College football coaching buzz – Current searches and jobs that could open


Hiring season is here.

For more than two months, the college coaching carousel has included firings, impacting four of the five power conferences (only the Big 12 has been spared). But the time has come for schools to hire replacements, or at least close in on their top two or three targets. Charlotte kicked off the hires last week with a surprising and intriguing choice in Michigan associate head coach Biff Poggi, an accomplished high school coach who has never led a college team. The school interviewed Power 5 coordinators and others with college head-coaching experience but went outside of the box with Poggi.

There’s an increased urgency to the hiring decisions, as the transfer portal will open Dec. 5 and the early signing period for high school recruiting begins Dec. 21. Assistants with teams still looking for head coaches have emphasized the need for hires to be made soon.

“We’re going to lose all our good players to the portal,” a Power 5 assistant said last week.

Wisconsin interim coach Jim Leonhard, who many think is the top candidate for the permanent job, has repeatedly stressed the need to make decisions soon.

“Teams are tampering with other teams’ players,” Leonhard said last week after a loss to Iowa, in the wake of rumors about Badgers running back Braelon Allen considering a transfer to Michigan.

Leonhard recently told ESPN: “The sooner decisions are made around here, I think a lot of people will feel more comfortable with the direction of the program.”

Decisions are coming soon, so here’s the latest we’re hearing about the open jobs around college football.

More coaching carousel coverage:
Updating the open jobs
Jobs that could still open

Auburn

It hasn’t been a great past few weeks for either of Auburn’s prime candidates, Lane Kiffin or Hugh Freeze.

If Kiffin is indeed the front-runner, he wasn’t hesitant to take aim at himself following Ole Miss’ 42-27 loss to Arkansas on Saturday, the Rebels’ third loss in their past four outings. The Hogs led 42-6 early in the third quarter. Kiffin was asked afterward about being the Tigers’ top target.

He said he was excited about the future at Ole Miss, but added, “I don’t know about all that stuff out there, No. 1 [candidate] stuff. Maybe if they watched the first half, I wouldn’t be No. 1 anymore.”

Freeze’s Liberty team has lost its past two games, both close ones to Virginia Tech and Connecticut, after beating Arkansas and BYU.

Ultimately, the past few weeks aren’t going to outweigh otherwise stellar bodies of work by Kiffin and Freeze. Most college football insiders feel the ball is in Kiffin’s court. One of the big factors is name, image and likeness, according to sources, as Auburn has built up its NIL program to an elite level and will be better positioned to add talent, both through high school recruiting and the portal, and also be better equipped to hold onto talented players and keep them from entering the portal. Ole Miss can pay Kiffin what he wants, so salary won’t be a dealbreaker. But the Rebels figure to have a difficult time keeping up with Auburn in the NIL game.

If Kiffin were to stay put, Auburn is equally confident in Freeze, who might be an even better fit for the job. Freeze’s recruiting success in the SEC at Ole Miss, plus a long history of exciting offense and quarterback development, will play well on the Plains. Besides, how many coaches have beaten Nick Saban in back-to-back seasons?


Nebraska

The two names that have surfaced in recent weeks, Army’s Jeff Monken and Texas special assistant Gary Patterson, continue to be mentioned by industry sources. Nebraska has interest in Matt Rhule, the former Carolina Panthers, Baylor and Temple coach, but Rhule seems more likely to sit out a year before returning to the sideline. A decision is expected in the next 10 days and likely sooner. Athletic director Trev Alberts didn’t attend Nebraska’s awards banquet Sunday, according to sources, a sign that things could be moving fast.

There’s also an intriguing group of regional candidates, including Kansas State’s Chris Klieman and Iowa State’s Matt Campbell.


Wisconsin

The belief around the industry is that Wisconsin wants to hire Leonhard, and has seen enough good things to promote him. Although the team hasn’t looked dramatically different, especially on offense, a 4-2 record with a chance to go 5-2 this week against Minnesota should be enough to push Leonard over the top. Wisconsin posted the job online Saturday. The state requires all jobs be posted for seven days before they are filled, which could be an indication that a hire is near.

If Wisconsin truly opens up its search, Iowa State’s Matt Campbell likely will be in the mix. But any outcome other than Leonhard seems unlikely.


Colorado

Athletic director Rick George has been very active the past few weeks, talking to candidates with many different profiles. Until recently, two former FBS coaches not currently working — Bronco Mendenhall (BYU, Virginia) and Tom Herman (Texas, Houston) — had generated the most attention for the Colorado job. But sources told ESPN earlier this week that momentum has cooled considerably with both.

Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters, a former team captain at Colorado with deep roots at the program, remains a strong candidate to watch. But Colorado has leaned more toward candidates with head-coaching experience, including Texas co-defensive coordinator Jeff Choate, the former Montana State coach. Current FCS coaches such as North Dakota State’s Matt Entz and Sacramento State’s Troy Taylor, a graduate assistant at Colorado in 1995, could get closer looks. Jackson State coach Deion Sanders, the Pro Football Hall of Famer, also is increasingly a name to watch. Colorado sources stress that it’s imperative the school makes a hire soon, as the roster damage could be significant if the search continues much past Saturday’s season finale.


Georgia Tech

New athletic director J Batt has an interesting decision to make. Bill O’Brien is viewed by some as the favorite for the job and was with Batt at Alabama the past two years when Batt was executive deputy athletic director. O’Brien, the current Alabama offensive coordinator, spent 1995 to 2002 at Georgia Tech — the last two years as offensive coordinator. Some close to O’Brien, however, think he might pass on the job and look for something else, perhaps in the NFL. Either way, it’s highly doubtful that O’Brien will return to Alabama next season. Batt also could hire a respected FBS coach such as Tulane’s Willie Fritz, whose team is 9-2 this season and who brings experience within the state (he coached at Georgia Southern in 2014 and ’15). Coastal Carolina’s Jamey Chadwell also remains an intriguing option.

Batt also likely will give interim coach Brent Key serious consideration for the job. Key has led Georgia Tech to four ACC wins, just three fewer than they had in coach Geoff Collins’ entire 38-game tenure. The Georgia Tech alum helped his case Saturday when Georgia Tech stunned No. 13 North Carolina, Batt’s alma mater.


Arizona State

ASU’s search has gone at a slower pace than others, but things seem to be getting organized for a late November push. Along with athletic director Ray Anderson, executive vice president/COO Chris Howard is expected to have a key role in the search. Former Texas and Houston coach Tom Herman certainly is an option, as he has connections to the two states (Texas and California) that ASU must mine for players.

Oregon offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham should gain consideration despite his age (32). Dillingham, an ASU alum with deep roots in the Phoenix area, has had an excellent season with quarterback Bo Nix and the Ducks’ offense.


South Florida

The USF job has some clear advantages, namely location, and may not be viewed dramatically differently than some of the Power 5 openings.

Chadwell and Herman are potential candidates for USF, and former Nebraska and UCF coach Scott Frost also might be a factor. Howard coach Larry Scott, a former USF offensive lineman and assistant from 2006 to 2012, would be an excellent fit. Scott served as Miami’s interim coach in 2015 and also has coached at Florida. He knows the state very well.

Sanders also could be a possibility for USF. Sanders grew up in Fort Myers, Florida, and played at Florida State. He would give the program a major jolt with in-state recruiting.


UAB

Bill Clark stepped down as coach in June, so UAB has had the biggest head start in the coaching carousel. The advantage now is that with the regular season winding down, the school can start to engage more sitting head coaches about the job.

Western Kentucky coach Tyson Helton is the name generating the most attention for UAB, along with Missouri defensive coordinator Barry Odom and some who aren’t currently coaching, such as former Virginia Tech and Memphis coach Justin Fuente. Helton has emerged as one of the nation’s top offensive coaches, as WKU has led the nation in passing and ranked No. 3 in scoring since the start of the 2021 season. Odom, with his background as a former head coach at Missouri and longtime coordinator, could be a factor in several job searches.

Latest buzz (Nov. 23): Jobs that could still open

Now that we’ve reviewed the ongoing searches, here’s a look at other potential hot spots that could open up in the next week or so.

West Virginia: Athletic director Shane Lyons is out, and coach Neal Brown’s status has been shaky for a while. But WVU will not make any decisions until the end of the season, and several industry sources are saying Brown likely will receive another year under a new AD in 2023. Brown’s hefty buyout is clearly a factor, and while West Virginia will run an accelerated AD search, the timing to complete both changes by early December would be difficult.

Stanford: The David Shaw era, which began with such incredible progress, has reached a junction. He almost certainly won’t be fired, but changes are needed for a program that is 14-27 since the start of the 2019 season. Will Shaw make the necessary adjustments, or consider stepping aside, perhaps into an administrative role at the university? Both are viable options, according to industry sources.

Syracuse: Remember when Syracuse was 6-0, ranked No. 14 and in position to upset Clemson on the road? Dino Babers had things rolling back on Oct. 22, but the Orange haven’t won since, and have dropped their past four games by 10 points or more. A loss to Boston College would drop Syracuse to 6-6 and rekindle questions about Babers, who hasn’t had a winning season since 2018.

Memphis: The Tigers became bowl eligible Saturday with a 59-0 win over North Alabama. But coach Ryan Silverfield may need a win this week at SMU to ensure he returns for 2023. A loss to SMU would give Memphis the exact same record (6-6, 3-5 AAC) as it had last season. Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom, who nearly became Memphis’ coach in late 2015 before getting the Missouri job, likely would be part of a solid candidate pool this time around.

Tulsa: There has been an expectation among industry sources that the Tulsa job will open, but the school’s true financial flexibility remains a factor. Tulsa ended its three-game losing streak by beating South Florida on Friday, but at 4-7 will not be going bowling. If the school moves on from Philip Montgomery, it should have a solid candidate pool with Fuente and others.

UNLV: When the Rebels started 4-1, Marcus Arroyo’s job seemed safe. But UNLV hasn’t won since, dropping six straight games to fall out of bowl contention. Although the schedule has gotten much tougher, UNLV’s loss Saturday at 2-9 Hawai’i could prove costly for Arroyo, who is just 6-22 at the school (4-16 in Mountain West play).

Navy: The Mids have played better lately, but coach Ken Niumatalolo needed a big win and got one Saturday at No. 20 UCF, which generated only 14 points and 14 first downs on its home field. Niumatalolo went .500 in AAC play but is assured of his third straight losing season and fourth out of the past five. Navy finishes its season Dec. 10 against Army.

Florida Atlantic: Willie Taggart is still looking for his first six-win season at FAU, which was blown out 49-21 at Middle Tennessee on Saturday. The Owls must beat Western Kentucky to become bowl eligible. Taggart simply hasn’t provided the lift FAU had hoped; he’s 15-16 overall.



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