Ranking the 11 current head coach openings in CFB
Congratulations. You’re a desirable head football coach. You’re an ace recruiter, a great teacher and you know how to drum up support among the boosters.
The only problem is, you don’t have a job right now. And you want one. Badly.
Lucky for you, there are 11 FBS head coaching jobs already open — most of those before October ended. (Another school, Minnesota, filled its open position last week with an interim coach.)
It’s possible that schools like Texas and Georgia could have vacancies, in which case they’d immediately attract the nation’s top candidates. Certainly there will be a number of additional power-conference openings at places like Rutgers.
In the SEC, we’ve already got two openings, and at schools where the previous coach resided for many years.
We appreciate that there are mitigating circumstances in your life. Maybe you’re a West Coast guy. Or you love sunshine and Southern football. Maybe you’re a wizard at transitioning your program into an NFL pipeline. Maybe you appreciate a school with high academic standards (we see you, Vandy!).
But, all things being equal, which program would you want to take over? To what school would you pledge your powerful name? And, since we’re in SEC country now, what is your opinion of the jobs at South Carolina and Missouri?
We’ve ranked every current head coach opening in FBS from best to worst:
Former coach: Steve Sarkisian
Why it’s good: This is a top 5 job in college football. The previous three regimes, at least at the end, were defined by: 1) major NCAA penalties (Pete Carroll), 2) major media drama (Lane Kiffin) and 3) an alcohol-related public relations disaster. New guy, top that! It shouldn’t take much. The team’s tradition, resources, location and even the current talent all are set up for a coach to contend for titles. No one doubts that an Urban Meyer or Nick Saban could win a national title at USC.
Why it’s bad: The fan base (and administration, probably) has become jaded. The cross-town rival, UCLA, seems to be ahead right now and in recent years. Being a borderline top 25 team isn’t going to cut it.
Buzzy name: Chip Kelly
Former coach: Al Golden
Why it’s good: This is the third-best job in the state of Florida right now, but still the best in South Florida. That’s recruiting gold, potentially. The competition in the ACC’s Coastal Division isn’t all that intimidating. With a few tweaks (facilities, personnel upgrades), Miami could be contending for conference titles each year. It’s a visible job and a visible program. Some people still care about Miami nationally. The bottom line is there’s more upside coaching Miami then at any program on this list except for USC. A great recruiter with a strong staff of teachers still can win big here.
Why it’s bad: No on-campus stadium. Everybody and their mother thinks they own South Florida recruiting. The brand that no longer means as much to current high school talent. The pay isn’t going to be as good, probably, as it will at South Carolina. Right now everyone has an opinion on what should or should not happen to fix the Miami football team, and it will take a strong leader to unify those opinions.
Buzzy name: Charlie Strong
3. Virginia Tech
Former coach: Frank Beamer
Why it’s good: The Hokies face Miami, Georgia Tech and Duke instead of, say, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida. The fan base is loyal. The in-state recruiting isn’t bad, and the school has inroads in Washington D.C. If a new coach can rustle up some offense, Virginia Tech is capable of being a perennial contender in the ACC. Beamer created a mostly-positive culture that should be an asset to the next guy.
Why it’s bad: The next coach will be following a Virginia Tech legend — many years after the prime of the Beamer program. So he’ll be compared to Beamer while fighting against the slip in personnel that’s occurred in recent seasons. If Miami gets a good coach, the Coastal Division may not be as wide open as it is currently.
Buzzy name: Kirby Smart
4. South Carolina
Former coach: Steve Spurrier
Why it’s good: The Gamecocks should pay the next head coach more than $4 million per year. That’s outstanding money. Spurrier also showed that it’s possible to compete for SEC East titles at the school. The division remains relatively weak right now. Despite South Carolina’s historical spot near the bottom, there’s opportunity there. The fan base is loyal and passionate.
Why it’s bad: South Carolina always will be a half-step behind the upper-tier SEC East teams in terms of resources. Recruiting is one of those — great prep talent only percolates within the state so often. Following Spurrier, recently removed from three consecutive top-10 seasons, won’t be easy.
Buzzy name: Tom Herman
Former coach: Gary Pinkel
Why it’s good: The local recruiting base is underrated in places like Kansas City and St. Louis. Mizzou also has an underrated history of winning, a huge credit to Pinkel. The job is within the SEC, which means plenty of money for the next coach. It’s better to be in the SEC East than the SEC West right now.
Why it’s bad: Mizzou’s facilities lag behind the best in the SEC. It seemed like Pinkel made real progress on that front, but a new coach will be tasked with continuing that — a big responsibility for the “new guy.” Recruiting never has been great at Missouri. Fans are going to expect the team to continue finding and developing diamond in the rough type players. The drama of all the on-campus unrest has lingered. If I’m a football coach, I’m not sure that’s attractive to me.
Buzzy name: Justin Fuente (Memphis head coach)
Former coach: Randy Edsall
Why it’s good: The program is relatively wealthy between the Big Ten Network and the new Under Armour deal. The Maryland/Washington D.C. corridor is a solid market, both for recruiting and fan support. The overall athletic department and university support at Maryland is pretty strong as well.
Why it’s bad: The Big Ten East features Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh, Mark D’Antonio and James Franklin. That’s a brutal collection of coaches, especially in terms of recruiting. There’s no culture of winning at Maryland, and no coach has enjoyed long-term success.
Buzzy name: Lane Kiffin (Alabama offensive coordinator)
Former coach: George O’Leary
Why it’s good: UCF is a huge university with a new stadium and plenty of financial support. Oh, and it’s located in Orlando, with plenty of opportunities for recruiting Florida athletes. O’Leary was getting paid $1.7 million, which bodes well for a new coach. It’s very possible to leverage this program into a Group of 5 power. The Blake Bortles-led Fiesta Bowl victory provides a tangible selling point of what could be.
Why it’s bad: You’re never going to win a national title at UCF. It’s also possible to have a winless season (see: 2015). And the money likely will never equal any of the jobs listed ahead of UCF in these rankings.
Buzzy name: Jeff Brohm
Former coach: Tim Beckman
Why it’s good: The Chicago market theoretically is a decent one. Illinois can recruit St. Louis as well. The team’s presence in the Big Ten West is an advantage. This job also is a potential stepping stone to an elite post in one of the power conferences.
Why it’s bad: The program is in shambles after the abusive culture that Beckman created and athletic director Mike Thomas perpetuated. The new coach is going to have to convince recruits, and parents, that the culture has changed. Champaign, Ill., is a historically-tough place to sustain football success.
Buzzy name: P.J. Fleck (Western Michigan head coach)
9. North Texas
Former coach: Dan McCarney
Why it’s good: The proximity to Dallas-Forth Worth should be terrific for recruiting at the Conference USA level. Facilities and pay are very competitive relative to the rest of the conference. A good, young coach should be able to prove himself here and land a bigger job.
Why it’s bad: The last two coaches, Todd Dodge and Dan McCarney, both flamed out in spectacular fashion. Obviously, there are bigger and better jobs at the FBS level. But it’s a head gig with a chance to be in the game.
Buzzy name: Major Applewhite
Former coach: Todd Berry
Why it’s good: Teams like New Mexico State, Texas State and Idaho are very beatable. The Sun Belt conference usually is the weakest in all of FBS. It’s a head coaching job. That’s something — right?
Why it’s bad: ULM’s football team struggles with a lack of revenue every season (hence the constant payday games against SEC foes). The team has made one bowl game in 21 seasons as an FBS school. The administration doesn’t seem willing or able to give the program the proper resources a head coach would need to succeed.
Buzzy name: Ed Orgeron
Former coach: Norm Chow
Why it’s good: You get to live in Hawaii. And run whatever trinket offense you want. And no one is going to care much if you aren’t very good.
Why it’s bad: There’s little to no money in the Hawaii athletic department. Fan interest is, to put it mildly, bad. There are a lot of long plane flights during the season. Oh, and did we mention that fans just don’t care? The facilities are terrible, and it’s possible the university could shutter the football program at some point.
Buzzy name: June Jones