The coaching carousel in college football is bordering on absurd. Les Miles getting fired in Week 4 violated every perceived rule about propriety and the rhythm of this whole ordeal, and the new early-signing period might even intensify the situation. College football is a vicious, vicious sport for high-paid coaches, who can get left on an airport tarmac at any moment.
We’re taking a look at the coaches most (and least!) likely to move up, down, out, sideways, and every which way in between.
Let’s start with Kevin Sumlin
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin has been on the hot seat more or less since he took the job, Aggie fans having very high expectations of the team since moving to the SEC West and generally being a very special kind of crazy. You have to feel for the Aggies, though, they’ve started each of the last three years either 6-0 or 5-1 and finished 8-5. This pattern of starting strong, working into the periphery of the playoff conversations, and then falling apart down the stretch is a really, really good way to get fired. Sumlin knows he’s on the hot seat; A&M fans and players (and recruits, distressingly) know he’s on the hot seat; literally everyone knows he’s on the hot seat because his boss went on Paul Finebaum and said that he’s on the hot seat.
Odds to leave Texas A&M before 2018 season: 2/1
Lincoln Riley: the least hot seat in the game
While we’re doing the whole hot-seat thing, it’s fun to also look at the opposite. Which coach is least likely to leave their job in 2017? My vote is Oklahoma head coach and former offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who takes over a conference-championship calibre team from his longterm boss and Oklahoma legend Bob Stoops. This is an 11-win team that hasn’t lost since mid-September 2016, and the way this schedule lays out is very rookie-head-coach friendly. Beat Ohio State in Week 2 and you’re an instant hero, lose and nobody will think twice about it. Just don’t lose to Texas.
Honourable mentions in this category: PJ Fleck will get plenty of leeway from his new employers at Minnesota, as will Willie Taggart at Oregon, provided that athletes don’t keep going to the hospital.
Odds Lincoln Riley starts 2018 as Oklahoma head coach: 1/4
Odds Riley, Fleck, and Taggart all are in their same jobs at start of 2018: 1/1
Nick Saban isn’t going anywhere, stop asking
Nick Saban isn’t leaving Alabama. They pay him real well, better than pretty much any coach in American sports, he’s happy (or his version of happy) in Tuscaloosa, Ms. Terry reportedly doesn’t want to leave, and he’s signed to another three-year deal. It’s a classic offseason storyline: one year we’re treated to stories of Ms. Terry shopping for houses in Austin, the next, several NFL teams are looking to bring Saban back to the league. Yet, every year, he stays in Tuscaloosa, makes enough money to burn a wet mule, and makes a run at the national title.
The ounce of truth at the source of all this: if you’re in the business of hiring a football coach, you put Nick Saban’s name and number at the top of your list, you give him a phone call, he very politely tells you to go away and that he has a four star tackle on the other line, you cross his name of your list, and you collect your paycheck. Anything else would be professional malpractice. But there’s no reasonable expectation that he’ll leave Tuscaloosa.
He might run for governor, though.
Odds to leave Alabama before 2018 season: 20/1
Odds he gets connected with every NFL, Power 5, FCS, and NAIA job that opens up this year: 0/1 (100%)
Jim Harbaugh might leave if he wins
This is kind of a poorly kept secret: if Jim Harbaugh achieves his stated goal of bringing a national title to Ann Arbor, he might leave his alma mater for the right job in the NFL. It’ll have to be one serious job offer, though: Harbaugh reportedly commands a higher salary than Bill Belichick, is doggedly, insanely committed to the Michigan lifestyle, and is doing a fine job in Ann Arbor.
He never won a Super Bowl, and he’s a competitive guy. If he manages to do what he came to Michigan to do, and is offered a position with a team that he thinks can win the Lombardi, he might just do that.
Odds to leave Michigan for the NFL in 2018: 8/1
Odds to leave Michigan for another college team in 2018: 25/1
How quickly will Lane Kiffin get an other-than-honourable from FAU?
Lane Kiffin has never in his life handed in his two weeks’ notice, gathered his things into a neat cardboard box, said heartfelt goodbyes to his coworkers, and rode off into the sunset. That’s just not his style. Lane Kiffin is an Al-Davis-is-ashamed-of-your-conduct kind of guy, a flee-Tennessee-like-a-fugitive-in-a-backhoe kind of guy, a quit-Alabama-and-then-get-fired-from-Alabama kind of guy.
How long will he last at FAU? It’s a smaller program, so it won’t have the stratospheric expectations of USC, Tennessee, or Alabama, and they’re not paying him Power 5 money. They’re not even paying him Alabama assistant money, so there isn’t the urgency there. Knowing Kiffin, however, he’ll get wrapped up in some recruiting scandal, or opaque personal squabble, or transparent professional shortcoming, or something. Set your watch by Lane Kiffin’s weirdness; he never disappoints.
Odds to Kiffin ends his employment at FAU before his contract ends: 4/5
Venables and Aranda become head coaches?
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables proved himself to be one of, if not the best in college football last year. His Tigers shutout the seriously potent Ohio State Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl, and held Alabama down just enough to pull off an upset in the national championship game. It’s something of a mystery why Venables hasn’t been hired as a head coach already: he’s one of only five assistants earning north of $1 million a year who’s never been a head coach. It could be that the right job just hasn’t presented itself, or that AD’s are biased towards offensive assistants or Nick Saban products, or that Venables is just very happy where he is. His performance hasn’t gone unnoticed, however, and it’s unlikely that he’ll be playing second fiddle to anyone for long.
Dave Aranda also fits into this category. The LSU defensive coordinator has fielded one of the top-five defenses in the country year after year, and would certainly be an attractive hire to anyone looking to cement a defensive philosophy. That bias against defensive assistants, and the fact that the LSU job is really very nice, combined to keep Aranda in Baton Rouge after Les Miles was fired and Ed Orgeron brought in to replace him.
Odds Venables and Aranda are both head coaches in 2018: 4/1
Hugh Freeze, boy, look at all that
The situation at Ole Miss has head coach Hugh Freeze in one of the toughest spots in college football. The university appears to be standing behind him, for now, and he’s taken a step back from coaching the offense hands-on to focus on the “tentacles” of the program that he was apparently neglecting.
The university is standing with him now, but all it takes is one damning piece of evidence to float in front of NCAA investigators and Freeze will be fired in a heartbeat. Ole Miss is so committed to putting forward an image of propriety and cooperation that no man, no matter how big his buyout, is worth taking hits for.
Odds to finish the season as Ole Miss head coach: 3/7