Over the past two seasons, the college football coaching job market has been filled with more quality than quantity. Marquee job openings at Michigan, Florida, USC, Texas and Penn State overshadowed the relatively slow turnover.
Just 15 jobs opened following last season, the slowest turnover rate in a decade. After the 2013 season, there were 20 openings, well under the 31 positions that became vacant following the '12 campaign. The smaller numbers the past two years could lead to a significantly larger coaching carousel this off-season, as many agents, search firm representatives and athletic directors interviewed for this column project the number of openings to be as high as 30.
Barring some meltdowns at top-tier programs or marquee coaches jumping to the NFL, the market is shaping up to be a buffet of mediocrity. The sexiest potential openings are at Miami and Virginia Tech, which are solid jobs but pale in comparison to the blue-blood options that opened the past two years.
With such big numbers expected at middling locales, don't be surprised if ADs dump coaches before Thanksgiving to start angling for hot candidates. Here's an early read on coaching moves to watch in Power Five leagues.
Miami: Miami is in the same position Michigan and Florida were last season, as a job expected to set the market. The difference is that Miami's paltry finances and fickle fan base don't synch with its national championship pedigree. Al Golden isn't a bad coach, but he has been a horrible fit with the Hurricanes. The NCAA issues haven't helped. Golden, who is 28-22 in four years at the helm, would be smart to leave before he is inevitably fired.
Syracuse: Scott Shafer won a bowl game in his first season with Syracuse, but took a leap back to finish 3-9 in 2014. Combine that with a new AD, Mark Coyle, and there is a strong argument to be made for a potential job change. The Orange lack an identity and need to find one in a hurry. Four September home games could help his case.
Virginia: The same issue looms at Virginia as it did last season. If Mike London is going to get fired and the program is going to start over, it would be wise to replace 64-year-old AD Craig Littlepage. A new coach wants to know who his boss will be. Does Virginia care enough, or have the institutional fortitude, to do that by Thanksgiving? We'll see. In five years London has no bowl victories, one winning record and a 23-38 mark (11-29 ACC).
Virginia Tech: This is a tricky situation, as Frank Beamer is to Tech what Bill Snyder is to Kansas State and Joe Paterno was to Penn State. But the Hokies have finished unranked for three consecutive seasons, and Beamer turns 69 this fall and missed time in December for throat surgery. Athletic director Whit Babcock wasn't hired to sit on his hands. Another season outside the Top 25 and Tech will swallow hard and make a change.
North Carolina: Larry Fedora has handled a tough situation admirably. The actual NCAA sanctions probably won't end up hurting as much as the specter of them. If new coordinator Gene Chizik can fix a defense that finished No. 119 nationally in points allowed (39.0 per game), Fedora should be fine.
Florida State: On the field, things are fine. Off the field, the Dalvin Cook situation was the latest reminder of the tumult with Jimbo Fisher's team. Personally, things have been trying in Tallahassee, too. Could Fisher want a change of scenery? Would NFL teams be interested? It's hard for anyone to leave a job considered the easiest path to a national title. And there's the pesky matter of a $5 million buyout.
Iowa State: There will be an opening in Ames unless Paul Rhoads figures out a way to get the Cyclones competitive again. Still, there's a strong argument to be made that Iowa State is the worst job in the Big 12. Nationally, it toils with the likes of Washington State, Wake Forest and Indiana as one of the toughest jobs in the FBS. Rhoads is well liked, but after going 2-16 in conference play the past two seasons, significant improvement is needed.
West Virginia: A new athletic director, Shane Lyons, is on the watch. And an 11-16 Big 12 record doesn't get anyone excited. However, after going 5-4 in league play last year, Dana Holgorsen is carrying some momentum in one of the league's trickier jobs.
Oklahoma: Bob Stoops has overhauled his staff over the past few seasons. Will the latest re-jiggering get the Sooners back atop the Big 12? Stoops is in no danger of being fired, but does he want to give the NFL a try? Or has that ship sailed?
Illinois: Tim Beckman holds dim chances of making it to the 2016 season, given his losing on the field and allegations of player abuse off it. He hasn't done himself any favors with the abrasive way he has handled public interaction. In a year when several Big Ten jobs should turn over, Illinois is a prime candidate for an early firing.
*Editor's note: Since this column was originally published, Illinois has fired Beckman.
Iowa: Is there another Big Ten program with less buzz? The only excitement around Iowa the past few years has been the gradual decrease of Kirk Ferentz's massive buyout. (The AP reported in August the buyout is currently $13 million in an article about "Ferentz fatigue" among the fan base.) Ferentz is an excellent coach, but his tenure has emerged as a cautionary tale of staying somewhere too long and getting stale.
Purdue: Darrell Hazell is 1-15 in the Big Ten the past two seasons. Something needs to change fast. Purdue opens as a touchdown underdog at Marshall. Hazell's 11-3 campaign at Kent State in 2012 feels like it was a decade ago.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights have a chance to be a bowl team again behind the veteran talent of its terrific 2012 recruiting class, which included Darius Hamilton, Leontee Caroo and Steve Longa. But it is naïve to think either Kyle Flood or athletic director Julie Hermann are in the school's long-term plans. The academic investigation that was announced this week doesn't help anyone. (Flood is owed $1.4 million if fired before February '19.)
Maryland: Randy Edsall doesn't deserve to be fired after a better-than-expected 4-4 start to Big Ten play last fall. But if Under Armour has visions of becoming Oregon of the East, is he the right guy long term? One popular theory is that Edsall could end up back at Syracuse, his alma mater, if Shafer gets fired. Edsall is a solid coach, but with a $155 million football facility being built, it's hard to envision Edsall as the one to build the Terps into a power.
Arizona: With a glut of ACC jobs expected to open, Rich Rodriguez will be a hot candidate to return East. He has done well at Arizona and the school has been good to him. It'd take a high-end opportunity for Rodriguez to leave.
USC: Steve Sarkisian wasn't on this list until his drunken display at a booster event last Sunday night. USC athletic director Pat Haden has to be worried he is staring at Lane Kiffin 2.0, with pedestrian results on the field and endless drama off it. (Haden inherited Kiffin upon his hiring in 2010.) Sarkisian earned his spot here, and it's increasingly hard to imagine him as the right coach to lead USC back to glory. If the Trojans lose to Stanford and Arizona State in September, the vultures will really start circling.
Utah: Considering the soap opera that emerged between AD Chris Hill and coach Kyle Whittingham in January, this job will be worth monitoring as long as both remain in Salt Lake City. Both have claimed the relationship has improved, but these types of issues tend to linger.
Washington State: It's unlikely Mike Leach will be fired because it's unlikely the Cougars could find a better coach. But recent data that shows Washington State leads the country in arrests won't help if the Cougars go 3-9 again.
Vanderbilt: Has any program in major college football fallen faster than Vanderbilt over the past two years? The Commodores went 9-4 in 2013 before crashing to 3-9 in Derek Mason's debut season. Temple beat Vandy 37-7 to open last year and things only got worse. If Mason's staff shakeup doesn't produce results, he could be gone.
South Carolina: Steve Spurrier, 70, tried too hard to convince everyone in July he'd stick around for five or six more years. The Head Ball Coach considered calling it quits after last season. If the Gamecocks tank, it's tough to see him sticking around. The man doesn't handle losing well. Remember, he still doesn't have a competent quarterback.
LSU: You can't argue with Les Miles's 103-29 record (54-24 SEC). But the combination of persistent off-field issues and a lack of quarterback development still nag at Miles. Someone has to finish last in the SEC West. If it's LSU, then the off-field issues like the June arrests of four players will be amplified. LSU power brokers can't love the seemingly annual return of a player in serious legal limbo. Miles's $15 million buyout if he's fired before Dec. 31 is big, but it isn't a number that would make an SEC powerhouse like LSU flinch.
Georgia: Without an established quarterback, Mark Richt's Bulldogs are set up again to be an SEC East tease. There's increased agitation that Georgia is failing to exploit the division in its current pathetic state. But would the Bulldogs ever fire Richt? Probably not.
Notre Dame: A big year by Notre Dame could mean the NFL comes calling for Brian Kelly. He told SI this spring that working through the school's academic issues "strengthened my resolve" to stick around. We'll see.
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Movin' on up
Here are some head coaches expected to be in the mix for bigger jobs in 2015.
1. Dino Babers, Bowling Green: Some viewed him as a potential one-and-done at Bowling Green, but injuries and a disastrous opener against Western Kentucky cooled that buzz. With his Baylor pedigree on offense and so much movement expected in the Midwest, he will be a coveted candidate.
2. Bret, Bielema, Arkansas: His pro-style approach makes him rare in the college ranks these days. If Arkansas's ascension continues, look for Bielema to emerge as a candidate in NFL circles over the next few years.
Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky: After breaking 50 school and league records in his first season at the helm, a repeat performance will boost Brohm's stock. The return of quarterback Brandon Doughty for a sixth season—he led the FBS in passing yards (4,830) and touchdown passes (49) in '14—doesn't hurt.
Troy Calhoun, Air Force: A 10-3 season in 2014 revived his candidacy on the job market after it appeared he'd stayed at Air Force too long. He turns 49 this year, so it's imperative to make a move before he misses his window.
Matt Campbell, Toledo: Campbell is 26-13 entering his fourth full season as the Rockets head coach. He won three Division III national titles as a player at Mount Union and two more as an offensive coordinator there. The Rockets are the favorites in the MAC West.
6. Rod Carey, Northern Illinois: He is 23-6 in two full years at Northern Illinois, making him poised for a move. Carey is an Indiana graduate, which guarantees he'd be high on the Hoosiers' list.
7. Sonny Dykes, California: Dykes has never been a good cultural fit at Cal. With so many BCS-level jobs expected to be open, perhaps Dykes could benefit from a change of scenery.
P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan: After taking the Broncos from 1-11 to 8-5 last year, Fleck will be mentioned in conjunction with all the top jobs in the Midwest. Is he the sizzle that Iowa has been lacking? Or the elite recruiter who can finally exploit Illinois's geography?
Justin Fuente, Memphis: He has made Memphis a Top 25 program. Think about that. Combine that with a pedigree from working under TCU's Gary Patterson and it makes for a sizzling combination. Expect Fuente to be linked with plenty of ACC and SEC jobs.
Bryan Harsin, Boise State: Harsin genuinely believes Boise State can crash the College Football Playoff at some point under the new system. But the rest of the world sees the gap between the Group of Five and the Power Five growing. What could lure him from his alma mater? An elite job.
Tom Herman, Houston: Call it the Arkansas State effect. Gus Malzahn, Harsin and Hugh Freeze all pulled a one-and-done in Jonesboro, which scared Group of Five athletic directors. So, if Herman wants to leave Houston, it is going to cost him a $2.25 million buyout if he bolts before February 2018.
Doc Holliday, Marshall: He interviewed at Pittsburgh last year after the Herd finished 13-1. Holliday's specialty for decades was recruiting in Florida, which means he'd be on Miami's list or could be the coach who unlocks the potential of USF. He'd be the most logical fit if the West Virginia job opened.
Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette: He has gone 9-4 with a New Orleans Bowl victory in each of the last four years. His consistency and strong recruiting ties in the SEC footprint make it surprising he hasn't landed a better gig.
Pete Lembo, Ball State: A 5-7 season last year cooled down the buzz after he was a finalist for the Wake Forest job in 2013. A turnaround on the field could get him in the mix at places like Virginia or Vanderbilt, as his background as the coach at Elon and Lehigh would help with academic-minded ADs.
Bronco Mendenhall, BYU: The veteran BYU coach is learning how tricky life as independent can be. He's 49, which means he could have one solid move left. He has won 70% of his games, but his star has cooled since going 10-3 in 2011.
Brian Polian, Nevada: He needs to continue progressing at Nevada after going 4-8 and 7-6 in his two seasons there. His experience as an assistant working at Notre Dame, Texas A&M and Stanford makes him a viable candidate in a lot of geographic areas.
Rich Rodriguez, Arizona: He is reaching the point where he can't do much more at Arizona, as he won the Pac-12 South last year. Virginia Tech would be a natural fit if Frank Beamer steps down. Miami would also be captivating considering the amount of local talent that would perfectly fit his system.
Greg Schiano, ESPN analyst: Schiano won't settle for a college job where he can't win, as he'd rather take a gig as an NFL defensive coordinator. Many forget Schiano was Miami's defensive coordinator for two years before taking over at Rutgers in 2001. He could pitch a plan to return the 'Canes to glory. Do not expect a Rutgers reunion.
Matt Rhule, Temple: The Owls are a trendy sleeper pick in the American Athletic Conference. Rhule is a bright young coach who will jump on people's radar this year.
Matt Wells, Utah State: Utah State won 10 games using four different starting quarterbacks last year. Expect Wells to be coveted for any West Coast vacancies, including Arizona if RichRod bolts.
Making the jump
Here are 15 of the top assistant coaches and coordinators expected to be in the mix for jobs this spring (listed alphabetically).
Chris Ash, Ohio State defensive coordinator: Ash did a remarkable job overhauling the Buckeyes' defense last year in his second season as coordinator. That earned him an interview at Colorado State. The Buckeyes identity may come on defense this season, which would only continue to raise Ash's profile.
2. Mike Bloomgren, Stanford offensive coordinator: The Cardinal slumped on offense last season, but Bloomgren, 38, can make a splash if Stanford gets its groove back. Four starters return on the offensive line, and four-year starter Kevin Hogan is back at quarterback.
Matt Canada, NC State offensive coordinator: Given NC State's schedule and returning talent—like veteran quarterback Jacoby Brissett—Canada could find himself in the mix for some lower-tier jobs. Few know Indiana better, as he went to school there and served as a graduate assistant, quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.
Mario Cristobal, Alabama assistant head coach: His firing at Florida International remains one of the most baffling administrative decisions of the past decade. Three years working under Nick Saban has only polished his résumé. Expect USF and Miami to show interest.
Bud Foster, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator: He is the most qualified ACC assistant on the board, but has he waited too long to take a head job? Foster is the classic case of not getting offered the jobs he has wanted and only getting offered the jobs he has not. His suggestion to fine players on Wednesday didn't help his cause.
Scott Frost, Oregon offensive coordinator: He has been picky about jobs, having drawn interest from Colorado State and Tulsa last year. Now that Nebraska is off the board for a few years, there is no obvious landing spot. He has an admirer in new Syracuse's Coyle. But is that job good enough?
7. Lane Kiffin, Alabama offensive coordinator: Somehow, someway, Kiffin always finds himself in the mix for big jobs. An intriguing possibility is South Florida, as Kiffin has recruited Tampa well throughout his career. His family name holds a lot of cache there as well.
Rhett Lashlee, Auburn offensive coordinator: This year's version of Herman, the hot coordinator who should get a lot of looks. He is 32, has an impeccable offensive pedigree and can bring an instant splash to a program.
9. Will Muschamp, Auburn defensive coordinator: His $1.6 million salary prices him out of lower-tier head coaching jobs. There's also a $1 million buyout if he leaves before the 2015 SEC title game. Muschamp's name was on more ADs' lips last year than one might have expected given the offensive ineptitude at Florida during his tenure. South Carolina is a real possibility.
Mike Norvell, Arizona State offensive coordinator: He drew strong interest from Tulsa and Colorado State last year. His time appears to be coming soon. It's hard to ignore consecutive top 20 finishes in scoring offense. His $900,000 salary means he'll command a mint position at his first head job.
Barry Odom, Missouri defensive coordinator: Odom isn't yet a threat for a Power Five job. But if Fuente leaves Memphis, he'd be a favorite to take over there.
12. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma offensive coordinator: If he can revive Oklahoma's offense, Riley should be able to slide into a Group of Five-level job. He turns 32 in September, so he may need a bit more seasoning. But the results as a coordinator at East Carolina were eye-popping.
13. Kirby Smart, Alabama defensive coordinator: He hasn't been too tempted to leave Alabama, where he is viewed in some circles as the heir to Nick Saban's throne. If South Carolina opens, that could be a huge pull.
14. Robb Smith, Arkansas defensive coordinator: The Arkansas defensive coordinator impressed in his first year in Fayetteville. He worked for Schiano during the Rutgers glory days, so he may be in the mix if that job opens.
Ed Warinner, Ohio State offensive coordinator: It's hard to ague with a pedigree that includes working for Saban at Michigan State, Kelly at Notre Dame and now Meyer at Ohio State. This year he'll get more attention serving as the primary play-caller. Warinner drew interest from Kansas last year and Army two years ago.
Jesse Beals/Icon Sportswire
Here are five top FCS coaches poised to move up in 2015 (listed alphabetically).
Beau Baldwin, Eastern Washington: He has gone 67-25 over his seven seasons at the school. In that span, his teams have ranked in the top 10 in passing offense six times, and he won an FCS national title in 2010. Baldwin would be a logical name at Washington State.
Joe Moglia, Coastal Carolina: The most intriguing coach on the board. Moglia is the former CEO of Ameritrade. He is also 32-10 with three playoff appearances at Coastal, and the favorite to win the national title this year. His business background is so impressive that any college president who meets him will want him instantly.
Joe Moorhead, Fordham: His success over the past two years (23-5) and as UConn's former offensive coordinator makes him an obvious candidate for East Coast jobs. He was a finalist at Buffalo last year. Expect him to be on Syracuse's list, as it learned with Greg Robinson what happens when you hire a coach without Northeast ties.
Bo Pelini, Youngstown State: If Bobby Petrino can land back in the ACC, there's a chance Pelini can catapult from Youngstown State to a solid job. He may be gruff, but a 70% winning percentage at Nebraska is hard to ignore.
5. Brock Spack, Illinois State: Spack led Illinois State to the FCS national title game last year and is 46-26 in six seasons. He helped Joe Tiller build Purdue during the glory years and would be a strong candidate to rebuild the Boilermakers, or maybe Illinois.