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Seven-Step Drop: Coaching Carousel About to Kick into High Gear

Charlie Strong

Charlie Strong

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It goes without saying that the last game on everybody’s must-watch list on Saturday was Texas at Kansas.

The Jayhawks have been dreadful for years and rarely competitive during Big 12 play this or any other season. The Longhorns were expected to take care of business, become bowl eligible and set up a big game on Black Friday that would ultimately go a long way in sorting out the program’s future direction.

Of course, that’s not what ended up happening in a weekend that was otherwise devoid of much major action with just three games featuring a ranked team that was within two scores. The tune-in factor kept increasing as Texas failed to put away its typically overmatched opponent. Social media naturally ran wild in the final few minutes as the Jayhawks sent the contest to overtime and eventually pulled a miraculous win out thanks to an interception and short field goal.

As the ball sailed through those uprights for the first Kansas victory over Texas since 1938, so too did the tenure of head coach Charlie Strong in Austin. While you can debate all you want about the position the program was in when he took over, or what kind of changes he made this year that will pay off long term, the simple fact is that loss sealed Strong’s fate on the field with a game that was inexplicable on many levels.

So now the fun really begins. This year’s coaching carousel is expected to be a little more subdued than in years past with fewer openings overall even with a number of big-time jobs already available. The end result could mean plenty of dominoes down the road and a market that takes off a bit more than anticipated when all is said and done — and that’s not even getting into possible NFL openings either.

It’s already been a strange coaching carousel as is, with two openings created and filled during the season (FIU, Fresno State). With all that in mind, let’s swing around the country and look at the current openings, the ones likely to hit the market and a few schools who might be looking for a new head coach after a surprise departure.


Open: None

Potentially Open: NC State, Boston College

Dominoes That Could Fall: Florida State, North Carolina

The outlook: There shouldn’t be much, if any, coaching movement in the ACC barring something crazy. The industry expectation is both Boston College and NC State retaining their coaches with a change to be made after the 2017 season if things continue to trend in the same direction they are now. While the lack of firings may take some buzz out the league, that doesn’t mean there won’t be any openings. Jimbo Fisher will remain connected with LSU until that job is filled and Larry Fedora’s name is the one most frequently mentioned for the opening behind his ACC counterpart. And their current schools are really attractive situations for an up-and-coming coach if Florida State or North Carolina is suddenly in the market.

Big 12

Open: Baylor, Texas

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Potentially Open: Kansas State

Dominoes That Could Fall: West Virginia, Oklahoma State

The outlook: Based on industry chatter, it seems increasingly unlikely that Baylor hires anybody with a connection to the previous regime of Art Briles. While somebody like Tulsa’s Philip Montgomery makes sense, it’s a “break glass in case of emergency” move for athletic director Mack Rhoades. SMU’s Chad Morris is probably considered the odds-on favorite at this point, with Les Miles still a potential fit if a new direction is sought out. Other names like Cal’s Sonny Dykes or Arkansas State’s Blake Anderson could get involved late in the search with some “nos.” As for Texas, the only question is what the contract terms are for Houston’s Tom Herman in a move that should happen fairly quickly once the season officially ends for both. Nobody but Bill Snyder himself knows when it’s time for a second stab at retirement so it’s not out of the question a change is made in the Little Apple. Mike Gundy seems plenty happy at his alma mater but you simply never know given his flirtations in the past and a potential landing spot like LSU open, especially if he were to win the Big 12 title.

Big Ten

Open: Purdue

Potentially Open: None

Dominoes That Could Fall: Minnesota

The outlook: There’s been plenty of talk about the direction Purdue will take in its search and you can expect the school to move quickly on candidates as soon as the season is over on Saturday. The job is better than people will give it credit for and a splashy name like Les Miles makes a lot of sense if Purdue avoids the temptation to go for a MAC hire again (though P.J. Fleck remains a possibility). Aside from the Boilermakers, the only situation that could shock folks is at Minnesota, where Tracy Claeys has just two years left on his short-term deal. While the school’s new athletic director would prefer to hire somebody else (and still may), it will be tough to do that with the team winning eight games this year and borderline impossible if the Golden Gophers upset Wisconsin to get a ninth. A contract extension after the season seems like it’s in the cards but AD Mark Coyle could be dead set on making a move no matter what.


Open: None

Potentially Open: Oregon

Dominoes That Could Fall: Arizona, California, UCLA

The outlook: Despite bad seasons at Oregon and UCLA, it has been unlikely either were going to make a proactive change. Mark Helfrich may have truly saved his job with an upset of Utah on the road but will need to present a clear plan to school brass about big changes after a big win over Oregon State. Still, Phil Knight may fall in love with a coach (P.J. Fleck? Philip Montgomery?) and not stop until he takes the job. Odds seem decent Helfrich is back but the wind is constantly shifting in Eugene and there’s no perfect candidate. If Jim Mora is to depart Westwood, it would be for another job — something not out of the realm of possibilities in college or the pros. At a minimum, wholesale staff changes are coming for the Bruins. Elsewhere, it’s been well documented that Rich Rodriguez and Sonny Dykes have looked elsewhere in recent offseasons and probably will again even if the interest isn’t quite as high in them in 2016.


Open: LSU

Potentially Open: Texas A&M

Dominoes That Could Fall: Mississippi State

The outlook: With Tom Herman likely gone to Texas, attention will turn to LSU’s love affair with Jimbo Fisher. If that marriage doesn’t happen, many have speculated that North Carolina’s Larry Fedora will be in the next group of candidates but it’s really anybody’s game at that point and there could be a dozen dominoes that result from the move. That includes a surprise hire in Baton Rouge like Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly or Utah’s Kyle Whittingham. A report from USA Today said Kevin Sumlin’s job could be on the line and that may well be true given how restless Aggies have become with this stretch run. A loss to LSU would certainly complicate things but chances are you can count on him being back in College Station. Dan Mullen’s attempts for a change of scenery have been well documented and there certainly could be a number of openings that make sense for him if they can match his salary.


Open: None

Likely Open: Houston, Cincinnati

Dominoes That Could Fall: Tulsa, Temple, SMU, USF, UCF

The outlook: A league like the AAC is continually going to provide young coaches opportunities to enhance their resumes and the way things have trended, that will be the case for just about every upcoming cycle. Tom Herman is out the door at Houston and that will probably provide the most attractive opening in the country aside from major Power Five jobs. Tommy Tuberville’s time at Cincinnati appears to be up and a move to TV in the near future seems likely as that makes for another attractive job for coaches. Philip Montgomery, Matt Rhule, Chad Morris, Willie Taggart and Scott Frost (even after a season) could all move up to bigger and better jobs if the right opportunity came along. Don’t be shocked if Lane Kiffin is able to snag one of these openings either given the limited number of Power Five openings.

Mountain West

Open: None (Fresno State hired Jeff Tedford)

Potentially Open: Nevada, San Jose State

Dominoes That Could Fall: Air Force, Utah State

The outlook: Fresno State has already fired and hired during the middle of the season and that might just be the extent of moves in the Mountain West this year. San Jose State is the likeliest to come open but Nevada could move on from Brian Polian as well. Air Force’s Troy Calhoun has always been mentioned for other openings at the college and pro level but chances are he will pass on most offers. Matt Wells at Utah State was once a hot name out West but that has cooled this season, possibly keeping him in town longer.

Remaining Group of Five

Open: Georgia State

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Potentially Open: FAU, Kent State, UTEP, Western Michigan

Dominoes That Could Fall: Western Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, Rice, Bowling Green, Arkansas State, Appalachian State, Troy

The outlook: The reason there may not be a ton of changes this offseason is because there doesn’t appear to be a ton of sure-fire... um, firings. WKU’s Jeff Brohm, WMU’s P.J. Fleck, Troy’s Neal Brown and Appalachian State’s Scott Satterfield all figure to be prominently mentioned in a number of searches. Arkansas State’s Blake Anderson could be a seamless replacement for Larry Fedora if he moves elsewhere. One of Clemson’s two co-offensive coordinators — Jeff Scott or Tony Elliott — could be a solid choice for Georgia State but that job is generating a ton of interest now that it’s officially open.

Hot assistant coach names: Lane Kiffin (Alabama), Mario Cristobal (Alabama), Brent Venables (Clemson), Geoff Collins (Florida), Lincoln Riley (Oklahoma), Sonny Cumbie (TCU), Doug Meacham (TCU), Tim Drevno (Michigan), Mike Bloomgren (Stanford), Greg Schiano (Ohio State), Rhett Lashlee (Auburn)

Stat of the Week

Per ESPN, no Colorado player in school history had posted a 300-yard passing/100-yard rushing game. The Buffs have two such performances this year, from two different quarterbacks (Steven Montez and Sefo Liufau).

Tweet of the Week

Superlatives of the Week

Player of the Week: Ed Oliver, DT, Houston

Heisman five: 1. Lamar Jackson (Louisville), 2. Dede Westbrook (Oklahoma), 3. Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma), 4. Ed Oliver (Houston), 5. Sam Darnold (USC)