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The Big Coaching Situations
Boise State head coach Chris Petersen
Who's going where? Who are the best fits for the job openings?
By Richard Cirminiello
It is that time of year, when the firing of one head coach creates an opportunity—and countless rumors—for other coaches in the profession. While a dozen men have already been shown the door—and a dozen more might follow—these eight openings will generate the most interest and the most headlines in the coming weeks. But stay tuned, because the coaching carousel moves quickly, and information about openings will often change by the hour.
It’s a Great Opportunity Because … there’s a recent history of success in Fayetteville and a clear commitment to winning on a grand level. There’s also plenty of talent left behind by the Bobby Petrino regime. The administration has had about eight months to think about this opening, a major luxury for such an important decision.
It’s a Career-Killer Because … it’s never easy competing in the same division as Alabama and LSU, not to mention Texas A&M. Plus, the new guy must undo the mess created by Petrino and interim successor John L. Smith.
The Key Decision-Maker: AD Jeff Long
His Wish List Might Include … Art Briles (Baylor head coach), Butch Davis (former North Carolina head coach), James Franklin (Vanderbilt head coach), Chris Petersen (Boise State head coach), Steve Sarkisian (Washington head coach), Charlie Strong (Louisville head coach), Sonny Dykes (Louisiana Tech head coach), Tommy Tuberville (Texas Tech head coach), Gus Malzahn (Arkansas State head coach), Gary Patterson (TCU head coach), Paul Rhoads (Iowa State head coach). Whatever Expect Long to act very quickly. Obviously, he has not been hamstrung by a lack of time or preparation for this hire. Petersen appears to be the front-runner and Franklin should be a solid backup option.
It’s a Great Opportunity Because … the program is just two years removed from winning a national championship. Auburn has some of the most devout fans in America and as rich a football history as there is in college football. Plus, the coach will inherit a bunch of starters from 2012, so there’ll be a chance to hit the ground running.
It’s a Career-Killer Because … the Tigers are coming off one of their worst seasons ever, going in winless in SEC play. Plus, the prospect of the NCAA dusting for prints could spook a few candidates. The other coach in the state is Nick Saban, meaning it’ll take a special personality to handle the enormous expectations and pressure of being the face of Auburn.
The Key Decision-Maker: AD Jay Jacobs
His Wish List Might Include … Bobby Petrino (former Arkansas head coach), Charlie Strong (Louisville head coach), Chad Morris (Clemson offensive coordinator), Mark Hudpseth (Louisiana-Lafayette head coach), Gary Patterson (TCU head coach), Gus Malzahn (Arkansas State head coach) and Kirby Smart (Alabama defensive coordinator). Jacobs is staying within the family to help support his decision-making process, adding former Auburn players Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Mac Crawford to his search committee.
It’s a Great Opportunity Because … Tom O’Brien and even Jeff Jagodzinski proved that a coach can win consistently on the Heights. It’s been a popular destination for try-hard, mid-level recruits, and the pressure to win titles isn’t there the way it is on other campuses.
It’s a Career-Killer Because … there’s a cap on how far a coach can go at Boston College. It’s not as if an ACC title is off limits, but it’s not like the Eagles play in January bowl games or land five-star recruits either. Heck, they haven’t played in any bowl games in the last two seasons.
The Key Decision-Maker: AD Brad Bates
His Wish List Might Include … Tim Murphy (Harvard head coach), Darrell Hazell (Kent State head coach), Pat Narduzzi (Michigan State defensive coordinator), Bob Diaco (Notre Dame defensive coordinator), Pete Carmichael Jr. (New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator). The new AD, Bates, has MAC connections, though he’ll certainly be open to any and all possibilities in this search. His budget is nearly twice Frank Spaziani’s salary, which could widen the scope of possible candidates.
It’s a Great Opportunity Because … the program is in far better shape than when Jeff Tedford inherited from Tom Holmoe a decade ago. The facilities have been upgraded, and Tedford leaves a solid cupboard of talent on both sides of the ball.
It’s a Career-Killer Because … the Bears are forever lagging behind the Pac-12 powers, such as USC and Oregon. Oh, and the rise of Stanford has only further complicated matters. Cal hit a wall under Tedford, losing at least five games in each of the last four years. There’s a culture of mediocrity permeating through Berkeley that needs to be cleared out.
The Key Decision-Maker: AD Sandy Barbour
Her Wish List Might Include … Sonny Dykes (Louisiana Tech head coach), Mike MacIntyre (San Jose State head coach), Greg Roman (San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator), Darrell Hazell (Kent State head coach), Tim DeRuyter (Fresno State head coach), Willie Taggart (Western Kentucky), Ron Rivera (Carolina Panthers head coach). Barbour, who wants to conduct the search on the QT, has as wide a list of possible candidates as any AD with an opening in the football program.
It’s a Great Opportunity Because … the only way is up. The Buffaloes have suffered under Dan Hawkins and Jon Embree, lowering expectations to the point where bowl-eligibility might get a coach a street named after him.
It’s a Career-Killer Because … the program is in a state of disarray, from the top down. Resources are scarce and the talent is thin at a school that’s endured seven consecutive losing seasons. It might take a miracle worker, and a patient one at that, to pilot Colorado back to respectability.
The Key Decision-Maker: AD Mike Bohn
His Wish List Might Include … Jeff Tedford (former Cal head coach), Tim DeRuyter (Fresno State head coach), Mark Mangino (former Kansas head coach), Troy Calhoun (Air Force head coach), Mike MacIntyre (San Jose State), Butch Jones (Cincinnati head coach), Bronco Mendenhall (BYU head coach). Mangino wants back into coaching now that his wife is on the road to recovery from breast cancer. Considering how badly he fumbled the last hire, it’d be shocking if Bohn doesn’t go after a candidate with considerable head coaching experience.
It’s a Great Opportunity Because … while not a sleeping giant, it does have serious untapped potential. At NC State, the facilities and the recruiting base are solid. And it’s not as if the next coach will be asked to make the Wolfpack Clemson, Virginia Tech or Florida State in 48 months or less.
It’s a Career-Killer Because … it’s still a basketball school in a basketball league. O’Brien was unable to elevate expectations in Raleigh, but it’s not realistic to think that NC State can create the on-campus passion and intensity that they do at Clemson, Virginia Tech or Florida State.
The Key Decision-Maker: AD Debbie Yow
Her Wish List Might Include … Dave Doeren. The man who led Northern Illinois to the Orange Bowl reportedly turned down Illinois and has accepted the Wolfpack job.
It’s a Great Opportunity Because … Penn State and Wisconsin aren’t as scary as in the past out of the Leaders Division, which could create an opening behind Ohio State. Purdue is a program with a lot of tradition and rich history, which can be recruiting tools when leveraged properly.
It’s a Career-Killer Because … the Boilermakers have been a quintessential middling Big Ten program for far too long. The program hasn’t won more than seven games since 2007, and last appeared in the Rose Bowl 12 years ago. It’s never going to compete with the likes of Ohio State and Michigan for the Midwest’s best athletes.
The Key Decision-Maker: AD Morgan Burke
His Wish List Might Include … Darrell Hazell (Kent State head coach), Pete Lembo (Ball State head coach), Randy Fichtner (Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks coach), Butch Jones (Cincinnati head coach). Notoriously tight with their salary budget for this opening, the Boilermakers might finally be willing to loosen the purse strings in order to make a splash. Jones is the front-runner.
It’s a Great Opportunity Because … the next coach will be able to recruit the state of Florida, landing talented athletes across the state that Florida, Florida State and Miami didn’t pursue. The Bulls have outstanding facilities and enough of a recent history of success to avoid a protracted rebuilding process.
It’s a Career-Killer Because … the Bulls have now gone back-to-back years below .500, and have lost all of the momentum built by Skip Holtz predecessor Jim Leavitt. The program is also stuck in a highly volatile and unstable Big East that has just one more year as an automatic BCS bowl qualifier.
The Key Decision-Maker: AD Doug Woolard
His Wish List Might Include … Sonny Dykes (Louisiana Tech head coach), Houston Nutt (former Arkansas and Ole Miss head coach), Willie Taggart (Western Kentucky head coach),
It’s a Great Opportunity Because … despite recent on-field mediocrity, Tennessee remains one of the nation’s most prominent football programs in terms of support, facilities and tradition. The ceiling is higher in Knoxville than it is at any other current opening. Whoever takes over doesn’t have to worry about filling the shoes of a legend.
It’s a Career-Killer Because … the Volunteers are at a low-point in their history, inexplicably losing at least six games in each of the last five seasons. The talent may be better than when Derek Dooley arrived two years ago, but it’s still way behind the SEC frontrunners, including Georgia, Florida and South Carolina in the East Division.
The Key Decision-Maker: AD Dave Hart
His Wish List Might Include … Dan Mullen (Mississippi State head coach), Butch Jones (Cincinnati head coach), Gary Patterson (TCU head coach), Larry Fedora (North Carolina head coach), Charlie Strong (Louisville head coach), Al Golden (Miami head coach). Gruden is a longshot, but a fan favorite nonetheless. Hart is wisely preaching patience regarding what might be the most important athletic hire in school history.