It has only been four weeks into the college football season and already the coaching carousel has begun to spin. The firing of Les Miles at LSU has opened up one of the best jobs in college football while putting one of the most accomplished active coaches onto the market. The Baylor Bears have shown resiliency thus far under interim head coach, Jim Grobe, but still search for a permanent new head ball coach for their emerging program. Meanwhile, a collection of top flight jobs are slowly beginning to creep open as seats warm at powerhouses like Charlie Strong at Texas, Clay Helton at USC, James Franklin at Penn State, and even Brian Kelly at Notre Dame. Smaller yet still high potential openings too are beginning to proliferate as Ron Turner has been sacked at FIU, Steve Addazio’s seat at Boston College is heating up fast, Mark Stoops is wearing out his welcome in Kentucky, Paul Johnson’s popularity is fading fast at Georgia Tech, and dozens of other positions are nearing a potential change in coaching staff. This year’s coaching carousel has begun to spun already and it promises to be one of the wildest yet… Let’s examine the coaching landscape around the country.
A Brief Post-Mortem on the Les Miles Era at LSU
Les Miles had one hell of a run at Louisiana State. He went 114-34 (62-28 in the SEC) with a 6-3 mark in bowl games, two SEC championships, and one national championship. LSU even became the home of the most active NFL players (40 current players on NFL rosters). What Miles did at LSU over the course of his eleven years there has been nothing short of downright special, and his accomplishments and his enigmatic persona will be greatly missed on the Tigers’ sideline. However in the end, LSU had to move on from Miles. His stubborn fixation on Cam Cameron’s failed offensive system and refusal to move into the 21st century in offensive philosophy cost the team wins and eventually his job. Miles was determined to win football the old fashioned way with low scoring, defensive football… And this strategy worked beautifully… For the first few years of the Miles tenure as Jimbo Fisher coordinated the offense and the SEC was an all-defense conference, but the game has changed over time. Football in today’s era is about scoring. Spread, no huddle attacks have reinvented how the game is played and nowadays, any elite team must be able to put up points in droves when needed. Miles refused to adjust to this new reality, and the game passed him by. Where Nick Saban recognized the headwinds and hired Lane Kiffin to instill a new offensive attack that allowed Alabama to claim yet another national title last year, Les Miles stubbornly stuck to Cam Cameron and their decades dated attack en route to more mediocrity. The downfall of the great Les Miles was simple old man stubbornness that let the game pass him by. Miles is a great coach who had a hell of a run at LSU and he wants to coach again. But for Miles to ever reach even the stratosphere of his success with the Tigers, he must be willing to adapt his offense to a new age of college football.
LSU Head Coaching Candidates
When it comes to LSU, expect them to go big or go home. The boosters and fans are clamoring for a big name hire, and with the resources and pedigree that LSU offers, you can expect them to land a big name. Let’s break down the top candidates.
1. Jimbo Fisher
A move that several years ago would have been absolutely absurd, there is a real chance that LSU could lure Fisher away from FSU. He’s a national championship winning coach who has had obscene amounts of success at Florida State, and he has connections to LSU from his days as an offensive coordinator. His team has struggled this season as it has become apparently clear that his hire of Charles Kelly as defensive coordinator was a poor decision as the defense has utterly imploded despite a wealth of talent. It’s worth noting that Kelly was cheaply hired to replace Pruitt who left Florida State for a higher paying job, and Fisher has complained about FSU’s budget for assistant coaches in the past… Fisher flirted with LSU last year but could truly consider jumping to the SEC this time around.
2. Tom Herman
Tom Herman is the perfect fit for just about any school in the country. He was a big part of why the Buckeyes one a national championship a few years ago and has built a powerhouse in Houston through good old fashioned passion, energy, and damn good coaching. He is an offensive mastermind and stellar recruiter. Herman will be the next Urban Meyer, the only question is where? If Houston is accepted into the Big 12, Herman will likely stay, but if not, there could be a fierce bidding war for his services next year among blue blood programs like Texas, USC, and LSU.
Yes, yes I know what happened last time Petrino was in the SEC… But just look at what he has done at Louisville. Despite the off field issues that plague Petrino, the man can flat out coach and is one of the best offensive minds in football (both college and NFL). It would be difficult to lure him away from Louisville given that they are on the precipice of breaking through into college football’s elite tier, but Petrino has shown willingness to jump ship before. LSU has to at least give it a shot.
4. Brian Kelly
A few years ago, it would have been moronic to say that Brian Kelly would leave Notre Dame for any job, but after a brutal 2-3 start with the firing of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, it’s clear that things aren’t working in South Bend. Kelly is losing luster by the second but guided the Irish to a national championship berth just a few years ago and is 228-83 all time as a coach. Plus he is one of the top offensive minds in the game right now. Kelly’s tenure hasn’t been perfect at Notre Dame, but with their unorthodox (and moronic) anti-conference style, it has been pretty good all things considered. Would Kelly consider making a move to LSU? Notre Dame could be willing to part ways with Kelly after a disappointing year in 2016, and LSU should see if Kelly would be interested as well.
5. Gary Patterson
Patterson is the obligatory ‘big name coach who will not leave his school’ mention. Patterson has done a tremendous job building TCU from a non-power 5 joke of a conference to a national powerhouse, and has shown adaptability unlike Les Miles with his adoption of a spread offense coordinated by Sonny Cumbie. Patterson is an elite coach who likely wants to remain at TCU for the duration of his career, but LSU should give him a call to gauge interest.
6. Mike Gundy
What about another coach from Oklahoma State? It worked out well last time! As a head coach at his alma mater, it is tough to lure Gundy out of Stillwater, but he has had some tension with the administration in the past and could be tired of being at a competitive disadvantage with a smaller program. Gundy is an offensive guru who could revitalize the LSU offense. At 49 with a 97-49 record at his alma mater under his belt, now could be the time for Gundy to make a move to a major program.
7. Mark Dantonio
We can talk all day about the tremendous job Dantonio has done in building Michigan State. Dantonio has proven himself an elite college football coach and is likely to be a Mich State lifer. That being said, the resources LSU provides coupled with national recognition and a big time pay check could be enough to entice Dantonio into at least considering changing scenery. The predicament here is that Dantonio isn’t all that different from Miles as a defensive minded coach with a bland, traditional offense. It seems LSU would be better suited with an offensive coach this time around, but nonetheless, Dantonio is simply one of the best coaches around.
8. Larry Fedora
Fedora has been vastly overrated by many in the coaching landscape as his North Carolina program has been incredibly inconsistent over the years, but one still cannot deny that he is a solid head coach. At 52 with North Carolina’s scandals continuing to billow, it could be time for Fedora to move to a bigger program. He has ties to Texas (one of LSU’s recruiting pipelines), is an offensive guru, and has had success at each stop in his career. Fedora could be the guy despite his lack of big-name status particularly if he can bring along Gene Chizik as defensive coordinator.
9. Ed Orgeron
Ed Orgeron is one of the best personalities in college football and is beloved by his players. He should have been retained by USC following his superb performance as interim head coach several years ago, but instead became defensive line coach at LSU. Orgeron struggled in his one opportunity as a head coach at Ole Miss, but perhaps can be forgiven due to how difficult it was to win there a decade ago. Coach ‘O’ is a Louisiana native through and through who can coach defense and recruit. If he can have success this year as interim coach and land a great offensive coordinator, Orgeron could quietly be one of the best choices on this list.
10. Bob Stoops
What?! Bob Stoops leaving Oklahoma?! Many foresee Stoops being at Oklahoma until hell freezes over, but it’s clear that things have become stale in the program as the Sooners have stumbled out to a 2-2 start and have struggled to truly contend for titles in the past several years. The defense (Stoops’ calling card) has been an absolute disaster and while Oklahoma could never make a change this year (Stoops has earned the benefit of the doubt), a change will likely be needed some time down the road. If Stoops realizes this than perhaps we could have yet another Mark Richt type situation where at 55 a highly successful head coach at a major university changes to a new program after his tenure simply reaching its expiration date. Would Stoops be willing to change to a new school? It sure seems like he has little interest in leaving Oklahoma, but perhaps he realizes the writing on the wall. Stoops is still an elite coach, and LSU would certainly be intrigued by a coach of his caliber. The predicament is that he is similar to Miles in his blatant disregard of offense in favor of defensive football teams. The difference is Stoops has adapted well over the years to the new spread craze by hiring Lincoln Riley who has crafted an explosive Sooners offense. This is a longshot, but there’s a chance Stoops could be ready to make a change.
And taking a look at Baylor’s candidates for 2017…
1. Les Miles
Baylor needs a steady hand with an accomplished veteran coach after the tumultuous end to the disgraced Art Briles regime. Les Miles is one of the most successful active coaches around, has enormous ties to Texas from his recruiting at LSU, can revamp a lousy Baylor defense, and wouldn’t even have to worry about offense given Baylor’s entrenched spread scheme. Miles is up their in age at 62, but Baylor is a program that is competing at a high level right now, where a rebuilding team may call for a younger coach Baylor is ready to compete right now. Miles can guide this team to big time football right away while establishing a championship culture and rejuvenating a struggling defense. He is the perfect fit for Baylor.
2. Larry Fedora
Fedora has done a solid albeit imperfect job at North Carolina and has ties to Baylor from his days as an assistant coach in Waco. He could continue Baylor’s strong offensive tradition while improving recruiting and building on the remnants of the Briles and Grobe tenures. The question mark here is whether Fedora would truly want to leave one place of off field turmoil (North Carolina with their academic fraud accusations) to another (Baylor and their horrific rape culture issues)… Perhaps Fedora would crave a squeaky clean new job rather than have to endure the same frustrations he’s had at North Carolina yet again.
3. David Cutcliffe
Cutcliffe has done an outstanding job at Duke and is likely a lifer there, but he is a flawless fit for Baylor. Like Miles, he is an accomplished veteran coach with a high pedigree and tremendous respect across football at age 62. He can be a steadying influence on a Baylor program in transition. Cutcliffe is a great offensive coach who could continue the Bears’ high scoring ways while building towards the future. This is a huge longshot on both sides, but Cutcliffe could really help to stabilize the program and build towards the future.
4. Philip Montgomery
The former Baylor offensive coordinator has brought offensive prowess to Tulsa and done an amicable job turning around the program in his first two years. He is a young, up-and-coming coach with Baylor ties and good early returns on his head coaching ability, he could be a solid selection.
5. Sonny Dykes
California athletics are in trouble as the school is greatly in debt and likely is going to even further cut costs with the football program. Dykes has done a great job building up a California program that is exceedingly difficult to win games at, and his air raid offensive philosophy could be a great fit at Baylor. He’s a young, successful coach whose style would mesh well in Waco and he likely will be intrigued by a potential change in scenery. Dykes is a strong candidate.
6. Chad Morris
Morris is a former Clemson offensive coordinator who began their run of offensive dominance before moving on to become the head coach at SMU. SMU is a brutal place to win and it has taken Morris time to get things moving in the program, he is in his second year there and while the wins haven’t proliferated yet, the team has clearly been more competitive under him. Morris has Texas ties and is a spread offense savant, he could be a good pick up for Baylor.
7. Jeff Brohm
Brohm has done a great job at Western Kentucky, and has piloted one of the top spread offenses in all of football. He’s a young coach who will have a big time job soon. His scheme would be a flawless fit at Baylor and he would be a strong choice there.
8. Dino Babers
Babers is another former Baylor assistant and spread guru who is in his early years as head coach. He is in his first year at Syracuse and so far has done a solid job making them competitive (at least offensively) in the early going. Babers is a little inexperienced at the moment but as a former Baylor assistant could be due for a homecoming.
9. Lincoln Riley
The Oklahoma offensive coordinator is an air-raid believer who has reinvented the Sooners offense. While he’s young at 33, his offenses have been among the best in the country at each stop in his career and he’ll be a head coach at some lucky program soon.
10. Mike Singletary
Singletary is a former Bears great who has experience as an NFL head coach at San Francisco. While he’s been out of coaching a few years and doesn’t have much experience at the college level, Singletary is a high character coach who could remedy Baylor’s culture issues while building a more physical football team. Stylistically he may not be a perfect fit but culturally Singletary is as good as it gets.
Quick Hit Analysis from trending jobs across the country
- Should Charlie Strong be fired? Give the man time, Mack Brown left a mess and Strong is slowly building Texas back where it needs to be. These things take time, Strong deserves another year.
- Should Clay Helton be fired? Probably, but give him till the end of this year in order to give him a fair shot.
- What should Tom Herman do? If Houston gets into the Big 12, he should stay. If Houston can’t get into the Big 12, he should jet over to either USC, Texas, or LSU the second he can.
- If Herman leaves what does Houston do? This would still be an emerging program without Herman, they’d have to go after a legit coach who can put up a solid second act. They should set their sights on Les Miles and not on an Art Briles return (he should not be allowed within a thousand yards of a college football program).
- What first year head coach has been most impressive? Mark Richt has been downright special in Miami. He’s completely revamped the culture and has the town buzzing over the Canes.
- What should Penn State do about James Franklin? Give him this year and then re-evaluate. If things go South, they need to make a move.
- Is Nick Saban a better coach than Bear Bryant? It’s a tossup but probably. Saban has pretty much matched or exceeded Bryant’s success at Alabama and done so in a more difficult era.
- Is Mark Helfrich just Oregon’s Larry Coker? Sure looks that way right about now, but maybe Brady Hoke can turn around the defense in a couple of years and things will change direction.
- What coaching candidate is not being talked about enough? Willie Taggart and Greg Schiano both will be great hires this cycle.
FIU Head Coaching Candidates
1. Butch Davis
This needs to happen. FIU AD Pete Garcia has big time ties to Butch and has tried to hire him before. Butch wants to be back in the game, and it’s now or never at his age. Butch has done wonders with a lousy budget and collection of 2 and 3 star recruits from South Florida before (see Hurricanes, Miami 2001), and could help rebuild a program struggling badly right now. Butch will have FIU playing lights out defense, recruiting South Florida the right way, and possessing the culture of a winner from top to down. Butch is the hands down first choice.
2. Mark Stoops
Stoops is probably fired at Kentucky by the end of the year, but has South Florida ties from his time at Florida State and had some modest success in his tenure as head coach. He’s not a perfect coach but would be a solid choice for a desperate FIU.
3. Jedd Fisch
The former Miami offensive coordinator has big-time South Florida ties and has done a great job at Michigan so far. He’d be a good choice to recruit South Florida and reinvent the FIU offense.
4. Eddie Gran
The Kentucky offensive coordinator is seriously plugged in to South Florida high schools. He is tailor made for this job, and could really help FIU land some of the better recruits in the area.
5. Geoff Collins
The Florida defensive coordinator has done a great job up in Gainesville and is ready for a head coaching job. He would have FIU cooking on defense while recruiting Miami as good as anybody.
The Coaching Carousel keeps on spinning. Stay tuned for more news, updates, and analysis at SportsBuzzMiami.com