The only sure bet when forecasting college football coaching changes is there’s no Ouija Board that could foresee every twist and turn that happens during hiring and firing season. But with the 2013 campaign winding down, agents, athletic directors and search firms — and perhaps the odd rogue regent — are burning up the phone lines.
Here’s a conference-by-conference primer for what could happen around the country, with the only guarantee being that things will change quickly.
? Open jobs: None.
? Could Open: Virginia. Mark Giannotto of the Washington Post had some good reporting this week. He spoke to the father of the nation’s top defensive tackle recruit and current Cavaliers commit, Andrew Brown, about a conversation with athletic director Craig Littlepage. In that conversation, Littlepage “reiterated that Mike London will be [Virginia's] coach next season.” (The Post previously reported that the school would have to eat about $11 million to fire London and his staff. Littlepage went on the record to say, “I support him.”)
That said, Virginia is headed toward a winless ACC season, and Littlepage has never quite figured out a successful football formula. The program finds itself light years behind Duke, which can’t make boosters happy. If there is movement here, don’t be surprised to see it involve Littlepage, too, as the team has toiled for the majority of his tenure. (For example, see what Boston College did last year, nudging out AD Gene DeFilippo before hiring Steve Addazio). And if nothing happens, the pressure will be squarely on both London and Littlepage in 2014.
Even with top recruits like Brown and safety Quin Blanding committed to Virginia, there’s a sense that the program could slip behind further by not making a move. The top potential candidates would be Ball State’s Pete Lembo, who thumped Virginia 48-27 in Charlottesville on Oct. 5, and Bowling Green’s Dave Clawson, who London succeeded at Richmond. A crew of coordinators could be in consideration as well, including Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
? Could Open: Wake Forest. It’s painful to even type this, as few coaches can match the success and integrity of Jim Grobe. But Wake is headed toward its fifth consecutive losing season. (Basketball is a mess, too, which certainly doesn’t help matters for AD Ron Wellman). Duke football has surpassed Wake Forest, which won the ACC in 2006. As the years pass, that title in a league that includes Clemson, Florida State and Miami seems remarkable. Who could the Demon Deacons find as a potential replacement? That’s hard to say. Wake may be the most challenging Big Five conference job, so it’d need to find a good fit with an academic background, such as Lembo or Clawson. One name that could vary from Virginia’s list is Air Force’s Troy Calhoun, who had success as Wake’s offensive coordinator from 2001-03.
? Open: None.
? Could Open: Texas. A 38-13 home loss to Oklahoma State last Saturday has the vultures circling in Austin again. Mack Brown’s future boils down to this: Texas should be a national power. It’s not. This season shows once again that it’s highly unlikely the Longhorns can return to prominence under Brown. The prevailing hope among Texas higher-ups is that Brown will realize his charmed run is over and step down at a celebratory press conference with everyone holding hands and smiling. Brown could then head off to a long and successful career in television.
While new AD Steve Patterson’s limited collegiate track record makes it hard to predict what’s next, the bottom line is that Texas didn’t nudge DeLoss Dodds out the door for the status quo. Brown is too savvy not to realize this, and it’s unlikely he’ll put Longhorns administrators in a position to fire him. Texas sources acknowledge a run at Nick Saban is unlikely after the recently publicized failed courtship by regents last year. So who’s next on the list? That could soon become the biggest question in college sports.
After Saban, there’s no obvious candidate. Patterson has more of a basketball background, so there’s no natural tie. (Unless UCLA’s Jim Mora Jr. made a strong impression in the Pac-12 South). Names like Charlie Strong, Art Briles, Bill O’Brien, James Franklin, Jimbo Fisher and Chris Petersen would be floated around. (Along with the inevitable NFL flirtation — real or imagined — with Jon Gruden or Lovie Smith.) Texas has lacked an offensive identity since reaching the BCS title game in 2009. Its potential coaching choice could revolve around the ‘Horns’ envisioned identity moving forward: Will be they be a spread team in the typical Big 12 mold? Or will they create an identity as a pro-style team like Stanford?
? Keep an eye on: Kansas. Charlie Weis’ old mentor Bill Parcells liked to say, “You are what your record says you are.” Well, Weis has two Division I wins in two seasons in Lawrence, including last week’s 31-19 victory over West Virginia to snap a 27-game Big 12 losing streak. His other two wins came against FCS teams from South Dakota. That’s not exactly what AD Sheahon Zenger had in mind when he shocked the college sports world by hiring Weis in December 2011. (It is, however, what many people who followed Weis closely at Notre Dame envisioned.) Will Zenger cut his losses and realize his zeal for hiring a coach with NFL ties was a mistake? The guess here is that Weis gets one more year. He didn’t exactly inherit a juggernaut, and it’s not a good look if the program fires consecutive coaches after just two seasons. If the Jayhawks’ job opens, look for a hot MAC coach — Clawson, Lembo or Toledo’s Matt Campbell — to garner consideration. It would be hard to bring back Mark Mangino after his messy exit in 2009. It would also be hard to find someone who can match Mangino’s production, as Kansas won the Orange Bowl in 2008. Perhaps Ed Warriner would get a look, as the current Ohio State co-offensive coordinator called plays during the Jayhawks’ most recent moments of relevancy.
? Keep an eye on: Oklahoma State. Mike Gundy is having a great year and is one inexplicable loss at West Virginia away from being in the national title conversation. But the drumbeat that he and T. Boone Pickens don’t get along won’t go away. (Gundy’s flirtations with Tennessee last year didn’t help). Gundy’s success with the Cowboys is undeniable, but considering the publicity that surrounded Oklahoma State this year, it’s hard to imagine a high-profile school — Texas or USC, for example — hiring him. So perhaps Pickens and Gundy are stuck with each other.
? Open: None.
? Keep an eye on: Illinois. Fighting Illini administrators pondered pulling the plug on Tim Beckman last year, even discreetly making calls to see if coaches had any interest. Now, Illinois is struggling both on the field and the recruiting trail, and Saturday’s ESPN broadcast of a 60-35 loss to Ohio State cast negativity on Beckman’s future. A winless Big Ten season may force the program to make a move. However, Illinois may be worried that difficult admissions standards make the job unattractive.
If the position becomes open, Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi would get a long look. He’s one of the country’s most coveted assistants, and he already has Big Ten experience. (Amazing statistic working against him: 27 of the 32 head-coaching jobs that turned over last year went to candidates with offensive backgrounds.) Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman could give the Illini an identity. If he moved the ball as the offensive coordinator at Iowa State, he could likely find similar success in Champaign.
Perhaps North Dakota State’s Craig Bohl would also be in the mix. Illinois hired the hot MAC coach last time, so it could pursue a similar strategy. Dan McCarney’s strong season at North Texas, coupled with his Big Ten experience from Wisconsin, could also give him a shot. As for a dark horse, FCS Eastern Illinois’ Dino Babers has flourished with a Baylor-like offense.
? Keep an eye on: Nebraska. The Cornhuskers and Bo Pelini appear destined to stay together for another year. Pelini has tried — and failed — to get out of Lincoln the past few seasons. Nebraska’s administrators aren’t particularly enamored with his on-field performance or off-field attitude. (A leaked audiotape in which he cursed out the Huskers’ entire fan base didn’t help matters.) Still, firing Pelini would be expensive, and the reality (one that Nebraska fans are likely reluctant to recognize) is that this job simply isn’t as coveted as it used to be. The Huskers are 7-3 with remaining games at Penn State and against Iowa. Two losses could prompt Pelini’s ouster. If that happens, Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost and North Dakota State’s Bohl would likely become hot names because of their Nebraska ties. Morris and Herman could also get a look. Finally, for those really looking to light up the message boards, it’s worth mentioning that Mark Richt is a Nebraska native with a ton of ties to the state.
? Nothing to see here: Minnesota. The Gophers are having a magical season despite coach Jerry Kill’s health issues. A job many thought would be available this summer now appears unlikely to open up. This a delicate situation because of Kill’s history with epilepsy. However, Minnesota’s 8-2 record has eliminated virtually any chance of a change. Expect continuity for Kill and his staff.
? Open: USC. Based on the Trojans’ recent turnaround, Pat Haden made a brilliant move firing by Lane Kiffin early in the season. (Even if it illuminated how foolish Haden was to keep Kiffin after last year’s disappointing campaign.) Interim coach Ed Orgeron is gaining momentum for the permanent job with every victory and serving of dessert. He’s right in the thick of the coaching race. While there’s hard lobbying for Orgeron among influential media members and key boosters, my gut says Haden will ignore the sentiment and bring in another coach. Orgeron was a perfect pick for the interim gig, as he gave the program a much-needed shot of adrenaline. But he’s still a risky long-term play given his 10-25 stint at Ole Miss from 2005-07.
My guess is Haden, with his business background, chooses someone more polished. The logical play here has long been Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, who could take the job or cash in to stay put in College Station. After that, potential candidates aren’t as obvious. Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has already interviewed. (Is he an upgrade over Coach O, who we know can recruit and motivate at the college level?) Other names could include Franklin, Petersen, O’Brien, Al Golden, Steve Sarkisian (though his stock is slipping) and San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
? Keep an eye on: Nothing else. After significant turnover the past few seasons, all should be quiet elsewhere in the Pac-12.
? Open: None.
? Keep an eye on: Texas A&M. Sumlin could potentially bolt for another job (USC is reportedly pursuing him) or garner enough interest that A&M backs up a dump truck of money to his doorstep. Without Johnny Manziel, A&M’s is likely the third or fourth best job in the SEC West. Sumlin is savvy enough to realize this.
? Keep an eye on: Nothing else. Even in the money-flush, hair-trigger, over-boostered SEC, don’t expect any firings. (Anyone putting Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen on the hot seat doesn’t recall how poorly the Bulldogs played in the pre-Instagram era.) The best possibility for an opening outside of Texas A&M is at Vanderbilt, if Franklin gets lured away by another vacancy.
American Athletic Conference
? Open: Connecticut. This isn’t an especially attractive job, and many consider it to be one of the three least sought-after jobs in the AAC. The Huskies lack an established identity, tradition and a solid recruiting base. Recruiting against Boston College, Syracuse or Rutgers is an uphill battle because of league affiliation. AD Warde Manuel hired the firm Parker Executive Search to help.
As for potential candidates, could a Michigan grad (Manuel) hire a Michigan State assistant (Narduzzi)? Narduzzi would certainly give the Huskies an identity. Towson’s Rob Ambrose pummeled UConn on Aug. 29. Was that a possible audition? UConn is still an upgrade from many MAC jobs, so one of the hot coaches there could decide to jump. Fordham’s Joe Morehead should get a long look as well. Boston College defensive coordinator Don Brown deserves a look for his work this season, but the Huskies will likely opt to go younger.
? Keep an eye on: SMU. Heading into this season, June Jones led the Mustangs to four consecutive bowl berths. That hadn’t happened at SMU since boosters handed out Camaros like Tic Tacs. Jones has struggled this year, however, as the Mustangs are 4-5 with dim bowl prospects. It would be a shame if SMU pondered a move, but the school has a long track record of questionable decisions. (And a memory of Jones’ flirtations with Arizona State.) Could Jones head back to Hawaii if that job opens up? If this position does become available, the top candidate would be Clemson’s Morris, especially considering the success of former high school coaching prodigies Briles and Gus Malzahn. Another strong name would be Ohio State’s Herman, who cut his teeth at Texas, Texas State, Sam Houston State and Rice. The Urban Meyer pedigree would likely be intriguing. Other potential coordinator names: Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, Texas A&M offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney and Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery.
? Keep an eye on: Louisville. If Strong leaves — and with a $5 million buyout, Texas is his only realistic landing spot — this will be a coveted job. (And an ACC job at the end of the day.) Louisville has great facilities, a supportive administration and a loaded roster thanks to Strong’s recruiting ties in Florida.
? Open: Florida Atlantic. Thanks largely to its location, this is a prime job that should attract plenty of strong candidates. Now AD Pat Chun has a philosophical choice to make. Does he go with a coach with ties to south Florida? If so, look for Cincinnati offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, a longtime recruiter of Dade and Broward counties, to top the list. Others, such as Mario Cristobal, Manny Diaz or James Coley, also fit that mold and should get a look. Or does Chun go with a familiar choice from his time working at Ohio State, Buckeyes defensive coordinator Luke Fickell? (Fickell would likely have to take a pay cut from his $600,000 salary.) A sleeper here is Bethune-Cookman coach Brian Jenkins, a Fort Lauderdale native (and Dillard High graduate) who is 9-2 this season and won the MEAC in two of the past three seasons.
? Keep an eye on: Tulsa and UAB. Neither position will likely open this season. Still, Tulsa’s nosedive from 11-3 to 2-8 can’t make new athletic director Derrick Gragg thrilled for the future. UAB’s Garrick McGee won three games last season and has two victories in 2013. It’s too early to pull the trigger on either, but it’s worth monitoring the situations for next year. (The same could be said about Southern Miss, although Todd Monken is staring at a winless season and has an athletic director, Bill McGillis, who didn’t hire him.)
? Keep an eye on: Army. Rich Ellerson is in his fifth season. If he loses to Navy again on Dec. 14, Army’s losing streak in that series would extend to 12 games. Ellerson is 20-39 in five years at the helm, but the Navy game remains the ultimate barometer. It’s tough to see him sticking around if he’s 0-5. If AD Boo Corrigan decides to make a change, there’s no obvious frontrunner. Ex-Army coach Bob Sutton, the last really successful headman there, has become a star NFL defensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs. (Could Army even afford him?) Warriner, Ohio State’s co-offensive coordinator, had success as a coordinator and play-caller with the Black Knights. Ben Kotwica, the Jets special teams coach, is a former Army captain and a rising star. He would get a look. Vanderbilt’s Bob Shoop, UCF’s Charlie Taaffe and Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan also logged time at Army and could emerge as good names.
? Open: Miami (Ohio). Known as the “Cradle of Coaches” for producing Bo Schembechler, Paul Brown and Woody Hayes, Miami’s rep appears to be slipping. What should be the MAC’s best job lacks the finances and facilities to match its superior academics. Miami’s list includes Fickell, Eastern Illinois’ Babers, Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason and Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin.
? Open: Eastern Michigan. There aren’t many places more difficult to win than Ypsilanti. It’s tough to get a feel for where Eastern Michigan will go, as this is one of the MAC’s least coveted jobs. Perhaps the Eagles will look at Notre Dame assistant Chuck Martin, who had success at Grand Valley State. Narduzzi can do much better. This is a logical landing spot for a successful lower-division coach. Perhaps Wayne State head coach Paul Winters or Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley could come into consideration. Two successful former coaches worth a look are former Delaware coach K.C. Keeler and Mangino. Former Miami (Ohio) coach Mike Haywood has proven he can win in the MAC. Also, former Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit lurks as a delicious possibility for that rivalry.
? Could open: Trickle-up vacancies. Ball State’s Lembo, Toledo’s Campbell, Bowling Green’s Clawson and Buffalo’s Jeff Quinn are all prime candidates for upward movement. As the MAC race plays out, those coaches could be jockeying for jobs as their teams attempt to win the league.
? Open: None.
? Keep an eye on: Hawaii. Norm Chow is winless in his second season and made comments — he claimed they were in jest — about being too old for the job. Hawaii has always been strapped for cash, and they’ll face the age-old conundrum of deciding whether they can afford to fire him or keep him. The Rainbow Warriors would likely swoon at the possibility of a reunion with Jones. After that, it’s anyone’s guess who would fill one of college football’s toughest jobs. Babers and Baylor’s Brian Norwood both played in Hawaii and could emerge as candidates.
? Keep an eye on: Wyoming. Another tough job. Dave Christensen led the program to a pair of bowl games in the past four years, but Wyoming is staring at a second consecutive season without a bowl. A loss to Hawaii this week would be disastrous. Still, it’s unlikely that the Cowboys (4-6) will win at Utah State to close out the regular season. Good candidates would be hard to come by in Laramie, in large part because of the bad weather, the lack of local talent and an unrealistic fan base.
? Keep an eye on: Not much. The two worst programs — South Alabama and Georgia State — are predictably struggling because of their transitions to FBS play. Look for a stable year, unless some bigger school finally grabs Louisiana-Lafayette head Mark Hudspeth.