Where will the dominos fall? A comprehensive look at the latest in the volatile coaching carousel
The final weekend of the college football regular season has traditionally been capped by Black Sunday, a day of dismissals, short press releases and athletic officials huddling to hire a new coach. But this has been unlike any other season in the history of college football, with 14 jobs already open.
The initial plan for this column was to post projections on Monday. But after talking to coaches, athletic directors and agents over the past week, it became apparent that would be much too late, as the tenor of the industry is fluctuating between urgency and panic.
Just as the trend this season has gone full-throttle toward quickly firing coaches, athletic directors want to hire just as fast. There's a fear of losing this game of coaching musical chairs and ending up without one of your top choices. That's why the search firm Parker Executive Search is holding interviews for the Central Florida and Iowa State jobs on Sunday and Monday. It's also why Syracuse officials are already flying around the country to interview candidates.
That's why Virginia Tech is expected to name Justin Fuente as its head coach in the next few days. And that's why athletic directors at schools bracing to lose coaches are fraught with paranoia, as the market will be picked clean by the time their job opens.
And there's still a flurry of unknown variables that could further shake an already volatile job market. The first two are LSU and Georgia, traditional powers that need to decide if another coach is the best bet to break them out of a pattern of recent underachievement. There's the Chip Kelly factor, as the feeling surrounding his tenure in Philadelphia has changed precipitously over the past two weeks after blowout losses to Tampa Bay and Detroit. There are also 12 NFL jobs that are open or could potentially open: Miami, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Detroit, Tennessee, San Diego, Philadelphia, Washington, New York Giants, New Orleans, St. Louis and San Francisco.
Here's the latest on the 13 major college jobs available (Minnesota filled internally already) and speculation on a few others destined to open.
Power Five jobs
Illinois: The block "I" logo really stands for Interim. For now, Illinois has an interim coach (Bill Cubit), athletic director (Paul Kowalczyk), provost (Edward Feser) and chancellor (Barbara Wilson). So, if you are a high-profile coach, would you feel confident about your chances of turning around a traditional Big Ten doormat with all of that uncertainty? Obviously not. Illinois is already a tough enough job. The best indication of the Illini's inaction is that in the last six weeks there have not been any signs they've reached out to any coaches or had a list of candidates. Cubit has done a good job, taking over a team filled with uncertainty and leading it to a 5-6 record heading into Saturday's game against Northwestern. Expect him to get the job on some type of semi-interim basis regardless of results. Hard to see any other option.
Prediction: Bill Cubit for another year
(Update: Illinois and Cubit agreed to a two-year, $2.4M extension on Saturday morning.)
Iowa State: Athletic director Jamie Pollard made it clear he wants a sitting head coach for this job. While that's a gutsy move at one of the most challenging jobs in the nation, it's shaping up to be a surprisingly strong field for the Cyclones. Toledo's Matt Campbell, Bowling Green's Dino Babers, Georgia Southern's Willie Fritz and Navy's Ken Niumatalolo are the top candidates. Pollard has wisely shifted the search into overdrive, with interviews expected to play out over the next few days. (There's some secondary interest in Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm, but he's not expected to interview anywhere until after the Conference USA title game on Dec. 5.)
Pollard has the benefit of having seen Campbell's Toledo teams play in person the past two years. Toledo beat Iowa State 30-23 in double overtime this season and lost to the Cyclones, 37-30 in 2014. All of the candidates bring a distinct style on offense, so some of Pollard's choice may come down to what he wants to see in Ames. Niumatalolo's triple-option? Fritz's hybrid triple-option from the shotgun and pistol? Babers's spread? Or Campbell's run-heavy blend of pro-style and spread concepts?
Prediction: Matt Campbell
(Update: Iowa State announced on Sunday that Matt Campbell will be its new coach.)
Maryland: This search has been meandering, to put it politely. Reports of Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin as a candidate are certainly accurate, but Maryland has spoken to a bunch of others and plans to talk to more. Those include Stanford's Mike Bloomgren, TCU's Doug Meachum, UCLA's Noel Mazzone, Oregon's Scott Frost, Bowling Green's Babers, San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Frank Reich and former Stanford assistant Pep Hamilton. Some other names that have popped up in the Terps' search: Herm Edwards, Mack Brown and Tony Dungy. (Some of those may have been for advice and philosophy, but the point here is there's been a lot of names.)
An important nuance of this search is this will be Anderson's hire. Under Armor CEO Kevin Plank certainly has influence, but hasn't meddled much. He's more sitting back and watching Anderson closely. Few believe Anderson will be at Maryland for much longer, and the feeling is that Anderson may as well hire his own candidate. If he chooses one favored by the Under Armour crew and he flops, Anderson still gets fired.
The only certainty here is that interim coach Mike Locksley will not be the head coach next year. He is 0-5 as the interim after going 2-31 as New Mexico's head coach. He could be back in some capacity given his relationships with Maryland's recruits. For now, though, Anderson has talked to the most candidates.
Prediction: Too muddled to make a call
(Update: Maryland announced on Wednesday that D.J. Durkin will be its new coach.)
Miami: The mystery at Miami is simple: Who, really, is in charge? Will athletic director Blake James make the hire? How much input will come from the board of trustees? Or what about the search committee the school announced it was using on Nov. 16, which includes "Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde?"
There's a sense that Miami has narrowed its field. It would be surprising if the next coach didn't come from a group that includes Butch Davis, Rob Chudzinski, Dan Mullen or Greg Schiano. There's a lot of sentiment for Davis, which is curious considering the NCAA issues in his program at North Carolina and the NCAA issues Miami is attempting to distance itself from during the Nevin Shapiro scandal. Chudzinski and Schiano both have ties to Miami's glory days, with Chudzinski having the advantage of deeper roots at The U and Schiano having much more head coaching experience. Could Miami afford Mullen, who makes more than $4 million a year at Mississippi State? It's reasonable to expect Mullen to make an average of more than $4.5 million the next five years in Starkville, factoring in bonuses and escalators. (And let's face it, it's cheaper to eat at Little Dooey in Starkville than Joe's Stone Crab on South Beach.) Can notoriously spendthrift Miami, which struggles to draw crowds, step up and pay that much?
Mike Shula's name has also popped up here, but he's thought to prefer the NFL, where he is quietly thriving as the Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator. (Former Hurricanes star Ken Dorsey is the quarterback coach there and could be an attractive coordinator candidate at Miami.)
Prediction: Butch Davis
(Update: Miami announced on Friday that Mark Richt will be its new coach.)
Missouri: The feeling around the Missouri search is that athletic director Mack Rhoades has whittled his list down to a half-dozen names. Tom Herman won't be one of them, as he is expected to hold out for a top 15-caliber job. Babers is an intriguing candidate here, as he's had success as an assistant at Baylor and as the head coach at Eastern Illinois, which gives him some geographic resonance in Missouri's recruiting footprint. There will be pressure on Rhoades to give a minority candidate strong consideration after the recent racial unrest on campus. That will work in Babers's favor.
One candidate who intrigues Rhoades is Temple coach Matt Rhule, who has been choosy about which jobs he's involved with. Rhule is an odd geographic fit, but his success at Temple has been so strong that there is a belief his personality could fit anywhere. Missouri assistant Barry Odom will also get strong consideration as an internal candidate, as he's well thought of in Columbia. (Odom is also the favorite to replace Justin Fuente at Memphis.)
Prediction: Matt Rhule
(Update: Missouri announced on Thursday that Barry Odom will be its new coach.)
South Carolina: This job may be the most intriguing one on the board for all of the high-stakes variables involved. The reports that Kirby Smart is one of the finalists are definitely true. After the South Carolina overtures to hire Houston coach Tom Herman failed, attention turned to Smart. But South Carolina officials may be sweating right now. Smart would clearly prefer to go to Georgia, as it's a distinctly better job. It's also his alma mater. Nick Saban won't let Smart interview until after the SEC title game next weekend assuming the Crimson Tide win Saturday at Auburn. By then, we'll know what Georgia is going to do with Mark Richt. If Smart ends up in Athens, no one knows what South Carolina will do. There's another mystery candidate here no one is quite sure of. The best guess is North Carolina's Larry Fedora, who has had perhaps the best season of any college head coach. With the potential NCAA sanctions hanging over the Tar Heels, Fedora is expected to try and ride the momentum of this stellar season out of town. But he'd also prefer jobs like LSU or Georgia to South Carolina, as most candidates would.
Rich Rodriguez's name hasn't been as hot during this wave of jobs as expected. Could he end up being a late candidate in Columbia? If Smart turns down the Gamecocks or ends up at Georgia, that could put South Carolina AD Ray Tanner and search firm executive Bob Beaudine in a huge pickle. There's a Smart or bust feel here, and there's potential for a bust. Especially if Georgia opens next week.
Prediction: Kirby Smart
Syracuse: The Orange have already begun flying across the country to speak to candidates, with a group led by athletic director Mark Coyle and chancellor Kent Syverud. (Coyle is not using a search firm.) What Coyle needs to decide is what type of philosophy he'd favor. The candidate list for the Orange is split philosophically. Oregon assistant Scott Frost and Bowling Green coach Dino Babers are spread offense gurus who are high on Syracuse's list. Does Coyle feel like they would be able to recruit the caliber of athletes to the Carrier Dome to run past ACC programs like Florida State and Clemson? Or does Coyle go for a coach from more of a pro-style offensive program like Stanford's Mike Bloomgren or Michigan assistant D.J. Durkin? Both are strong candidates. LSU assistant coach Ed Orgeron, a former Syracuse defensive line coach, has also had success running a pro-style offense at USC. His background as a strong recruiter is attractive as well.
Connecticut's Bob Diaco and Coastal Carolina coach Joe Moglia are also expected to be in the mix. Both are defensive coaches by background and could adjust their offenses to the talent and recruiting footprint. (Toledo's Matt Campbell is also considered a candidate and runs a blended offense with the Rockets.)
Credit Coyle for firing Scott Shafer early and being aggressive. It could certainly help Syracuse snare a plum candidate before Virginia or Rutgers, who have been delaying the inevitable all season. It's important to remember Coyle liked Frost a lot in his last coaching search, when he hired Bryan Harsin at Boise State.
Prediction: Scott Frost (If he'll take it)
USC: Pat Haden whiffed badly on his first football hire and is in such poor health that he's limited in how much he can travel. Sounds like a guy who would need help in finding a coach. But Haden is executing USC's search without outside help, which has led to speculation that he wants to give interim coach Clay Helton the job or has quietly already lined up another candidate. Helton will have a real shot at the job with victories over UCLA and Stanford, but it will be tough for USC to win both. The Chip Kelly speculation will certainly be ramped up, as there's an increasing feeling he won't be in Philadelphia next season. Those close to Kelly say no one really knows what Kelly wants to do (including Kelly). There's a better chance he leaves Philadelphia now than there was a month ago, however. He was USC's top choice in its last search, which would mean Haden feels comfortable in having vetted him. This is, far and away, the hardest search to figure out. And while Kelly makes sense, ESPN's Adam Schefter has said Kelly is "not going to USC." Hard to go against Schefter.
The list here remains the usual suspect hodgepodge: Gary Patterson, Bob Stoops, Kyle Whittingham, Dan Mullen, Pat Fitzgerald, Bill O'Brien and Tom Herman. But there's no sign Haden has moved on any of those.
Prediction: Clay Helton
(Update: USC named Clay Helton its permanent head coach on Monday.)
Virginia Tech: This is the easiest job to figure out. All signs point to Memphis coach Justin Fuente accepting the position sometime in the next few days. At this point, it would be shocking if he doesn't get it. Credit Tech AD Whit Babcock for targeting a coach who should be a great fit, as Fuente's low-key and football-centric demeanor will be a good addition in Blacksburg.
And a lot of credit goes to Frank Beamer for not stretching out his final season. His early retirement announcement allowed Babcock to get a jump on the field and position the school to get a strong coach. One final solid for Beamer in a career full of them at Virginia Tech.
Prediction: Justin Fuente
(Update: Virginia Tech announced on Sunday that Justin Fuente will be its new coach.)
UCF: Expect new athletic director Danny White to move quickly, with interviews over the next few days. The candidates here are Alabama assistant Mario Cristobal, Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, Babers, Campbell and Brohm. Lane Kiffin could also get a look here, but it will be tough for him or Cristobal to interview with Alabama expected to play in the SEC title game next weekend.
(Update: UCF announced on Tuesday that Scott Frost will be its new coach.)
North Texas: Two candidates to keep an eye on are North Carolina offensive coordinator Seth Littrell and TCU's Doug Meacham. North Texas wants offense after Dan McCarney's struggles to develop passers.
LSU: The most important factor here will be whether or not LSU can line up a candidate to replace Les Miles. The obvious first choice would be Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, who brings the offensive pedigree and ability to develop quarterbacks that's been sorely missing in Baton Rouge. Why would Fisher leave Florida State? Well, he'd be going into his seventh year there next season, and it's really hard in modern college football to stay somewhere much longer than that. Once you hit double-digit seasons, there's an inevitable fatigue. Just ask Miles and Richt.
If Fisher won't come, it's a lot harder to fire Miles considering the estimated $15 million the school would owe him and the $2 million to buy out his staff. (It would cost around $5 million to get Fisher from Florida State as well.) What's harder to stomach than cutting checks that big? Bringing Miles back after hanging him out to dry the past few weeks. LSU would become college athletics' equivalent of the conclusion of Gone Girl—a toxic couple stuck with each other.
LSU could still fire Miles if Fisher doesn't come. Then things get tricky, though. Could the Tigers lure an NFL name like Kelly or Texans coach Bill O'Brien? The timing would be hard for either. Or could the Tigers hire a top college coach like TCU's Gary Patterson, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops or Mississippi State's Dan Mullen? What about a young gun like Houston's Tom Herman, who offers impressive offensive acumen? Or a hot coach like North Carolina's Larry Fedora? Bottom line: It's going to be hard to find a coach guaranteed to win more than 77% of his games.
Prediction: Miles is fired and Jimbo Fisher is hired
(Update: LSU AD Joe Alleva announced after Saturday's game that Miles would stay on as coach.)
Georgia: There will certainly be some backchannel movement here in deciding whether to fire Mark Richt. The word in Athens is that Georgia officials are making plans to part ways with Richt and find a new coach. We'll know soon if Georgia has the fortitude to do that. A win over Georgia Tech would put Georgia at 9-3 for the season and have Richt winning nearly 74% of his games over 15 years in Athens. (He has made bowl appearances in all 15.)
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity would likely take a similar approach to mentor Jeremy Foley and target a small list and go after guys quickly. Fisher could be considered. Smart would certainly be on that list with his ties to the school. McGarity worked with Mullen at Florida, which has fueled speculation. After that, it would be the same jumble of names that LSU is looking at. Georgia is the type of job and Athens the type of town that could persuade an entrenched coach to move. Has Georgia found one already?
Prediction: Richt is fired. The Bulldogs could land Smart if they wanted him. Can they do better?
(Update: Georgia released a statement on Sunday morning that Richt will step down as coach.)
Rutgers: Poor Rutgers. One of college football's hardest jobs will become even more difficult to fill because the administration didn't get its act together to fire Kyle Flood or Julie Hermann yet. (NJ.com reported that Hermann and Rutgers president Robert Barchi were scheduled to meet on Saturday.) These were obvious moves for months, and now the school is behind places it should be competing with for coaches like Iowa State and Syracuse. Same old Rutgers. There's still an expectation that Flood will be fired, and it's hard to fathom Hermann will have a hand in recruiting the next coach. But this is Rutgers, where common sense in athletics long departed.
Prediction: Joe Moglia, if he doesn't get scooped up first
(Update: Rutgers fired Kyle Flood on Sunday morning.)
Virginia: There are a lot of power brokers around the industry shaking their heads at the Cavaliers. Craig Littlepage's decision to wait until the end of the season to fire Mike London could end up costing the school a shot at a quality coach. Consider that Iowa State has interviews lined up in the next few days. Virginia is clearly a better job, but it may whiff on a coach because it was too slow to act. Niumatalolo, Rhule, Schiano, Brohm and Frost could end up as candidates. But will some team have already snatched them up?
Prediction: Greg Schiano
(Update: Virginia fired Mike London on Sunday morning.)