College Football Hot Seat for 2022 (With Buyouts & Replacements)

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(AP Photo/Al Goldis)
Andrew Doughty @DoughtyBetMGM May 17, 2022, 4:18 PM

Scott Frost showed enough “incremental progress” in 2021 to earn a return in 2022, Nebraska athletics director Trev Alberts said in early November when announcing Frost’s restructured contract that included a lower annual salary and lower buyout. 

Alberts didn’t list wins among the “several key areas” where he saw incremental progress, nor did he explicitly say the Huskers needed to win more in 2022 for Frost to remain employed. But can we assume Frost won’t remain employed if he fails to, at a minimum, reach a bowl game for the fifth time in five seasons?

While the on-field failures aren’t entirely Frost’s fault, as he’s dealt with reported infighting and conflicting leadership within the athletics department, he’s still an underachieving head coach at a college football program with delusional expectations. And with a reduced buyout – from $15 million to $7.5 million if fired after Oct. 1, 2022 – a change wouldn’t be costly. 

If Frost is fired in 2022, who might replace him?

There isn’t a next-up name for Nebraska like five years ago when Scott Frost was the candidate to replace Mike Riley. Anyone from Blake Anderson or Bill Clark to Justin Wilcox or Chris Klieman could be candidates for a wide-open coaching search.

Who else might be on the college football hot seat in 2022?

Bryan Harsin – Auburn

Bryan Harsin left Boise State for a six-year, $31.5-million contract at Auburn. It almost became a one-year, $23-million contract.

Harsin somehow survived an onslaught of postseason issues, including mass transfers, allegations of player and staff mistreatment, and an internal investigation that “did not yield information” that warranted a dismissal.

If the information did warrant a without-cause dismissal, Harsin would’ve been owed a buyout of approximately $18 million (70% of the remaining value of the contract) after earning $5 million in base salary in 2021.

Buyout: While Harsin was officially cleared of any wrongdoing, he’s still a six-win coach facing on- and off-the-field issues. If things don’t improve in 2022 and he’s fired, Auburn would owe a buyout of approximately $15 million and begin a second coaching search in two years.

Replacement: With four of the reported candidates on Auburn’s list now in Power Five jobs – Billy Napier, Steve Sarkisian, Brent Venables, and Tony Elliott – their list might look dramatically different this time. Perhaps Bill Clark is given another shot or they call Dave Aranda, Blake Anderson, or Mike Houston.

Karl Dorrell – Colorado

After I graded Colorado’s hire of Karl Dorrell an “F” in February 2020, the former UCLA head coach spat in my face with a 4-0 start in his first season. Since then: 4-10.

Now, two years after signing a five-year contract, $18-million contract, Dorrell is rebuilding a gutted roster with the help of new offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr., who was fired by P.J. Fleck after two poor seasons at Minnesota.

Sanford will face his former team in Week 3 when the Buffaloes visit Minneapolis, one of three difficult non-conference games on a 2022 schedule that will challenge Dorrell to win more than two or three games.

Buyout: If fired on Jan. 1, 2023, the first day of the fourth year of his contract, Dorrell is owed $7.8 million. That total drops to $4 million – minus any earned salary during the 2023 calendar year – on Jan. 1, 2024. And if fired, might athletics director Rick George revisit his candidate list from two years ago?

Replacement: If Colorado revisits candidates from the 2020 search, Steve Sarkisian is, presumably, out, as is Bret Bielema, but Eric Bienemy and Troy Calhoun remain in the same positions. If not, Old Dominion head coach and Colorado native Ricky Rahne could make a short list, as could Oregon State offensive coordinator (and former Colorado offensive coordinator) Brian Lindgren, or Bill Clark.

Scott Satterfield – Louisville

“In the days, weeks, and months ahead I will do what is necessary to earn back the trust and support of each and every one of you,” Scott Satterfield wrote in a letter to Louisville football season ticket holders on Dec. 10, 2020, days after he interviewed for South Carolina’s head-coaching vacancy and issued a bizarre justification for doing so.

While Satterfield didn’t specify exactly what was “necessary to earn back the trust and support” of fans, there was presumably one thing atop the wish list: wins. And, presumably, the Cardinals’ six wins in the 2021 regular season aren’t enough to earn anything,

Buyout: The 48-year-old former App State coach is now 18-18 in three seasons at Louisville. Since going 8-5 in 2019, he’s just 10-13, including 7-10 in the ACC, is struggling to recruit, and has a declining buyout that will drop below $5 million after the 2022 season. (Bobby Petrino’s buyout was $14 million.)

Replacement: Athletics director Vince Tyra could make another run at Jeff Brohm or hire another Group of Five coach like Jamey Chadwell, Tyson Helton, or Bill Clark.

Herm Edwards – Arizona State

“Some folks are okay with going to the Cactus Bowl and the Sun Bowl. But if anyone here is satisfied with that, I don’t understand it,” Arizona State athletics’ director Ray Anderson said in November 2017 after firing sixth-year head coach Todd Graham.

Two years later, Anderson was in Texas watching Arizona State, under the guidance of second-year head coach Herm Edwards, beat Florida State … in the Sun Bowl.

Anderson celebrated the victory on the field with Edwards, a longtime friend whom he picked over coaches with more than zero seasons of college football experience since George H.W. Bush left office, and expressed no disappointment in another mid-level bowl game.

Edwards is just 25-17, including 17-14 in the Pac-12. And throughout four years of mediocrity, Anderson has refused to comment on his friend’s job security, nor has he voiced concerns about missing “major bowl games,” as he did four years ago in justifying paying Graham $12.8 million to go away,

Buyout: Edwards has three years remaining on an extension he signed in early 2020 that calls for a buyout of approximately $8 million if fired after the 2022 season (specifically after Jan. 1, 2023).

Replacement: If Anderson is allowed to hire another coach, we could see Charlie Weis or Ron Zook in Tempe. If he – or anyone else – makes a sensible hire this time, former Arizona State assistant (and new Colorado State head coach) Jay Norvell could make a short list, as could Jeff Traylor, Jeff Grimes, or Justin Wilcox.

Dino Babers – Syracuse

Former journeyman Dino Babers is in no-man’s-land as he wins enough to keep his job but not enough to earn a long-term contractural or infrastructure support from Syracuse.

“We all know what the expectations are for 2022. We need to win more games. We want to play that 13th game,” athletics director John Wildhack said in late November while announcing Babers’ return after a five-win season that ended with a third straight whiff on the postseason.

Buyout: As a private school, Syracuse is not obligated to release Babers’ contract details, though his buyout was widely reported to be north of $10 million if fired in 2021. That number, presumably, dipped closer to $6 or 7 million for 2022.

Replacement: Perhaps it’s time for a change of pace for the middling program, i.e., Jeff Monken. The triple-option ceiling might be limited, as it was with Monken’s former boss, Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech, but for a program constantly fighting for bowl eligibility, something new might be worth considering. If not, Sean Lewis could be in play five years after leaving Babers’ staff for Kent State.

Seth Littrell – North Texas

Three years ago, Seth Littrell’s coaching stock was on fire. A 40-year-old former Oklahoma running back with 15 years of Power Five coaching experience and 18 wins in his last two seasons at North Texas, Littrell was a future Power Five head coach awaiting the right phone call.

And Littrell received the right phone call, or so he believed at the time, in December 2018 when Kansas State offered him the chance to replace Bill Snyder. What was widely regarded as a done deal fell apart at the last minute when Littrell withdrew from consideration.

Since that phone call, the Mean Green plummeted into national irrelevance and may have needed a late-season five-game winning streak to save Littrell’s job.

Buyout: Littrell’s five-year deal with an annual base salary of approximately $1.3 million runs through the 2023 season. If fired at the end of the 2022 season, he’d be owed less than $1 million.

Replacement: The obvious – although potentially unattainable – candidate is Graham Harrell, the 36-year-old former Texas Tech quarterback whose three-year stint at North Texas as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator (2016-18) led to the same position at USC.

Rick Stockstill – Middle Tennessee

The epitome of mid-level Group of Five stability for more than a decade, Middle Tennessee is struggling for relevance, and Rick Stockstill might be on the hot seat for the first time in his career.

The 63-year-old former longtime Clemson assistant is beloved across college football, has 100 wins and nine bowl appearances over 15 years as head coach, and recently made a six-figure donation to the university. 

Buyout: Stockstill has a modest salary just shy of $1 million but a buyout of nearly $4 million if fired after the 2022 season.

Replacement: If there’s a mutual separation, might the Blue Raiders aim for a smooth transition by promoting offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon?  A former NAIA head coach in Tennessee (Bethel University), Dearmon was lauded for his work with the Kansas offense in 2019 before leaving for Stockstill’s staff.

Jeff Scott – South Florida

South Florida’s “future is very bright” with Jeff Scott, athletics director Michael Kelly said prior to a four-point loss to UCF in the regular-season finale dropped the Bulls to 2-10 in 2021 and 3-17 overall in two seasons under Scott.

Two of Scott’s three wins came against FCS programs, and the third was against a three-win Temple team. Kelly, however, points to competitiveness in other games, including an eight-point loss to BYU and a strong showing against Cincinnati, improved recruiting, and facility improvements as reasons for optimism. 

Now, “the results must come, the fourth-year AD acknowledged, which might set the stage for a hot-seat season for Scott. 

Buyout: Scott’s five-year, $12.5-million contract includes an unusual buyout provision that would pay him 20 weeks’ salary if fired without cause, an amount equal to less than $1 million.

Replacement: One outside-the-box name to consider: Florida A&M head coach Willie Simmons. Ironically, a former Clemson teammate of Jeff Scott, Simmons won 21 games over three seasons at Prairie View A&M and is 18-5 over the last two (of three total) years in Tallahassee.

Geoff Collins – Georgia Tech

Widely regarded as a strong hire in December 2018 (including an A- grade from The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel), Geoff Collins has nine total wins and has yet to win consecutive games in three seasons in Atlanta.

And “everyone can see Georgia tech going in the wrong direction,” Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote in November after the 55-0 loss to Notre Dame, one of three losses by at least 30 points in 2021.

The Georgia native is now entering the fourth year of a seven-year deal that started with a base salary of $3 million in 2019 and increases by $100,000 each year through 2025. (Georgia Tech also paid Collins’ $2.5-million termination buyout to Temple.) And he will get at least a fourth year, athletics director Todd Stansbury said in late November.

Buyout: Firing Collins after the 2021 season would’ve cost $10.5 million. The figure drops to $7.2 million after the 2022 season.

Replacement: Mike Houston is trending toward a Power Five job as he rebuilds East Carolina after the Scottie Montgomery debacle. He’s never coached in Georgia but has spent most of his career in the Carolinas and knows the region well.

David Shaw – Stanford

Four years ago, this seemed incomprehensible as David Shaw’s job security presumably sat alongside Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney as the best in college football.

The former Cardinals receiver won 82 games in his first eight years as head coach, during which he won three conference championships (and two more division championships), lost only 17 conference games, and flirted with national championship contention. Over the last three years, he has 11 wins in 30 games, including Stanford’s first three-win season since 2006.

Shaw is the best coach in program history, has the nation’s 11th-ranked (247Sports) recruiting class for 2022, and is only three years removed from a seventh nine-win season in eight years. But would another three- or four-win season move the needle in the wrong direction?

Buyout: Shaw’s entire contract has never been made publicly available, though he reportedly earned $8.9 million in 2019, which would suggest his deal includes an eight-figure buyout. 

Replacement: I have no idea. If he’s gone, it could be mutual and include a provision for Shaw’s assistance in the search. Perhaps they could persuade Dave Clawson to leave Wake Forest? Or take a swing at California native Tommy Rees?

Listen to The Lion’s Edge podcast  for more college football and NFL analysis.

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About the Author

Andrew Doughty

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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of The Lion's Edge, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else.

Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of The Lion's Edge, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else.