The AAC has become a conference known for its turnover at head coach, though this is often due to coaches leveling up to Power 5 jobs. However, there are always coaches on the hot seat that run the risk of getting fired too.
So, here’s a look at the coaches in the AAC who finished 2020 with a losing record, plus a bonus wildcard, who could be on the hot seat in 2021. Of course, just having a losing record isn’t enough to land you on the hot seat, and a winning record isn’t enough to keep you off it.
We’ll start with the bottom of the conference and work our way up, in terms of standings, and not hot seat status.
Hot Seat Status=Ice Cold
In one season, Jeff Scott had one win, which was to an FCS team. Eleventh in a conference of eleven teams isn’t great. Neither is scoring only 24.9 points per game against FBS competition to giving up 44.1 point per game. In nine games, they never truly found their quarterback and now have to start from scratch, though most expect Miami transfer Jarren Williams to win the job going into the 2021 season.
Of course, no one said it was going to be easy when Scott showed up in Tampa. The roster was bleak, despite being in a recruiting hotbed. USF is finally building their indoor practice facility, but when Scott showed up the facilities were bleak.
By the end of 2020, USF was able to give Memphis and UCF good runs, before ultimately coming up short both times. So, there are signs of improvement and while USF is probably going to be bad again in 2021, they’ll likely be better. Besides, it’s way too early to consider giving up on Scott after a bad season that you expected to be bad.
Hot Seat Status=Toasty
In Rod Carey’s defense, he never should have been the Temple coach to begin with. Manny Diaz should have been, while Carey continued his slide at Northern Illinois. But, that’s not how it worked out. Miami opened up, which caused Diaz to run to his dream job after only a couple of weeks at Temple. This meant the Owls had limited options, as they were making a late-cycle hire. Enter Rod Carey.
Temple, meanwhile, looked around and realized they had become a launching point for head coaches. They wanted to prevent this from continuing to happen, so they gave Carey a large contract with a massive buyout. It’s a six-year deal, worth $2 million annually. That’s not the headline, though. The buyout is, which even though he’s entering the third year of his deal still costs $8 million. This was to ensure no one hired him away, but now it means they can’t afford to fire him.
Of course, he never should have been hired, as he took a Northern Illinois team that went to the Orange Bowl and slid backward steadily. At Temple, he’s seen the team completely fall apart in just two seasons. Now, his seat is flaming hot as Temple has become a bottom feeder in the conference and a turnaround is doubtful as the conference improves around them. They just can’t afford to fire him yet.
Hot Seat Status=Room Temperature
If you sit down and watch ECU play, you can see that they’re getting better, which never happened under Scottie Montgomery. It’s just the AAC is better than it’s ever been and the Pirates have tons of ground to cover to catch up. In that regard, patience is important, which it appears Houston is being given.
Still, the results aren’t there. 7-14 in two seasons isn’t great, and by year three you want to see a jump in on-field success. Holton Ahlers is capable and their skills players are rapidly improving around him. This puts ECU in a great spot to see a jump that they haven’t been able to make yet.
Mike Houston’s job security is pretty secure, for now. However, if he doesn’t show better results, then he may be on the hot seat going into 2022 and beyond.
Hot Seat Status=Nonexistent
Ken Niumatalolo will never be fired by Navy. He will leave when he chooses to do so. Last year, he made a mistake by not practicing tackling out of an abundance of concerns due to the pandemic. This set them up to struggle, but that doesn’t change what he’s done over the course of his career.
Niumatalolo has been the Navy coach since 2007, having replaced Paul Johnson when he went to Georgia Tech. Under Johnson, he’d been the assistant head coach and had been an offensive coordinator at Navy in the 1990s. As a head coach, he’s accumulated a record of 101-67 and taken them to ten bowl games. In Navy history, they’ve only been to thirteen bowl games he was not the head coach for, and only eight that he wasn’t on the staff for. Niumatalolo was on the staff when Navy beat Notre Dame in 2007, snapping a 43-game losing streak. Before then, Roger Staubach was the last Navy quarterback to beat Navy. Since then, he’s beaten Notre Dame a couple more times and holds a 9-4 record against Army. That’s kind of a big deal, as are his six Commander-in-Chief’s Trophies.
Once Navy finds another quarterback to run their option, they’ll be pushing for ten wins again.
Hot Seat Status=Well, it’s complicated
So, Houston is paying Dana Holgorsen $4 million to not win ten games a season. At least, not through two seasons. Major Applewhite, who failed in many regards, particularly recruiting on defense, famously got fired for the same offense. Except, Dana Holgorsen is only 7-13 in two seasons, to Applewhite’s 15-11.
Hypothetically, if Houston were to be consistent, they’d show Holgorsen the door. After all, this is a program that should always be at the top of the AAC.
Except, there are some factors complicating things. For one, Applewhite left the cupboard absolutely bare on defense. Turning that side of the ball into even an average unit was always going to be a multi-year overhaul. The second factor is that he took a gamble in year one. He redshirted the majority of his senior class after it became clear that Houston wasn’t going to be able to do anything significant in 2019, in the hopes they’d be reloaded and adjusted to the new staff for 2020. It was a unique way of gaming the new redshirt rules and developing a program, except for one key issue. Star quarterback D’Eriq King transferred. From that point, the experiment failed without its centerpiece. Add in the COVID-19 pandemic, and all the well-documented complications to the 2020 season, and it’s easy to see why Houston didn’t improve much.
So, yes, it’s been a mess for Houston since Holgorsen took over, but for now, there’s a reason for it. If the Cougars make a bowl in 2021, Holgorsen should be fine.
Hot Seat Status=Ask again later
At the end of 2019, it seemed like having Josh Heupel and UCF’s number was what saved Philip Montgomery’s job. By the end of 2020, you couldn’t even consider firing him, as he led Tulsa to the AAC Championship Game. The one issue, the way Tulsa made the championship game is not sustainable long-term.
With multiple come from behind wins, being bailed out by the refs against ECU, and having the best defensive player in the conference if not the country made Tulsa’s 2020 season. With a new quarterback and no Zaven Collins in 2021, not to mention consistently low rated recruiting classes, don’t expect Tulsa to stay at the top of the AAC long.
When they come crashing down, which they likely will, was 2020 enough to save Montgomery in 2021?