College football’s silly season got underway early in 2017. By the start of November, five FBS programs were officially in the market for new head coaches.
The qualifications to be a head coach at any level of college football are significant. But not all jobs are created even close to equal.
This is a ranking of the attractiveness of currently available positions. It’s based on money, recruiting advantages, expectations, fan enthusiasm, athletic department functionality, and anything else that might come into play.
One big disclaimer: Ties to a given region, school, or athletic director might make these rankings different for a particular coach.
The best available job: Texas A&M
Last coach: Kevin Sumlin
It’s a good enough gig that Jimbo Fisher might leave Florida State for it.
The Aggies job comes with huge expectations, despite the program reaching double-digit wins exactly once this millennium. The administration has a horrible track record of not supporting the last guy when times were tough. That’s the bad.
The good is that A&M was one of the 10 or 15 best recruiting teams in the country under Sumlin, and it’s position as an SEC West program in Texas should allow it to keep racking up lots of talent. Kyle Field just got a big renovation, and the school is going to throw tons of money at whoever it hires next. (A potential hitch is the inexplicable buyout the school owes Sumlin, but the school will find cash.)
If someone does this job right, A&M could win the SEC and contend for a national title. That’s been true of lots of coaches who haven’t pulled it off, but it’s still possible.
Last coach: Mike Riley
Yes, we know it isn’t 1995. But so what?
The Huskers can’t rely on a lack of roster limits, which helped during their successful run under Bob Devaney. Tougher academic requirements have limited the recruiting pool they enjoyed in the ‘80s and ‘90s, so much so that in 1996, Sports Illustrated predicted the end of Nebraska’s era. Their identity is different without being in the same conference as Oklahoma and Texas.
So that makes it a harder job. But this is still a job that can pay an awful lot of money to play in one of the biggest conferences, where a good coach can win 10 games on a regular basis.
That’s not a bad job.
That’s a pretty great job.
The Big Ten West is winnable, and Nebraska pays well to coach in front of sellout crowds. Not bad.
Last coach: Bret Bielema
It’s not easy to recruit in Texas and Louisiana, especially when you’re not one of the teams that’s actually from those states. Arkansas doesn’t have a lot of elite players inside its borders. But the Razorbacks have close proximity to talent-rich states, and their stadium in Fayetteville is nearing the end of a big, beautiful renovation.
Arkansas still has to play annual games in Little Rock, at least for now. War Memorial Stadium there isn’t well regarded, and it doesn’t help recruiting to play there. But there are enough avenues to getting good players that this should be a good job.
The Hogs don’t currently have a permanent AD. That’s not great.
Last coach: Butch Jones
You can recruit here, even though prospects weren’t alive the last time the Volunteers were great. The state has a handful of elite recruits every year, and bordering states have plenty of talent. UT signed the No. 4 class in the country just three years ago.
The East is the more upwardly mobile of the SEC’s two divisions. Neyland Stadium has close to 100,000 people in it every game. The athletic department’s in the top 10 in annual revenue.
The downside is that expectations are high, despite Tennessee’s years of mediocrity and being stuck with Alabama on the cross-division schedule.
Also, the Greg Schiano fiasco likely damaged UT’s attractiveness significantly. Is UT really going to lure a top-tier candidate after its fans shouted down the last attempted hire in an unprecedented fashion?
Last coach: Todd Graham
It’s sort of wild that Graham just got fired, given ASU’s recent history.
Since peaking under Bruce Snyder in the mid-1990s — the Sun Devils went 11-1 in 1996 and damn near won the national title, then went 9-3 the next year as well — ASU has proved capable of brief, high ceilings.
Snyder won just 17 games from 1998-2000 and was replaced by Dirk Koetter, who helped to build the Boise State machine and went 9-3 in 2004 but otherwise averaged 6.2 wins per year. He was let go after back-to-back seven-win seasons and replaced by Dennis Erickson, who stormed out with an 8-0 start, then 23-31 from then on.
Todd Graham came to Tempe in 2012 and immediately established a higher level. ASU improved from 6-7 to 8-5 in his first year, 10-4 and won the Pac-12 South in 2013, and won 10 games again in 2014, finishing 12th in the AP poll (their highest finish since 1996).
Last coach: Joey Jones
There’s plenty of talent in the area. USA is low on the pecking order, but you can rise quickly in the Sun Belt. Consider Troy, which went 3-9 and 4-8 before a 10-win season in 2016.
Last coach: David Baliff
There’s tons of talent in and around Houston, and Rice — though it’s been terrible lately — won 18 games in 2013 and 2014. This can work.
8. Kent State
Last coach: Paul Haynes
The MAC lets teams go up and down quickly (see NIU and WMU the last few years). Athletic offensive linemen grow on trees in the Midwest, and Ohio State and other Power 5 programs don’t have space for all of them. Stranger things have happened than some smart offensive coach coming to a place like Kent, building up a good spread system, and winning a league.
Last coach: Sean Kugler
Previously open jobs, by the order they appeared above
Last coach: Jim McElwain
New coach: Dan Mullen
A huge brand in arguably the best recruiting state in the country. The state produces tons of blue-chip talent each year. The athletic department has huge revenues, and you’ll make good money. (McElwain was over $4.5 million.) This is still a school that’s won two national titles in the last decade or so.
Expectations are high, but this is a great time to get in. The Gators have forgotten how to play offense, so if you can score 30 per game and win fun, you’ll be a hero. The SEC East remains winnable, with only Georgia looking like an elite.
Last coach: Jim Mora
New coach: Chip Kelly
One great thing: It’s in Los Angeles, and there’s tons of talent.
But the Bruins are No. 2 in the city to USC, and they’re even lower on the pecking order given all the city’s professional teams. National coaching names mostly aren’t from the West Coast, and they’re often not keen to pay what it costs to live luxuriously there. Bruins fans have high expectations that the program has rarely met.
Last coach: Dan Mullen
New coach: Joe Moorhead
Starkville’s a hard place to win, but Mullen laid out a good blueprint in getting to eight consecutive bowl games and touching the No. 1 ranking a few years ago: Scheme smart, develop players, and capitalize on your heightened national status by landing the occasional four- or five-star kid who puts you over the top.
The team Mullen left behind crushed LSU and almost beat Alabama this year.
Last coach: Hugh Freeze
New coach: Matt Luke
A ton of wild cards, because Ole Miss is in the middle of an NCAA case (timeline here). It’s been a while since the Rebels have won big and not gotten into trouble afterward.
Their recruiting has gotten a lot worse in the last two cycles, 2017’s team is lousy, and NCAA sanctions could include free transfers out. The next coach might have a long rebuild in the constantly shuffling SEC West and get fired before he ever makes a bowl game.
Still, this job comes with fervent fans and access to fertile recruiting areas.
Last coach: Gary Andersen
New coach: Jonathan Smith
The Beavs offer a hard enough job that Andersen just left at least $12 million on the table to stop doing it. There’s not much elite talent in the Pacific Northwest, and Oregon and Washington are above OSU in the pecking order. OSU’s near the bottom of the Power 5 in revenue, and the Pac-12 North is difficult.
But, hey: Power 5 school!
Last coach: Tyson Summers
New coach: Chad Lunsford
GS has one of the most passionate fan bases in the country, and it’s used to winning. The Eagles were a power in I-AA but went off the rails under Summers.
Coaching at Georgia Southern requires a choice: Do you install a nationally popular spread offense, or do you run a version of the flexbone option, which GS rode to success for years? The flexbone is central to the Eagles’ identity, and Georgia has a talent pool for it. (Former GS coach Paul Johnson still runs it effectively at Georgia Tech.)