Who will be taking over the biggest jobs in college football when they next open? I take my best guesses.
While it was a longer ride than usual, thanks to the abrupt recent retirement of Bob Stoops, the coaching carousel has come to a halt... for now.
Where it seems like every coach used to get four years and a full recruiting cycle to figure things out now, things have changed a lot over the last few years. The game is changing, coaches are getting younger and more innovative, and some teams have looked outside of the box at less traditional candidates.
A number of the top jobs in the sport, like LSU, Oklahoma, and Texas, have filled very recently. Unless they flames out in a huge way, it seems pretty unlikely that Tom Herman or Lincoln Riley are going anywhere any time soon. However, in the spirit of fun, I've gone through and predicted the next coach for many of the sport's top programs.
Here are my educated guesses. Some of these seem like pretty good bets, while others are wild cards.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Next coach: Dabo Swinney; Current job: Clemson head coach
Dabo is an Alabama football alumnus, he's right in his coaching prime, he and Nick Saban seem to have a good relationship (and a budding coaching rivalry), oh...and he's emerged as one of the best coaches in the sport. I have no idea how much time Saban plans on coaching—it doesn't seem like he's in a rush to retire, and is probably energized by the loss to Swinney's Tigers in January—but whenever that time comes, Dabo will likely be the odds-on favorite to replace him
Next head coach: Blake Anderson; Current job: Arkansas State head coach
Arkansas is a pretty unique spot within the SEC. The state produces talent, but not at the level of places like Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana. The school will want someone who knows how to navigate the state's top schools and coaches, and Anderson has done a great job through three years with the Red Wolves, in which he's gone 24-15 and reached three bowl games. Anderson is a Jonesboro native, which certainly doesn't hurt either.
Next head coach: Mike Norvell; Current job: Memphis head coach
Justin Fuente transformed Memphis football, and Mike Norvell seems to be doing an excellent job of maintaining that progress, with what was a moribund program for a very long time. While he doesn't have SEC experience, Norvell did attend Central Arkansas, and has had to familiarize himself with the region as Tigers head coach. He also runs one of the nation's most explosive offenses. If Auburn doesn't try to make the move towards a more defensive approach, in the event that it fires Gus Malzahn, Norvell should be ready for a big job like this pretty soon.
Next head coach: Brent Venables; Current job: Clemson defensive coordinator
If Dabo leaves, there's a good chance that Clemson will want to maintain momentum by promoting his top assistant. Brent Venables, Clemson's 46-year old DC, has been one of the nation's top defensive coordinators for a long time, outside of a rough stretch during the end of his Oklahoma tenure. There's a chance that other big schools come calling before Swinney leaves, if that ever happens, but Venables seems very content with the Tigers.
Next head coach: Jedd Fisch; Current job: UCLA offensive coordinator
Jim McElwain has only been at Florida for a few years, and with back-to-back SEC East titles under his belt, it doesn't seem like he's going anywhere. That's why I like Fisch, a Florida alumnus and up-and-coming offensive coordinator, here. Fisch has Florida roots, as a former Gator player and grad assistant and former offensive coordinator at Miami. Since, he has been with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Michigan, and he is now at UCLA. He's compiling quite the résumé.
Florida State Seminoles Next head coach: Willie Taggart; Current job: Oregon head coach
Taggart landed a huge job this off-season after engineering a turnaround at South Florida over the last few years, taking over at Oregon after the program let go Mark Helfrich. He's shown the ability to succeed all over, with a stint under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and many years as an assistant and head coach at Western Kentucky. As his recruiting shows, even at Oregon, he is a Florida guy, though. The Sunshine State is where he is most comfortable pulling talent from, and while Oregon has crazy resources, the chance to take over a program like Florida State might be enough to pry him away. I doubt Jimbo Fisher is leaving any time soon, but if he does, and Taggart has continued his success at Oregon, this would be an inspired hire.
GeorgiaBulldogsNext head coach: Mike Bobo; Current job: Colorado State head coach
Georgia fans may not love this one on paper, because Bobo's play calling often drew ire from his days as UGA's offensive coordinator under Mark Richt. Outside of Richt, no one has the history at Georgia that Bobo did, and if Kirby Smart fails, the Dawgs may like the idea of bringing back a bit of Richt's tenure to Athens. He's also done a nice job in replacing McElwain and Colorado State, and could be looking at a breakout year in 2017-18.
Iowa HawkeyesNext head coach: Mark Stoops; Current job: Kentucky head coach
The Stoops family has roots at Iowa, and with Bob Stoops retired (and likely shooting a bit hire if he comes back), his brother could be a good option for the Hawkeyes if they want another potential long-term coach. Kirk Ferentz's tenure hasn't been perfect, but it has given the school a ton of stability. Stoops has recruited well during his tenure at Kentucky, and has started to make a slight dent against some SEC rivals, tying for second place in the East last season.
Louisville CardinalsNext head coach: Jeff Brohm; Current job: Purdue head coach
This one may be too on the nose, but sometimes these coaching moves work out that way. Brohm served as offensive coordinator under then-Western Kentucky head coach Bobby Petrino for a year, taking over when Petrino left to coach Louisville for the second time. He turned the Hilltoppers into one of college football's most explosive offenses. He has his work cut out for him at Purdue, but the hire has received high marks. Brohm is a Louisville native and alumnus, and was an assistant with the Cardinals from 2003-08.
Next head coach: Larry Fedora; Current job: North Carolina head coach
Fedora has turned North Carolina into one of the strongest teams in the sub-Clemson and Florida State level of the ACC, taking over a program mired in NCAA issues and finding great success. Fedora knows how to coach offense, and in particular, is a strong developer of quarterback talent. While Ed Orgeron has said the right things at LSU so far, and made an inspired OC hire in Matt Canada, if he is replaced, odds are LSU will want to go for a big offensive name.
Next head coach: P.J. Fleck; Current job: Minnesota head coach
Fleck has spent most of his career in the Midwest, with brief stops at Rutgers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but this just feels like a stylistic fit. Miami football, at its peak, was one of the most fun programs in the country, and no coach in college football is more fun than Fleck. He's also had a ton of success, turning an awful 1-11 Western Michigan team into a 13-1 program in just four years. I could see him thriving in Coral Gables.
Next head coach: Pep Hamilton; Current job: Michigan assistant head coach/passing game coordinator
When Harbaugh left Stanford, the program promoted David Shaw, who has kept the Cardinal at the top of the Pac-12. Harbaugh could wind up staying at Michigan for decades, or he could leave for the NFL in a year or two; neither would be very surprising. He has built an impressive staff at Michigan, and Hamilton, who was at Stanford under Harbaugh and Shaw, is on a similar trajectory. If Harbaugh leaves in the next couple of years, and Hamilton hasn't taken a head job elsewhere, he could be a great long-term fit.
Michigan State Spartans
Next head coach: Pat Narduzzi; Current job: Pitt head coach
Narduzzi developed a reputation as one of college football's top defensive coaches while at Michigan State under Mark Dantonio. While his early Pitt teams have been more well-known for their offenses, it would be a surprise if he doesn't get the defense turned around in the next few seasons. Ultimately, Narduzzi feels like the right heir to Dantonio at Michigan State, and whenever his former boss leaves, he should be one of the first calls made.
Nebraska CornhuskersNext head coach: Scott Frost; Current job: UCF head coach
Another obvious pick that has been thrown around for years, perhaps more than any other connection short of Swinney to Alabama. Frost has an impressive first year at UCF, Nebraska's Mike Riley had a nice second year in Lincoln but is an older coach. The timelines here just seem to match up very well, for Frost to potentially take over his alma mater after proving himself at the AAC level.
Notre Dame Fighting IrishNext head coach: Urban Meyer; Current job: Ohio State head coach
Meyer has one of the best jobs in college football, and seems extremely happy in Columbus. That didn't stop him from leaving Florida seven years ago, although things seem far more stable for Meyer now than in 2010. Still, he has called Notre Dame a dream job in the past, and while dreams can certainly change, returning the Irish to their former glory would cement him as one of the greatest coaches of all time. Notre Dame is also one of the only schools that could probably back up the truck and win a bidding war for a guy like Meyer.
Ohio State BuckeyesNext head coach: Mike Sanford, Jr.; Current job: Western Kentucky head coach
If Meyer does leave, the Ohio State job is very interesting. A few years ago, Tom Herman would have been an obvious choice, but it is hard to imagine him leaving Texas, even for the Buckeyes job. Luke Fickell, now the head coach at Cincinnati, is also a possibility. I'm going with Sanford, a wild card at 35 years old heading into his first head coaching job at WKU. The Hilltoppers job has been kind to its last few occupants, and Sanford has a strong coaching pedigree and an impressive résumé as a young coordinator at Boise State and Notre Dame. He also once turned down Meyer for the chance to be the OC at Ohio State. Sanford's father served as Meyer's offensive coordinator at Utah back in 2003-04.
Oklahoma SoonersNext head coach: Justin Fuente; Current job: Virginia Tech head coach
Personally, I'm all-in on Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma, and if Stoops was still the head coach, Riley would occupy this spot. It is pretty much impossible to project who will take over for a 32-year old who hasn't coached a game, if you think he will succeed. The easiest way to do this, then, is to say that Riley won't work out, in this hypothetical situation. In that case, former Oklahoma quarterback Justin Fuente, a Tulsa native, is the easy choice. He engineered a remarkable turnaround at Memphis, had a great first year at Virginia Tech, and could be the next great OU coach. Of course, Riley might be that as well, so this may never come to fruition.
Next head coach: Bryan Harsin; Current job: Boise State head coach
Oregon broke its long streak of hiring within the family, bringing in Willie Taggart from USF after firing Mark Helfrich. Taggart is off to a torrid start in recruiting, but it is anyone's guess how he'll fare on the field in a very different program than the ones he's coached at in the past. If Taggart fails, Oregon could head back to the Chip Kelly tree. It could also look at Harsin, one of the top coaches in the Northwest. Pulling Harsin away from Boise State, his alma mater, could be tough, but Oregon has almost unlimited resources.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Next head coach: Matt Rhule; Current job: Baylor head coach
Rhule is the latest coach to parlay a successful run at Temple, once one of the hardest jobs in college football, into a Power Five position. He takes over talented but scandal-ridden Baylor, an interesting fit for the New York native and Penn State alumnus. Rhule has done the right things so far to attempt to fix the toxic culture at Baylor, and he will likely be given a ton of rope as the program finds itself in a hole after a number of top players left following Art Briles' ouster and last season. If Penn State opens up, Rhule should be among the first calls, especially if he manages an on-and-off the field turnaround in Waco. Even based only on his Temple career, he would be a good fit.
Next head coach: Neal Brown; Current job: Troy head coach
Brown isn't a household name yet, but he is one of the best young coaches in the FBS. The 37-year old took Troy from 4-8 in year one to 10-3 last season, taking the Trojans into the top 25 for the first time in school history. He's not long for the Sun Belt Conference, and Tennessee could very well have an opening in the next year or two. While the Vols may shoot for a bigger name, passing on a young talent like Brown who is already in the Southeast might be tough.
Next head coach: Chad Morris; Current job: SMU head coach
This is one of the only situations in which Texas fans will appreciate it when I write that they are in a very similar spot to Oklahoma. Both programs are entering their first seasons with young star coaches, who will hopefully be around for many years to come. It is more likely that Texas A&M opens in the next few years than Texas, and Morris would be a fit there as well, but based on off-season rumblings, I'm going in a different direction there. With that said, Morris has deep, deep Texas roots, and is steadily bringing SMU back from the dregs it fell into at the end of June Jones' tenure. Herman will get a long look. If he doesn't work out, Morris could be ready for that kind of huge job by the team the firing comes down.
Texas A&M Aggies
Next head coach: Chip Kelly; Current job: ESPN analyst
Kelly could probably fill a number of these other spots as well, but this is the rumor du jour, and it would be a ton of fun. Chip's offense, with Texas speed, in the SEC West battling it out with Nick Saban every year? That would be all kinda of fun. A&M continues to aspire to be a true college power. Paying the big bucks for Chip Kelly would definitely give it a real jolt.
Next head coach: Kyle Whittingham; Current job: Utah head coach
This is another job that Kelly has been connected to, but I can only send him to one school. USC is a frustrating program to project because of its insistence on keeping things in the family and hiring from the Pete Carroll tree. The Clay Helton hire was not very popular for that reason, though based on last season, it looks like things are going well. If the Trojans have to replace Helton, Whittingham is a guy probably due for a leap up in job tier. He's done a great job at Utah, but the Trojans are one of the premiere programs in the sport. He has not coached in California, but he is from the state, and has to recruit many of the same areas as USC. There have also been rumblings that not all is well between he and the Utes administration in recent years.
Next head coach: Justin Wilcox; Current job: Cal head coach
Wisconsin is another program that aims for familiar faces. Wilcox was defensive coordinator at UW until this off-season, when he took the Cal head coaching job. The Golden Bears present a good opportunity, but it has been extremely hard to break through with Oregon and Stanford dominating the division and Washington's recent emergence. Wisconsin has to deal with the best teams in the Big Ten, but it has been the most consistent program in the Big Ten West for a while, and would probably be able to pull Wilcox back to Madison, if the opportunity presented itself.