The coaching carousel is in full swing, and seven major college football jobs are currently open.
We've already seen a few big chips fall in the 2017 edition of the carousel.
UCLA beat out Florida for former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, in his long-anticipated return to college football. Florida followed that up by hiring Dan Mullen away from Mississippi State. Both moves have been lauded, which probably makes Tennessee pretty jealous. The Vols had their man—Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano—until fan backlash led athletic director John Currie to pull out of the agreement.
Who will land at Tennessee and the other top jobs now? Here are my best guesses.
Todd Graham went 7-6 (6-3), finishing second in the Pac-12 South and beating archrival Arizona after being projected to finish fifth in the division by the media. It wasn't the best season that Graham's had at ASU, considering his back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2013 and 2014, but it was an improvement on the two-straight losing seasons since then. Still, it wasn't enough for him to save his job.
Almost immediately, rumors that Arizona State would hire Kevin Sumlin emerged, but those have died down as of late. It would be interesting for the school to hire a coach who was fired from Texas A&M under very similar circumstances as Graham at ASU.
Athletic director Ray Anderson has an interesting background, with a ton of NFL experience. He's also a Stanford alumnus. Both of those should make him very familiar with former Stanford and current Michigan offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. The 43-year old has been rising in the coaching ranks for years, coming from the Jim Harbaugh/David Shaw coaching tree. He doesn't have head coaching experience yet, but he has plenty of Pac-12 experience, and the Stanford style could actually prove to be a change of pace in the South division.
Arkansas's best run in recent memory was with Bobby Petrino at the helm. Obviously, that tenure collapsed in rather ignominious fashion, but it shows that the Razorbacks are not afraid to take on some baggage for success in the SEC West, at least until that baggage falls off of a motorcycle on the side of the highway with an intern.
Mike Leach definitely has some baggage of his own, but it is more about being prickly and eccentric, and having a never-ending crusade against his former employer, Texas Tech. He's probably not going to get into the same type of trouble that Petrino did, and he can really coach an offense. Washington State is one of the most difficult jobs in the Power Five, with no natural recruiting base, tough local rivals, and a deep division. Arkansas has some obstacles, namely the SEC West, but fewer than Wazzu, and likely more resources. With Leach ally Bill Moos taking the athletic director job at Nebraska earlier this season, it seems pretty likely that he could be on the move as well, and his brand of offense would definitely be a change of pace from the Bret Bielema era.
Mississippi State is in a tough spot. The Bulldogs are one of the toughest jobs in arguably the toughest division in the sport, and Dan Mullen was viewed as a savior for averaging just under eight wins a year and making a bowl annually. Following that up while facing Alabama, Auburn, and LSU on an annual basis won't be easy.
Mullen won by developing quarterbacks like Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald, and one would assume that MSU will want to keep that trend going on offense. Neal Brown, currently the head coach at Troy, doesn't run the same system as Mullen, but it is still a very modern offense that he has thrived with over the last two seasons. After a 4-8 season his first year as head coach, the Trojans have gone 19-5 over the last two years, including a win at LSU this fall.
For a while it looked like Nebraska alumnus Scott Frost might be the guy at Florida instead of his alma mater, but the Gators wound up with Mullen. Frost would reportedly not deal with a new job until after UCF's season is over, and his Knights are undefeated poised to play in a New Year's Six bowl. Nebraska may be more willing to wait for him than the Gators were. It seemed rocky for a bit there, but with Florida out of the way and Nebraska desperate to compete at the top of the Big Ten, this fit seems desperate to happen.
This may be the hire that seems farthest along, though it isn't official yet. Beau Baldwin, Cal's offensive coordinator in 2017 and the former head coach at FCS powerhouse Eastern Washington, was reportedly the guy, but Oregon State appears to still be on the hunt after denying reports that it had an agreement in place. The Oregonian's John Canzano thinks the school may be considering some of the big names that have come available in recent days:
But if I'm reading the tea leaves, Barnes probably knows he can land Baldwin and is spending his time now sorting through some other options. The timing, after the regular season in college football wrapped up, tells me that he's probably talking with a coach or two who are sitting head coaches.
Maybe Oregon State could go get a big name. Most people didn't expect Gary Andersen to leave Big Ten power Wisconsin for the Beavers a few years ago, so there is precedent, though Andersen's sudden resignation this year proves that he's a very different guy. Oregon State is a tough job that most big coaches probably wouldn't flock to. Baldwin's experience in the Pacific Northwest and now the Pac-12 makes him a good fit, and this just feels like it should work out.
Once upon a time, Tennessee was a national powerhouse and a national championship contender.Since then, Peyton Manning played an entire, lengthy NFL career, we've seen a number of huge phases of conference realignment, and Alabama has done an impressive job of consolidating power in the SEC with Nick Saban at the helm.
Even without the fan backlash, Greg Schiano would have been a strange hire here, especially with the money that the school is reportedly willing to throw around. Tennessee is now courting Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy, which would be a big-time hire, but would he really leave for that job. He reportedly turned down Florida already this year. The Gators have a much better situation than the Vols in 2017.
It is unclear how much damage the Schiano situation has done to the attractiveness of Tennessee's opening in the short term, but even before this fiasco, the job was not an easy one. Tennessee combines a lot of history and a clearly rabid, desperate fan base with a tough recruiting situation by SEC standards, and the need for comparison to Alabama on an annual basis. Not everyone is going to be up to that. That's why there is thought that Tennessee may need to keep it in the family, and USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin fits the bill. The former national championship winning Vols quarterback is a legend at the school, but has crossed the country as an assistant, and built a reputation as an elite recruiter at USC. Without head coaching experience, he's definitely a risk, but he's a Tennessee guy and probably has pretty high upside, compared to some of the other guys UT can land, and certainly compared to Schiano.
Kevin Sumlin won a bunch of games at Texas A&M, but hanging around the eight-win mark apparently doesn't cut it in College Station. All of the rumors for this job have centered on Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher, and admittedly, I don't totally get it. On paper, A&M does fill many of the holes that the Florida State job has. The Aggies will back up the truck for Fisher, and have some of the best facilities in the country. However, the expectations are not getting any lower at A&M. The program wants a national championship that it hasn't won since 1939, while Fisher has already proven that he can do that in Tallahassee.
My instincts tell me that Fisher is using this as leverage to get a big new deal from Florida State, but what if the Seminoles aren't willing to bump him up from the $5.7 million that he already makes, good for sixth-highest in the sport, after what could be a losing season? Again, I don't totally get it, but there is so much smoke around this Fisher-to-A&M story that it actually seems real. And if it does, another one of the biggest jobs in the sport opens right back up, and the carousel keeps on spinning.