Five Coaches that will get Fired in 2023

The Landscape

There were fifteen total firings after the 2022 college football season, which was an uptick from previous years and represented an offseason of significant change, especially at the Power Five level. There should be far less turnover after the 2023 season, partially because many coaches are still settling into new tenures. Some Power Five coaches, like Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M and Mel Tucker at Michigan State, are feeling heat after subpar performances in 2022, but are protected by massive buyouts that all but guarantee they’ll be retained for one more season barring disaster in 2023. Other coaches, like Billy Napier at Florida and Brent Venables at Oklahoma, massively underachieved in 2022 but are only heading into their second season in 2023. It’s hard to expect that either of those premier brands would move on from a coach after just two seasons, especially with the SEC adding Texas and Oklahoma to expand to sixteen teams heading into the 2024 season.

Ultimately, conference realignment may save several coaches from the chopping block over the next few seasons. Schools and athletic departments will want to maintain at least some semblance of consistency and stability, at least temporarily, as they navigate the massive changes coming within the structure of the sport. Retaining a coach that would otherwise be fired may give these athletic departments a sense of stability and help them make the transition to a new conference smoother. Nonetheless, this season (like always) will have some turnover. Teams will underachieve, AD’s and fanbases will become impatient, and some coaches will get the axe. These are five of the most likely firings that could happen during… or at the conclusion of… the 2023 college football season.

West Virginia Head Coach Neal Brown (Photo: Ben Queen/USA TODAY-Sports).

Neal Brown, West Virginia

The speculation surrounding Neal Brown’s demise as the Mountaineer headman has essentially been beat to death this offseason. Most fans and media members believed Brown would have been fired after the failed J.T. Daniels experiment last season, but WVU decided to retain him for one more season. He’s been at the very top of every offseason hot seat list, and I have not seen one reporter or analyst that expects WVU to keep Neal Brown heading into the 2024 season. Brown has compiled a 22-25 overall record in his four seasons in Morgantown, including a 14-21 record in conference. Last season was considered the biggest disappointment, as they squandered a talented roster and went 5-7, missing a bowl for the 2nd time in Brown’s four seasons.

On paper, the West Virginia roster heading into the 2023 season still has intriguing talent at key positions. They bring back true sophomore stud running back C.J. Donaldson, who rushed for 6 yards per carry last season to the tune of 8 rushing touchdowns. They also bring in transfer wideout Devin Carter from NC State, who caught 25 balls and a pair of touchdowns for the Wolfpack last season. Junior center Zach Frazier anchors a solid and experienced offensive line that should be above average by Big 12 standards. The major questions for WVU come at the quarterback position, as well as at the back end of the defense. The Neers will start junior Garrett Greene at quarterback, who has 5 total touchdowns in his career. The WVU secondary surrendered 263 passing yards per game last season, which was good for second worst in the Big 12. In order for Neal Brown to save his job and get West Virginia back to a bowl game, the Mountaineers simply have to be better at throwing the ball and defending the pass.

Unlike many, I don’t think this West Virginia team will finish in the basement of the Big 12 this season. I project them to go 5-7 and 4-5 in Big 12 play, which would be good for a 10th place finish in the new-look 14 team league. However, I don’t think that the front end of the schedule sets up well for Neal Brown to keep his job. WVU opens the season at Penn State, a likely drubbing. Two weeks later, they host a well-coached Pitt team in the Backyard Brawl. After that they host Texas Tech, which is followed by a trip to Fort Worth to play TCU in Week 5. I think it’s very possible the Mountaineers start 1-4 this season and send Neal Brown packing before a Week 6 bye.

Indiana Head Coach Tom Allen (Photo: Michael Hickey/Getty Images).

Tom Allen, Indiana

Alongside Neal Brown, Tom Allen is the only other Power Five coach that is seemingly doomed to be vanquished to the chopping block either during or at the conclusion of the 2023 season. Allen is heading into his 7th full season in Bloomington and has amassed a total record of 30-40 while at the helm. He is currently 17-35 in Big Ten play with the Hoosiers, and that record only figures to get worse during the 2023 season. While Allen had some success with the program, getting them to a Gator Bowl in 2019 and finishing with an 8-5 record, the success has dwindled as of late. The Hoosiers have won a total of 2 conference games the last two seasons under Allen, and I project the Hoosiers will finish 1-8 in the Big Ten this season.

At the end of the day, Indiana is not a football program where a staff can come in and win consistently. The program lacks a strong history on the gridiron, and the passion for football at a basketball-first institution just isn’t enough to break through and establish a winning culture in a hyper-competitive league. Allen has done an admirable job leading the program, but his coaching tactics have likely grown old in the locker room, among the fanbase and in the eyes of the boosters. Sometimes firings aren’t the total fault of the staff, but are more so indicative of the program. Indiana will still attract a new coach and staff that will rekindle some hope within the fanbase because it’s a Big Ten brand with money to pay, but I’m skeptical that anyone… especially in the new expanded Big Ten… will be able to come in and even make a bowl game regularly.

To me, it looks virtually impossible on paper for Tom Allen to keep his job with this 2023 Indiana schedule. The Hoosiers have two games that I would confidently consider wins on their schedule (Indiana State, Akron) and 8 games that I would consider nearly guaranteed losses (Ohio State, Louisville, Maryland, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State). It’s going to be another long season in Bloomington. The only question is whether IU lets Allen go midseason, or if they let him coach it out until the end.

Houston Head Coach Dana Holgorsen (Photo: University of Houston Athletics).

Dana Holgorsen, Houston

The firing of Dana Holgorsen is the boldest prediction on my list for 2023 because it defies the logic I discussed earlier. Generally, I believe athletic departments want to maintain stability when transitioning to a new league. In Houston’s case, the transition up from a Group of Five league (AAC) to a Power Five league (Big 12) may very well lead to them retaining Holgorsen for several more seasons. However, I’m going to project a firing in this specific situation for two reasons.

Firstly, I think that the Cougars are going to underachieve this season. I project Houston to finish 4-8 and 2-7 in the Big 12, which would be a half game below their Vegas projected win total of 4.5 for 2023. While this isn’t vast underachievement, it’s underachievement nonetheless. Houston plays rising Group of Five power UTSA in Week 1, a team they needed four overtimes to defeat in 2022. They also have to play at Texas Tech, at Kansas State and at Baylor during Big 12 play, which are all likely losses for the Cougars. They lose quarterback Clayton Tune and their best offensive weapon in wideout Tank Dell to the NFL, and have downgraded at both positions. Donovan Smith, a Texas Tech transfer, will start at quarterback and is a bottom-tier quarterback in the Big 12 in my opinion. I think Houston will have a ton of trouble winning in the trenches on both sides of the ball against Power Five competition, which will translate to a losing season.

Secondly, I think that Houston and their boosters expect to win and to win now. Tilman Fertitta, a billionaire businessman and the current owner of the Houston Rockets, is a Houston alum and their most powerful booster. His voice is clearly influential within the program and he’s shown impatience in the past when it comes to winning. If Houston disappoints drastically on the field like I think they could in 2023, it could spell the end of Dana Holgorsen’s tenure with the Cougars.

UTEP Head Coach Dana Dimel (Photo: Eric Gay/AP).

Dana Dimel, UTEP

It’s extremely important for all college football fans and media alike to never overreact to what we see on the field in Week 0. Week 0 is essentially the college football preseason… many kinks still need to be worked out and many results are gimmicky and not indicative of what kind of team a program will end up fielding when the season is said and done. With all that being said, what we saw from UTEP in a 17-14 loss to Jacksonville State in Week 0 was an absolute monstrosity. The Miners had multiple chances to win the game and all but gave it away with coaching blunder after coaching blunder. It’s clear Dimel and the Miners have a talented QB with a strong arm in Gavin Hardison, but he has been severely misused in Dimel’s offensive scheme. After years of being a doormat program, UTEP is finally in a situation in the watered down Conference USA where a top-half conference finish should be a yearly goal. Instead, the Miners have shown zero ability to win on the road under Dimel and just don’t appear to be a well-coached football team.

Dimel is entering his sixth season in El Paso and is 17-41 overall. He is 8-29 in C-USA play and the loss to new FBS program Jacksonville State is an ugly start to the 2023 campaign for Dimel’s staff. In order to save his job, the Miners will need to avoid any more coaching blunders in 2023 and finish in the top half of the C-USA. This would likely include a bowl birth for UTEP, something Dimel has accomplished once already with the Miners, taking them to the New Mexico Bowl in 2021. Picking off a hapless Northwestern team in Evanston this year would also do wonders to help Dimel survive another season, but I’m not sure I see that happening. I have very few reasons to believe this team won’t squander more victories this season, which is why I likely think Dimel is heading to the chopping block at season’s end.

New Mexico Head Coach Danny Gonzales (Photo: Matthew Hinton/AP).

Danny Gonzales, New Mexico

Danny Gonzales’ tenure as headman for the Lobos has been nothing short of atrocious so far. Gonzales is 7-24 overall in three seasons and has won a total of three Mountain West games as head coach. At the end of the day, New Mexico is a bottom of the barrel program at the FBS level in college football. It’s a program that has been in turmoil long before Gonzales, and is one that will remain in turmoil long after Gonzales is gone. With that being said, no matter how poor the program, three conference victories in three seasons is still unacceptable. Gonzales’ team will need to show some form of improvement on the field in 2023 in order for him to keep his job.

Frankly, I don’t think New Mexico will improve at all in 2023 and that will ultimately lead to Gonzales’ demise. The roster is horrific and the schedule has very few opportunities for the Lobos to pick up victories. Outside of a home game against FCS foe Tennessee Tech, I don’t see another likely win on the Lobos schedule. ESPN’s Bill Connelly has New Mexico ranked at 127 of 133 FBS teams in his final preseason SP+ poll, which further fuels my skepticism of this roster’s ability to win Mountain West games. I’m projecting a 1-11 record for the Lobos in 2023, which will be poor enough for Danny Gonzales to be relieved of his duties.

Alex Wilcox