The coaching carousel got jump-started Sunday with a Power 5 hire and a Power 5 firing. Before you digest the final bits of your Thanksgiving turkey, the action will hit a fever pitch as programs and coaches play a bizarre game of musical chairs where the winners get paid millions of dollars to work and the losers get paid millions of dollars to not work.
Before the frenzy begins, let’s examine the moves already made and prepare you for the moves to come.
New coach: Les Miles
The worst-kept secret in college football was made official on Sunday when the Jayhawks announced they had hired former LSU coach Miles. Former colleague Stewart Mandel wrote a column that sounded an awful lot like what ADs have been saying behind the scenes about Miles since he got fired at LSU in 2016. He refused to evolve schematically and couldn’t meet expectations with LSU talent. So what will he do with not-LSU talent?
The answer probably depends on who Miles hires to run the offense and the defense. If he hires someone like former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze—who probably has paid his penance at this point following a scandalous firing that did not get him paid to not work—to run the offense and actually lets him run the offense, then the Jayhawks will succeed until Freeze gets another job a year later.
Yes, new Kansas athletic director Jeff Long needs to raise a lot of money, and hiring a coach boosters have heard of should help in the short term. But only winning helps in the long term. If Miles hasn’t evolved since getting fired in Baton Rouge, Kansas will be right back in this spot in a few years.
Jobs that have opened
Fired: Mike MacIntyre
The Buffaloes fired MacIntyre on Sunday after Colorado lost its sixth consecutive game to drop to 5–6. The Buffs are two years removed from a Pac-12 South title, but they expected consistency. This could be a good job, especially considering Colorado’s new facilities and the relative weakness of the Pac-12 South. (If Chip Kelly gets UCLA rolling and USC fires Clay Helton and hires someone capable of driving a Cadillac program, that weakness could disappear virtually overnight.)
So who might want it? Utah State’s Matt Wells is having a great year, but if Colorado wants him, Buffs officials should make sure offensive coordinator David Yost is coming along. West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen might be willing to leave West Virginia for a program that has an easier path to a conference title. This will be the best West Virginia team Holgorsen has had or will have for a while, and it must beat Oklahoma on Friday to even earn a berth in the Big 12 title game. Plus, he could recruit Texas hard from Colorado. That’s a more natural territory for Holgorsen. One wild card is Washington defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake. The 41-year-old Lake is an ace recruiter, and the Huskies have remained a top-tier defense since his elevation to defensive coordinator before this season. Ohio State offensive coordinator Ryan Day also would be an intriguing possibility. He shepherded the Buckeyes’ program while Urban Meyer was on administrative leave and while Meyer was suspended earlier this season, and Ohio State’s offense has repeatedly bailed out a defense that looks dysfunctional at times. Another possibility is former Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, who has spent this season as the Chicago Bears’ offensive coordinator. Helfrich would have to prove to Colorado officials that he has learned from the mistakes that befell him at Oregon, but that’s not impossible. A great recent example is LSU coach Ed Orgeron, who has shown that he has grown considerably since a disastrous first stint as a head coach at Ole Miss.
Fired: Bobby Petrino
The Cardinals’ list starts with Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, a Louisville native and former Louisville quarterback. The question is whether Brohm would be willing to leave Purdue—which has turned into a pretty good job thanks to a combination of Big Ten money, new facilities and Brohm’s work there—after two seasons. Another possibility is a bigger job opens and that school woos Brohm. He’d be great at a place like USC, and that is an undeniably better job than Louisville. The guess here is that Brohm says yes when Louisville asks, but the Cardinals should have some attractive options.
The next name on Louisville’s list should be Troy’s Neal Brown. Brown is from Danville, Ky. He may have played and coached at rival Kentucky, but that just means he understands the state and the recruiting environment there. He also is a great roster builder with deep recruiting connections in the states Louisville will need to use to bolster its talent level. At Troy, he makes his living recruiting Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi. The Louisville coach also needs to be great in those states. Brown’s name also might pop up if Texas Tech opens, but he’s probably better at a school that recruits the South.
Another possibility is Luke Fickell, who is working miracles a 90-minute drive away at Cincinnati. Fickell revamped a depleted Bearcats roster and turned Cincinnati into a winner much sooner than expected. He has deep Ohio recruiting ties, and Kentucky’s Mark Stoops has shown that recruiting in Ohio can help a school in the Bluegrass State.
Fired: D.J. Durkin
Given everything that has happened at Maryland, a fresh start is probably best for everyone. That probably eliminates any chance for interim coach Matt Canada. Still, Canada’s performance this season might get him in the mix for other head coaching jobs down the line. As for the Terrapins, there is significant local support for Alabama offensive coordinator—and former Maryland coordinator—Mike Locksley. Locksley is one of the best recruiters of the District of Columbia/Maryland/Virginia area. He also had a terrible tenure as New Mexico’s head coach, going 2–26 from 2009 to ’11. That, along with a suspension for a fight with an assistant while at New Mexico, is something the Maryland administration will have to weigh. I don’t think they’ll take my advice to hire Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo to run the triple option, but they also might consider Ohio State coordinator Day.
Jobs that might open
The situation: Clay Helton won the Rose Bowl in his first full season as head coach. He won the Pac-12 in his second full season as head coach. With one game remaining in his third season, he’s 5–6 and will miss a bowl game barring a miracle against undefeated Notre Dame.
The most damning loss this season came Saturday when the Trojans fell 34–27 to a UCLA team that entered the game 2–8. The Bruins’ improvement in their first season under Kelly is obvious, and if he can beat a USC team with much better talent now, what will happen when Kelly upgrades the talent in Westwood?
New USC athletic director Lynn Swann bid against himself to extend Helton through 2023, so the Trojans will have to dig deep if they want to fire Helton. They’ll have to pay millions more than UCLA did when it fired Jim Mora (about $12 million), but the decision is similar. How far behind are you willing to fall? How much are you willing to lose in ticket sales as the fan base grows more apathetic?
If USC makes the move, there will be no shortage of coaches who want the job. The trick is finding someone who can succeed at a place where annual national title contention is the expectation. As mentioned above, Brohm could work well at USC. But the perfect combination of personality, recruiting acumen and style for USC might be Penn State’s James Franklin. He’s a showman, which is necessary in a town where USC must compete for attention with the Lakers, Dodgers and Rams. He’s also an excellent talent evaluator who would use USC’s recruiting cachet to build a stacked roster. There’s only one problem: Franklin already has a great job. But here’s a reason for USC to at least try. Franklin’s buyout if he leaves for another school is only $1 million. It’s rare that the best option also is the cheapest option, but that’s the case here. Of course, he may only use interest to get a Jimbo Fisher deal from Penn State. But that’s a risk worth taking for USC.
Another possibility is Utah’s Kyle Whittingham. The Utes consistently have the best offensive and defensive lines in the Pac-12 South. Put him at USC, and he’d build some of the best lines in the country.
The situation: A year after going 3–9, Larry Fedora is 2–8. His buyout is huge, and athletic director Bubba Cunningham appreciates Fedora’s stewardship of the program through an academic scandal that both men unwittingly inherited. So there is no guarantee this job opens. But if the Tar Heels get smoked by rival NC State this week, optimism for the program’s future will be even lower.
If Cunningham does decide to make a move, Troy’s Brown and North Texas coach Seth Littrell—who worked in Chapel Hill from 2014 to ’15—would merit consideration. But the best choice would be Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield. Satterfield helped the Mountaineers move from the FCS to the FBS, and he’s 38–11 since 2015. He knows the Carolinas, and if he’s smart, he knows the ACC Coastal is there for the taking for the right coach.
The situation: Favorite son Kliff Kingsbury has done just enough to keep the job in recent years, and he still may manage to keep it. The Red Raiders face Baylor on Saturday with bowl eligibility on the line for both teams.
One question here is whether anyone not named Mike Leach can win consistently in Lubbock. The Texas Tech administration has to decide what it expects from its program before making any decisions. Should Kingsbury be fired, he wouldn’t be unemployed long. His work with quarterbacks from Johnny Manziel to Patrick Mahomes would have NFL teams and college programs fighting to hire him as an offensive coordinator.
If the Red Raiders made a move, the obvious names would be Brown or Littrell, who likely would bring another former Texas Tech quarterback (Graham Harrell) as offensive coordinator. But perhaps a better choice would be to pivot away from the Air Raid tree and try to be different instead of trying to beat Oklahoma at a game it plays better (with another Texas Tech alum at the helm). Maybe Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando or someone like him could change the personality of the program and make it a tougher out in the Big 12.
The situation: Bill Snyder has earned the right to go out on his own terms, but the Kansas State administration would like to be able to make plans for the post-Snyder era. Snyder would prefer the job stay in the family. He wants it to go to son Sean.
The names that would immediately get tossed around should Snyder retire are Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables (a K-State alum) and Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt (a former Bill Snyder coordinator). But a college football insider offered an intriguing suggestion during a conversation Sunday: Why not just give Sean the job? Bill Snyder has so much sway over some of the biggest donors at Kansas State that he could make life miserable for the administration. So give him what he wants. (And give Sean a low buyout if he’s fired because he’ll have no leverage.) If Sean succeeds, awesome. If he doesn’t, the first season or two after Bill Snyder probably was going to be a struggle anyway. Bill Snyder wouldn’t lose face, and the program could move on freely if the experiment didn’t work.
That probably isn’t how this is going to go down. Maybe Bill Snyder returns for another season. Or maybe the administration convinces him that a national search would be best. But until he says he’s done, he’s not done.
The situation: Lovie Smith is 9–26 (4–22 in the Big Ten) in three seasons, and the Illini got humiliated 63–0 by Iowa on Senior Day on Saturday. But here’s the thing: Smith’s buyout is $12 million. His buyout if fired after next season would be about $4 million. Unless Illinois just has so much Big Ten TV money that it wants to burn $8 million, expect the Illini to wait.
The elephant in the room
This is a more complete montage than the one ESPN showed near the end of the Buckeyes’ 52–51 overtime win at Maryland, but the gut reaction is the same: Urban Meyer doesn’t look like himself.
This is similar to how he looked at Florida in 2009, when he had serious health issues and resigned in December before changing his mind, coaching the Gators in 2010 and resigning again. Coming back in ’10 was a mistake, and Meyer needed the one-season break before he took the Ohio State job. Meyer told Yahoo! Sports earlier this season that he has struggled with headaches caused by an arachnoid cyst in his brain. Meyer had surgery in ’14 to drain the cyst because of debilitating headaches.
Does this mean Meyer’s time at Ohio State is short? Not necessarily. If there is a medical explanation and a medical fix, he could be fine. But if being healthy is incompatible with an incredibly high-pressure job, then he must decide how best to chart his future. The images captured Saturday—and repeatedly referenced by the broadcast crew—will almost certainly be used against Meyer in recruiting.
Last year, offensive lineman Jackson Carman—the top-ranked player in Ohio at his position—chose Clemson over Ohio State. Carman told the Dayton Daily News that Clemson coach Dabo Swinney had said Meyer was “on the back end of his career.” (Meyer is only five years older than Swinney.) Meyer revealed more than he probably wanted to about his health to Yahoo! Sports to squash rumors on the recruiting trail, but all this video won’t help slow the spread of those rumors.
Maybe Ohio State will beat Michigan, which hasn’t won in Columbus since 2000, and win the Big Ten East before going on to win the Big Ten. But if the Buckeyes lose and Meyer looks like he did Saturday, the questions will only intensify.
Then they’ll have to be answered one way or another.
A Random Ranking
You read every week about what I eat, so you know I need to do something to burn those calories. Regular exercise is the only reason I don’t weigh 350 pounds, and that exercise in the past few months has come in the form of OrangeTheory workouts. I like these because I prefer someone telling me what to do than trying to come up with a routine on my own. I only have one quibble. Why so much freaking Imagine Dragons? As a service to the coaches setting the playlists and to you, the reader, here are my top 20 workout songs*.
*Several of these songs have cuss words. If that sort of thing offends you, mind the digital Tipper Gore sticker.
1. “All I Do Is Win”, D.J. Khaled, Ludacris, Rick Ross and Snoop Dogg
2. “Not Falling”, Mudvayne
3. “Lose Yourself”, Eminem
4. “Dreams And Nightmares”, Meek Mill
5. “Jump”, Van Halen
6. “Training Montage”, Vince DiCola
7. “Welcome To The Jungle”, Guns N’ Roses
8. “Boom”, P.O.D.
9. “Let’s Go”, Trick Daddy
10. “Vox Populi”, 30 Seconds To Mars
11. “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark”, Fall Out Boy
12. “Thunderstruck”, AC/DC
13. “The Train”, Quad City D.J.s
14. “Get ’Em Up”, Ace Hood
15. “Lithium”, Nirvana
16. “Eye Of The Tiger”, Survivor
17. “Remember The Name”, Fort Minor
18. “I Don’t [Expletive] With You”, Big Sean
19. “I Will Not Bow”, Breaking Benjamin
20. “Good Morning”, Chamillionaire
1. Alabama (11–0)
Last week: 1
Last game: Beat The Citadel, 50–17
Next game: Saturday vs. Auburn
Here’s a conspiracy theory…
If you’re an Alabama fan and that makes you feel better about the Crimson Tide being tied 10–10 with The Citadel at halftime, great. If you’re a fan of a team that will play or might play Alabama and the 10–10 tie gives you hope, that’s also great.
2. Clemson (11–0)
Last week: 2
Last game: Beat Duke, 35–6
Next game: Saturday vs. South Carolina
The Tigers didn’t seem to be in full demolition mode on Saturday, and that’s fine. They won’t need that mode to get through the next two weeks, either. But they’ll need to engage it again afterward, so they probably shouldn’t get too far away from it.
3. Notre Dame (11–0)
Last week: 3
Last game: Beat Syracuse, 36–3
Next game: Saturday at USC
Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey’s injury turned what might have been a fun game into a blowout, but given the way Notre Dame has been playing, it might have been a blowout anyway. One more win, and the Fighting Irish will be the first team locked into this season’s playoff.
4. Michigan (10–1)
Last week: 4
Last game: Beat Indiana, 31–20
Next game: Saturday at Ohio State
Michigan was installed as a 3.5-point favorite against Ohio State on Sunday. Does that seem low based on what we’ve seen this season? Absolutely. Does that seem high given the fact that the Wolverines haven’t beaten Ohio State since 2011 and haven’t won at Ohio Stadium since they finally ended John Cooper’s tenure in 2000? Absolutely. The Wolverines will carry a generation of metaphysical baggage into the Horseshoe. It’s up to them to choose if they want to dump it there and head on to Indianapolis.
Big Ugly of the Week
This week’s honor goes to Pittsburgh senior Stefano Millin, a graduate transfer from Kent State who almost certainly chose the Panthers because they have the deepest offensive tackle-as-receiver playbook in America.
Three and Out
1. More teams clinched spots in their respective conference title games on Saturday, including one left for dead earlier this season. Pittsburgh started out 2–3 with blowout losses to Penn State and UCF and a 38–35 loss at North Carolina that was the Tar Heels’ lone win until they beat Western Carolina on Saturday. That doesn’t sound like the start of a season that ends in the ACC title game, but that’s exactly where the Panthers are headed after winning six in a row in ACC play. With Saturday’s 34–13 win at Wake Forest, Pittsburgh clinched the ACC Coastal Division crown and made a statement Narduzzi made in August look quite prescient.
“Next time we’ll see you is in Charlotte for the ACC championship game because we’re going,” Narduzzi told fans at the team’s kickoff luncheon, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
When the Panthers get there, they’ll find Clemson. Given Pittsburgh’s improvement, it’s not a foregone conclusion that the Tigers crush the Panthers. Plus, no one has forgotten the last time those teams met.
Here’s a look at where all the conference title game matchups stand…
American: UCF vs. Houston-Memphis winner
ACC: Clemson vs. Pittsburgh
Big 12: If Texas beats Kansas, the Longhorns will face the winner of the West Virginia–Oklahoma game. If the Longhorns lose to Kansas, it gets complicated.
Big Ten: Northwestern vs. Michigan–Ohio State winner
Conference USA: Alabama-Birmingham vs. FIU, Marshall or Middle Tennessee
MAC: Northern Illinois vs. Buffalo or Ohio. Buffalo can clinch the East by beating Bowling Green on Friday. If the Bulls lose and Ohio beats Akron, the Bobcats win the East.
Mountain West: Fresno State vs. Utah State–Boise State winner
Pac-12: Utah vs. Washington–Washington State winner
SEC: Alabama vs. Georgia
Sun Belt: Appalachian State–Troy winner vs. Arkansas State, Louisiana or Louisiana-Monroe
2. Who called Oklahoma State’s upset of West Virginia on Saturday? Why, none other than former Oklahoma State student Gary Busey.
Busey has been helping the Cowboys all season, though. When opposing offenses drive toward Oklahoma State’s giant new video board, they look up to see nothing but Busey’s face.
3. Wyoming lost its starting quarterback and tailback in the first half Saturday but still came back for a 35–27 win against Air Force. And the go-ahead touchdown from Tyler Vander Waal to Austin Conway with 1:09 remaining was a doozy. Conway took a monster hit but still held on for the score. This video from the end zone is tremendous.
What’s Eating Andy?
When you’re a win against Kansas away from the Big 12 title game and you have a message for your haterzzzzzzz...
What’s Andy Eating?
Some ideas are so perfect that we wonder why it took so long for them to take root. Vapor compression refrigeration existed for 179 years before two guys named Rob Robbins and Shane Stanger opened The Baked Bear in San Diego in 2013. The concept was simple and perfect: They serve delicious cookies, and they serve delicious ice cream. You choose two cookies and then you choose an ice cream. They then hand you a giant ice cream sandwich.
In five years, The Baked Bear has expanded to a nine-state empire. My first exposure came last week in Norman, Okla., where a nice young lady guided me through a dizzying array of options. I settled on the Crimson And Cream. The name gave a local touch to something from a semi-national chain. Meanwhile, the combo of soft red velvet cookies and cookies and cream ice cream was something I’d never considered putting together but was immediately glad someone had thought to combine once I took the first bite.
The Baked Bear isn’t the only company offering custom ice cream sandwiches. The wonderful Meatball Shop chain in New York offers similar cookie–ice cream combos for those who want to chase their meatball subs with something sweet. But in a world full of ice cream chains and cookie chains, it’s amazing it took this long for someone to be smart enough to create an ice cream-and-cookie chain. I could write more about the simple beauty of this idea, but I’d rather show you the simple beauty of giant ice cream sandwiches.