Candidates Seeking College Football Coaches: What We’re Hearing at Auburn, Nebraska, Arizona State and Beyond

Sunday has every indication of being free coaching for all. There are currently eight openings now that the first has been filled with Charlotte signing Michigan assistant Biff Poggi, but more changes are on the way.

Although pink slips have been limited in recent weeks, teams looking to make changes are likely waiting until the regular season is over. That means a handful of layoffs are likely to come this Sunday — and some programs may even be ready to hire now that their top candidates have moved on to the playoffs.

Our latest Hot Seat ranking update earlier this month covered many jobs that may still be open this cycle. It is therefore time to take a last look at some of these programs before wondering who could fill the positions that are already vacant.

Possibilities of future openings

  • West Virginia: In year four, Neal Brown is heading for his worst season with the Mountaineers — 4-8 if they lose to Oklahoma State. Is the administration even waiting to hire a new athletic director?
  • Marine: This will apparently be Ken Niumatalolo’s call after 16 seasons. The Midshipmen haven’t had a winning campaign since 2019.
  • New Mexico: Danny Gonzales is in the midst of his worst season with the Lobos (2-9, 7-23 overall).
  • State of Texas: Jake Spavital, Johnny Manziel’s former offensive coordinator, is 13-34 in Year 4.
  • Texas A&M: No, not Jimbo Fisher. But he will most likely be convinced to hire an offensive coordinator.

Last year there were a record 31 job changes. It won’t be near that carousel at all. Maybe ADs are getting more patient. There may not be many vacancies. At the start of this season, there had been 72 job changes over the past three years.

what we hear

Auburn

Lane Kiffin is going to be paid off either by Auburn as the No. 1 target or by Ole Miss in a retention game. Kiffin has won 18 games and has two seasons, two shy of the school record (20). Given his agent (Jimmy Sexton) and the current market, Kiffin might as well be looking for a total package in the highest eight figures over 10 seasons. He is already the 11th highest paid coach with $7.25 million a year. Sexton will leverage Ole Miss and Auburn against each other to make sure Kiffin gets paid, and reports that Kiffin has already shot only help towards that end.

It’s similar to 2017 when Gus Malzahn got the exact same offer from Auburn and Arkansas (six years, $42 million). He chose Auburn and lasted four more seasons. If Kiffin moves to the Tigers, he should make it a condition of his job that intruders stay out. Why is this a better job than Ole Miss? Either way, Auburn seems to be competing for a national championship every five years or so. This is perhaps the deciding factor. As always, Kiffin is incredibly self-aware. “Maybe if they watched the first [half of a 15-point loss to Arkansas]I won’t be No. 1 anymore,” he told reporters on Saturday night.

If Kiffin stays, Liberty’s Hugh Freeze will get a long look.

Nebraska

Did Matt Rhule turn down the Cornhuskers this weekend? This was the word from several sources. Rhule had been the No. 1 candidate to replace Scott Frost. If Rhule did take their name into consideration, that’s not necessarily a statement about the quality of the work. He’s still a heavyweight for anyone taking on Nebraska, but for Rhule it may be another indicator that he intends to sit out in 2023 to rest and entrench. Rhule is at a point in his career where he can have his pick of jobs and not have to settle down. His first two college jobs were low-end and last-place types (Temple, Baylor), but he made his reputation with success stories from worst to first.

If Rhule is no longer available, will Nebraska turn their attention to Lance Leipold of Kansas? The 58-year-old coach has deep roots in Nebraska State as a former analyst at Nebraska-Omaha and an assistant under Frank Solich with the Huskers. Has the shine faded? The Jayhawks started 5-0 and were seeded but will finish 6-6 if they lose to Kansas State this week. Another name to watch in Nebraska: Washington freshman coach Kalen DeBoer.

Wisconsin

A Saturday night report said interim coach Jim Leonhard was in line for the permanent job. Leonhard had been the Badgers’ defensive coordinator since 2017 before taking the big chair. He’s hugely popular with the Wisconsin faithful and has long been expected to be a potential candidate for Badgers head coaching. Wisconsin is 4-2 since replacing Paul Chryst on Oct. 2.

Arizona State

Watch Oregon’s offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham for a good look. ASU can drop into one of the best rookies in the cycle. The talented Dillingham seems to be the clubhouse leader, but you never know with an administration that got rid of Herm Edwards and then retained the DA who hired him (Ray Anderson). Dillingham, 32, is a tried and true commodity despite his relative youth. His quarterback, Bo Nix, could be invited to the Heisman Trophy. Dillingham would be given all sorts of resources to topple the Sun Devils. In the new Pac-12 (without USC and UCLA), why can’t ASU compete for a playoff spot every year?

Los Angeles Rams running backs coach Thomas Brown is reportedly interested. Jackson State’s Deion Sanders has already removed his name from the race saying he would never go “West.”

Georgia Technology

Interim coach Brent Key may have taken a big step after upsetting North Carolina. GT can even watch a bowling match. That would mean beating Georgia this week. Otherwise, watch Bulldogs running backs coach Del McGee, Tulane coach Willie Fritz and former Houston/Texas A&M/Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin. Sanders also needs to be considered given the Atlanta connection.

Colorado

Northwest defensive coordinator Ryan Walters is widely considered the frontrunner. Walters played safety for the Buffaloes from 2004 to 2008. If he doesn’t get the job, there’s a long list of worthy candidates. Former Auburn coach Bryan Harsin is interested, as are former Texas coach Tom Herman, former Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall and Sacramento State coach Troy Taylor. Texas analyst and former TCU coach Gary Patterson also wants to get back somewhere.

South Florida

Mike Kelly is said to be keeping an open mind on a number of different directions he could take after the Jeff Scott disaster. Don’t be surprised if the name of at least one NFL assistant comes up. Here’s a suggestion: Three years after leaving Missouri, Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom is ready to be head coach again. Sanders is another name that could be of interest here as Kelly casts a wide net.

UAB

Former coach Bill Clark has recovered well from the back that caused him to quit ahead of the season. However, don’t expect him to return to the program he built from scratch. We hear from former Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente, or veterans like Sumlin, Brown (if West Virginia moves), Skip Holtz and Larry Fedora.

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