The 2021 college football coaching cycle had a few oddities underlying much of the movement. On one end, there was the fact that the sitting coaches of both Notre Dame and Oklahoma left for new jobs of their own volition without being fired. There were also the jobs that opened and filled before the season ended (Texas Tech, UConn and Georgia Southern), in large part to give their programs a jump on roster-building due to the transfer portal. All three coaches were gettable hires, too (Joey McGuire was an assistant coach; Jim Mora and Clay Helton didn’t have coaching jobs at the time), which is something to note when it comes to whether that trend could continue this year.
For September openings, there’s a perceived first-mover advantage to survey the entire landscape (UConn and Southern both opened in September, while Tech didn’t open until near the end of October). The first two programs were able to use it to their advantage, but it did not happen overnight. Helton wasn’t hired until Nov. 2, followed by Mora on the 11th. Tech moved relatively quickly, hiring McGuire on Nov. 8 after firing Matt Wells on Oct. 25. So could any of the currently open Power 5 jobs do the same?
We have five technically open right now, but in different situations than what we saw last year.
At Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets don’t have an athletic director yet because they fired Todd Stansbury on the same day they fired Geoff Collins. It remains widely expected that GT will hire an AD before replacing Collins. Sources say the AD search remains in progress and could still take as long as a few weeks to complete. As far as a coaching search, the administrative flux is why one source described the Jackets as one of two open jobs that “are not even on first base.”
That’s understandable at Tech due to the AD search, but less so at Arizona State—the other school the source described that way—where Ray Anderson has been athletic director since 2014. It remains unclear how this hiring process will go. After ASU parted with Herm Edwards, Anderson said he wasn’t sure what the structure of the search process would be, and the Sun Devils remained working through that part of the process, according to a source. Of course, time is on their side given that it’s still mid-October. A source expected the Devils to hire a search firm, which will get them at least on the basepaths.
Out of the other open jobs, two are in the Big Ten. Nebraska has interim coach Mickey Joseph, a former player whose contract requires him to either be retained or paid out the remainder of his owed salary if a new coach is hired (the Huskers are 2-1 under Joseph).
Candidates included Iowa State‘s Matt Campbell (although a source cautioned he might be less movable than in year’s past), Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien (whom sources say has a previous relationship with athletic director Trev Alberts); NC State coach Dave Doeren and Kansas Coach Lance Leipold.
Doeren was asked by reporters about his interest shortly after the job opened. and he pointed to how early it still was in the process.
Watch college football with fuboTV. Start your free trial today.
Leipold’s name has also been linked to Wisconsin. While it’s clear the Badgers want interim coach Jim Leonhard to work out, there’s a reason he has an interim tag and wasn’t given a permanent one when Paul Chryst was surprisingly let go. Sources say AD Chris McIntosh and Badgers leadership won’t be caught flat-footed if the season craters and they miss a bowl game.
As far as Leipold is concerned, the 58-year-old has built programs at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater (where he was a six-time national champion) and Buffalo (where he won two division titles and two Coach of the Year honors). . He has deep ties to the state of Wisconsin, where he was born, and was a Badgers graduate assistant in the early 1990s before going on to be an assistant at Nebraska-Omaha and Nebraska. It’s why tying him to either the Huskers or the Badgers is no surprise. When asked how he handles being linked to jobs on the eve of last Saturday’s game against TCU, Leipold told Sports Illustrated:
“I don’t talk to [the players] much about it because dang, it’s early in the year to try and do that. We’re really happy here. At my age, other people might see this as a stepping stone at this time; that’s never the plan.
“We’re extremely happy being focused on that, just like we want them to be focused and eliminating distractions, I think we do as well. There’s nothing to [distractions], so why spend time on them at this time? And if it needs to get into a further conversation down the road, you deal with it then. It just so happens that two jobs opened where I’ve lived the majority of my life, unfortunately. Nobody’s mentioning Colorado or Arizona State, or something like that, or Georgia Tech. That’s where to me, let’s let the kids enjoy what they’re doing.”
Jayhawks administrators are working to put an enticing package on the table to get Leipold to remain in Lawrence and capitalized on last weekend’s College GameDay spotlight by announcing facility upgrades.
Elsewhere on the coaching carousel:
- There are high standards at UABwhere Bill Clark built a reliable conference title contender out of nothing when the program was revived in 2017. The expectation for interim coach Bryant Vincent is to at least reach the conference title game (they’re currently 1–1 in early league play) .
- Colorado is the other Pac-12 job open. Coaches jockeying for it will be very curious about what the school can pay, not just for coordinators and the head coach but the whole salary pool. Cost-of-living concerns in Boulder could make it a difficult place to hire and retain assistant coaches.
- Virtually from the moment he arrived Auburn, Bryan Harsin has appeared to be on the hot seat. That certainly didn’t get cooler after the fiasco in February when it was clear at least some people with influence at Auburn were pushing hard to oust him. Auburn has now lost two straight, to LSU and Georgia. If the Tigers fall to Ole Miss heading into a bye week, it will continue the now weekly wondering of how long he will remain in the job.
- Auburn could be one of multiple places with interest in former Baylor and Temple coach Matt Rhule, who became the first coach fired during this NFL cycle. He does have more than 40 million reasons to be selective about his next stop, if he even wants to come back to college coaching at all. One party that would be thrilled to see him get a new job is his former employer, the Carolina Panthers. Every dollar a new head coaching role would pay Rhule offsets what the franchise owes him. The clause is not a rarity, but the size of Rhule’s deal is a big reason why NFL decision-makers were very wary about his hire.
- The Big 12 has significant parity this season, but West Virginia is off to an 0-2 start in the league. Neal Brown’s buyout is also significant (over $16 million), but so is the WVU administration’s belief in him.
- Louisville beat Virginia last Saturday, and the evaluation of Scott Satterfield continues. The Cardinals are in a bye week before a back half of the schedule that includes Wake Forest, undefeated James Madison and Clemson.
More College Football Coverage:
• Ford-Yard Dash: Interim Coaches Who Could Stay Put
• Minority Coaching Coalition to Get $1.5M Boost
• Bowl Projections: Playoff Gets an SEC Shuffle