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College Football Hot Seat Watch: Examining the Potential Candidates to Fill Open Jobs

Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina Chanticleers Football

The first round of the coaching carousel is nearly complete, with big hires made at places like Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Auburn. Before we reflect on the entire cycle, let’s take a look at the FBS jobs currently open as of press time as well as who could fill them, and when:

Stanford - David Shaw’s retirement didn’t come as a shock to a lot of industry insiders (we mentioned it here weeks back), and it’s going to take a candidate with a unique skill set to try to help Stanford back to national prominence.

Most conversations start with Rice head coach and former Stanford assistant Mike Bloomgren, a direct connection with Shaw and someone who knows the system in Palo Alto firsthand. But Bloomgren has struggled at Rice and might be a hard sell. If so, the ideal outside candidate would be Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson, but he is unlikely to leave an ideal setup with the Demon Deacons to take on an increasingly tricky Stanford job.

So who’s next? Stanford can’t run from the demands it places on admissions in the NIL and portal era, meaning that there are only a few coaches in the business who know and succeed with such restrictions. Army’s Jeff Monken and Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo have built consistent winners under the absolute strictest settings in the industry. Culturally Stanford’s campus might be a 180 from the service academies, but they’ve got way more in common inside their programs than they probably realize.

Cincinnati – The Bearcats lost the best coach in program history when Luke Fickell took the Wisconsin job, but they’ve got a lot to offer as entrants to the Big 12, and with a perfectly functional program in place.

One early name that would be nothing short of a coup for Cincy is Iowa State’s Matt Campbell. Campbell would by most traditional estimates be moving laterally from one conference program to another, but the 43-year-old Ohio native has arguably maxed out at ISU and could be the same kind of force in recruiting his home state that Fickell was. Cincinnati’s strength as the state’s “Other P5” hasn’t been tapped yet, and Campbell’s bonafides as a proven program manager could create a seamless transition.

After Campbell, it’s a very deep list of quality candidates: Kent State’s Sean Lewis, mastermind of one of the nation’s best offenses year after year, could easily hang in the points-heavy Big 12. LSU defensive coordinator Matt House has worked at nearby Kentucky and knows the area, and Ohio State wide receivers coach Brian Hartline’s resume developing some of the skill position players in the sport speaks for itself. Fickell was a generational coach for the Bearcats, but this is a sought-after job.

Colorado – Look for some closure in Boulder as soon as the SWAC Championship wraps up. Jackson State’s Deion Sanders remains at the top of the Buffaloes' list, and Sanders is almost certain not to make a move until the Tigers’ regular season has finished. Most in the industry – including Prime himself – have pegged Colorado as Sanders’ job to turn down. If he does, keep an eye on Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters.

UNLV – The Rebels have exhausted the various categories in their recent run at establishing any kind of relevance – they’ve transitioned from FCS success (Bobby Hauck) to local high school superstar (Tony Sanchez) to promising Power 5 assistant (Marcus Arroyo). Where are they headed next? UNLV may be targeting a “name” or “celebrity” coach to help raise the program’s brand instantly. That translates to someone likely with P5 head coaching experience. Could ousted Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin land here?

USF & Florida Atlantic – Another job potentially waiting on a conference championship game to wrap is USF. Jamey Chadwell has been mentioned as a favorite for the Bulls, but this search has stayed relatively quiet thus far. For Chadwell, going to the Bulls after receiving consideration for jobs like South Carolina and Vanderbilt is a reflection of how the industry views the character and style of the Coastal Carolina head coach. USF is a project with potential, much like the nascent CCU was when Chadwell came.

One name attached to both Florida openings is former Miami head coach and current Penn State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. Diaz is a native son of South Florida and would be able to instantly acclimate to FAU’s roster, culture, and recruiting needs. The Owls’ roster wasn’t the problem for Willie Taggart, and the talent available sets up nicely for the next head coach. Florida ties are an absolute must for both schools, but especially the Owls: Look for Ole Miss offensive coordinator and former FAU assistant Charlie Weis Jr. Howard head coach and Florida native Larry Scott, or Florida A&M head coach Willie Simmons Jr.

Liberty – Hugh Freeze’s departure from Lynchburg to Auburn has created a massive amount of demand for a job that coaches feel is an easy fit. Liberty’s polarizing national profile doesn’t seem to apply to football, where potential suitors see this as a high-paying job in a soon-to-be very easy Conference USA. Indiana’s Tom Allen, Army’s Monken, and CCU’s Chadwell are all potential names here. Allen is a former Freeze assistant and could benefit from a recommendation from Liberty’s former leader.

Tulsa & Texas State – The potential of both these schools is geographic and cultural. Football is king in their footprint, but after that obvious assets, there’s a serious concern at both posts: Tulsa is a private school with a mentality and budget counterintuitive to wanton spending. Texas State is a largely ignored entity at present and needs tremendous work on facilities and reestablishing a high school recruiting footprint.

Tulsa has a duo of former players who are offensive celebrities – FCS Incarnate Word head coach GJ Kinne’s offense has redefined explosiveness this season, while Texas wide receivers coach Brennan Marion’s “Go-Go” concepts have made him a fast-rising star. The Golden Hurricane will also take a look at former Utah State and Texas Tech head coach Matt Wells, and Oklahoma native and former Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente.

It’s a debate as to which of these programs is the better option, but they’re seemingly shopping down the same aisle, and it will likely come down to fit.

Western Michigan – Tim Lester couldn’t recapture the magic of P.J. Fleck, arguably the MAC’s last star head coach. Who the Broncos end up with – and who they’re able to land interviews with – will also speak to the state of the MAC at large. Are MAC jobs still the springboard to Power 5 gigs they once were? There’s mounting evidence that things are cooling in this conference. Expect a host of P5 assistants with Michigan ties, specifically Michigan’s Jay Harbaugh and Sherrone Moore. But don’t count out an FCS candidate here. What kind of coach still values these jobs will be very telling.

You can hear more from Steven Godfrey at Split Zone Duo, or watch his work at Secret Base. He’s on Instagram and Twitter at @38Godfrey.