November 27, 2011
'Tis the season for coaching carnage in the college ranks, and the casualties are already beginning to mount: One coach, Akron's Rob Ianello, got the axe Saturday, one day after the Zips closed their second consecutive campaign at 1-11; another, Memphis' Larry Porter, faced the music this morning with just three wins to his name in two years. Porter is the eighth consecutive head coach to be shown the door with a losing record at Memphis, and he won't be the last.
But that's a small taste of the carnage to come over the next few days, which already has at least five major coaches staring into the abyss:
• Rick Neuheisel, UCLA. The Bruins backed into the Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday courtesy of Utah's loss to Colorado (thank-you notes may be addressed to Jon Embree and Reggie Bush) but left the field covered in the stench of death Saturday after having their heads handed to them (again) in a 50-0 debacle at USC. That was the most lopsided final score in the series since 1930, and brought the combined score since Neuheisel returned to his alma mater in 2008 to Trojans 134, Bruins 28.
Certain corners of the Bruin 'sphere have been TAKING ACTION and DEMANDING CHANGE for most of the season — the nationally televised, 48-12 humiliation at Arizona on Oct. 20, just a few days after the Wildcats had fired their head coach, was a notable tipping point — and all indications are they're about to get their wish: Multiple reports out of SoCal predict Neuheisel's demise after Friday's winner-take-all trip to Oregon, and I won't insult your intelligence by asking what happens if UCLA happens to pull the upset there. (The last team Neuheisel led into Autzen Stadium was routinely dismembered last year, and the combatants on Friday will be essentially the same.) Another loss will drop the Bruins to 6-7 on the year, eliminate them from a bowl game for the third time in four years and make the axe that much easier to swing.
• Paul Wulff, Washington State. Wulff's imminent ouster has also been confirmed locally, by the Seattle Times, on the heels of the Cougars' 38-21 Apple Cup flop at Washington — their seventh loss in eight games since a 3-1 start. This edition was dramatically more competitive than any of Wulff's first three teams, which combined to go 5-32 and finished in the Pac-10 cellar in almost every conceivable category all three years. But even dramatic improvement left Wazzu well short of a bowl game, and six of its eight losses still came by double digits. If he's out, it's with the worst winning percentage (.184) in school history.
Initial speculation suggests the Cougars plan to enter the Mike Leach Sweepstakes, with a forthcoming renovation of Martin Stadium and a new, football-only facility to sweeten the deal. (Another reason Wulff may be on his way out: It's hard to pay for upgrades when a majority of donors have soured on the incumbent.) But Washington State wouldn't be the first school to show early interest in the Cap'n, and wouldn't be the first to decide the personal and legal baggage he's carrying from his ouster at Texas Tech isn't quite worth the squeeze.
• Dennis Erickson, Arizona State. The standing online poll by the Arizona Republic is up to 13,000 votes — still only about half the number of empty seats at Sun Devil Stadium for Friday night's 47-38 loss to Cal — three-fourths of which say Erickson has to go on the heels of a four-game losing streak to close the regular season. The Republic's sources predict they're going to get their wish sometime this week.
ASU is bowl-eligible for the first time since Erickson's first season in 2007, but after three straight non-winning seasons from 2008-10, guiding a 6-2 outfit that was favored to win a division ripe for the taking into a 6-6 outfit that plays second fiddle to UCLA is… well, see above. The next target is already squarely on Houston coach Kevin Sumlin.
• Turner Gill, Kansas. If you ever wondered how bad you have be to get local columnists calling for your head after just two years at Kansas, this is how bad: Under Gill, the Jayhawks are 1-16 in Big 12 games, have finished dead last in the conference in total and scoring offense two years in a row and just finished dead last in the nation in 2011 for total and scoring defense. Saturday's 24-10 loss to Missouri was KU's tenth in a row, six of which came by 30 points or more.
Four different teams (Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Texas A&M) produced their highest-scoring day of the year against the Jayhawk defense, which should be bad enough to embarrass even the basketball team. If it goes that far, you know it's over.
• Ron Zook, Illinois. How fast are the heads rolling? Zook has just been fired as I type on the heels of the Illini's sixth straight defeat Saturday at Minnesota, a team that at one point this season was in the running to become the worst team in Big Ten history. Even one win over the second half of the season might have saved him after a 6-0 start. But the landing is rarely pleasant when you've put yourself in the position of working without a net.
More to come today on Zook, and the rest as the pink slips begin to pile up.