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Is Jimbo Fisher a candidate to replace Mack Brown?
Mack Brown’s tenure at Texas is over. In 16 seasons in Austin, Brown recorded a 158-47 mark, including a national championship in 2005 and nine consecutive seasons of at least 10 wins from 2001-09.
Texas is widely considered one of the best head coach jobs – if not No. 1 – in the nation. The Longhorns have all of the resources to win at a high level every season, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a plethora of talented recruits in your background.
The Longhorn Network and the obligations associated with Texas’ television channel could be a bit overwhelming to some coaches. However, with the resources available in Austin, Texas can afford to hire as many people as necessary in the support staff for the head coach.
While Texas is arguably the No. 1 job in the nation, there’s not an easy or obvious fit to replace Brown.
Considering where this job ranks nationally and the uncertainty about interested candidates, this should be one of the more intriguing coaching searches in recent memory.
Candidates to Replace Mack Brown at Texas
Jimbo Fisher, head coach, Florida State
Under Fisher’s direction, Florida State has emerged as a national title contender once again. The Seminoles were 30-22 in the four seasons prior to Fisher’s arrival, but the West Virginia native has brought steady improvement to Tallahassee, guiding Florida State to a 44-10 mark over the last four years. The Seminoles are 25-2 over the last two seasons and will play Auburn for the national title on Jan. 6. Florida State and Fisher have agreed to a new deal, and it seems unlikely he would leave with the Seminoles set to play for the national title. Fisher is regarded as an excellent talent evaluator and guided the program through the loss of six assistant coaches this year to an appearance in the national title. If nothing else, Fisher can use the Texas job as leverage to get an upgraded deal, assistant pay or any additional resources he needs in Tallahassee.
Pat Fitzgerald, head coach, Northwestern
As a former Northwestern player, it’s difficult to see Fitzgerald leaving Evanston. But if he was looking to leave, Texas may be the only job that tempts the 39-year-old coach. The Wildcats are 55-46 under Fitzgerald’s watch and had a streak of five consecutive bowl appearances from 2008-12. Northwestern – much like Vanderbilt or Duke – is a tough place to consistently win at a top 10-15 level. Again, it’s unlikely Fitzgerald will ever leave Northwestern, but he would be a home-run hire for Texas.
James Franklin, head coach, Vanderbilt
Franklin is one of the rising stars among college football coaches, and it’s a surprise the 41-year-old coach hasn’t been courted by more top jobs over the last two seasons. In three years with Vanderbilt, Franklin has a 23-15 record and one bowl victory. The 23 wins accumulated under Franklin are the best in a three-year stint by a Vanderbilt coach since Dan McGugin had from 1927-29. Not only is Franklin an excellent X’s and O’s coach, he is a dynamic recruiter and a coach that can bring much-needed energy to a fanbase.
Al Golden, head coach, Miami
Miami is a top-25 job, but the Hurricanes simply lack the resources of a place like Texas. Even though Golden seems content at Miami and guided the program through the Nevin Shapiro scandal, the New Jersey native would at least have to listen if Texas calls. Golden helped to resurrect Temple’s football program, recording a 27-34 mark in five seasons with the Owls. Temple played in one bowl game and earned back-to-back winning records with Golden leading the way. In three years at Miami, Golden is 22-14 and has a 10-6 mark in ACC play over the last two seasons.
Mike Gundy, head coach, Oklahoma State
Gundy played quarterback at Oklahoma State and has spent most of his coaching career in Stillwater, so it wouldn't be easy for him to leave for another job in the Big 12. In nine years as the Cowboys’ head coach, Gundy has a 77-37 record, including a 45-30 mark in conference play. Oklahoma State is 5-2 in bowl games under Gundy and finished No. 3 in the nation in 2011. Although Gundy’s ties to Oklahoma State are strong, he nearly left for Tennessee last offseason. The Oklahoma native already has good recruiting connections in Texas, and there would be more resources at his disposal with the Longhorns. Considering what Gundy has done in his seven-year mark with the Cowboys, along with his experience in recruiting Texas, it’s easy to see why he should be a target at Texas.
Bill O’Brien, head coach, Penn State
O’Brien inherited a difficult situation at Penn State. The program was hit by NCAA sanctions due to the Jerry Sandusky scandal, and there was plenty of uncertainty about which players might transfer to another program due to the postseason ban. In two years, O’Brien is 15-9 and Penn State has back-to-back winning records under his watch. O’Brien also has NFL experience, spending 2007-11 as an assistant with the Patriots. The Nittany Lions are getting some relief from the scholarship sanctions, but the bowl ban for the next two years is still in place. O’Brien interviewed with the Browns last season, and his name will likely come up in coaching searches over the next few years.
Gary Patterson, head coach, TCU
Much like the other coaches on this list, Patterson seems unlikely to leave TCU. The Kansas native guided the Horned Frogs on a winding conference journey, starting in the WAC in 2000, continuing with Conference USA from 2001-04, the Mountain West from 2005-11 and the Big 12 in 2012. Transiting from a non-BCS league to a BCS conference is no easy task, but TCU is 11-14 over the last two years and recorded a 7-6 mark in 2012 without its starting quarterback for most of the season. Patterson is known as one of the best defensive coaches in the nation and certainly knows how to recruit the state of Texas. Patterson has a pretty good gig at TCU. But if he wants to upgrade, it’s not easy to turn down the No. 1 program in the nation – and he won’t have to go too far to do it.
Rich Rodriguez, head coach, Arizona
Rodriguez is a good darkhorse candidate for Texas. After a failed three-year stint at Michigan, Rodriguez is 15-10 with two bowl appearances at Arizona. And while the 15-22 record at Michigan is tough to overlook, Rodriguez went 60-26 at West Virginia and was on the doorstep of playing for the national title in 2007. Rodriguez does not have any experience coaching in Texas, but even with a mediocre tenure at Michigan, his overall record is 135-94-2.
Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama
Since Texas can’t get Nick Saban, would they settle for a Saban clone? Smart has worked under Saban for eight years, starting in 2004 at LSU and continuing in the NFL with the Dolphins. Smart followed Saban to Alabama in 2007 and has served as the defensive coordinator since 2008. The Crimson Tide’s defense has ranked No. 1 in the SEC in total defense every season since 2008, and this unit led the nation in fewest points allowed in 2011-12. Smart does not have any head coach experience, and most of his background has been in the SEC. The former Georgia defensive back is ready to run his own program, but Texas likely wants a proven commodity to replace Mack Brown.
Les Miles, head coach, LSU
Raise your hand if you would watch Les Miles every day on the Longhorn Network. Yep, that’s what we thought. Miles has one of college football’s top-10 jobs at LSU and is 94-24 in nine years in Baton Rouge. In order to coach at Texas, you have to be good at dealing with boosters and able to put up with the requirements of the Longhorn Network. Both sound like strengths of Miles, but again, it’s unlikely he leaves for Austin.
Art Briles, head coach, Baylor
Briles received a contract extension until 2023 this season and seems content to stay at Baylor. However, if there was a perfect candidate to take over in Austin, Briles might be it. The 58-year-old coach has spent his entire career in Texas and turned Baylor from a Big 12 doormat into a Big 12 title contender.
Larry Fedora, head coach, North Carolina
Fedora is a Texas native – College Station to be exact. The 51-year-old coach has stops as an assistant at Baylor, Air Force, MTSU, Florida and Oklahoma State. Fedora has been a head coach for six seasons, recording a 48-29 overall mark. It’s a safe bet Fedora would be interested if offered an opportunity to interview. However, is six combined seasons at Southern Miss and North Carolina enough to interest Texas?
Mark Hudspeth, head coach, Louisiana-Lafayette
With a victory over Tulane in the New Orleans Bowl, Hudspeth will have nine wins in each of his first three seasons at Louisiana-Lafayette. Hudspeth is clearly a rising star, but Texas is probably looking for someone with more experience as a head coach.
Tim DeRuyter, head coach, Fresno State
DeRuyter is 20-5 in two seasons at Fresno State and went 1-0 as Texas A&M’s interim coach in 2011. The California native is due for a promotion to run a BCS program, but he is unlikely to be in the mix at Texas.
Hugh Freeze, head coach, Ole Miss
Freeze’s contract was upgraded this offseason by Ole Miss. Would that be enough to stop him from leaving? In two years with the Rebels, Freeze is 14-11 and went 10-2 for Arkansas State in 2011. Freeze’s record at Ole Miss isn’t particularly overwhelming, but he inherited a team that went 6-18 in the two seasons prior to his arrival. The Rebels reeled in a top-10 recruiting class this year and after back-to-back seven-win seasons, the program is on the right track.
Jerry Gray, defensive coordinator, Tennessee Titans
Gray is a former Texas player and worked on Mack Brown’s staff in 2011. However, despite his ties to the university, Gray is an extreme longshot candidate for the position. The Titans rank No. 9 in the NFL in total defense, but Gray has never worked as a head coach on the college or pro level.
Jim Harbaugh, head coach, San Francisco 49ers
Harbaugh was one of the top coaches in college football before leaving to take the top spot with the 49ers. In four years with Stanford, he recorded a 29-21 mark and won the Orange Bowl in 2010. Harbaugh is 33-11 in three seasons with the 49ers and led San Francisco to a Super Bowl appearance last year. While Harbaugh’s name has been mentioned for this job, it’s unlikely he would leave the NFL after just three seasons. However, after he wins a Super Bowl, who knows what could happened?
Gus Malzahn, head coach, Auburn
Much like Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze, Malzahn has agreed to a raise and an extension this offseason. And with Auburn set to play in the national championship on Jan. 6, don’t expect Malzahn to leave the Plains anytime soon.
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson
It’s only a matter of time before Morris gets a chance to be a head coach in a BCS conference. The Texas native was a successful high school coach prior to taking over at Tulsa as an offensive coordinator in 2010. After one season with the Golden Hurricane, Morris was hired by Dabo Swinney to coordinate Clemson’s offense. Over the last three years, the Tigers have ranked first or second in the ACC in total offense.
Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State
Narduzzi was in the mix to be the coach at Connecticut, but he turned down an opportunity to lead the Huskies for another year at Michigan State. Narduzzi does not have head coaching experience, which would seem to be a major drawback for Texas. However, there’s no denying Narduzzi is one of the best defensive coordinators in college football.
Mike Tomlin, head coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
Tomlin’s name has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Mack Brown. Keep dreaming. Even after a down year with the Steelers, Tomlin isn’t leaving Pittsburgh.