Looking at the top candidates to replace Mack Brown at Texas

Sunday December 15th, 2013

Baylor coach Art Briles has a history in Texas that would make him a natural fit to replace Mack Brown.
LM Otero/AP

Mack Brown resigned at Texas on Saturday, throwing open one of college football's best jobs. The coach who follows Brown will inherit a program awash in money and sitting in one of the nation's most productive recruiting hotbeds. The correct coach can make the Longhorns national title contenders quickly, but identifying that person might not be so easy now that the obvious candidate is out of the mix.

Two of the school's regents contacted agent Jimmy Sexton in January about the possibility of Alabama's Nick Saban coming to Texas, and judging by the events of the past few days, those regents didn't lose Sexton's number. Alabama responded to rumors of a Texas courtship of Saban by giving him a contract extension that The Tuscaloosa News reports will pay him between $7 million and $7.5 million a year.

It would have been stunning if Saban had moved to Texas, though. This is a man who films his Alabama TV show on the field after each game. During the season, Brown did a weekly radio show -- simulcast on the Longhorn Network -- along with weekly preview and review shows. Saban currently does a weekly radio show and the aforementioned review show. Though Saban has adroitly let ESPN into Alabama's program in small doses to produce what essentially amount to long commercials, he would chafe at the demands made by the Longhorn Network. For instance, Saban does not allow his assistants to give interviews. The Longhorn Network routinely mics up Texas assistants at practice. The next coach at Texas will have to embrace the Longhorn Network. Saban also wouldn't have appreciated the layers of bureaucracy in Austin. At Alabama, he doesn't have to fight to get what he wants. At Texas, he would have. Though Saban likely could have had great success at Texas, the Alabama job probably is a better fit for him.

So who else could lead the Longhorns?

Those factors mentioned above don't apply only to Saban. Finding the correct fit won't be easy, because Texas is one of the most unique jobs in sports. The coach has seemingly unlimited resources at his disposal, but he must be a deft politician who can satisfy the boosters and regents on one end and maintain a solid relationship with Texas high school football coaches on the other end. He also must be the star of a cable network, so he'll need to be charismatic.

MANDEL: Despite ugly exit, Mack Brown's Texas tenure defined by success

Meanwhile, a number of coaches Texas might pursue have either agreed to or signed long-term contract extensions. Texas has the money to pay almost any buyout, so that might not necessarily stop anyone from decamping to Austin. Here are a few of the possibilities and how they might fit at Texas.

Jimbo Fisher

Current team: Florida State

Contract status: Fisher just agreed to a five-year extension that will pay a reported $4 million a year.

Why he would fit: Fisher has the gift of gab, so he'd have little trouble with his Longhorn Network duties. He also is a relentless recruiter, evidenced by the talent he has stockpiled in Tallahassee. He might need to add assistants with more experience recruiting Texas, but he would get players.

Why he wouldn't: Fisher has the chance to lead Florida State to a national title, and with quarterback Jameis Winston back for at least one more year, he may have a chance at another next season. That's tough to walk away from. Also, Fisher uses the same "one voice" philosophy as former boss Saban, so he'd have to loosen the reins for the Longhorn Network.

Art Briles

Current team: Baylor

Contract status: Briles just agreed to a 10-year extension that would pay him about $4 million a year.

Why he would fit: Briles is Texas football. Not University of Texas football, but state of Texas football. He's Eric Taylor from Friday Night Lights made flesh. Briles spent 16 seasons as a head coach in Texas high schools before moving on to college football. Briles has the respect of all his former brethren, and if he strolls into a school in a burnt orange polo, he's getting top priority. Briles also runs a spread offense that fits the skill sets of Texas high school players -- mostly because it's an offense that was designed in Texas high schools. Briles has the personality -- and let's face it, the perfect accent -- to handle Longhorn Network duties, though that would be quite a jump in peripheral responsibilities considering Briles doesn't even have a weekly radio show at Baylor.

Why he wouldn't: Maybe Briles wants to stay at Baylor. The Bears are building a new stadium that will open next season, and he just won the Big 12 title. He also may have another opportunity. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported last week that the Washington Redskins may attempt to hire Briles if owner Daniel Snyder opts to fire Mike Shanahan.

Jim Harbaugh

Current team: San Francisco 49ers

Contract status: Harbaugh is signed through 2015. He makes $5 million annually, and he turned down an extension last summer.

Why he would fit: Harbaugh has won everywhere he has been, and he would hire a staff that could handle recruiting in Texas. The work required to bring Texas back to the top of the Big 12 is nothing compared to the work Harbaugh had to do to turn Stanford from a doormat into a Pac-12 power. Here's SI's Jim Trotter on why Harbaugh could be a candidate.

Why he wouldn't: The 49ers may meet Harbaugh's financial wishes this offseason, which would allow him to continue chasing a Super Bowl win. As for the Longhorn Network, well, judge for yourself.

RICKMAN: Mack Brown resigns at Texas after 16 seasons

Bill O'Brien

Current team: Penn State

Contract status: Signed through 2016. If he leaves for another college, he'd owe Penn State $13 million.

Why he would fit: O'Brien inherited an incredibly difficult situation at Penn State and not only kept the team together but made it better. In only one year, he helped former walk-on Matt McGloin develop into a quarterback who would wind up starting in the NFL. O'Brien has the charisma to handle the Longhorn Network

Why he wouldn't: That's a massive buyout -- maybe even too big for Texas.

James Franklin

Current team: Vanderbilt

Contract status: Franklin signed a long-term extension with Vandy after last season.

Why he would fit: Franklin is a relentless recruiter who would be able to make an immediate dent in a tough state that features competition from Briles at Baylor and Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M. He also has worked a minor miracle by winning 17 games at Vanderbilt over the past two seasons. Imagine what he could do with the athletes he'd get at Texas. Franklin would be excellent on the Longhorn Network as well.

Why he wouldn't: Vanderbilt still hasn't beaten the SEC's elite teams during Franklin's tenure, and that could be an issue.

Jim Mora

Current team: UCLA

Contract status: Mora agreed to a six-year contract extension earlier this month.

Why he would fit: Mora changed the attitude at UCLA quickly, ending USC's stranglehold on the Los Angeles market and making the Bruins a player in the Pac-12 South. He recruited some excellent players -- including freshman two-way star Myles Jack. Mora adjusted easily from the NFL to college, so he likely could adjust from the west coast to Texas.

Why he wouldn't: Mora might want to go back to the NFL. If that's the case, it wouldn't make much sense to change colleges now.

Dabo Swinney

Current team: Clemson

Contract status: Swinney is signed through 2017, and he would have to pay a $2.5 million buyout to leave after this season.

Why he would fit: Not many people are mentioning Swinney as a candidate, and I can't figure out why. In the past three years, he's 31-8. He's an excellent recruiter, and he routinely beats SEC schools with greater resources for players. He has a tendency to say some wacky things, and that could drive ratings for the Longhorn Network. Also, if Texas was willing to fork over huge money for a coordinator, it might be able to convince Swinney's offensive coordinator Chad Morris to perform the same duties in Austin. Morris is a former Texas high school coach whose offense would be easy for Lone Star State recruits to learn.

Why he wouldn't: Swinney is a former Alabama player with solid recruiting ties in South Carolina and Florida. He's not a Texas guy.

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