Well college football fans, whether you’re ready or not, the college football coaching carousel is officially in full swing. With Idaho’s firing of Robb Akey a few weeks ago and Joker Phillips getting axed on Sunday, the pink slips are going to start flying fast and furious, with schools like Arkansas, Cal and Boston College expected to relieve their beleaguered coaches of their duties as soon as the season is over. Don’t be surprised if Tennessee, Auburn and a few others follow suit as well.
So as your favorite school gets set to look for a new head coach, who are the names you’ll most likely hear associated with the open jobs?
After talking with fellow writers across the country, as well as some other people around football, here are 10 names we’re hearing:
10) Kliff Kingsbury, offensive coordinator, Texas A&M:
When Kentucky’s job opened up on Sunday, Kingsbury got some early buzz, which admittedly was a little shocking. At 33-years-old Kingsbury is much younger than virtually any other candidate on this list, has no head coaching experience and has only held a coordinator position for two years now.
However, if his candidacy was just based solely on his (very) short track record as a coordinator, it’d be hard to argue with Kingsbury’s merit as a burgeoning head coach. In his two seasons working alongside Kevin Sumlin, the duo’s offenses have been as good as anyone statistically, finishing with the No. 1 ranked offense in college football at Houston in 2011, with the No. 4 ranked offense nationally at Texas A&M this year as well. In the process, the pair has combined to turn Johnny Manziel from an unknown freshman into a household name to all college football fans.
In the end though, it’s hard to see any school taking a major flier on such a commodity as unproven as Kingsbury. Look for Kingsbury to ride the Manziel-Sumlin wave for another year or two, before he’s seriously considered as a major coaching candidate in the 2013 or 2014 off-seasons.
9) Gus Malzahn, head coach, Arkansas State:
As long as there are head coaching searches, Malzahn’s name will prominently be discussed in many of them. And now closing in on his first full year as a head coach, the chatter will only heat up as Malzahn’s teams continue to put up points where ever he goes.
After putting together successful offenses at Arkansas, Tulsa and Auburn, Malzahn’s success has continued at Arkansas State. Riding the wave that Hugh Freeze started a year ago, the Red Wolves are 6-3 (with all three losses justifiable) and are averaging 34 points a game in the process. Maybe more impressively, Arkansas State has won their last four, and averaged 40 points a game in those games. Meaning that the Red Wolves aren’t only scoring points, but getting better as the season goes on.
Could a school looking to expand its offensive profile seriously consider Malzahn? More importantly, is Malzahn interested in leaving Arkansas State after just one year?
8) Dave Doeren, head coach, Northern Illinois:
While small school head coaches like Malzahn, Willie Taggart and Sonny Dykes (more on the latter two coming) are getting all the hype, Northern Illinois’ Doeren has actually had more success than all of them. Since taking over for Jerry Kill two years ago, the former Wisconsin defensive coordinator has a sparkling 20-4 record overall, including a 9-1 mark in 2012.
Still, it’ll be interesting to see if Doeren is considered for any major coaching opportunities this off-season. For one, he doesn’t carry the same name cache as most of the other guys on this list. Also, Doeren is a guy with mostly Midwestern roots and at this time it doesn’t appear as though there will be any major job openings in the Big Ten or surrounding area.
Which leads to the question: Would a school outside the Midwest seriously consider Doeren for their coaching vacancy? In turn, would he seriously consider them?
7) Tommy Tuberville, head coach, Texas Tech:
A few months ago Tuberville was on the “hot seat” list as a guy who could lose his job if things didn’t improve rapidly at Texas Tech. Now with his team at 6-3, could Tuberville be looking to jump at a bigger job?
It seems unlikely, at least until you remember that Tuberville has a history of lateral head coaching movement. Once upon a time he left the Ole Miss job to head to Auburn, and even while he was Auburn, always seemed to find his name in the midst of other schools’ coaching searches as well.
So while Tuberville might not leave Texas Tech (a pretty darn tough place to win) for any old job, wouldn’t he at least listen if a school from the SEC called? You know, like maybe Arkansas, a state where Tuberville was born and raised?
6) David Cutcliffe, head coach, Duke:
Like Tuberville, Cutcliffe already has a good job, at a BCS conference school, meaning that it seems unlikely that he’d be in a rush to skip town. As a matter of fact, with Cutcliffe in specific it might be the opposite; after getting Duke eligible for the first time since 1994, you’d have to think he’d have permanent immunity in Durham, and at this point, I’m not so sure a statue shouldn’t be built in his honor as well.
While we’re on the subject of Cutcliffe, let’s also remember that prior to Duke, his only previous head coaching job came at Ole Miss, a school which fired him after his only losing season there. Point being, this is a man who has been chewed up and spit out by major college football and probably isn’t likely to jump at any old job.
However, there is one job which could be open that you’d have to think would pique the interest of Cutcliffe, and that’d be Tennessee. Cutcliffe spend 16 years there as an assistant to Phil Fulmer, which makes you wonder, if the Vols called, he’d have to seriously listen.
5) Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky:
Taggart’s name is the one which immediately jumped the forefront when the Kentucky job opened, and with good reason: The man has completely turned around one of the worst programs in major college football. Under Taggart Western Kentucky has won 13 of their last 17 games (including a victory this fall over Kentucky) and have gone 6-3 to start the 2012 season. In the process, the Hilltoppers will play in their first bowl game in program history this winter.
Whether it be Kentucky, or another major school, you’d have to think that Taggart will get interest from someone this off-season
4) Sonny Dykes, head coach, Louisiana Tech:
Quite possibly the hottest name in all coaching circles is that of Dykes’, who currently has Louisiana Tech at 8-1 on the season, with wins over Illinois and Virginia.
Simply put, the guy is a rising star, and (of equal importance to athletic directors looking to hire him) will bring a wildly productive offense with him to whatever his next stop might be. On the season, Louisiana Tech is averaging 52 points a game, which ranks them No. 2 nationally, behind only Oregon.
You think a school which is struggling to put points on the board (and in turn butts in seats) wouldn’t salivate at the chance to bring Dykes and his offensive coordinator to town?
Including a school like Kentucky, where Dykes was once a graduate assistant?
3) Charlie Strong, head coach, Louisville:
Look, we’ve got to put Strong on this list, if only because every single school with a coaching opening would be foolish not to call him. But unlike some other outlets, we’re not so sure Strong is going to be inclined to listen.
Understand that with all due respect to the other coaches on this list, Strong has everything he needs at Louisville to not only win, but win big. He has one of the highest salaries of anyone in college football, Louisville’s facilities are second to none, and not only is the guy 10-0 this year, but he’s got a young team, one that is built to compete for a National Championship in 2013.
Ask most, and they believe it’d take a truly special offer to get Strong to leave Louisville. Looking at his situation, it’s hard to disagree.
2) Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama:
He’s one of the highest paid assistant coaches in college football, and the prince sitting on the throne in Tuscaloosa alongside King Nick Saban. But at some point though, you’ve got to think Smart will want to be a head coach somewhere, no?
Could that call come this winter from Tennessee Athletic Director Dave Hart, who once worked at Alabama alongside Smart?
More importantly, could that call come from Auburn?
Smart would obviously never accept the job, but man, even just a phone call sure would add to the rivalry between the two schools, huh?
1) Bobby Petrino, former head coach, Louisville, Atlanta Falcons, Arkansas:
If this season has taught us one thing, it’s that while Bobby Petrino may be a terrible human being, he’s a terrible human being who is a difference-making football coach. One only needs to look at Arkansas’ current 4-5 mark, to show you just how good Petrino is, and what a difference he makes on the sidelines.
Understand that if Petrino wants to coach in 2013, he will.
The question now simply becomes “where?”
For all his opinion, analysis and insight, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.