Pac-10 coaches on the hot seat: Stoops, Willingham

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

It's not a game of chicken or, really, any type of direct competition between Mike Stoops and Tyrone Willingham, but it's not hard to imagine the embattled Arizona and Washington coaches eyeball-to-eyeball trying to outlast the other as their respective seats get hotter and hotter.

And hotter.

It's a toss-up between these two as to whose seat is the hottest in the Pac-10 heading into the 2008 season. It's hard to imagine, considering they almost certainly need bowl berths to survive, that both will be back in 2009.

It's the nature of the business. Win or your butt gets burned.

Both acknowledge their situation, though neither is excited about talking about it. What can they say? They know the score, and they can only hope it doesn't distract their team.

"Our young people are a part of the community, a part of the world, so it's sort of hard to restrict the things that they see, hear and read, the things that people are saying around them," Willingham said. "The key for anybody that wants to be able to achieve is your ability to focus on your task and not let outside influences dictate your mind-set, your thinking and your ability to get things done."

Stoops was greeted in 2004 as a potential savior after the disastrous tenure of John Mackovic. The former Oklahoma defensive coordinator had coaching pedigree -- his brother Bob had rebuilt the Sooners into a national power -- and he was expected to restore the glory days of the "Desert Swarm."

But Stoops, despite flashes of promise and solid recruiting, is only 17-31 in four seasons and has yet to earn a bowl invitation.

In 2005, Willingham was greeted by more muted enthusiasm at Washington, where some boosters wondered if picking up a Notre Dame cast off -- whatever the dubious circumstances -- would generate the positive momentum the program was looking for with its fourth coach in eight years.

And after Willingham went 11-25 his first three seasons, the frustrated fan base split down the middle over whether he should be back in 2008.

These two also have history in their brief tenures. Washington's only Pac-10 victory in 2005 came at Arizona, an embarrassing 38-14 blowout for Stoops.

The following season, the Huskies won again in Tucson and improved to 4-1, inspiring hope in the fan base -- before reversing course and dropping six in a row when quarterback Isaiah Stanback suffered a season-ending injury.

Finally, Arizona overcame a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit last year to win at Washington 48-41, the first of three consecutive victories that generated some positive momentum heading into 2008.

Curiously, the Huskies responded to their sixth consecutive defeat by winning two of their next three, demonstrating that Willingham hadn't lost his locker room.

So whose seat is the hottest?

Consider this:

Arizona's first three games are Idaho, Toledo and a visit to New Mexico.

Washington? It opens at No. 20 Oregon, then plays host to No. 17 BYU and No. 4 Oklahoma.

Hot enough for you?