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6 FCS Head Coaches Who Could Become FBS Candidates


Always looking for the next best thing in the college football coaching ranks, the FBS level plucked two top FCS head coaches for coordinator positions this year, with Beau Baldwin moving from Eastern Washington to Cal and Jamey Chadwell from Charleston Southern to Coastal Carolina.


Just one year earlier, three FCS coaches gained top jobs at FBS programs: Jay Hopson (Alcorn State to Southern Miss), Matt Viator (McNeese State to ULM) and Everett Withers (James Madison to Texas State).

And more hires appear on the horizon.

Here are a half-dozen current FCS head coaches who need to be considered by FBS programs after this season. This list doesn’t include coaches who have guided FBS programs previously, so guys such as Youngstown State’s Bo Pelini (Nebraska) and Howard’s Mike London (Virginia), although excellent choices, are excluded.

Note: The possible coaching destinations mentioned with each candidate are theoretical and for after the 2017 season.

— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.

Mike Houston, James Madison

James Madison Record: 14-1

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Overall Record: 57-20

What to Know: No FCS head coach has trended upward in the last year as much as Houston. After leading The Citadel to its first Southern Conference title in 23 years as well as an upset of South Carolina in 2015, Houston guided James Madison to the FCS national title in his first season last year. He’s building the Dukes for the long haul with an athletic, physical talent base. The question is, how long will the 45-year-old remain in Harrisonburg, Va.?

Possible Destinations: Marshall or NC State. Southern schools in the East are well aware of what Houston has been accomplishing in recent years. Marshall would likely come available before NC State next offseason.

Chris Klieman, North Dakota State

North Dakota State Record: 40-5

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Overall Record: 43-12

What to Know: Klieman is well schooled in all facets of a North Dakota State system that produced five straight FCS titles from 2011-15 (he followed Craig Bohl’s three with two of his own). He’s also been a part of five of the Bison’s six straight wins over FBS programs. Klieman, who turns 50 in late September, is accustomed to coaching in huge games, but his only experience in the FBS was in 1997 as Kansas’ defensive backs coach. He is on a contract that goes through NDSU’s 2021 season.

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Possible Destinations: Kansas or Kent State. Klieman has spent his entire coaching career in the Midwest and seems suited with staying there.

John Grass, Jacksonville State

Jacksonville State and Career Records: 33-6

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What to Know: The 49-year-old Grass has been coaching since 1990 and it’s all within his native Alabama, so leading Ohio Valley Conference power Jacksonville State is an ideal fit. He’s yet to lose a conference game through three seasons as the Gamecocks’ head coach and took them to a 2015 national runner-up finish. Grass’ background is on the offensive side of the ball.

Possible Destination: Troy. If head coach Neal Brown can build on last year’s 10-win season with the Trojans and move to a larger program, Grass would be a leading candidate for an opening at the Alabama school.

K.C. Keeler, Sam Houston State

Sam Houston State Record: 34-10

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Career Record: 208-83-1

What to Know: In truth, Keeler deserves to have been an FBS head coach by now, most recently linked to Temple’s opening last year. He’s been out of coaching in only one season since he first joined the Amherst staff in 1981 and has a track record as a big-time winner at Division III Rowan, Delaware and Sam Houston State, including an FCS championship with the Blue Hens in 2003. Last year, he had Sam Houston at No. 1 in the regular season and was voted the FCS coach of the year (Eddie Robinson Award).

Possible Destinations: Buffalo or UMass. Keeler is 57, so he’s running out of time to land an FBS job.

Brock Spack, Illinois State

Illinois State and Career Records: 62-35

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What to Know: Spack’s name was thrown about when the top job opened at Purdue, his alma mater, last year. The former All-Big Ten linebacker is 55 years old and has done well in eight seasons at Illinois State, lifting a program that he called a “sleeping giant” upon his arrival in 2009. He’s led the Missouri Valley Football Conference program to a national runner-up finish (2014) and four playoff appearances in the last five years. He was the defensive coordinator at Wyoming and Purdue (12 seasons) before arriving at Illinois State.

Possible Destination: Kansas or Kent State. Kansas’ David Beaty has won only two games in two seasons and Kent State’s Paul Haynes enters his fifth season with only 12 victories.

Broderick Fobbs, Grambling State

Grambling State and Career Records: 27-9

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What to Know: It’s a big jump from the Southwestern Athletic Conference to an FBS job, but Southern Miss’ Jay Hopson did it in 2016 after a successful run at Alcorn State. Fobbs has done even better at Grambling State, including a 25-2 mark in conference games and wins in the SWAC Championship Game and the Air Force Celebration Bowl last season. The soon-to-be 43-year-old (Aug. 2) was a two-time team captain under the legendary Eddie Robinson at Grambling. He’s brought discipline and focus to a Grambling program that was reeling upon his arrival.

Possible Destinations: New Mexico State. The Aggies are in need of a turnaround as it enters its last season in the Sun Belt and prepares for life as an FBS Independent in 2018.