. Brohm is among the highest paid coaches in the entire FBS, which is not good when the results continue to fall short.

Scott Frost – Nebraska

Nebraska is still a blue blood in my book due to the storied history of the program, but they sure as hell have been struggling for years now.

Everybody was in love with the hiring of Scott Frost after turning UCF into a nationally ranked squad that saw them go from winless to undefeated. Frost and his offenses were high-flying and fundamentally sound, which made many power five programs jealous.

Fast forward about four seasons now and the Huskers are still looking for their first trip to the postseason.

College sports truly is remarkable as we see so many successful coaches struggle time after time despite bringing major success from a prior program. Frost has not been able to crack the code in Lincoln just yet, and he undeniably enters 2021 as one of the top college football coaches on the hot seat.

We are all anxiously waiting for somebody to take grasp of the quarterback position.

The Huskers were only No. 72 in the FBS in points per game in 2019 (28.0). They fell off a cliff last season, averaging a measly 23.1 points per game while they ranked No. 101. Only Illinois and Michigan State were worse in the Big Ten, and they were downright pathetic.

So, Frost needs his team to turn on the afterburners before the program becomes a complete afterthought. It won’t be easy, though.

The schedule is fairly difficult with a brutal non-conference at Oklahoma. If they cannot find a way to grab six wins, we may not be talking about Frost any further.

Clay Helton – USC

Are the USC Trojans a top 10 program of all time? Yes, but where are they currently and what have they done lately? That is where many fans of the Trojans are anxious to see if this program can get back into the national title conversation.

They want it badly and they surely have shown flashes that have just not been able to stick. USC had a bonkers Rose Bowl victory over Penn State in 2016 when it was the first full season under Clay Helton.

They ended up playing Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl the following season and those two seasons were impressive (21-6 overall).

The program nearly won the Pac-12 championship over Oregon last season, but fell short and opted out of a bowl game as many teams did during Covid-19. USC remains one of the top favorites to win the Pac-12 this season, but these last three seasons have been an adventure at 18-13.

The transfer of JT Daniels would hurt most programs, but Kedon Slovis rose from the ashes on the depth chart and has turned into an elite collegiate passer for most prognosticators.

In fact, Slovis figures to be among the top contenders to win the 2021 Heisman Trophy.

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USC looks like they are getting closer to national relevancy, but time will tell how they perform in the national spotlight.

It was a tough loss at home to Oregon in the conference title game last season. It was a game that summed up their season. A lot of potential to have a tremendous season, but a failure of execution cost them dearly. Helton will be held accountable and be counted on to post double-digit victories this season.

The talent level may not be close to the Pete Carroll era, but the Pac-12 has not exactly been flawless over the years. It has been a major struggle with many teams having issues getting to eight or nine wins.

USC is one of those programs and to see the conference miss out on the College Football Playoff the last four seasons is rough. Only Washington and Oregon have made it thus far out of the seven seasons that the playoff has been around for.

While it may not take a national title for Helton to keep his job, it sure seems like they need to win as many games as possible, or else we could see an axing in Los Angeles.

Jim Harbaugh – Michigan

What are the Michigan Wolverines going to show us in 2021?

The Maize and Blue are trying their best to become national title contenders despite being in one of their toughest stretches in recent memory. The hope is it won’t be as bad as it was during the end of the Brady Hoke or Rich Rodriguez era, but the expectations are still higher than both.

The Wolverines came close to reaching the College Football Playoff just five years ago in 2016. They ended up losing three of their final four games to Iowa, Ohio State, and eventually Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Those were tough to endure, and times have only gotten tougher.

Harbaugh may finally be officially on the hot seat after trending in that direction for some time now.

For Michigan and Harbaugh to officially be back they must at least return to a New Year Six matchup against a respectable program. It would show signs of major improvement. The lack of a star quarterback has been a disaster thus far.

To think Denard Robinson and Chad Henne were the last very good players under center for the Wolverines makes me feel older than a dinosaur.

They once upon a time had an elite offensive line similar to Alabama and Ohio State. Now, they have been mostly mediocre and are looking to return to the glory days. Perhaps, the 2021 campaign could be the start of something special now that we are back to non-conference games.

There are a few surprising stats on Jim Harbaugh and Michigan that I am still shocked by despite being the one to research them. I honestly should not be stunned since I have witnessed every Michigan game for the last few decades and there have been some rough ones along the way.

The first stat is mind-boggling in terms of how far they have fallen. Jim Harbaugh is 0-11 at Michigan in road/neutral-site games against the AP Top 15. That is amazing, but the program has been disastrous in primetime matchups. There are a few more discouraging numbers and stats to chew on.

Harbaugh has never won a game at Michigan as an underdog. He is 0-11 in such games, and it is crazy to think they have even been a ‘dog in that many games in only six seasons. Those first few seasons under Harbaugh, Michigan was slated to run the table going into their annual battle with Ohio State.

Since 2008, before Harbaugh even took over, Michigan has been a dismal 2-21 against AP Top 25 teams. Throw in losses to Ohio State in 14 of the last 15 seasons and eight straight.

Times are tough and Harbaugh needs to pick it up drastically before the entire program wishes him the best of luck in his future endeavors.

Which College Football Coach Will Be Fired in 2021?

Believe it or not, you should be able to bet on which college football coach will get fired first in 2021. The top college football betting sites offer wagers spanning from conference champions to the national title game, and some should allow you to bet on the fate of these coaches above.

Whether or not they get fired or not, it’s undeniable that these 10 coaches are on the hot seat going into 2021.

You may add another name or two to this list or disagree with one. Ultimately, someone is getting fired in 2021 or after, and one of the guys listed above is very likely going to be fired first.

If you plan on betting which college football coaches will get fired in 2021, the two that stand out are Jim Harbaugh and David Cutcliffe. The latter just hasn’t gotten it done, while the expectations for Harbaugh appear to be too grand.

Of course, it’s unclear exactly what types of prop bets there will be for the top college football coaches on the hot seat in 2021. Whatever the case, hopefully this breakdown helps you make your decision.

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