In July, ESPN college football analsyt Phil Steele, somewhat surprisingly, placed Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio on his preseason hot seat. This, thanks to a 3-9 2016 season and a tumultuous offseason that included a sexual assault investigation involving some of his players.
And, while Dantonio has the Spartans already nearly to their win total from a season ago at 2-1, his hot-seat worthiness still bears tracking, ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg wrote Tuesday.
Though Dantonio didn’t make the updated top 10 — he was among 13 coaches on the preseason list — he was one of four coaches whose situations are “worth watching.”
Of course, Michigan State jumped out to a similar start last season, winning its first two games of the season before going 1-9 the rest of the way. MSU was thumped last Saturday by Notre Dame, 38-18, and opens Big Ten play Saturday at home against Iowa (3-1), which took now-No. 4 Penn State to the final play last weekend before falling, 21-19.
After that, it’s a showdown with No. 8 Michigan in Ann Arbor, so the potential for another slide is there.
There are familiar names on ESPN’s updated top 10, including Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez, who coached at Michigan from 2008-2010. In his sixth season in Tucson, Rodriguez slipped one spot to No. 5 in ESPN’s hot-seat rankings. He has Arizona off to a 2-2 start, and his situation is “calm for now,” Rittenberg writes.
“Arizona appears to be an improved team,” he writes, “but the results aren’t there after narrow home losses to Houston and Utah. Rodriguez’s contract situation works in his favor, and he has a new athletic director (Dave Heeke) who might not want to make a change so soon. Arizona benefits from missing Washington and Stanford on the schedule.”
Also on the list: Tennessee’s Butch Jones at No. 6, which is up one spot. The former Central Michigan head coach is in his fifth season with the Volunteers. Tennessee is 3-1, but Rittenberg writes Jones’ situation is “heating up.”
Cooling off is the seat belonging to former Grand Valley and Central Michigan head coach Brian Kelly, who has Notre Dame off to a 3-1 start, including the victory last weekend over Michigan State.
“Notre Dame is a better, more cohesive team, especially on defense under first-year coordinator Mike Elko,” Rittenberg writes. “A one-point home loss to Georgia doesn’t look too bad with the Bulldogs now in the top 10.”