January 16, 2018 Currently: 50° | Complete forecast


Why college football coaches who routinely fail to cover the spread are at risk of losing their jobs


Steve Marcus

UNLV football coach Mike Sanford, right, shakes hands with Utah State coach Brent Guy after the Rebels’ 27-17 victory in 2008 at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Win Number One

The Rebels opened the 2008 campaign with a 27-17 win over Utah State in their home opener. Find additional coverage here or view photos from the game.

UNLV season opener

A UNLV fan celebrates Saturday as UNLV takes an early lead with a touchdown in the first quarter at Sam Boyd Stadium. Launch slideshow »

Five of the 10 college football coaches widely thought to be on the “hot seat” this year failed to cover the point spread in their season opener, including Mike Sanford of UNLV.

Whether the NCAA and its members like it (doubtful) or not (probable), a team’s recent performance against the spread can often be viewed as a solid indicator of a head coach’s job security.

Football coaches rarely if ever mention the point spread in public discourse, but it’s not surprising that their record against the number usually reflects the organization’s level of satisfaction with the coach.

Although it’s not designed for this purpose, the point spread, conveniently enough, at least roughly correlates with the perception and expectations of a football team. A team with a losing straight-up record but a strong showing against the spread can be seen as exceeding expectations — at least for a while. But post losing marks straight up and against the number, and it’s a good bet you’ll be considered a failure.

For example, of the nine most prominent college coaches who were recently forced out rather than leaving on their own accord, only one had a winning record against the spread in his last couple of seasons: Karl Dorrell of UCLA, who was 16-9 against the number.

He bucked the trend, though. A few others were around .500 against the spread, including Bill Doba of Washington State (12-12), Ed Orgeron of Mississippi (11-11) and Chan Gailey of Georgia Tech (10-11). Games without betting lines and pushes against the spread were not counted.

The rest of the recently dismissed coaches compiled against-the-spread records that look a lot like those of coaches currently on those “hot seat” lists.

Guy Morriss was fired by Baylor after going 7-15 against the spread (ATS) in his last 22 games.

Sonny Lubick left as Colorado State’s head coach after going 9-13 ATS.

Ted Roof was fired by Duke with an ATS mark of 11-12 in his last two seasons, but just 1-5 against the number in his last six games.

Bill Callahan left Nebraska after going 10-14 ATS in his last two seasons and just 3-9 against the number in his last 12 games.

Phil Bennett of SMU had similar numbers, finishing 10-13 and 4-8 ATS.

In the first week of the 2008-09 season, when Wyoming won but failed to cover against Ohio, coach Joe Glenn fell to 8-16 against the spread since 2006-07 and to 2-10 ATS in his last 12 games.

Syracuse’s Greg Robinson lost and failed to cover at Northwestern, making him 11-13 ATS since 2006 and 3-9 ATS in his last 12.

Kent State lost and failed to cover against Boston College, bringing Doug Martin’s recent ATS records to 8-15 and 2-10.

Ty Willingham of Washington (12-13 ATS since 2006) lost and failed to cover against Oregon, prompting further speculation it could be a long — or unnaturally short? — season for him.

UNLV won straight up but failed to cover against Utah State, bringing the Rebels’ recent ATS mark under Sanford to 9-14.

The ATS record of Chuck Long of San Diego State in that time frame remained 10-12, but losing to Cal Poly in a game without a betting line could not have helped his cause. Oddsmakers do not post a line on such games because, in theory, the matchup is too lopsided in favor of the school from the bigger conference.

Iowa (Kirk Ferentz, 7-16 ATS since 2006) and Penn State (Joe Paterno, 9-13 ATS) won outright in their openers in games without widely distributed betting lines.

Mike Stoops of Arizona cruised and covered against Idaho, perhaps beginning an ATS streak that would halt most hot-seat talk in Tucson.

Bobby Bowden (10-14 ATS) and Florida State open against Western Carolina on Saturday.

Two coaches with poor ATS records who haven’t been dismissed yet have largely escaped the rumor mill are just starting their second season with their current teams: Alabama’s Nick Saban (4-9 ATS after upsetting Clemson in Week 1) and Idaho’s Robb Akey (3-9 after being blanked by Arizona).

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  1. Pack your bags Sanford you are going to be history on Maryland Park Way very soon