Once this weekend’s results become final, the coaching carousel will start to spin furiously as administrators make their final decisions and coaches will be free to officially pursue other opportunities.
Behind the scenes, conversations have been going on for weeks between athletics directors, agents and search firms planning for every possibility. But there are still plenty of question marks in a very fluid process, and there are always a few surprises along the way. Here are some of the key pivot points for how the next week might play out.
Is Tom Herman really a “done deal” to Texas?
Probably not quite as much as the conventional wisdom, but in the end it’s still by far the most likely outcome. Texas, which thought it could land Nick Saban last time it had an opening, would be foolish not to at least gauge interest of the top of the top-level coaches. (Can you imagine how big Dabo Swinney, who has a lot of Mack Brown’s best qualities as a recruiter and head coach, would win in Austin?) But Herman and Texas just seems like a marriage that has been percolating too long not to happen.
If it does, Houston immediately becomes the most attractive Group of Five opening and probably better than several Power Five jobs. Current Houston offensive coordinator Major Applewhite and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando would likely get consideration, along with some of the top young offensive minds in the game like Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley and Troy’s Neal Brown.
What’s Charlie Strong’s next move?
If the end plays out as expected at Texas, he’ll have no shortage of options. He could certainly pull a Will Muschamp and be someone’s defensive coordinator for a year or two, but don’t discount the possibility of Strong landing on his feet as a head coach right away. One spot that would make sense is Cincinnati, where Tommy Tubervilleseems unlikely to keep his job. He would also be a great fit at South Florida if Willie Taggart gets a Power Five opportunity, as Strong’s recruiting ties in the state could pay off in a big way.
What happens if LSU strikes out on Jimbo Fisher?
We should know pretty quickly whether Fisher’s refusal to flatly deny interest in LSU was a negotiating ploy or foreshadowing. If it’s the former and he stays at Florida State, the LSU coaching search becomes a very different animal. Surely athletics director Joe Alleva has a Plan B, but he is also under extreme pressure to come up with a home run hire. That means grabbing someone who has a proven ability to compete at the highest level, which simply isn’t easy to come by.
If LSU is thinking big, it has to at least check with Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. But assuming Stoops says no as he always has to other opportunities, there are very few logical candidates with a strong enough résumé to really excite the LSU fan base. There’s a lot of noise about Brian Kelly being interested in an escape route from Notre Dame, but his stock isn’t as high as it once was. What about Mike Gundy, who is closing in on his fifth 10-plus win season in the last seven years? It would be weird in a way to replace Les Miles with another Oklahoma State coach, but he’s got the offense and swagger to compete with the likes of Nick Saban. And given Gundy’s hot/cold relationship with booster T. Boone Pickens, there’s at least a perception that he’s gettable.
Will Larry Fedora end up somewhere besides North Carolina?
Despite agreeing to a contract extension through 2022 last December, there has been constant speculation that Fedora will be on the move. The list of better situations this cycle, however, isn’t that long. LSU would be a no-brainer for him, but realistically a few people would have to say no before he becomes a prime candidate there. If Texas A&M or Oklahoma State came open, Fedora (who grew up in College Station) would make a lot of sense.
If Fedora were to leave, North Carolina becomes an interesting potential domino. Current defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, Tulsa’s Philip Montgomery, Arkansas State’s Blake Anderson and Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck would be logical candidates.
How big can Oregon go?
The reports of Nike founder Phil Knight throwing $10 million at a coach were always more fantasy than reality, given that no coach actually worth $10 million would take the job in the first place. But it’s still highly likely the Ducks will be searching for a new coach, and the question will be whether they will be tempted to remain within their insular culture (UCF’s Scott Frost would realistically be the only option there) or start anew.
Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen would make a lot of sense there, as he’s an offensive innovator who has proved that he can win at a high level with a recruiting system that emphasizes talent identification and development, which is key to success at a place like Oregon. Mullen has probably squeezed all he can out of the Mississippi State job, and if a New Englander can fit in well in Starkville why not Eugene? Mark Helfrich's predecessor certainly showed it's possible.