The college football season is halfway over and already there are nine vacant head coaching positions in the FBS: Illinois, Maryland, Miami, Minnesota, North Texas, South Carolina, Virginia Tech, UCF, and USC.
We usually associate the dismissal of a head coach with performance on the field, but this year has been marked by several off the field incidents. Illinois fired Tim Beckman days before the season started over allegations that he mistreated players and forced them to play with severe injuries
.USC fired Coach Steve Sarkisian after he allegedly showed up to practice intoxicated; this came weeks after a video of an intoxicated Sarkisian at an alumni dinner popped up on the internet. Finally, Jerry Kill stepped down as coach of Minnesota this past week citing health concerns. Kill, diagnosed with epilepsy, has a history of seizures and even suffered one on the sidelines in 2013.
The Head Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, controversially resigned midseason from South Carolina after the Gamecocks got off to a 2-4 start. After an abysmal 0-8 start, George O’Leary finally stepped down as UCF’s head coach two weeks after previously stepping down as Athletic Director.
Due to leaks in the Athletic Department, rumors of Randy Edsall’s dismissal swirled around the Maryland program for a week before he was finally fired after a loss against Ohio State. Two blowouts led to the ousting of Al Golden from Miami (58-0 against Clemson) and Dan McCarney from North Texas (a 66-7 loss to FCS opponent Portland State).
On November 1, Frank Beamer announced that he will retire from Virginia Tech at the end of the season, ending one of the greatest runs in college football.
With this many openings at big time programs, the coaching carousel will already be in full swing by December. Many are already predicting that jobs at Kansas State, Rutgers, and Virginia will open up too. Until these positions actually open up, here’s how I’d rank the available head coaching jobs.
1) USC– I don’t see how anyone could not have USC number 1. This program brings in elite talent every year, regardless of the coach. California is one of, if not the best state for college prospects, and year after year USC sends guys to the NFL. USC has great tradition and prestige (the Coliseum, national championships, Heisman Trophy winners, etc.) and is definitely the football team in Los Angeles (sorry but not sorry UCLA). The negative here is the administration. Athletic Director Pat Haden has mismanaged the hiring and firing of two coaches in the past five years, has recently had some health scares that forced him to resign from the College Football Playoff Committee, and now faces backlash from a LA Times article about his numerous “side jobs” on numerous boards. If Haden, or better yet USC’s president C.L. Max Nikias, can hire the right guy, USC can be an immediate national championship contender with its loaded roster. Leading candidates- Clay Helton (current interim coach), Chip Kelly (Philadelphia Eagles HC) Kyle Whittingham (Utah HC), Brian Kelly (Notre Dame HC), Jeff Fisher (St. Louis Rams HC)
2) Virginia Tech– What else can be said about Frank Beamer? Sure he might have stayed a little too long, but Virginia Tech has always been a dangerous team under his watch. Just ask Ohio State in 2014. This has been the dominant program in the mid-Atlantic for decades and there’s no reason that shouldn’t change with a new head coach. The fan base is very loyal, and the Hokies play in the Coastal division (insert joke here), so the path to an ACC championship is not terribly tough. Virginia Tech has always been able to bring in great players, especially on the defensive side of the ball, so recruiting won’t be an issue either. The main thing here is continuity of philosophy: tough defense, excellent special teams play, and an offense that makes just enough plays. Leading Candidates– Bud Foster (longtime Virginia Tech DC), Justin Fuente (Memphis HC), Kirby Smart (Alabama DC)
3) South Carolina– This amazing fan base has grown accustomed to winning and they don’t expect anything less, especially in an SEC East that has been down since 2009. Regardless of what the next coach does, Steve Spurrier will go down as the greatest coach in South Carolina history. Spurrier was able to bring elite talent into Columbia (Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney, Alshon Jeffery) and he won eleven games for three years in a row! The problem with South Carolina though is that their bitter rival, Clemson, seems to have finally kicked the “Clemsoning” bug and looks like a legit juggernaut. But because this is the SEC, South Carolina will have almost no problem affording a new coach and staff. They just need to make sure they get someone who can competitively recruit in the talent rich southeast. Leading candidates Kirby Smart, Lane Kiffin (Alabama OC), Shawn Elliot (current interim HC), Mark Dantonio (Michigan State HC and South Carolina alum)
4) Maryland– the talk is always about how Maryland should be a better job than it actually is. This program is backed by Under Armor (similar to how Nike backs Oregon), is in the middle of a great recruiting zone (the Washington D.C. area), and has now joined a conference that with a storied football tradition and suits its academic requirements (the Big Ten). Randy Edsall wasn’t a terrible coach; he probably overachieved at UConn, and then parlayed that into a better job at Maryland. This is a good job, someone just needs to make it prove it. Leading candidates– Chip Kelly (Philadelphia Eagles HC), Jeremy Pruitt (Georgia DC), Tom Herman (Houston HC), Greg Schiano (former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Bucs HC)
5) UCF– this team is a disaster only two years removed from a shocking Fiesta Bowl victory against Baylor. But that team had future first round draft picks Blake Bortles and Breshad Perriman. Now UCF is 0-8 and is fighting with Kansas to go down as one of the worst teams in college football. But as George O’Leary proved, this program can win if it gets the right players and coached by competent people. UCF has the largest student body in the nation, is located in Orlando (hello Disney and Universal), and should always be able to pick up players passed over by FSU and Florida. Leading candidates– Jeremy Pruitt (Georgia DC), Mario Cristobal (Alabama OL coach)
6) Miami– I’m sorry Miami fans, this is no longer The U. Miami has not won a conference title since 2003, and since moving to the ACC Coastal division (possibly the worst Power Five division in college football) has a 48-44 conference record (including this season’s shellacking at the hands of Clemson and a controversial win against Duke). Miami cannot spend a whole lot of money on a coach, and whoever takes this job will have to coach in an empty stadium a half hour away from campus (not that fans would show up to games if there was an on campus stadium) and have a multitude of former players breathing down his neck and criticizing his every move. The only positives to this job are the abundant amount of elite players in the Miami area and the overall weakness of the ACC. Leading Candidates- Lane Kiffin, Butch Davis (former Miami HC), Greg Schiano, Mario Cristobal
7) Minnesota– Jerry Kill did a marvelous job making this program competitive, but I’m not sure the next guy will be able to continue it. The Golden Gophers haven’t had that much national or conference success since the early 1960s. They play in the weaker West division of the Big Ten, but this team still has to compete with the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. Whoever gets this job should focus on developing his players rather than trying to recruit elite talent to St. Paul and Minneapolis. As long as the team remains competitive in the Big Ten West, the fan base and administration can’t complain. But before a coach can be hired, Minnesota has to also find a new AD. Leading candidates- Tracy Claeys (interim HC), Justin Fuente (Memphis HC)
8) Illinois– the Fighting Illini had a great run to the Rose Bowl in 2008 under Ron Zook, but since then has only been to three bowl games. The only team in the Big Ten that Illinois has a winning record against is Northwestern (FYI, Northwestern is not historically good at football). When Illinois has a good team, they compete for the Big Ten and go to a major bowl game, but these teams come around once every decade. The football team will never be as competitive as the basketball program and overall this is an average to below average program every year that cannot compete with the powers in the Big Ten. Leading Candidates- PJ Fleck (Western Michigan HC)
9) North Texas– North Texas lost at home 66-7 to Portland State. That tells your everything you need to know about the Mean Green. Leading Candidates– anyone who can go 1-11 every year and not feel too bad about it.
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Cover Photo Credit: A Syn/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)