It's a testament to the vagaries of coaching that someone as venerable as Penn State's Joe Paterno--after 39 years and 343 victories--could find himself fighting to save his job. Since Florida fired Ron Zook in October, in the wake of a 38--31 loss at Mississippi State, 10 other Division I-A coaches have stepped down or been axed, and numerous others, including Paterno, have heard calls for them to leave. Here are the coaches in each major conference whose jobs are in the greatest jeopardy.
Tommy Bowden, Clemson
In six years he's 44--29 with five bowl appearances, but Tigers fans are growing impatient. They expected a breakthrough after a 9--4 season in 2003, but this year's team finished 6--5. Junior quarterback Charlie Whitehurst went from being a sleeper Heisman candidate to one of the nation's least accurate passers, and in November--a week after upsetting Miami--Clemson hit a low point by losing to woeful Duke. Bowden will be back on the sideline next fall, thanks to the three-year contract extension he signed last February, but he has to win to keep his job.
Paul Pasqualoni, Syracuse
Could he lead the Orange to a BCS bowl game and still be canned? Last Saturday's 43--17 upset of No. 17 Boston College, which gave Syracuse a share of the conference title and could bring the Orange a berth in the Fiesta Bowl if Pittsburgh loses to South Florida on Dec. 4, may not be enough to erase the stink of another mediocre (6--5) season. The victory at BC, after all, was Syracuse's first Big East road win in its last 11 tries. Pasqualoni is 107-58-1 in 14 seasons but 16--19 in his last three. His fate was probably sealed by two humiliating losses this fall: 51--0 to Purdue on Sept. 5 and 34--24 to Temple on Nov. 13.
Joe Paterno, Penn State
With the firing of Illinois coach Ron Turner last week, Paterno, who turns 78 in three weeks, is now sitting on the hottest seat in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions finished 4--7 (2--6 in the conference) and the offense was the ugliest Paterno has fielded, ranking 103rd in the nation in total offense at week's end. Insisting he's not ready to step down, Paterno has assured fans that next year's team will be special. Last month he showed he still has at least some of his old magic when the nation's No. 1 high school cornerback, Justin King of Monroeville, Pa., announced his intention to sign with Penn State.
Gary Pinkel, Missouri
Like Bowden, Pinkel failed to produce a breakout season in 2004. The Tigers were expected to contend for the Big 12 North title, and junior quarterback Brad Smith was touted as a Heisman candidate. But this year's 5--6 record, which included losses to Troy and Kansas, made Missouri one of the nation's biggest disappointments (along with Smith, who ranked 82nd in passing efficiency). Working in Pinkel's favor is that after inheriting a moribund program in 2001, he improved the Tigers' record in each of the next three seasons.
Karl Dorrell, UCLA
With the firing of Stanford's Buddy Teevens on Monday, Dorrell became the Pac-10 coach on the shakiest footing. The Bruins are 12--11 (6--4 this season) under Dorrell heading into Saturday's game against their crosstown rival, No. 1--ranked USC, whose success over the last two seasons has put additional pressure on Dorrell to jump-start UCLA's program. A big problem has been the play of quarterback Drew Olson, who has been inconsistent and thrown 11 interceptions.
Rich Brooks, Kentucky
Though he has received a vote of confidence from athletic director Mitch Barnhart, Brooks has to start producing. When Brooks replaced the popular Guy Morriss in December 2002, the Wildcats were coming off a 7--5 season. Under Brooks, Kentucky finished 4--8 last year and 2--9 this fall, with a squad that ranked 115th in total offense at week's end. Even worse, Brooks has won only two games in the SEC in the last two years. How was Ron Zook fired before this guy?
ROBERT CAPLIN (PATERNO)
After four losing seasons in five years, Paterno is holding off unhappy fans--as are his colleagues at (inset, from top) Clemson, Syracuse and Missouri.
PRESTON MACK/U.S. PRESSWIRE (BOWDEN)
¬†[See caption above] Bowden¬†
DAMIAN STROHMEYER (PASQUALONI)
¬†[See caption above] Pasqualoni
DAVE MARTIN/AP (PINKEL)
¬†[See caption above] Pinkel