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What the data say about college football coaches on the hot seat

Despite credentials that would keep many coaches safe, Kevin Sumlin is perpetually on the hot seat. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Roughly one month ago, it was difficult to envision a scenario that had Kevin Sumlin coaching the Texas A&M Aggies in 2018.

The Aggies started 2017 with an epic meltdown at UCLA that prompted all kinds of ugliness.

The Aggies followed that by struggling against FCS Nicholls State in a game that was tied 14-14 in the fourth quarter. Then they trailed at halftime the next week against UL Lafayette before flexing their muscles in the final 30 minutes and prevailing.

A month or so later, Texas A&M is 5-2, with its only loss since the Week 1 debacle a seemingly respectable one against Alabama and a remaining schedule that gives the Aggies a fighting chance of pulling out of the perennial eight-win status that was wearing on A&M supporters well before the UCLA collapse.

The wolves are no longer at Sumlin's door. That said, lose to Mississippi State at home this week, and you can bet they'll be summoned.

Whether firing Sumlin would be fair is in the eye of the beholder. Whether firing him would be typical is a question we designed a model to help answer.

  • We examined every FBS/I-A coaching tenure since 1970, constructing a model to help determine the likelihood that every current FBS coach will be fired by this offseason.

  • The model's most important factor turned out to be the difference between a program's strength prior to a coach's arrival and its current strength.

  • Other predictors included team record, a team's presence in the rankings, championships and other milestones (e.g. 10-win seasons).

  • Tenure has an impact on the model as well, but in a complicated way. Rarely are coaches fired after a very poor record in their first season, but that same poor record would probably get a coach fired later in his tenure.

In Sumlin's case, the model says a mere 3.8 percent of coaches with similar credentials have been fired in nearly the past half-century. Another recent hot seat occupant, Ed Orgeron at LSU, has a résumé with the Tigers that has been deemed worthy of firing in only 1 percent of cases. The model found surprising numbers on the other side of the spectrum as well.

David Beaty at Kansas is in just his third season, and despite the Jayhawks' struggles in a Power 5 conference, he has not been among the most prominent names mentioned on the hot seat. But Beaty's credentials to this point at KU have been deemed fireable in 72.3 percent of similar cases in college football.

Until we have a reliable, thorough way to quantify such elements, the model can't account for the fact that Beaty is under contract through 2021 or that he's largely considered to be recruiting well after having taken over a program in complete shambles after the Charlie Weis fiasco. It can't accurately account for fan or booster sentiment at Texas A&M or LSU or a potentially impactful AD change at Nebraska.

The model simply allows the numbers to speak for themselves. Speculating on the employment of hard-working people is a dark task, so the least we can do is carry it out responsibly. A look at the historic firing credentials of every current FBS coach with a firing probability of 5 percent or more, excluding interim coaches, is in the table below. A closer look at some of the more prominent names on the hot seat list follows the list.