Every summer once the dust settles on spring ball and rosters are set (though maybe that is a thing of the past) we always have coaches who are in must win situations. The nature of the beast is that we will see the carousel move every offseason. That carousel is probably stopped for this offseason, though I’ll touch on that later in this article. Here are 10 coaches I think are in win-now mode or else they will be searching for a new job come Christmastime. Columnists usually focus on the firing yet rarely discuss the more important part of the process, the replacement hire. If you don’t find an adequate replacement you put the program back even further. For that reason I have given a shortlist for each coach of guys I think could be in line to replace them.
10. Seth Littrell
North Texas, Record: 37-38 in 6 years.
Possible Replacements- Graham Harrell (West Virginia OC), Jeff Lebby (Oklahoma OC), Jeff Grimes (Baylor OL/OC)
Littrell showed great flashed in years two and three, winning nine games each season. At that point we thought another solid year and he’d be in line for a better head coaching job. Things haven’t progressed though and The Mean Green have only won more than four games once since 2018, that was this past season 6-7 output. I don’t think he is automatically out the door yet, though and a decent year with a postseason appearance could definitely keep the former North Carolina OC in Denton beyond this fall. We definitely have an offensive feel to the possible replacements. Graham Harrell has Texas ties and stints at USC and now West Virginia as OC. Jeff Lebby was riding the Lane Train at Ole Miss before moving to run the new look Sooner offense this winter, he’s certainly a guy who we’d expect to get a head coaching chance soon. With stops at Baylor and UCF he’s ran some high powered offenses, and his brother-in-law Kendal Briles currently is OC at Arkansas. Current Baylor OC and TE coach Jeff Grimes is a name that will be bounced around for multiple jobs too. The former BYU OC also has experience at a host of other P5 programs including LSU, Auburn, Virginia Tech, and Colorado among others.
9. Tom Allen
Indiana, Record: 26-32 in 6 years.
Possible Replacements- Jim Leonhard (Wisconsin DC), Deland McCullough (Notre Dame RB’s, former Indiana assoc. HC/OC), Josh Gattis (Miami OC), Jason Candle (Toledo HC)
Tom Allen certainly has had positive moments at IU and two very solid seasons. Digging deeper though that may be somewhat deceptive. We had the bizarre Covid year and the previous season where the Big 10 schedule makers were as kind to IU as possible. If the Hoosiers have another 2-3 win season with new QB Connor Bazelak, formerly of Mizzou, Allen will likely not retain his job. He’s had signature wins and done good things in Bloomington but that next step up might need to happen this year or else a new guy at the helm is possible. Jim Leonhard is a man who is being rumored for a first head coaching job soon. He knows the conference landscape and had experience recruiting the area. McCullough has experience at IU, put position guys he coached in the NFL, and coached in the NFL. He is checking nearly all the boxes you want, apart from head coaching experience. Gattis is in the same boat as Leonhard. Very successful coordinator, Big 10 experience, top notch recruiter, will be HC soon. Certainly could be in play here. Jason Candle brings successful head coach experience while also recruiting the same geographic area. His resume would stack up well against anyone who’s in the mix for this job.
8. Mike Norvell
Florida St., Record: 8-13 in 2 years.
Possible Replacements- Deion Sanders (Jackson St. HC) , do we even need to expand this list? Bill O’Brien (Alabama OC) maybe.
Mike Norvell is a unique one on this list. He came on strong last season after a terrible loss to Jacksonville St., he’s talking up the Noles this offseason, things look better, but no one else in CFB has a ready made replacement quite like Florida St. does. If Coach Prime wasn’t defying logic at Jackson St. then Mike Norvell would be safe, and in normal times he probably would be. But NIL being what it is, the portal being what it is, and the potential for things to change so quickly (look at USC this offseason) Mike Norvell isn’t safe. If he doesn’t put together a solid season then the FSU administration could be looking at it’s most famous player alumni who would bring all kinds of appeal, and presumably on-field talent, to Tallahassee with him. I truly don’t think the search goes any further than Deion if this one happens but if it does Bill O’Brien may get a call. The Jimbo model worked well for them last time and being OC at a top level SEC team never looks bad on a resume.
7. Bryan Harsin
Auburn, Record: 6-6 in 1 year.
Possible Replacements- Matt Rhule (Carolina Panthers HC), Hugh Freeze (Liberty HC), Bill Clark (UAB HC)
Frankly after the PR nightmare with Clesi Crochet I am baffled Bryan Harsin still has a job. I thought he’d be out a few months ago but here we are. His 6-6 year 1 wasn’t bad though after this winter it is clear the alumni and boosters aren’t fans. You have to say right now he’s the only SEC coach who’s really on the hot seat. A decent season and he should keep his job, though he’s also a guy I could see heading back West if the right job is open. If the Tigers struggle, and in that division you never know who will, I expect the hook to come quickly. There will be some massive names in line for this job. Matt Rhule did wonders at Temple and Baylor, but he’s on a hot seat of his own with the Panthers. If he’s out in Carolina I don’t expect him to be on the breadlines too long. He’s a proven college coach who’ll be in the mix for most P5 openings. Hugh Freeze is a man we don’t need to worry about on the field, he has gotten results everywhere he’s been. Beyond the scandals and shady side is a top notch coach who gets it done. I’m not condoning his transgressions or forgiving them, but someone will take another chance on him because of what he gives you in the win column. Bill Clark has gone under the radar at in-state UAB, though he shouldn’t be. The guy can coach and has done one of the most impressive jobs in the country. He’d be a guy who you could sell to the boosters and in-state recruits.
6. Dino Babers
Syracuse, Record: 29-43 in 6 years.
Possible Replacements- Sean Lewis (Kent St. HC, former Dino OC), Jeff Monken (Army HC), Mike Houston (ECU HC)
Dino has had 1 winning season in 6 attempts at Syracuse. His 2018 campaign was a 10-3 masterclass and we thought the future for the Orange was bright, but the carriage might be turning back into a pumpkin soon. Dino has sandwiched two 5-7 seasons around a 1-10 finish in 2020. Dino was a guy on the hotseat last fall and those 5 wins clearly were enough to keep his job, though with little security. If a bowl game doesn’t happen this fall then I think we see a change at Syracuse. Sean Lewis has taken lowly Kent St. to 2 bowl game sin 4 seasons in charge and the former Syracuse OC would likely get an interview for this job if they have a decent 2022. It is possible his long history with Dino could harm his chances for this job, the old adage of hiring the opposite of who you just fired. Jeff Monken has done wonders at another Upstate New York program and won games at one of the toughest spot to win games. He has said he can be flexible on offense depending on what talent is around him, but wouldn’t the triple option in the a P5 conference be fun? Mike Houston may get a move up in jobs soon after the job he’s done at ECU. Taking over in the wake of the Scottie Montgomery fiasco, Houston has shown he can win football games and turn programs around.
5. Mike Bloomgren
Rice, Record: 11-31 in 4 years.
Possible Replacements- Jeff Grimes (Baylor OL/OC), Jerry Mack (Tennessee RB, former Rice OC), Tom Herman (assistant Chicago Bears), Keith Patterson (Abilene Christian HC), Jeff Banks (Texas ST’s/Pole Assassin’s main squeeze).
My feelings on Mike Bloomgren through 4 years are solidified. He’s an elite, top level offensive line coach who is not a great head coach. Stanford has tanked and done poorly upfront since he left David Shaw’s team and he’s not done much better at Rice. 11-31 speaks for itself and unless something drastic happens then year 5 might be it for him in Houston. Jeff Grimes was mentioned earlier in this article and his experience could look good for the Owls. Jerry Mack is Josh Heupel’s RB coach for the Vols and a former Rice OC. The young and energetic Mack will be very appealing for Rice and his prior experience there could give him a good shot at the job if he wants it. Tom Herman didn’t do great in Austin but he sure did good in Houston before that. Rice would be foolish not to at least put feelers out and see if they could lure him back to the city he had so much success in. Keith Patterson is at in-state FCS Abilene Christian. The former DC and assistant coach at Texas Tech and West Virginia is also a Todd Graham disciple (though he did not coach with him at Rice). Patterson may get a look at FBS jobs before too long. Jeff Banks is the highest paid special teams coach in the nation and the only who has a monkey living in his house, as far as I know anyways. Beyond the side show of last year and PR nightmare that followed, he is a straight up coach. His name has been mentioned for several head coaching jobs and you don’t coach with Nick and Sark without picking up a few tricks. Before too long Banks will get a head job, could it be with in-state Rice?
4. Scott Loeffler
Bowling Green, Record: 7-22 in 3 years.
Possible Replacements- Brian Hartline (OSU WR), Warren Ruggiero (Wake OC, BGSU OC under Claw), Gino Guidugli (Cincy OC)
This was one of the toughest jobs for me to predict as we don’t really know what BGSU would look at in a replacement but it is clear that Scott Loeffler isn’t getting it done. 7 wins in 3 years is poor anywhere you slice it. The former Boston College and Virginia Tech OC is on borrowed time unless the wins pile up this fall. Brian Hartline has proven himself to be one of the elite recruiters in all of college football and the in-state Falcons could come knocking on the door. Do you remember the last time BGSU hired a WR coach from a major program as their new head coach? I do, his name was Urban Meyer and he’s the best college coach not named Nick Saban in the last 25 years. The last time BGSU had success was under Dave Clawson and Warren Ruggiero was the OC then. He followed the Claw to Wake Forest and has had much success since then. Hiring him to take the reigns makes so much. Gino Guidugli is the new OC at Cincinnati and another guy who could get a look. Younger, offensive minded, prior success. That blue print has been tried many times with success, it wouldn’t be shocking to see it again.
3. Jeff Scott
USF, Record: 3-18 in 2 years
Possible Replacements- Walt Wells (Eastern Kentucky HC, former USF OC) Willie Simmons (Florida A&M HC), Kendal Briles (Arkansas OC)
In two years at USF almost nothing has went right for Jeff Scott and it’s difficult to see that changing in 2022. 3 total wins aren’t good for any program over 21 games. Scott’s tenure as Bull HC looks like it may be winding down unless he can string more wins together this year than he has in the previous 2 combined. The former OC at Clemson will likely be back as an assistant come 2023. This job has declined in stature a lot since the Jim Leavitt and Willie Taggart years but there still will be some interesting names in the mix. Walt Wells has done well at FCS level Eastern Kentucky and was a former OC at USF. The former Kentucky and Tennessee assistant looks like a man you’d want to play for and that toughness may be desirable in the next HC here. Willie Simmons has been lighting the world on fire at fellow FCS school Florida A&M. His offenses with the Rattlers have been lighting up the scoreboards and he had previous success as HC at fellow HBCU Prairie View A&M. Simmons is a rising star in the game who I can’t wait to see at the FBS level. Will his opportunity be at USF? Kendal Briles has helped rejuvenate the Hogs with Sam Pittman. Seriously, did anyone think they’d do it that quick? With experience at Florida St., Houston, and FAU he’s probably ready for a shot as head coach at a G5 school. Will his Dad’s reputation, unfounded as it may be, harm him? It may but his time will come, like so many on this list.
2. Herm Edwards
Arizona St., Record: 25-17 in 4 years.
Possible Replacements- Jay Norvell (Colorado St. HC), Chris Petersen (former Washington HC), Jeff Traylor (UTSA HC)
Remember in the introduction when I said the coaching carousel was probably over but we’d get back to it. Well, here we are. Fired assistant coaches, mass exodus of players, NCAA investigations, and potential rules violations. Things aren’t looking good for Herm, despite his adequate record in charge. When things look this bad and guys at multiple levels (coaches and players) are jumping ship, you usually know something is wrong. Pending what else may come out investigation wise will Herm still be there in week 1? Probably but I’d be surprised if he is there come the New Year. Too many things appear to be going wrong for “nothing” to be going wrong. The Sun Devils also would have a list of some pretty solid replacements too which always makes the decision easier. Former ASU WR coach Jay Norvell did a heck of a job as HC at Nevada and moved over to Colorado St. He seems like a very logical replacement who checks almost every box you can look for in a HC. Chris Petersen is not coaching now after stepping aside at Washington but that doesn’t stop his name from being mentioned for jobs, primarily in the Pac-12. The Sun Devils could be a very appealing situation for anyone who wanted to come out of “retirement.” With Herm being a retied former successful HC though I am not sure they would want to repeat that concept. Jeff Traylor has lit the world on fire at UTSA. 19-7 in two years and 12 wins in 2021. Any team looking for a guy to turn the ship around should keep him mind. A program that was performing poorly under Frank Wilson has been stellar under Traylor. He did sign a massive extension with the Roadrunners but those are only as concrete as the buyout your new employer will pay.
1. Scott Frost
Nebraska, Record: 15-29 in 4 years.
Possible Replacements- Matt Rhule (Carolina Panthers HC), Jeff Hafley (Boston College HC), Jay Norvell (Colorado St. HC), Tom Herman (assistant Chicago Bears), Bill O’Brien (Alabama OC)
Could it really have been anyone else on the hottest of seats? Frost simply has underperformed in all areas since coming to Lincoln in the wake of his success at UCF. Keeping in mind, success he largely had with George O’Leary recruits. In SEC Land Frost probably would’ve gotten fired after 2021 but the alumni, golden boy comes home kept his job, though he fired many assistant coaches which is frequently the last step before losing ones own job. Frost better win 8 or 9 games this year to keep his job, and guess what, he might have a shot. The Huskers could be a decent team this year. They’ve brought in 2 QB’s to compete for the job that Adrian Martinez left for K-State, which probably helps Frost in all honesty. Former Pitt OC Mark Whipple is now running the O in Lincoln. This job isn’t what it once was but it is still a job that will elicit big name candidates and have a line of applicants. If Matt Rhule doesn’t last in the NFL he’d be one of my first calls if I was Nebraska. He turned around Baylor and you have to think he’d do a good job here. Speaking of turn around jobs, the job he did as GM with the Texans makes many forget what a remarkable job Bill O’Brien did turning around Penn St. in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. He also took the Texans to the playoffs more often than not. Either of these guys would be home run hires for Nebraska. Jay Norvell was mentioned for ASU and is another guy in play here. He was the OC/QB coach here under Bill Callahan years ago where he tutored current Cincinnati Bengal HC Zac Taylor. Tom Herman was another guy I discussed on this list. The job he has done puts him on this list for candidates. I think there are better guys for this job, but that’s not to say he’d be a poor hire. Jeff Hafley is now the HC at Boston College and was a former DC at Ohio State. He is a guy who fits the profile of what many Nebraska HC’s have and may be a candidate here.