It’s never too early to take a spin on the coaching carousel, but we should bear in mind that we might not realize who the best horse is until November…
From Cole: Who are the next Group of Five coaches to get hired by a Power 5 school?
I love making these lists, because they give me a chance to be hilariously wrong. Remember this time last year when I predicted that UCF’s Scott Frost would be the hottest Group of Five coach in the nation? You don’t, because I didn’t. I didn’t see UCF’s undefeated season coming at all. So with full knowledge that I’m probably going to leave off a coach whose team is going to set the world on fire, here are a few possibilities.
Troy won 11 games, shared the Sun Belt title with Appalachian State and famously won at LSU last season, and coach Neal Brown brings back most of that team. He has to pick a quarterback between Kaleb Barker and Sawyer Smith, but the pieces are there for another excellent season. The Trojans also have an opportunity to knock off some big opponents. They get a visit from Boise State on Sept. 1, and they play Frost’s Nebraska team in Lincoln on Sept. 15. With another good year, Brown should be a hot candidate.
Ditto for Sun Belt neighbor Scott Satterfield, who has won 11, 10 and nine games at Appalachian State in the past three seasons. It probably would take a very good situation for Satterfield to leave his alma mater, but another quality season in Boone, N.C., could prompt an offer he can’t refuse.
In the MAC, Toledo coach Jason Candle picked up right where his former boss—and former Mount Union teammate—Matt Campbell left off. Candle went 9–4 in his first season and 11–3 last season. He must replace Logan Woodside at quarterback this year. Candle is on a lot of radars already, and Campbell’s success at Iowa State only helps Candle’s cause.
And now we get to the most interesting Group of Five coach. Lane Kiffin probably would have gotten a bigger job this offseason if he weren’t Lane Kiffin. He took over a Florida Atlantic team that went 3–9 in 2016 and went 11–3 in his first season. Under most other circumstances, a 42-year-old coach who did that would be on a lot of short lists for job openings. The problem is that Kiffin already has been the head coach of the Oakland Raiders and at Tennessee and USC. The USC tenure is the most problematic because after Kiffin went 10–2 in a sanctions-shortened 2011 season, he went 7–6 in ’12 and looked headed for another mediocre season when he was fired five games into ’13. When a guy has a Cadillac job like USC and can’t win consistently there, it sounds an alarm.
But throughout his tenure as Alabama’s offensive coordinator, Kiffin said he had learned from his mistakes and needed another chance as a head coach to prove it. He took half the money he could have made as LSU’s offensive coordinator to bet on himself at FAU, and the first season suggests that was a very good bet. If Kiffin has another successful season, it might make notoriously risk-averse Power 5 ADs believe him when he says he has gotten better since his time at USC.
From Stephen: How many games until Trevor Lawrence takes Kelly Bryant’s job?
I’m fascinated by the quarterback situation at Clemson because I wonder how much what happened in 2014 will influence Dabo Swinney’s decision-making in 2018. That year, the Tigers were replacing Tajh Boyd. They had their clear quarterback of the future in Deshaun Watson and a veteran in Cole Stoudt.
Stoudt won the starting job out of camp, but the moment Watson entered the season opener at Georgia it was clear he had the higher ceiling and might already be better. But the Tigers stuck with Stoudt. His third start of the season came at Florida State. Swinney pulled him in favor of Watson during that game, but Clemson went on to lose 23–17 in overtime.
Had Watson started, the Tigers probably would have won that game. Had they won that game, they probably would have won the ACC in 2014. So what will Swinney do now if mega-recruit Lawrence (or sophomore Hunter Johnson) pulls even with or slightly surpasses incumbent starter Kelly Bryant between now and the season opener? Would he go with the higher-ceiling player earlier because of the adverse effect of waiting four years ago?
Bryant went 12–2 as the starter last season, but he played his worst game in the Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama. At the moment, Swinney is sticking with Bryant. But Swinney also pointed out the job is always up for grabs. “We’ve got a starter right now. Kelly’s our starter. There’s really no announcement unless that changes. Our starter’s back,” Swinney told The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier this week. “If you’re the best guy, you’re the best guy and you’ve got to prove it every single day. Kelly’s the starter. He’s the returning starter for us. He started 14 games. That’s where we are.”
From Todd: Will Nick Saban sign Sister Jean as a graduate transfer or will he have to bring her in as a “football intern”?
At age 98, Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt is probably out of eligibility. So the grad transfer option is out. I doubt she would join former Tennessee coach Butch Jones on the intern staff either. She doesn’t need to rehabilitate her career, and she isn’t living that buyout life.
But given Sister Jean’s excellent work as the chaplain for the Final Four-bound Loyola-Chicago basketball team, Saban may decide to hire her in that role. I don’t know what chaplains make, but I do know Alabama is capable of paying the most for one if that’s what Saban wants. I’m not entirely sure how that would square with Sister Jean’s vow of poverty, but my guess is a few charities would experience a windfall if Saban could somehow convince her to leave the Ramblers.