The 2021 college football coaching cycle had some oddities that rule much of the movement. On the one hand, there was the fact that the sitting coaches at both Notre Dame and Oklahoma left for new jobs of their own volition without being fired. There were also the jobs that opened up and were filled before the end of the season (Texas Tech, UConn and Georgia Southern), largely to give their programs a jump in roster building due to the transfer portal. All three coaches were hired as well (Joey McGuire was an assistant coach; Jim Mora and Clay Helton didn’t have coaches 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 surveying the entire landscape (UConn and Southern both opened in September, while Tech opened almost at the end of October). The first two programs were able to use this to their advantage, but it didn’t happen overnight. Helton was hired by Nov. 2, followed by Mora on Nov. 11. Tech moved relatively quickly, hiring McGuire on Nov. 8 after firing Matt Wells on Oct. 25. So could any of the Power 5 open jobs do the same?
We have five technically open right now, but in different situations than we saw last year.
In the Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets still don’t have an athletic director because they fired Todd Stansbury the same day they fired Jeff Collins. It remains widely expected that GT will hire an AD before replacing Collins. Sources say the AD search remains ongoing and may take several weeks to complete. As for the coaching search, the administrative flow is why one source described the Jackets as having one of two open jobs that “aren’t even at first base.”
That’s understandable at Tech because of the AD search, but less so at Arizona State — the other school the source described as such — where Ray Anderson has been athletic director since 2014. It remains unclear how that hiring process will go. After ASU parted ways with Herm Edwards, Anderson said he wasn’t sure what the structure of the search process would be, and the Sun Devils are still working through that part of the process, according to a source. Of course, time is on their side since it’s still mid-October. A source expected the Devils to hire a search firm, which will lead them to at least the main paths.
Of the remaining open jobs, two are in the Big Ten. Nebraska has interim coach Mickey Joseph, a former player whose contract calls for him to either be retained or be paid the balance of his due salary if a new coach is hired (the Huskers are 2–1 under Joseph).
Candidates include; Iowa Stateby Matt Campbell (though a source warned he may be less agile than in the past), Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien (who sources say has a past relationship with athletic director Trev Alberts); NC State coach Dave Doeren and Kansas coach Lance Leipold.
Doren was asked by reporters about his interest shortly after the job opened, and it showed how early it still was in the process.
Leipold’s name has also been associated with Wisconsin. While it’s clear the Badgers want interim coach Jim Leonhard to work out, there’s a reason he’s tagged interim and wasn’t given a permanent one when Paul Chryst was surprisingly fired. Sources say AD Chris McIntosh and the Badgers’ leadership won’t be caught flat-footed if the season craters and they miss a bowl game.
As for Leipold, 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 his home state of Wisconsin, and was a Badgers graduate assistant in the early 1990s before going on to be an assistant at Nebraska-Omaha and Nebraska. That’s why it’s no surprise to link him to either the Huskers or the Badgers. When asked how he’s handling being tied up with work on the eve of last Saturday’s game against TCU, Leipold said Sports Illustrated:
“I’m not talking to you [the players] a lot about that because it’s early in the year to try to do that. We are very happy here. At my age, other people might see this as a stepping stone right now. that’s never the plan.
“We’re extremely happy to focus on that, just as we want them to be focused and eliminate distractions, I think we do too. There is nothing [distractions], so why spend time on them right now? And if it needs to get into a further discussion afterwards, you’ll deal with it then. Two jobs happen to open up where I’ve lived most of my life, unfortunately. No one mentions Colorado or Arizona State, or anything like that, or Georgia Tech. That’s where it’s at for me, let’s let the kids enjoy what they’re doing.”
Jayhawks administrators are working to put an enticing package on the table to convince Leipold to stay in Lawrence and take advantage of the previous weekend College Game Day in the spotlight announcing facility upgrades.
Elsewhere on the coaching carousel:
- There are high standards in UABwhere Bill Clark built a credible conference title contender from scratch when the program was revived in 2017. The expectation for interim coach Bryant Vincent is to at least reach the conference title game (they are currently 1–1 in the league opener) .
- Colorado is the other Pac-12 job open. The coaches involved will be very curious about what the school can pay, not just for the coordinators and head coach but for the entire salary package. Concerns about the cost of living in Boulder could make recruiting and retaining assistant coaches difficult.
- Basically from the moment it arrived Auburn, Bryan Harsin appeared to be in the hot seat. That certainly didn’t get any cooler after the fiasco in February, when it was clear that at least some influential people 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 to have a bye week, it will continue the weekly now wondering how long he will stay on the job.
- Auburn could be one of several places of interest for former Baylor and Temple coach Matt Rhule, who became the first coach to be fired during this NFL cycle. He has more than 40 million reasons to be selective about his next stop if he wants to return to college coaching at all. One party that would be thrilled to see him take a new job is his former employer, the Carolina Panthers. Every dollar a new coaching role would pay Rhule offsets what the franchise owes him. The clause isn’t rare, but the size of Rhule’s deal is a big reason why NFL decision makers have been very cautious about hiring him.
- The Big 12 has significant parity this season, but West Virginia starts 0-2 in the league. The acquisition of Neal Brown is also significant (over $16 million), but so is the WVU administration’s faith in him.
- Louisville beat Virginia last Saturday, and Scott Satterfield’s evaluation continues. The Cardinals are in a week before the second half of the schedule that includes Wake Forest, undefeated James Madison and Clemson.
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