By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
After four seasons in College Station, Texas A&M has decided to fire coach Mike Sherman. Under his watch, the Aggies posted a 25-25 record and did not win any bowl appearances. After a 9-4 finish last year, Texas A&M appeared to be on the right track, appearing in many preseason top-10 lists. However, the Aggies had trouble finishing games and closed with a disappointing loss to Texas on Thanksgiving night. With Texas A&M headed to the SEC, this is an important hire for athletic director Bill Byrne and president R. Bowen Loftin.
Art Briles, head coach, Baylor – Briles has been a successful coach on the high school and college level, with all of his experience coming in Texas. After working at the high school level from 1979-1999, he made a stop as a Texas Tech assistant from 2000-02, then accepted the head coaching spot at Houston. Briles led the Cougars to a 34-28 record in five seasons, including four bowl appearances. He has spent the last four seasons at Baylor, recording a 23-25 record. Although Briles has a losing record with the Bears, he has significantly upgraded the talent and overall competitiveness of this team since his arrival. Briles seems content at Baylor, but Texas A&M is a step up on the coaching ladder and the opportunity to work in the SEC.
Larry Fedora, head coach, Southern Miss – Just like Houston’s Kevin Sumlin, Fedora has been mentioned as a target for Ole Miss, Illinois, Kansas, Arizona State and UCLA. While Fedora could be interested in any of those jobs, Texas A&M is probably much more appealing. He was born in College Station and played at Austin College in Sherman, Texas. Fedora also has stints as an assistant at Baylor, Air Force, MTSU, Florida and Oklahoma State. In four seasons at Southern Miss, he has recorded a 32-19 record with one Conference USA East title. Fedora would be a good fit at Texas A&M, but Sumlin is believed to be target No. 1.
June Jones, head coach, SMU – Jones has done a good job of turning around struggling programs, making a stop at Hawaii from 1998-07 and SMU since 2008. The Warriors went 76-41 under Jones, while the Mustangs are 23-28 in four seasons. He also has NFL experience, spending time with the Oilers, Lions, Falcons and Chargers. Jones has to be appealing in the Aggies’ coaching search, thanks to a high-powered passing attack and his recent experience coaching in Texas. He is also expected to be in the mix at UCLA or Arizona State, so there could be a lot of interest for his services. Also, Jones is paid very well for a non-BCS coach, and it would likely take a hefty contract to pry him away from SMU.
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson – Out of the seven coaches mentioned on this list, Morris is probably the biggest longshot. He has spent just two years on the FBS level, jumping from Lake Travis High School to Tulsa offensive coordinator in 2010 and taking over the same position at Clemson in 2011. Morris is one of the rising stars in the assistant ranks and runs an up-tempo scheme that averaged 41.4 points a game at Tulsa last season and 33.3 at Clemson this year. Morris graduated from Texas A&M in 1992, but is lack of experience at the FBS level has to hurt his chances of getting the full-time position.
Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama – Smart is another hot name in coaching searches and is believed to be drawing interest from Ole Miss. He has worked under Nick Saban at Alabama since 2007, and has additional stops as an assistant at Georgia, LSU and Valdosta State. Smart has one year of NFL experience, spending the 2006 season with Saban and the Dolphins. Smart is due for a shot to lead a program, but current Saban assistants (Jimbo Fisher, Will Muschamp and Derek Dooley) haven’t been a smashing success as a head coach. Also, how much of Alabama’s defensive success is due to Saban?
Charlie Strong, head coach, Louisville – Strong recently signed a contract extension at Louisville, but could be in the mix at Texas A&M. He has done a terrific job in just two years with the Cardinals, posting a 14-11 record and a Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl victory last season. Strong has a wealth of experience as an assistant, making stops at Texas A&M, Florida, Ole Miss, Notre Dame and South Carolina. There’s no question Strong is a rising star in the coaching ranks, but is he ready to leave Louisville? The Cardinals could be a preseason top 25 team next season and will be the likely frontrunner in the Big East. If he waits another year, his stock could be higher.
Kevin Sumlin, head coach, Houston – Sumlin is a wanted man. His name has jumped into consideration at Kansas, Arizona State, UCLA, Illinois and now Texas A&M. In four years at Houston, he has compiled a 35-16 record and is one win away from taking the Cougars to a BCS game. Sumlin has a solid resume as an assistant, working at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops from 2003-07 and from 2001-02 at Texas A&M under R.C. Slocum. Considering Sumlin’s previous experience in College Station and Houston’s successful 2011 season, he has to be the clear frontrunner for Texas A&M.