Say you're soon to be looking for a head coaching job in college football. You want an FBS job. You want a job at the best available program, where you'll have the resources to win consistently for a long time. Where would you go?
The answer depends in part on your geography and on your system, of course. Whether you're from the Southeast or California or elsewhere will impact things, as will whether you believe you're a fit for an academic power or an NFL Draft factory.
But, all those things being equal, how do you rank all the currently available jobs? Which would you have your agent call first? Three of us have more or less agreed on consensus rankings of all the spots now open, and we'll update it over time as more become available.
There have been 14 jobs on the market already this cycle, and No. 1 is pretty obvious, so how about the next 13?
Former coach: Steve Sarkisian
Bud: My No. 1 is USC, and I'm not sure we even need to debate it. Conservatively, USC is a top-five job, and following Lane Kiffin and Sark is relatively easy. Plus, that roster is one or two recruiting classes away from being as good as any in the country.
Former coach: Al Golden
Steven: All right Bud, I spent a weekend with Luther Campbell last month, and he made his case for why Miami football can and should rise again. So you tell me why it isn't a good job for a top-flight head coaching candidate like Tom Herman or Justin Fuente.
Bud: If Miami can make the money close to South Carolina, it will be my No. 2. Good luck convincing your spouse that accepting $1.5 million less per year is the right move. That's the most important issue here. There's little evidence the program has money. The school is certainly rich, but the athletic department seems like a different story.
Steven: Someone will take the chance. Miami still has the most upside of any open job east of USC.
-- Excerpted from a longer discussion on Miami's unique challenges
3. (tie) Virginia Tech
Outgoing coach: Frank Beamer
Steven: Beamer created the very concept of "Virginia Tech, successful football team." So congratulations, next coach, you're the guy who follows the guy, and with 2016 games against Notre Dame and Tennessee, you'll be tried early in the court of public opinion.
The upside is good money, administrative support, a strong fan base and a history recruiting the state. Virginia Tech still means something in the Tidewater and D.C. area. Capitalize on that, create a little offenses and you'll have a perennial power-conference contender.
Bud: Virginia Tech pays about what South Carolina pays, offers the chance to work for a respected AD and doesn't have Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in its division. The caveat still applies, though: if Miami finally decides to spend big, it moves up above both the Hokies and Gamecocks on my list.
3. (tie) South Carolina
Former coach: Steve Spurrier
Bill: You can make a case for South Carolina at No. 2, even over Miami. Spurrier won just enough at South Carolina, and came just close enough to winning more (while going 33-6 from 2011-13, the Cocks lost three games by a total of seven points) to suggest that there isn't much of a ceiling.
Bud: South Carolina paid Spurrier $1.5 million more per year than Miami paid Al Golden and $1.9 million more than Maryland paid Randy Edsall. While a coach might be able to win bigger at Miami, that gap is simply too much to overcome for me. But if the money is even, I'm switching.
Outgoing coach: Gary Pinkel
Bud: Spending similar money to South Carolina, but having less talent in-state and in surrounding states? I rank the Gamecocks' job ahead of the Tigers'. Additionally, while having socially conscious students is probably a good thing for society, I don't like what went down at Missouri if I'm a football coach. I'd rather coach at a more football-focused school.
Former coach: Randy Edsall
Bill: The biggest question is the difference between potential and production. We hear a lot about the potential of this job, the Under Armour money, the recruiting base, BTN money, etc.
But while UA and BTN are new developments, the recruiting base isn't. And you're still looking at a program that has had a couple of short bursts (1976-78, 1982-85, 2001-03) and little else. If I'm considering that job, I need pretty good answers regarding why no one since Jim Tatum has succeeded long term and why things are different now.
Former coach: George O'Leary
Steven: For a young coach, Central Florida has a better upside than some power programs. You can recruit Florida athletes to a Florida FBS school that has a new-ish stadium, strong financial support and a rapidly expanding university with America's largest undergraduate base.
Consider that O'Leary (paid $1.7 million annually, about the same as Tim Beckman at Illinois) won a Fiesta Bowl at UCF; now apply the new AAC blueprint of young, aggressive hires to talent-rich areas like Houston and Memphis. The Knights could be a perennial mid-major power.
Bud: UCF over Minnesota. The money is similar, and the talent around the program is much better.
8. Minnesota (Hired interim Tracy Claeys, a good or bad idea)
Former coach: Jerry Kill
Bill: We're ranking a lot of these programs based on three things: money, access to recruits, and proven ceiling. Minnesota's got the Big Ten money, but there's no all-around talent pipeline, so the Gophers have to go the Wisconsin route in terms of developing talent. Only, Wisconsin has as many 10-win seasons in the last 10 years (six) as Minnesota has in the last 115, as many top-20 finishes in the last 11 years (seven) as Minnesota has in the last 66.
So that's a harder sell. You can win eight games at Minnesota, and you can do it with likable teams, as Kill did. But if you're aiming higher than that, you're going to have to take a serious, Tim Brewster-esque risk. Those backfire a lot.
Former coach: Tim Beckman
Steven: Illinois is a quintessential Big Ten have-not. That means it's got to solve the impossible riddle of recruiting talent to a cold-weather town without having a national brand or the available resources. But hey, it's still a job close to a major media market with plenty of exposure, and the conference TV coffers are only getting fatter.
Bill: Everything I said about Maryland rings true for Illinois, too. The Fighting Illini have BTN money and are near Chicago and St. Louis. They're a sleeping giant!
A sleeping giant that has finished in the AP top 20 four times in 51 years. That's comatose. A great hire could do great things in Champaign. A good hire will probably go 8-5 a couple of times and eventually get fired.
Former coach: Scott Shafer
Bud: Syracuse has stability because it took the ACC's check. But it also has a defined ceiling because it took the check. It is at best the fifth program in the ACC Atlantic, maybe the sixth. Do expectations acknowledge that? It doesn't seem so.
11. Iowa State
Former coach: Paul Rhoads
Steven: Iowa State is the northernmost Big 12 school, isolated from any meaningful recruiting area and stuck fighting the nation's best offenses year after year. Under Rhoads, the Cyclones failed to evolve their identity beyond a potential upset alert for teams playing in Ames. Fellow conference basement dweller Kansas hired David Beaty last year and opted to abandon the pro-style and join in the Big 12's up-tempo spread attack. Maybe ISU does the same, albeit with a system that compensates for the recruiting handicap?
Bud: I would not want to live in Iowa, but at least this is a Power 5 job, and one without the crippling academic recruiting restrictions of some private schools.
12. North Texas
Former coach: Dan McCarney
Steven: There's no rationale for an FBS program in the DFW Metroplex to be this bad, ever. UNT offers great facilities relative to its Conference USA rivals because it's in Texas, where you're building not just to lure recruits, but to stay a step ahead of the high schools they're coming from. Dan McCarney was the fourth-highest paid HC in the C-USA, so the money's there. You're also sitting an interstate exit away from a pile of talent that's deep even after Power 5 programs get theirs.
UNT needs to shake off the PTSD of the Todd Dodge era and go back to Texas. Don't hire a high school coach outright, but copy the Chad Morris SMU blueprint and get a current college assistant who's well connected with local preps.
More college football for you
Former coach: Norm Chow
Bud: North Texas is the job I'd take if I was super ambitious, but Hawaii offers a much better living situation.
Steven: A college football job in Honolulu means everywhere else is a worse place to live and a better place to work. Budget deficits had the previous UH A.D. openly admitting that football could be shut down. The Rainbow Warriors have little in the way of competitive facilities, and the handful of FBS level talent goes out of state. The next head coach will have to recruit at level heretofore unseen and build a staff with no financial support.
Outside of Idaho, I think Hawaii is the most foreboding job in FBS.
Former coach: Todd Berry
Steven: ULM is one of the poorest teams in the FBS. The USA Today revenue database lists it No. 182, below New Jersey Tech. But there have been flashes. #Funroe is best known for upset wins over Arkansas in Little Rock and Nick Saban's first Alabama team.
Still, the Warhawks have long been a scarecrow for FCS programs considering a move up. Irrelevance and low revenue have kept them from building consistency (one bowl appearance in 21 FBS seasons). The good news is that there's new blood in ULM's administration and a wealth of high school and JuCo talent in the Ark-La-Miss region.
|3||South Carolina||3||South Carolina||3||Virginia Tech|
|11||Iowa State||11||Iowa State||11||Iowa State|
|12||North Texas||12||North Texas||12||North Texas|