Extra Points: The coaching carousel is spinning. And some big names are ready to jump
Each week, college football insider Matt Hayes tackles the biggest topics in the game, in and around the SEC:
The case to keep Dan Mullen
It now appears that Dan Mullen’s only hope of keeping his job at Florida is beating Missouri and Florida State to end the season.
A loss in either game likely means Florida will be searching for a new coach.
“I don’t see any wiggle room,” an industry source told me. “Dan knows it, too. Suddenly, he’s talking in press conferences about how he loves being the Florida coach.”
It’s debatable which loss is more damaging. A loss to Missouri leaves Florida in 6th place in the East Division, just ahead of Vanderbilt – and with its lowest number of conference wins (2) since the SEC expanded to 12 teams in 1992.
It would also mean Florida’s worst SEC record since the 1979 team went 0-10-1.
Those are dangerous depths.
Then again, the loss to Florida State would be more damaging moving forward. FSU would gain an upper hand in recruiting – even if for just a season – and the programs would be headed in drastically different directions.
If Florida were to win both games, Mullen might be able to make significant changes in his coaching staff – including hiring multiple SEC-centric recruiters to bolster his history of poor recruiting (by SEC elite standards) – and keep his job.
Now that Mel Tucker is likely staying at Michigan State, look for Oregon coach Mario Cristobal to become the hottest coach on the market.
Unless, that is, Oregon makes a run to the College Football Playoff.
The Ducks have games remaining at Utah, Oregon State and then likely Utah again in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Win out, and the Ducks are in the CFP – and the likelihood of him leaving Oregon is almost non-existent.
The big jobs that could lure Cristobal from Oregon – LSU, USC, and potentially Florida and Miami – won’t wait until the new year to hire their coach. For Cristobal to take any of those jobs, the Ducks would have to lose one of their remaining 3 games and be eliminated from the CFP race.
In that scenario, LSU could throw crazy money at Cristobal – one industry source told me LSU could pay as much as $9 million a year guaranteed for the right coach – to get him to leave Eugene. He’s a proven recruiter in the SEC (under Nick Saban), and he’s a proven national recruiter from his time at Oregon.
He’s an energetic and charismatic personality and the ideal face of a program. A former Miami offensive lineman under Jimmy Johnson, Cristobal was interested in the Miami job the last time it was open – when then Miami (and now fired) athletic director Blake James hired Manny Diaz.
But Cristobal’s success at Oregon not only could keep him in the Northwest, it could price Miami out of the market. Is Miami, which in the past hasn’t paid big for coaching candidates, prepared to pay $8 or $9 million a year for Cristobal (who makes $4.5 million plus incentives)? Oregon, with Nike founder Phil Knight in the background, could be.
So would LSU, and so likely would Florida.
The plan to retain
At this point in the process, with multiple major jobs open and a qualified pool of candidates waiting to move, the proactive and wildly expensive extension is the only way out for schools that wish to keep coaches from moving.
Michigan State did it with Tucker. Others could be following.
Case in point: Baylor coach Dave Aranda. He is a candidate for the LSU and USC jobs, and would be a candidate for the Miami job, too.
While the Baylor job isn’t at the level of the blue bloods that will chase Aranda, the university could make it very hard for Aranda to walk away. He told me earlier this year on my radio show how much he likes the job and the university, and his family loves the Baylor community.
A huge contract extension could give him incentive to stay.
“Dave has never been a guy who chases jobs,” an industry source told me. “Do you leave a place where you’re comfortable to jump into a meatgrinder where it’s win now or else? He’s a different cat.”
He’s also aware of his current value, and many coaches only get one chance to make a big salary move. Whether that salary increase is from Baylor – or a Power 5 blue blood – is the only question.
The time is now
After spending 3 seasons in exile at Liberty, Hugh Freeze is set up to return to a Power 5 job.
He has won 25 games at Liberty since arriving in 2019 and has patiently waited for the right situation. Or more specifically, for a university to take a chance.
Freeze was fired at Ole Miss prior to the 2017 season after what the school called “a pattern of personal misconduct” that included multiple calls on his university cell phone to escort services.
Understand this: That’s not the big issue for current athletic directors looking to hire a coach who can recruit and win – and has a track record of doing so.
The issue is the NCAA sanctions Ole Miss received because of Freeze and his staff, and how Freeze publicly sold the idea to the media and Ole Miss fans that the previous staff (Houston Nutt) was at the center of the allegations – all so Freeze could preserve a top-10 recruiting class.
“It’s the lying, that’s the problem,” one Power 5 athletic director told me. “If he’s lying about that, what else is he lying about? What else is he hiding? The personal conduct thing was just the easy way out for (Ole Miss).”
Still, in this era of NIL and players with more power and investment in the game than ever, programs need dynamic and charismatic recruiters and coaches. And Freeze is both.
“It’s hard to overlook that he beat Alabama twice,” another Power 5 AD told me. “How many coaches can say they’ve done that?”