The coaching carousel spins more like a Gravitron than a merry-go-round in 2015. Openings in the SEC, Pac-12 and two in the Big Ten promise more reshuffling than 2011 — and it’s only Oct. 12.
Steve Spurrier’s immediately retirement from South Carolina Monday, first reported and by Sports Illustrated, makes five vacancies opened since the first week of this season. USC’s firing of Steve Sarkisian, announced just a few hours earlier, made for four. The first midseason casualties, Maryland’s Randy Edsall and North Texas’ Dan McCarney, joined Illinois’ Tim Beckman, released days before the season opener.
That’s four Power Five conference openings and a high-potential Conference USA program looking for head coaches, a month-and-a-half ahead of the typical coaching carousel season.
Meanwhile, the seats of head coaches Al Golden, Darrell Hazell and Mike London at Miami, Purdue and Virginia only get hotter. Rutgers’ athletic department in disarray has yet to take action on suspended head coach Kyle Flood, though a move seems inevitable.
And what of UCF? George O’Leary helped the Knights scratch the surface of their lofty potential, but could the architect of the program endure an 0-12 season? It’s a very real possibility, and O’Leary’s resignation as interim athletic director Monday could be a prelude of changes to come.
Before UCF, Fresno State was a pace-setter among the non-power resource conferences. Leader of Fresno State’s landmark teams in the early 2000s, Pat Hill, was on a short leash before his ouster in 2011. Successor Tim DeRuyter is in the midst of a disastrous season; would Fresno State, a program with Top 25 potential, seek to buy out his remaining contract, which is highest in the Mountain West Conference?
This year’s coaching carousel promises unpredictability in part because of the variety of jobs already open. Illinois and Maryland are lower-tier Power Five jobs, but have potential as consistent winners with occasional peak seasons of 10 or 11 wins. Think Arizona when it hired Rich Rodriguez in 2011.
South Carolina had remarkable, recent success under Spurrier, but that’s the essential qualifier. The Gamecocks lacked much tradition or track record of success prior to the Head Ball Coach’s arrival.
The combination of Spurrier and the SEC set high expectations for a historically difficult job. And speaking of expectations, USC is the most prominent job likely to be open this cycle, but also comes with the highest standard from fans and boosters.
The coaching carousel’s RPM will ramp up further by Thanksgiving weekend, when some of these vacancies begin to be filled, thus creating more.
Some of the key names to know have already been bounced around media of both the traditional and social varieties.
Power Five Coaches
Some Power Five head coaches seeking a step up in prominence, resources and pay will get their chance. Boston College’s Steve Addazio has an offensive background, yet coaches with a hard-nosed philosophy that would play well in a program known for defense.
Gary Patterson has TCU competing at a national championship level, is situated in a recruiting hotbed and enjoys more job security than all but a select handful of head coaches. That doesn’t mean his name won’t come up plenty in the coming weeks, however.
Patterson’s contemporary in the rise from non-power standard-bearer to title hopeful in a big league, Kyle Whittingham, has quickly become a favored name in the USC rumor mill.
Patterson and Whittingham would be the two biggest names kicked around, were it not for the annual Bob Stoops suggestion.
Group of Five Coaches
Bowling Green’s Dino Babers and Memphis’ Justin Fuente, two coaches I am quite high on, will be two of the most popular names to surface from Group of Five programs.
Houston’s Tom Herman is another, as much for his time as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator as for his undefeated first half-season as head coach at Houston.
P.J. Fleck’s high energy is infectious. He’s a rising star in college football and bound for success beyond Western Michigan whenever he so chooses. This reshuffling season could be his time.
Louisiana-Lafayette’s Mark Hudspeth has long been an attractive option, though news of an NCAA investigation into major infractions at ULLA — boy, did that fly under the radar Monday — might take away some of his allure.
Alabama has two of my personal favorites in Kirby Smart and Mario Cristobal, though Lane Kiffin is sure to pique interest somewhere in this process.
Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost may not be the hot prospect he was a year ago given the Ducks’ current struggles, but he could be a steal for a Group of Five team a la Justin Fuente. Given the Oregon program’s ties to Texas, North Texas strikes me as an intriguing prospective suitor.
Michigan’s remarkable defensive run under coordinator D.J. Durkin has to earn him some looks. Given how the last Jim Harbaugh colleague has fared in a head coaching gig, that has to bode well for Durkin’s long-term prospects.
And then there’s Virginia Tech’s Bud Foster. The mastermind of the Hokies many outstanding defenses has to get a head coaching gig at some point…right? He may be destined for the vacancy in Blacksburg — whenever that comes.
Popular opinion suggests Philadelphia’s current struggles destine Chip Kelly for a return to the collegiate ranks. He seems an odd fit for USC, and Miami (if it’s in the market) almost assuredly cannot meet his price tag.
Other NFL names will get media play in association with the USC gig, specifically Trojan alumni Jack Del Rio and Jeff Fisher. I don’t see either being any more likely now than two years ago, but both are more realistic than Jon Gruden.
The annual mention of Gruden as a college football coaching candidate is beyond laughable. Alas, someone will earnestly entertain it. Laugh at this someone.
On the topic of laughing, the only guaranteed winners of the coaching carousel season will be laughing all the way to the bank.
These winners? In-demand coaches who can name their extension price at their current programs, and their agents.