10 head coaching candidates who might be in the SEC next year
By all accounts, this could be one of the busiest offseasons for coaching movement in recent memory.
In the SEC, the Ole Miss and Tennessee jobs almost certainly will be open. After that, there is a lot to be settled, but Bret Bielema’s future at Arkansas appears questionable at best, especially considering it would only take a rather reasonable buyout to move on.
It took Gus Malzahn just one bad loss for questions about his job security to pop up again. Kevin Sumlin appears safe at Texas A&M right now, but that could change. One would think Jim McElwain gets another year at Florida, but no one is exactly excited about that. Barry Odom’s tenure at Missouri has been a disaster, but that’s not the most appealing job right now so that bad marriage may need counseling first.
With so many potential coaching openings and so many question marks, let’s take a look at some candidates and where they might fit:
Scott Frost, UCF head coach
What Frost has done with the Knights is remarkable. He took the program, reeling from an 0-12 season, to a bowl in his first year, and this year he will win no less than 10 games and might run the table and get UCF to a NY6 bowl. That would all but guarantee him National Coach of the Year honors and put him in line for any job he wants. The Nebraska job will be open as soon as Nebraska gets off the field against Iowa on Black Friday. Frost has ties to Nebraska — he was born outside of Grand Island, Nebraska — and won a national championship there as a player in 1997.
However, Frost started his college football career at Stanford (before transferring to Nebraska) and cut his teeth coaching for Northern Iowa and Oregon, so there’s no reason to think he is a shoo-in for the Cornhuskers. UCF is trying to raise money to keep Frost and give his assistants raises, but the big boys will chuckle at UCF’s attempt and toss more money at Frost than he knows what to do with. While Nebraska would seem to have the natural advantage for Frost, don’t be surprised if it comes down to a bidding war.
Best SEC fits: Tennessee, Auburn, Texas A&M, Florida
Chip Kelly, ESPN analyst
Kelly might have taken a little bit of a beating in the NFL, but in college football circles he remains an elite coach with a 46-7 career record at Oregon. Kelly, 53, is hardly done coaching and, much like Urban Meyer did in 2011, he is likely using his ESPN gig to examine the landscape of college football and figure out his next move. Without any ties to a program or buyout needed, Kelly can negotiate with a program as soon as a job opens (which could happen at Tennessee any day now). Would he be a good fit in the SEC? Hard to say, but he wants to be at a program that has the resources to compete for a national title and his ego is big enough that he won’t be scared to go head-to-head against Nick Saban on the field and on the recruiting trail.
Best fits: Tennessee, Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M
Bobby Petrino, Louisville head coach
With the basketball program mired in controversy and Lamar Jackson’s likely declaration for the NFL Draft coming in two months, this is as good a time as any for one of football’s best known nomads to move. Before Petrino self-destructed at Arkansas, he was coming off of consecutive double-digit-win seasons with appearances in the Sugar Bowl and Cotton Bowl. Petrino has proven he can win in the SEC, and if a program can ignore his character flaws, he might be ready for one final run – just not at Arkansas. Auburn was willing to sabotage Tommy Tuberville to bring in Petrino a decade ago, why not do it now?
Best fits: Auburn, Ole Miss, Missouri
Frank Wilson, Texas-San Antonio head coach
Wilson was an assistant at Ole Miss and LSU before taking the UTSA job in 2016. He is widely considered one of the top recruiters in college football and has quickly flipped the Roadrunners roster into one that should get to a bowl for a second straight season. Wilson, 43, is hitting his coaching prime and would be a great candidate for a program in the SEC West given his familiarity with recruiting around those Gulf Coast states.
Best fits: Ole Miss, Arkansas
Dave Doeren, N.C. State head coach
A year after being on the hot seat, Doeren has the Wolfpack at 5-1 and ranked in the Top 20. He might be off the market soon as reports say he’s negotiating an extension with N.C. State. But the longer it takes, the more chances he’ll have to field outside offers. Buyer beware, however: Doeren is just 31-27 at N.C. State and 3-11 against Top 25 teams since his arrived in Raleigh. Still, if he’s available, he’s worth considering. Doeren has no SEC ties of note, as his other coaching stops have included Kansas and Wisconsin.
Best fits: Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee (if other options aren’t available)
Mike Norvell, Memphis head coach
Expect Norvell’s name to come up a lot next month as potential openings reveal themselves around the nation. At 36, he’s one of the youngest head coaches in the nation and is known for having prolific offenses at every place he’s coached. Given he’s coaching at Memphis already, Norvell would be a natural fit for a school that recruits the area successfully, such as Ole Miss. He played his college ball at Central Arkansas and is from the suburbs around Dallas, so other SEC West programs could be in play.
Best fits: Ole Miss, Arkansas, Texas A&M
Charlie Strong, USF head coach
Strong, like Norvell an alum of Central Arkansas, seems like he’ll be happy at USF, but at 57 he might want one run with an SEC program. The Batesville, Arkansas, native was a longtime assistant at Florida and also did stints with Texas A&M, Ole Miss and South Carolina. If the Arkansas job opened, I’d be surprised if Strong wasn’t at least mildly interested. He might also look at Ole Miss as an interesting option.
Best fits: Arkansas, Ole Miss
Three others to keep an eye on:
Mike MacIntyre, Colorado head coach
MacIntyre played at Vanderbilt and had coaching stops at Georgia and Ole Miss. He had been considered for SEC coaching jobs before taking the spot in Colorado, so expect to hear the 2016 AP Coach of the Year’s name batted around in the coming weeks.
Jim Bob Cooter, Detroit Lions OC
There’s good reason to expect Tennessee to inquire about the 31-year-old NFL assistant given that he played there from 2003-2006 under Phil Fulmer, although it doesn’t sound like everything about Cooter’s experience in the Volunteer state was pleasant.
Gary Pinkel, former Missouri head coach
Pinkel is 65, retired and has expressed support and confidence in Odom. But he still lives near campus and admits to missing his days running a program. If Kansas State can bring back Bill Snyder, why can’t Missouri bring back Pinkel?