South Carolina, Missouri, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Iowa State.
The sheer volume of established, speculated and eminently probable coaching vacancies has the college football world buzzing.
Southern California, Maryland, Hawaii, Louisiana-Monroe, North Texas.
UPDATE: You can now definitely add UGA to that list, as well
When the smoke finally clears on the 2015 season, the college game could be looking at a range of 13-17 advertised openings among the 128 FBS programs — a stunning turnover rate of approximately 12 percent.
Miami (Florida), UCF, Tulane … and maybe, just maybe Colorado, Texas?
As such, who needs the adrenaline rush from the retail-oriented Black Friday or Cyber Monday … when the next two days of breaking-news bits, coach/agent denials and booster-led buyouts could ignite a firestorm of activity among certain schools, as these powers-that-be scramble to compete in the ultimate game of Coaching Music Chairs.
Yes, the time-honored notion of brazenly casting aside a once-popular, but now flailing head coach — as a means of finding the next guy who’ll take your beloved program to new championship heights — sounds pretty great, huh?
It’s a foolproof plan, and one that’s long overdue?
PROCEED WITH CAUTION
Fifteen FBS schools were referenced in the above section, meaning that 15 athletic programs may be frenetically working behind the scenes right now — talking to coaching agents, establishing back-channel communications — to find their next coach.
And unlike previous years … as fast as humanly possible.
Yes, outside of Southern California and maybe South Carolina, the other schools are essentially racing against the clock to identify, interview and hire the next coach, knowing it’ll be an expensive venture … and how the pool of highly qualified candidates may be less than the number of tangible openings.
In other words, a good number of mid-tier schools will come away disappointed from this coaching-carousel ride. As Exhibits A and B for this rationale, look to the Minnesota and Illinois from the Big Ten:
The Gophers quickly removed the “interim” label from Tracy Claeys’ job title (in October), in the wake of Claeys replacing longtime head coach Jerry Kill (retired for medical reasons); and the Fighting Illini — who booted Tim Beckman back in August — have inked interim head coach Bill Cubit a two-year extension.
On the surface, these moves don’t seem to be connected. But given the inordinate number of national openings this fall/winter, it’s very likely Minnesota and Illinois opted for short-term stability over potential long-term greatness — assuming the Gophers and Fighting Illini even had a beat on finding the NEXT Urban Meyer, James Franklin or Hugh Freeze.
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
Eight years ago, a quirky site called “CoachesHotSeat.com” popped up on the Web with a ton of useful links, including the requisite listing of “Top 100 Assistants Coaches,” a countdown which presumably factored in these up-and-comers’ viability as head coaches down the line.
In hindsight, it’s interesting to peruse the coaches who dominated the list … and those who toiled near the bottom:
#7 — Jimbo Fisher (2007 gig: Florida State offensive coordinator/head coach-in-waiting)
#17 — Brent Venables (2007: Oklahoma defensive coordinator)
#20 — Gus Malzahn (2007: Tulsa O-coordinator)
#23 — Dan Mullen (2007: Florida O-coordinator)
#26 — Charlie Strong (2007: Florida D-coordinator)
#34 — Chip Kelly (2007: Oregon O-coordinator)
#35 — Paul Chryst (2007: Wisconsin O-coordinator)
#46 — Mike Bobo (2007: UGA O-coordinator)
#49 — Doc Holliday (2007: West Virginia tight ends/fullbacks coach)
#54 — John Chavis (2007: Tennessee D-coordinator)
#56 — James Franklin (2007: Maryland O-coordinator)
#69 — Bryan Harsin (2007: Boise State O-coordinator)
#70 — Jeff Brohm (2007: Louisville O-coordinator)
#91 — Mark Helfrich (2007: Colorado O-coordinator)
#100 — David Shaw (2007: Stanford O-coordinator)
#1 — Norm Chow (head-coaching legacy: recently fired at Hawaii after 10-36 record)
#5 — Mike Locksley (head-coaching legacy: fired at New Mexico after 2-26 mark)
#12 — Joker Phillips (head-coaching legacy: fired at Kentucky after three years — 13-24)
#36 — Danny Hope (head-coaching legacy: fired after four so-so seasons at Purdue)
#38 — Steve Sarkisian (head-coaching legacy: abruptly fired at Southern California in 2015 for ‘conduct’ reasons)
#60 — John Blake (legacy: floundered as Oklahoma’s head coach; show-cause penalty as an assistant at North Carolina)
#81 — Ron English (head-coaching legacy: fired from Eastern Michigan for conduct reasons)
Fast forward to the present: Head coaches Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M), Tom Herman (Houston), Dan Mullen (Mississippi State), Justin Fuente (Memphis), Dino Babers (Bowling Green), Jeff Brohm (Western Kentucky) and top-notch assistants like Brent Venables (Clemson defensive coordinator) appear to be hottest properties among the college ranks. And if you throw Greg Schiano (former NFL/college head coach) and Chip Kelly (Philadelphia Eagles head coach) into the mix, at first blush, it appears the larger programs could all come away happy with their respective searches.
But by the rub: It’s likely that half of the above names will simply use their “hot” status as leverage tactics for more money and more power at their current schools. (Note: Fuente has reportedly agreed to succeed legendary coach Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech.) And regarding the enigmatic Kelly — who oversaw Oregon’s rise to prominence a few years ago, before moving on to the NFL — he seems like the perfect candidate for either USC or Miami (Florida).
However, the college world has rapidly assimilated to up-tempo offensive attacks — prominently featured at Oregon, Baylor, Ole Miss — suggesting Kelly might not be so avant-garde in his next college leap.
Whenever that may be.
THE OLD BATON ROUGE FLIP-FLOP
From 1977-99, LSU incurred six seasons of four wins or less — but only five campaigns of nine or more victories.
From 2000-04, the Nick Saban era in Baton Rouge, La., the Tigers averaged 9.6 victories per year, claimed two SEC titles and captured one BCS national championship (2003 season).
And then from 2005-14, LSU head coach Les Miles averaged 10.3 wins per season, collected two SEC titles and led the Tigers to the BCS national championship in 2007. (In the modern era, Miles owns the program’s highest winning percentage.)
What are we missing here? Why such angst from the LSU faithful, in terms of initially nudging Miles out the door? Four weeks ago, the 7-0 Tigers stood proudly at No. 2 in the inaugural College Football Playoff rankings and trumpeted the Heisman Trophy front-runner (Leonard Fournette — seven consecutive outings of 150-plus rushing yards); but an untimely three-game losing streak (versus Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss) curtailed the notions of a national title or major-bowl bid.
The Tigers’ abrupt exodus from the national-title picture has been devastating, for sure; but it also shouldn’t be a long-term deterrent — given how LSU remains awash in blue-chip underclassmen (potential top-five ranking in August 2016). Also, according to reports, LSU could have the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class come Signing Day (early February). The state of Louisiana has an amazing track record of producing high-level players at the college and NFL levels — including Peyton Manning, Marshall Faulk, Odell Beckham Jr., Eli Manning, Terry Bradshaw, among others.
Plus, as the above yearly breakdown from 1977-99 indicated, it’s not like the Tigers were annual locks for 10 or 11 wins and/or national-championship contention before the Saban and Miles eras took shape. Heck, even the 1981 LSU squad had a consensus top-10 ranking in preseason circles … only to end up with a 3-7-1 mark.
Which brings us back to Miles: In one respect, it was mind-blowing that a number of LSU boosters were prepared to raise roughly $20 million, as a means of buying out the 11-year head coach and his assistants. (Check out Kirk Herbstreit’s comments on the matter.) On the other hand, it demonstrated the program’s desire to keep up with the Joneses in the SEC, relative to the annual Playoff hunt.
And by “Joneses,” we’re talking about Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide … since the College Football Playoff committee prefers the notion of only conference champions in both national semifinals.
LSU’s obsession with Alabama almost led to one of the most baffling coaching changes in recent years. Yes, the Tigers have fallen to the Crimson Tide five consecutive times (including the BCS national championship in January 2012), but Miles also stands as only one of two SEC head coaches (along with Hugh Freeze) to defeat Saban multiple times, during his decorated tenure at Alabama (three SEC titles/three national championships from 2007-14).
So, how did Miles go from “likely out the door” to “he’ll continue to be our coach” in a matter of days, nee, hours? Let’s see, when connecting the dots … it’s amazing how appealing Miles became to LSU officials — once Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher (a former Tigers assistant) reportedly pledged his long-term loyalty to the Seminoles.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.