Inside Read: After first domino, a look at all likely jobs on coaching carousel
Why Florida will go after a big name head coach
On Monday's SI Now, Sports Illustrated college football writer Andy Staples discusses why the Florida Gators will most likely pick a big name football coach to replace Will Muschamp.
The announcement of Will Muschamp’s exit as Florida’s coach marks the first major domino of the college football coaching carousel. With Michigan expected to fire Brady Hoke in the coming weeks, the two jobs predicted all season to open will be vacant. Here’s a look at what could happen by examining the jobs destined to open and the candidates who may fill them. (Information comes from coaches, agents and athletic officials.)
FLORIDA: Athletic director Jeremy Foley has outsmarted himself twice in hiring off-the-radar coaches for one of college football’s most prominent jobs. Both Ron Zook and Will Muschamp were flops. Foley needs a big name with an offensive pedigree (or a track record of hiring good offensive minds) and someone with extensive head coaching experience. And that’s where it gets tricky.
The first name here is Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. Could he have an itch to leave Norman after 16 years? No one really knows, but it could finally be time. From there, the next names are Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze. After that, the list of experienced head coaches with offensive pedigrees who can handle the spotlight in Gainesville is small. Foley isn’t going to hire Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy. Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez and former NFL coach Mike Shanahan are highly unlikely. And please stop mentioning Steve Spurrier. Don’t be surprised if an outside-the-box candidate emerges, such as TCU’s Gary Patterson. Perhaps there’s some regret from two coaches who had a chance to leave last season but didn’t: UCLA’s Jim Mora Jr. (Texas) and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin (USC)?
• STAPLES: What's next for Will Muschamp, Florida
MICHIGAN: If anyone tells you they know who is getting the Michigan job, don’t believe them. Michigan doesn’t even know who will be firing Brady Hoke or hiring his replacement. Wolverines fans should be rooting for San Francisco to lose, as the 49ers missing the playoffs would perpetuate the notion that Jim Harbaugh could return to his alma mater. It’s still likely Harbaugh stays in the NFL (though probably not in San Francisco), but he’s such a wild card that even he has no idea what he’s going to do. There’s a chance at Michigan, but it’s a slim one. (A key factor is timing, as waiting for Harbaugh would kill the December recruiting period, which is a week shorter this year and ends on Dec. 15. That’s an integral period to shore up the 2015 class and perhaps even more critical for establishing the groundwork for 2016.)
Mullen could end up as the frontrunner here, as he’s the hottest coach. He would have to decide if he wants to leave the SEC. Greg Schiano had a long dance with Michigan while at Rutgers but ultimately turned down the job. He fits their profile for academics, recruiting and style of play. The wildcard name here is Al Golden. He’s on his third athletic director at Miami. Instead of praise from the fan base for enduring the Nevin Shapiro-induced NCAA nuclear winter, he has airplane flyovers calling for his dismissal and former Miami players ripping him on Twitter. His tie-on-the-sideline image would fly much better in Ann Arbor than in Coral Gables. But don’t forget, whoever is hired as athletic director at Michigan will change the whole dynamic.
• FARRAR: Which NFL candidates could replace Florida's Will Muschamp?
ILLINOIS: The end is inevitable for Tim Beckman, and his brutal tenure makes you wonder why Illinois administrators didn’t pull the plug earlier. In the era of expanded leagues, bad jobs like Illinois are now worse. The best thing Illinois has going for it is that it’s in the easier division of the Big Ten, away from Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State.
This could well end up as a coordinator hire, as the school went with the hot MAC coach and bombed last time. Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is the obvious name. But would he rather stay at Michigan State to succeed Mark Dantonio? Marshall’s Doc Holliday has an undefeated team but hasn’t received much buzz. Could his proficiency at recruiting Florida help him land a job in the talent-starved Big Ten? First-year Bowling Green coach Dino Babers crushed it at Eastern Illinois, giving him some familiarity with the recruiting base. The recruiting momentum that Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck has created (see more below) could be intriguing.
Ohio State’s Tom Herman, Clemson’s Chad Morris, Baylor’s Philip Montgomery or Oregon’s Scott Frost could bring a shot of offensive adrenaline to a buzzless program. The tricky question here is whether agents will advise their clients to go to a place that’s been a career sinkhole for many coaches.
INDIANA: Kevin Wilson likely will be fired. The Hoosiers are headed toward their seventh consecutive season without a bowl, and a loss to Ohio State this week will bring their current losing streak to six games. (Only one of those defeats, a 13-7 loss to Penn State, was competitive). Indiana (3-7, 0-6) did beat SEC East leader Missouri this year, but a rash of quarterback injuries and a hapless defense have submarined the Hoosiers.
There’s no obvious candidate here, but Nevada’s Brian Polian interviewed last time and was passed over for his lack of head coaching experience. His energy could give Indiana some momentum. After whiffing with the hot coordinator last time -- Wilson is still considered one of the game’s top offensive coaches -- do the Hoosiers go with an FCS coach or a Division II coach?
On the MAC front, Fleck, Babers and Toledo’s Matt Campbell could be in the mix. Whoever ends up as the MAC champion would boost his candidacy exponentially.
KANSAS: An upset of TCU last week would have done wonders for the candidacy of interim coach Clint Bowen. The close loss didn’t hurt him. Bowen was a star player at Kansas, is beloved by KU boosters and even married a former Miss Kansas. Expect him to be part of the staff even if KU hires a more experienced coach.
Memphis coach Justin Fuente could loom as a top choice, as he has the Tigers on target for a nine-win regular season. In a thin year for mid-major coaches, he should be the hottest candidate. If Kansas casts a wider net, Utah State’s Matt Wells and Air Force’s Troy Calhoun could end up as good fits. Other names expected to be in the mix are Nebraska’s Tim Beck, Ohio State’s Ed Warinner and the usual suspect coordinators like Clemson’s Morris, Ohio State’s Herman and Baylor’s Montgomery. Money will be an issue here, as it would be a surprise if Kansas paid its head coach more than $2 million per season.
SMU: The field has narrowed, and it would be surprising if the Mustangs don’t end up with either Herman or Morris. SMU is looking for a candidate with Texas ties. Herman has strong experience there as an assistant on the college level (Sam Houston State, Texas State and Rice). Morris is one of this generation’s most respected high school coaches there. With the Tulsa job expected to open and Kansas potentially drawing from the same candidate pool, don’t be surprised if SMU acts quickly. Oklahoma coordinator Josh Heupel is a candidate, and Baylor’s Montgomery would also be a good fit.
VIRGINIA: Things are free-falling for Mike London, who at 4-6 needs wins against Miami and Virginia Tech to get bowl eligible. This is an intriguing job because London brought in so much high-end talent. The first name would be Golden, who served as a graduate assistant (1994-96) and a defensive coordinator (2001-05). While it would be a step back from Miami, it may be a better cultural fit for Golden to go somewhere he’s embraced.
Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has the academic pedigree from his days at Stanford and was a finalist at Vanderbilt last year. The Colts have the NFL’s top total offense and passing offense. Morris could also be a fit with his familiarity with the ACC, as he’s long been considered a strong candidate at North Carolina should things continue to go south for Larry Fedora there. (Morris and UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham have a relationship back to their days at Tulsa). Calhoun’s Air Force team is 8-2 and he could end up a darkhorse here, as he’s worked in an academic environment and also knows the league from his time at Wake Forest.
BUFFALO: Athletic director Danny White has been bouncing around the country quietly interviewing candidates since letting Jeff Quinn go in mid-October. The buzz on White’s search is that he’s honed in on an experienced head coach, which would rule out BCS coordinators. (So would finances, quite frankly). Look for White to lure a winning head coach from a lower level to kick start the program after it dipped when Turner Gill departed. Towson coach Rob Ambrose fits White’s profile and took his team to the FCS title game last season. Fordham coach Joe Moorhead knows Buffalo’s recruiting footprint well from his days as UConn’s offensive coordinator, and his high-octane spread offense has quickly turned around his current program.
TROY: Larry Blakeney had a long and successful run at Troy. To replace him, the most obvious candidate to emerge this season is UAB’s Bill Clark. With the future of football at UAB uncertain, Clark could use his 5-5 resuscitation to bounce to a more stable job. His performance this year and career of success in the state of Alabama makes him a logical pick. Other names include Mississippi State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, Texas running backs coach Tommie Robinson (a Troy graduate), Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown (former Troy assistant) and Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr.
TULSA: The Bill Blankenship era is sputtering to an end, as the Golden Hurricane are 2-8. A hot coordinator (Morris, Montgomery, Herman) would fit here. Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, who has strong ties in neighboring Arkansas, could get a look. (His boss, Malzahn, is a former Tulsa offensive coordinator). TCU offensive coordinator Doug Meacham, a former Oklahoma State assistant, could also have a shot. Utah State’s Wells is from Oklahoma and would be a big splash hire if he’s willing to jump. Wells is a former assistant under Steve Kragthorpe, who turned around the program from similar depths.
Sizing up some top candidates
Dan Mullen Mississippi State: As we detailed a few weeks ago, Mullen to Florida is unlikely. It’s clear that Mullen is the hottest candidate in the country, bringing Mississippi State into playoff contention. So where does he go? A lot could depend on whether or not the Bulldogs make the playoff, as Mullen is unlikely to take another job while preparing for that.
P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan: The Broncos are in negotiations to keep Fleck, who has impressed both recruiting and on the field. Western Michigan is 7-3 and tied atop the MAC West with a 5-1 record. He could be a candidate for some low-level Power 5 jobs like Illinois, Kansas or Indiana (if it opens). Fleck brought in the highest rated recruiting class in MAC history last year and has Western Michigan at No. 58 in the recruiting rankings this year, ahead of Cal, Kansas State and Colorado.
Brian Kelly, Notre Dame: There’s little chance that Kelly leaves Notre Dame for another college job, especially with 19 of 22 starters slated to return next season (20 if you include KeiVarae Russell, who could be the nation’s top cornerback). Why move to rebuild at a Florida if there’s a chance to thrive immediately in South Bend? It’s widely believed Kelly’s next move is to a high-end NFL franchise. Notre Dame is still his best platform for that.
Jim McElwain, Colorado State: Too inexperienced for Florida, and Michigan just flopped with the hot Mountain West coach. McElwain has a buyout of $7.5 million, and there doesn’t appear to be an obvious fit now, but things could change. A Montana native, McElwain likes it out West, but no Pac-12 jobs are expected to open.
Greg Schiano: Don’t expect him to go to a school that can’t someday contend for a national title. He’s getting paid for one more year after getting fired in Tampa Bay, so he can afford to be picky. He’d also have a chance to return to the NFL as a head coach or coordinator. He nearly took the Michigan job before Rich Rodriguez got it, and Florida was interested in him before Urban Meyer decided to return in 2009.
Matt Wells, Utah State: He’s been impressive this season as the Aggies have won despite losing nine starters to injuries and were forced to go with their fourth-string quarterback. He’s a strong recruiter, has a magnetic personality and is earning a reputation as a magician for having this team 8-3 (5-1 in the Mountain West).
Justin Fuente, Memphis: He and Wells fall into the same category -- mid-major coaches who lack an obvious landing spot but could end up somewhere if a Power 5 coach skips to a place like Florida or Michigan. (Fuente would be a logical choice at Ole Miss or Mississippi State). Fuente will be a hot name after turning around Memphis, which is 7-3. Being a former Gary Patterson assistant at TCU also will help, as the Horned Frogs’ success makes him an easy sell. If Patterson leaves, he’d be among the first phone calls.
Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern: The hottest Sun Belt candidate is Fritz, who has Georgia Southern 7-0 and has a terrific track record as a head coach at Blinn Junior College (39-5-1), Central Missouri (97-47) and Sam Houston State (40-15). He may be too loyal to leave after one season, but his success at multiple stops and different levels has athletic directors intrigued.
Read more at link