With Lane Kiffin fired, who might USC AD Pat Haden select for one of the sport's premiere jobs?
Current job: Head coach, St. Louis Rams
Fisher checks all the boxes: He played defensive back at USC, his coaching credentials are excellent, and his demeanor is about as far from Kiffin's as imaginable. He was pursued by Auburn during its last coaching search. Three weeks ago, when rumors of Kiffin's demise began swirling, Fisher's name immediately came up:
Ted Miller of ESPN said Jeff Fisher would likely be favorite to replace Lane Kiffin. Also, Bobby Petrino might be considered.— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) September 9, 2013
The bad news: He already has a job that pays him $7 million a year, and he doesn't have a history of job-hopping. Despite multiple opportunities to leave for more lucrative jobs, Fisher spent 17 seasons at Houston/Tennessee, even staying with the team through the franchise's move. He also has never coached in college. Fisher started as a defensive assistant with the Chicago Bears in 1985 and has bounced around the NFL circuit ever since. USC might be able to get any coach it wants, but there would be some risk in hiring a head coach who has never recruited or coached in the college game, especially when he would be the highest-paid coach in college football by a wide margin.
For his part, Fisher calls the speculation "absurd," which usually means it is anything but.
Current job: Head coach, Western Kentucky
Bobby Petrino, on the other had, has no qualms about leaving a job mid-season for a bigger opportunity. Petrino is in his first season as head coach at Western Kentucky, but the former head coach at Louisville and Arkansas is obviously in the market for an upgrade. His record of success as a head coach is beyond reproach: Petrino took Louisville to a 41-9 record over four seasons, two conference championships, and an Orange Bowl win in 2006. After a one-year stint in the NFL, he took over at Arkansas. By his third season, the Razorbacks were in the Sugar Bowl and ranked in the top 15. While he has no particular ties to USC, he does know the area. Petrino was born in Montana, played football at Carroll (MT) College, and bounced around WAC and (then) Pac-10 staffs for 15 years before taking the offensive coordinator position with Louisville in 1998.
Of course, you're getting Petrino and all the baggage that comes with him. He was dismissed from Arkansas for trying to cover up an affair with a woman he had hired as a student-athlete development coordinator, an affair that came to light when she was on the back of his motorcycle after a crash. He's a serial job-hopper, as well. If you can live with the bad, you're getting an awfully good football coach.
Jack Del Rio
Current job: Defensive coordinator, Denver Broncos
Jack Del Rio, former All-American linebacker and baseball catcher at USC, will be mentioned in every Trojans job search from now to the end of time. He is a California native with an impeccable pedigree and a long resume in football coaching that includes nine seasons as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has a Super Bowl ring from his time as linebackers coach for the Baltimore Ravens. He loves the school, he wants the job, and he brings a sideline demeanor that could not be less like Lane Kiffin's.
Denver DC Jack Del Rio expected to emerge as a leading candidate for USC HC job, as @mikefreemanNFL said. Sources said Del Rio wants job.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 29, 2013
Jack Del Rio definitely has a faction within #USC lobbying for his hire. That began before the Sun Bowl last year.— Gerard Martinez (@gmartlive) September 29, 2013
The main negative is that all of his coaching experience is at the NFL level, and while USC likely wants to stay close to its pro-style roots, a pro-style coach could run into trouble in the schematically diverse Pac-12. He has never recruited, for that matter. But USC might have offered Del Rio this job before, and it might have been nearly enough to lure him from a lucrative and longstanding head coaching position in the NFL. It would not take nearly as much to get him now.
Current job: Head coach, Northwestern
There's a reason why Pat Haden reportedly likes Fitzgerald. The former All-American linebacker has taken Northwestern to new heights since assuming the head coaching position after the unexpected death of Randy Walker. He is already the winningest head coach in program history, having gone 50-39 in his first seven seasons at the helm in Evanston. Under Fitzgerald, Northwestern has gone to five consecutive bowl games, and won 10 games last season for the first time since 1995. He understands how to win at a private school with rigorous academic standards in a power conference, and he is a tenacious recruiter.
Those are the same traits that lured Notre Dame and Michigan into pursuing Fitzgerald in the last few years, and the Chicago native has turned down all overtures. Fitzgerald has history in his city and with his program, he has a young family, and he just got a 10-year contract from the Wildcats. Winning a national championship might be impossible at Northwestern, but Fitzgerald has shown he can do just about anything else from there. USC is a premiere job, but that has never seemed to matter to him. Whether the Trojans could lure Fitzgerald away becomes the biggest question of all.
Current job: Head coach, Vanderbilt
Like Fitzgerald, Franklin has worked a small miracle: Making Vanderbilt a solid middle-of-the-pack program in the mighty SEC. Under Franklin's management, the Commodores went 9-4 in 2012, racked up five wins in the nation's strongest conference, and won the Music City Bowl. He had a 15-11 record after two seasons, and the buzz around his program has certainly picked up.
The question with Franklin is whether his track record is sufficient for this kind of promotion. He has only two seasons as a head coach under his belt, though he has experience as a coordinator. Furthermore, aside from a one-year stint at Washington State 14 seasons ago, Franklin does not have any Pac-12 experience or ties. If Haden chases Fitzgerald and can't close the deal, Franklin is a viable second option. It's just that USC doesn't usually go for second options.
Current job: Offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers
Roman made the move from Stanford to the NFL with head coach Jim Harbaugh in 2011 after two seasons as the Cardinal's offensive coordinator. His pro-style system, still used by current Stanford coach David Shaw, worked wonders in Palo Alto. His more recent work with Colin Kaepernick has added to a collegiate revolution in the pro game. There is little doubting his offensive acumen, and his preferred style fits what USC fans think USC football should be.
With that said, Roman has never been a head coach at any level. At 41, he is relatively young. He has no Pac-12 ties aside from his stint at Stanford, and recruited the Southeast when he was there. And hiring an assistant from the hated Harbaugh regime would be the ultimate renunciation of Pete Carroll, for whom USC still holds some affinity.
Current job: Head coach, Fresno State
DeRuyter has done a nice job since taking over for Pat Hill at Fresno State, going 9-4 in his first season and tying for a Mountain West championship. His team is off to a 3-0 start this year, including a win over Boise State. He's a Long Beach native and has some experience coaching in the west.
With that said, the step up from Mike Sherman's defensive coordinator at Texas A&M to head coach at USC in just two years could be a bit too steep, and his track record might be a bit too short, for this to work. DeRuyter likely needs a season or two at a BCS conference school before he's truly in consideration for this job.
Current job: Head coach, Washington
On the other hand, there is former Carroll assistant Steve Sarkisian, who took over as USC's offensive coordinator in 2007 when Lane Kiffin left for the Oakland Raiders. Sarkisian learned under Norm Chow, coached under Carroll, and tutored some of the best quarterbacks in program history. He's had modest success since striking out on his own at Washington: After an initial 5-7 campaign, Sarkisian has strung together three straight 7-6 records and bowl appearances, winning one of them.
If Haden is ready for a clean break from the program's recent past, Sarkisian is not the guy. His entire career is wrapped around USC. Not just Carroll, but Sark also says that he is friends with the now-unemployed Kiffin. But if Haden thinks the issue was Kiffin alone and not the culture left behind when Carroll bolted for the NFL, Sarkisian is probably getting a phone call.
Current job: Head coach, Texas A&M
So long as he keeps setting the SEC on fire every week, Kevin Sumlin's name is going to be in the mix for every top-level head coaching job that becomes available. Bruce Feldman reports he's a top choice. In five seasons as a head coach, Sumlin has posted 10 wins three times and looks destined for a fourth this year. He has somehow made button-up, ROTC-crazed Texas A&M the coolest program in the state of Texas. He is crushing Mack Brown on the recruiting trail and his offense is incinerating every defense it touches. He has college football's hottest commodity in Johnny Manziel and a $3.1 million-a-year contract.
Which begs the question; why would he ever leave? He is in a conference, and at a school, where talented recruits knock on the door and beg for an offer. Texas A&M is expanding the stadium, and it will be filled every Saturday with fans nowhere near as fickle as those at the Coliseum. And while USC could offer the sort of insane contract that nobody else -- not even A&M -- could match, there is increased pressure that comes with a deal like that. Sumlin's in a good place right now, and it will take a lot to move him out of it.
Current job: Boise State
Let's do the dance again. In 2011, Petersen turned down UCLA despite an offer of more than $3 million per season. He was supposed to interview for the Wisconsin job last year, but declined to make the trip. Petersen has been rumored for every other open position under the sun. He has never left Boise.
Petersen has complete job security at $2.2 million a year and rising. He has watched former Broncos coaches Dan Hawkins, Dirk Koetter, and Houston Nutt flame out when they took promotions to the BCS level. He goes through this every time there is an open position on the west coast, and he turns it down every time.
And one more to consider:
Throw Oregon State coach Mike Riley into mix. He would work for Pat Haden, didn't really want to work for Mike Garrett #USC— InsideUSC (@InsideUSC) September 29, 2013