Well, here we are. The end of the regular season sneaked up on us once again. Some teams have bowl games to look forward to, while others are regrouping and looking forward to a clean slate next August.
A clean slate will also bring a new coach to many programs. The coaching cycle is one of the more interesting aspects of the early off-season. Especially in college football, choosing the right man to be the face of your program is essential. In recent history, we have seen a lot of one- or two-year coaching tenures where the coach either doesn’t work out or moves on to another opportunity. It’s safe to say the days of a coach staying put for 20 plus years are over.
The 2019-2020 off-season could bring a lot of familiar faces to new places. Early indications were that Washington State’s Mike Leach, Minnesota’s PJ Fleck and Iowa State’s Matt Campbell were going to be front-runners for just about any vacancy out there. However, in response to these rumors, each coach has been locked up for extensions, so schools looking to hire are going to have to poach from somewhere else.
Some coaches will be lucky (or unlucky) enough to survive the firing spree but will enter the 2020 season on the hot seat and they are worth discussing, as well. Let’s take a hypothetical look at which coaches could soon be packing their belongings and moving on.
People are creatures of habit, and out of habit, we mention Lane Kiffin’s name seemingly every year in connection to a coaching vacancy. This holds true this off-season, as well. Kiffin has spent time just about everywhere — the SEC, Pac-12, National Football League and, currently, Conference USA with FAU.
Kiffin became a bit of a running joke for a while after he was left off the Alabama bus just a couple of years back. Many thought that was the end of Kiffin, but his college record isn’t bad at all. He owns a 60-34 coaching record and has led FAU to two Conference USA title games.
He has most recently been linked to the Ole Miss Rebels to fill the coaching vacancy left by Matt Luke. Reports flowing out of Oxford indicate that the two parties are finalizing a contract for Kiffin to become the next football coach. Kiffin will be taking over a struggling football program that has found its place at the bottom of the SEC and is in complete disarray. If the Rebels hold out for a few years and allow Kiffin to build a program, this could be a good fit. Kiffin knows the landscape of SEC recruiting, having spent a year at Tennessee and a few years under Nick Saban at Alabama. This could be a very intriguing pairing.
This time of year inevitably inspires rumors about which NFL franchises could steal a coach from the college ranks. Lincoln Riley was a name that was tossed around last off-season, and we are going to start hearing it again. Of course, his current situation at Oklahoma is nothing short of excellent, but when the NFL comes knocking, it’s hard not to listen — especially when Jerry Jones is the one knocking.
Jones has voiced his displeasure in subtle and not-so-subtle ways with coach Jason Garrett. Garrett has coached the uber-talented Cowboys to a mediocre 6-7 record so far this season and looks to have overstayed his welcome. Jones no longer seems to be standing by his coach.
As was reported in Sports Illustrated by Michael Shapiro last week, Riley and Jones have formed a close relationship that goes back to when Riley was recruiting John Stephen Jones as a walk-on at Oklahoma. Jones later committed to Arkansas, but Riley left a positive impression. Could Riley go home to Texas and be the newest addition to Jerry’s World? It’s conceivable.
Michigan got their man! Well, Michigan had their man. Since Jim Harbaugh returned to his alma mater in Ann Arbor after a short tenure with the 49ers, he has built solid recruiting classes, finished in the Top 25 every year and has been, at least briefly, in the College Football Playoff conversation. There are a lot of programs around the country that would consider this to be more than satisfactory.
What’s not satisfactory is that it looks like Harbaugh’s Wolverines have reached their ceiling and have yet to beat their long-time rivals, Ohio State, under Harbaugh’s watch. The past two seasons haven’t even been contests. A coach can do all the right things, but losing five consecutive games to your arch rival is enough to get a coach fired.
The early rumblings are the Carolina Panthers could pursue Harbaugh during the off-season. I’m sure Harbaugh is pleased to be the head coach at Michigan, but getting another crack at the NFL would surely intrigue him. Jackson Cowart from theScore has Harbaugh as the “betting favorite” to fill Ron Rivera’s role. Because of the high expectations and impatience at Michigan, this could be his only option come January.
Speaking of being impatient (and rightfully so), Nebraska may be looking for a new coach sometime soon, as well. The former college football powerhouse looks like a shell of its former self, and the program’s rebuild under Scott Frost has taken longer than expected. Frost is credited with putting UCF on the map; many thought he would bring the Huskers back to prominence.
After starting the year with a pre-season Top 25 ranking and a lot of optimism, it’s been continuous disappointment in Lincoln. Nebraska finished the regular season with a 5-7 record, which included a dismantling by Ohio State in primetime. Frost could still get another year or two at the helm, but he is already two years into his tenure, and the Nebraska faithful are growing restless.
It will be interesting to see what develops over the next couple of weeks with big-name college football programs still looking for a coach: Florida State* and Arkansas are two of the major programs in the market. (*Editor’s Note: As of writing this article, Florida State has hired Mike Norvell as its head coach.) When NFL firings begin to take place in a few weeks, more college coaches could even be looking to jump to the higher level, too. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that nothing is ever certain in the college football coaching shuffle.
Eugene, Oregon Top Photo From Twitter
Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in digital marketing in Chicago, Illinois.
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