Change is a constant in college football, particularly in the coaching profession.
In decades past, a coach could ascend to the top jobs — and some of the mid-level posts — in the sport and stay year after year. Think of Bear Bryant, Vince Dooley, Bo Schembechler or Hayden Fry.
Those days are more or less over. In the last four seasons alone, Texas, USC, Oregon, Auburn and Tennessee have hired new coaches. Penn State has hired two. Florida is on its second coaching search in the last five seasons.
While the names change, some of the best jobs in the sport do not. Florida is as good a job for this new coach as it was for Will Muschamp, Urban Meyer or Ron Zook. Kansas remains a challenge for any coach, an insurmountable one for many.
Which jobs are the best in this year’s version of the coaching carousel? Here’s our take on the potential for each program making a change this season.
Out: Will Muschamp (28-20 in four seasons)
In: Jim McElwain, Colorado State head coach
Pros: With three national championships since 1996 and eight SEC titles since 1991, Florida is one of the nation’s elite-of-the-elite jobs. The Gators are the flagship university and only SEC representative in one of the nation’s big three recruiting states. Moreover, Florida has been able to spot recruit into the Southeast, the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast regularly over the years. Athletic director Jeremy Foley is one of the nation’s top administrators who will give his football coach every opportunity to succeed.
Cons: If we’re going to nitpick at the Florida job, it could be the facilities. The Gators last had a stadium/facility upgrade in 2008 and remain one of the few top programs without an indoor practice facility or standalone football building. Foley shrugs off the perception that Florida lags in facilities. “We’re not into bells and whistles,” he says. Style is also a factor at Florida. The Gators have won three national championships since 1996, but the coaches who have succeeded the most, Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, have run innovative offenses.
How good is the Florida job? A-plus
Out: Brady Hoke (31-20 in four seasons)
In: Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers coach
Pros: No team in the history of college football has won more games than Michigan. Along with Ohio State, Michigan is on the short list of programs in the Big Ten with the potential of being a consistent player on a national stage, even that hasn’t occurred for the Wolverines in nearly a decade. The population drain in the Midwest is a concern for many regional programs, but even Hoke was able to secure two top-10 national signing classes.
Cons: Michigan went with the nontraditional hire (for them) in Rich Rodriguez and then the Michigan Man in Hoke. Both were fired in four years or less. The Wolverines are in a crossroads similar to when Notre Dame hired Brian Kelly or when Alabama hired Nick Saban, and the man making the hire holds the interim athletic director tag.
How good is the Michigan job? A-plus
Out: Bo Pelini (66-27 in seven seasons)
In: Mike Riley, Oregon State head coach
Pros: The Cornhuskers are one of the college football’s most legendary programs with 865 wins (fourth all time) and five national championships. Resources, facilities and fan support are all among the best in the country. The new coach also takes over a program that’s in better shape than the typical program that just fired a coach — seven consecutive seasons with at least nine wins indicates a solid foundation.
Cons: We mentioned the seven consecutive seasons of nine or 10 wins. Well, that got the last coach fired. The next coach will be expected to take the next step for Big Ten championships and national title contention. National recruiting is a must. Lincoln isn’t the easiest destination to reach in college football, and Nebraska has been cut off from the state of Texas thanks to conference realignment.
How good is the Nebraska job? A-minus
Out: Gary Andersen (19-7 in two seasons)
In: Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh head coach
Pros: The Badgers have been regular contenders in the Big Ten in the 11-team league, in the Leaders division and now the West division. The Badgers aren’t in the same tier as Ohio State or Michigan in the Big Ten, but they’ve been able to go toe-to-toe with any program in the league. Camp Randall is as raucous atmosphere as any in the conference. Wisconsin has an identity of ground-and-pound football thanks to a local recruiting base that produces plenty of offensive linemen.
Cons: The last two coaches have turned their success at Wisconsin into the Arkansas and Oregon State job. Is that simply a coincident or a red flag? The Big Ten is getting tougher with Urban Meyer and James Franklin becoming entrenched and new coaches at Nebraska and Michigan.
How good is the Wisconsin job? B-plus
Out: Paul Chryst (19-19 in three seasons)
In: Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State defensive coordinator
Pros: Pittsburgh is a program with the potential to be an above-average program in the ACC, but for various reasons, the Panthers have been largely mediocre for more than 30 years. Western Pennsylvania should be good recruiting ground, especially if the coach can dip into Ohio and pick off players in Florida, Texas or New Jersey. Pittsburgh has a Heisman winner and a national championship in its history.
Cons: The glory days of Pittsburgh college football in the 70s and 80s won’t resonate much with recruits in 2014. Although ACC membership is an asset, the recruiting environment for Pitt is as competitive as ever with Urban Meyer at Ohio State and James Franklin at Penn State. This program is also reeling from two head coaches in the last four seasons. That development in part cost athletic director Steve Pederson his job.
How good is the Pittsburgh job? C-plus
6. Oregon State
Out: Mike Riley (93-80 in 14 seasons)
In: Gary Andersen, Wisconsin head coach
Pros: Make no mistake, this is a tough job, but clearly the administration knows this. Riley had his ups and downs with the program, but rarely did the program seem to panic. For a coach looking to take one of the tougher jobs in the Pac-12, that dose of reality will be an asset.
Cons: Why is this a tough job? Just look at the other program in state. Corvallis is an outpost in the college football landscape, which puts Oregon State at a disadvantage compared to most other Pac-12 jobs. While Oregon just moved into a state-of-the-art, eye-catching facility, Oregon State is moving incrementally to complete the first major stadium upgrades since 2005. Riley did an excellent job of unearthing and developing talent that at times could challenge the best in the league. The next coach may find out how tall a task that is.
How good is the Oregon State job? C
Out: Charlie Weis (6-22 in three seasons)
In: David Beatty, Texas A&M wide receivers coach
Pros: Kansas has a clear ceiling in the Big 12, but the Jayhawks have proven they can have a respectable program. Mark Mangino took Kansas to four bowl games during his eight-year tenure with fortunate scheduling helping KU to a 12-1 season and an Orange Bowl victory in 2007. Glen Mason led KU to four winning seasons in his final six seasons in the ‘90s.
Cons: The new coach walks into a rough situation with back-to-back disastrous hires. Weis’ reliance on junior college and four-year transfers will leave the new coach plugging holes right away. The Big 12’s only true basketball school, Kansas is the No. 2 football program in a state without a ton of high school prospects.
How good is the Kansas job? C-minus
Out: Tony Levine (21-17 in three seasons)
In: Tom Herman, Ohio State offensive coordinator
Pros: Based on the recruiting base, Houston should be one of the better jobs in the American, along with UCF, Cincinnati or SMU. With a new football stadium in 2014 and a new basketball facility on the way, the program is signaling that it intends to be a consistent player. Houston also has a long-established identity for wide-open offensive football, going to back to the run-and-shoot under Heisman winner Andre Ware and David Klingler through spread offenses under Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin.
Cons: Houston is one of the better jobs outside of the Power Five, but that brings with it a clear ceiling. Firing a coach after back-to-back winning seasons is also a sign that simply being above average won’t cut it for Houston.
How good is the Houston job? C-minus
Out: June Jones (36-43 in seven seasons)
In: Chad Morris, Clemson offensive coordinator
Pros: There’s little reason SMU can’t be the best team in the American Athletic Conference, but we could have said something similar of SMU’s final seasons in Conference USA. The Mustangs will never have first choice of football prospects in the Lone Star State, but getting the second or third crack at Texas guys who want to play college football in Dallas should be the foundation of a winning program.
Cons: With four consecutive bowl bids from 2009-12, Jones ended SMU’s postseason drought that dated back to the death penalty in 1987. Yet it’s tough to say SMU is in better shape than when he arrived. The winless Mustangs are perhaps the worst team in the FBS in 2014. Digging out of this hole won’t be easy.
How good is the SMU job? C-minus
10. Colorado State
Out: Jim McElwain (22-16 in three seasons)
In: Mike Bobo, Georgia offensive coordinator
Pros: This is a spot where a coach can stay and thrive (Sonny Lubick) or use as a stepping stone (McElwain). In general, Colorado State should be one of the better jobs in the Mountain West with room to improve with a new on-campus stadium potentially on the way.
Cons: Recruiting the state of Colorado isn’t enough to sustain even a Mountain West program, especially as Boulder becomes a more desirable destination. The Mountain division of the MWC likely will be the tougher road with Boise State, Nevada and Utah State.
How good is the Colorado State job? C-minus
Out: Bill Blankenship (24-27 in four seasons)
In: Philip Montgomery, Baylor offensive coordinator
Pros: From 2003-12, Tulsa reached eight bowl games and twice won the Conference USA title under three different coaches. That indicates a program with a solid foundation. In conference musical chairs, Tulsa’s move to the American allows the Golden Hurricane to stay ahead of some of its former Conference USA brethren.
Cons: Tulsa slipped to 5-19 in the final two seasons under Blankenship, which is closer to where Tulsa has been for much of its history before Steve Kragthorpe became the coach in 2003. Tulsa also has one of the smallest enrollments of any school in the FBS.
How good is the Tulsa job? C-minus
Out: Larry Blakeney (178-112-1 in 24 seasons)
In: Neal Brown, Kentucky offensive coordinator
Pros: Troy was once the top program in the Sun Belt, winning at least a share of league titles every year from 2006-10. The league has thinned out a bit with programs like North Texas, FAU, FIU and Western Kentucky moving into Conference USA, but Troy can continue to be one of the league’s top programs.
Cons: Following the top coach in program history is always tough, and Blakeney was that for Troy. Serving as coach since 1991, Blakeney successfully led Troy in its transition from the Division II to the FBS. The Troy job also can’t claim to be the only FBS program in the Southern portion of the state with South Alabama joining the Sun Belt in 2012.
How good is the Troy job? D
13. Central Michigan
Out: Dan Enos (26-33 in five seasons)
Pros: Central Michigan can be one of the top programs in the MAC even if it plays in a division with Northern Illinois, Toledo and Ball State. Brian Kelly and Butch Jones used the position to move to Cincinnati and power programs from there.
Cons: The sitting head coach coming off a bowl game left to be a coordinator in the SEC in late January. Perhaps that says more about Enos, who never had a record better than 7-6 and wasn’t likely to follow in the footsteps of Kelly and Jones to a bigger head coaching position. The new coach will be in a precarious situation, taking over this close to National Signing Day. With NIU and Toledo entrenched near the top of the division and Western Michigan on the rise, Central Michigan could soon slip further.
How good is the Central Michigan job: D
Out: Bobby Hauck (15-49 in five seasons)
In: Tony Sanchez, Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High coach
Pros: UNLV is only two years removed from a winning season and a rare bowl appearance. Las Vegas has a handful of top college prospects each season, but most of that is at Bishop Gordon and none of it goes to UNLV.
Cons: In the last 30 seasons, UNLV has won two or fewer games 11 times and reached three bowl games. The Mountain West can be a selling point, but this is traditionally one of the bottom 10 or 20 teams in the country in a given year. Facilites and finances are also major concerns.
How good is the UNLV job? D
Out: Jeff Quinn (20-36 in five seasons)
In: Lance Leipold, Wisconsin-Whitewater (Division III) head coach
Pros: The Bulls are only two seasons removed from going 8-5 and reaching the MAC title game behind first-round NFL Draft pick Khalil Mack.
Cons: That 8-5 season in 2013 is one of only two winning seasons for Buffalo since the Bulls joined the MAC in 1999.
How good is the Buffalo job? F