While some say Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year” let’s be honest: For college football fans, the coaching carousel truly is the best time of the holiday season. Sadly, though, with Temple filling its vacancy Tuesday morning, the 2016 cycle has come to an end. Unless an NFL team hires a college coach (or someone rides his motorcycle into a ditch with his mistress on the back), the carousel has stopped spinning for this year.
However, it’s never too early to look ahead to 2017 and speculate about who will be prominently involved. And MAN, do we have some big names. From coaches on the hot seat to big name replacements, here are 11 guys who we will be talking about at this time next year.
Butch Jones, Tennessee head coach (hot seat)
Had you asked anyone as recently as six weeks ago, the idea that Jones could enter the 2017 season on the hot seat was about as preposterous as Jones ditching his signature flat-top for a side-part. But after a 5-0 start, the Vols went 3-4 down the stretch, with inexcusable losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt.
Jones is on the hot seat -- not just because of poor finish, but because of everyone he will lose off this year’s team. Remember, 2016 was the year UT has been building toward, and with everyone from Josh Dobbs to Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Cameron Sutton heading to the pros, the Vols very likely will take a major step back next season. Step back far enough, and it could cost Jones his job.
This isn't me "going after” Kingsbury; he is just 24-26 in four seasons at Texas Tech (and that is a bit deceiving because he won his first seven games). Sicne then, he is just 17-26 overall and just 13-23 in the Big 12. Take out a 7-1 record against Kansas and Iowa State, and Kingsbury is a miserable 6-22 in Big 12 play.
Add in that the Red Raiders’ defense seems to get worse every year (it ranked dead last in scoring defense in 2016), and Kingsbury is coaching for his job in 2017.
Chip Kelly, San Francisco 49ers head coach (job candidate)
After Kelly was fired by the Eagles at this time last year, I argued that he should sit out the 2016 season and return to college in 2017. I don’t want to call myself “Nostra-Torres” (that was terrible, I apologize), but that advice is starting to look smart. Had Kelly sat out 2016, he almost certainly would be the head coach at Texas or LSU right now.
Unfortunately, Kelly continues to ply away in the pro ranks and the simple truth is that it’s just not working. After winning 20 games in his first two years, Kelly is just 7-21 since, with an abysmal 1-12 record this season. Unless Deshaun Watson or DeShone Kizer is a franchise-saver at quarterback, Kelly could very well be returning to the college game at this time next year.
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Les Miles, former LSU head coach (job candidate)
When you sit back and think about it, it’s borderline amazing that Miles didn’t get a head-coaching job this offseason. He has a national championship on his resume and is one of the most dogged recruiters in the sport, and he didn’t even get a few phone calls? Outside of Houston trustee Tilman Fertitta saying that the Cougars interviewed Miles, it doesn’t seem like he got much traction as a candidate this offseason.
It's fair to wonder if Miles was hurt by saying he would consider only jobs where he “could win national championships.” Did that scare suitors away? We doubt he’ll be quite as picky next season.
Getty ImagesChris Graythen
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State head coach (job candidate?)
Mullen is firmly entrenched in Starkville and has about as much job security as anyone in the SEC not named "Nick Saban" right now. After losing Dak Prescott a season ago, Mullen did one of his finest coaching jobs of his career just to get the Bulldogs to 5-7 and into a bowl game this year.
This isn’t about Mullen being on the “hot seat” but instead the opposite. For the past two offseasons, he’s been trying to get out of Starkville. He was a known candidate at Miami last year and Oregon this year, and it’s clear that he feels like his time in Starkville is up.
It also feels like if Mullen might take one more stab at leaving next year.
Matt Bush-USA TODAY SportsMatt Bush
Greg Schiano, Ohio State defensive coordinator (job candidate)
They used to call the MAC “the cradle of coaches,” but lately you could probably say the same about Urban Meyer’s staff at Ohio State. Since the end of the 2014 season, three different guys (Tom Herman, Chris Ash and Luke Fickell) have gotten head-coaching jobs straight out of Columbus. And Schiano could be next.
There just aren’t many guys available with NFL head-coaching experience and who also rebuilt a program from scratch (like Schiano did at Rutgers). Plus, Ohio State should have one of college football’s best defenses again next year.
But if Schiano couldn’t get a job this offseason, when Temple (a seemingly perfect fit) and Cincinnati (a good fit) were available, will he ever? Has his time as a big-time head-coaching candidate finally passed?
Wilcox got initial buzz as a candidate at both Nevada and San Jose State, before fizzling out late in the process. Still, if he can put together another season like this one in 2017 (the Badgers finished in the Top 10 in both scoring and total defense), he could be a plum candidate out of the coordinator ranks.
The impressive work in Madison is just the latest big season for the 40-year-old Wilcox. Outside of one bad year at USC, Wilcox has had success rebuilding defenses at Boise State, Tennessee and Washington.
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Steve Sarkisian, Alabama offensive analyst (job candidate?)
Admittedly, this one is a bit of a stretch. With Lane Kiffin taking over at Florida Atlantic, let's assume Sark is elevated to Alabama’s offensive coordinator. Let’s also assume that he has put his personal demons behind him (something I think we’re all rooting for). If he has a monster year – and with Jalen Hurts, Damien Harris and Calvin Ridley all back, he should – you mean to tell me that Sark might not get some serious buzz as a candidate this time next year?
Like Kiffin, it might take two or three years of success in Tuscaloosa for Sark to get that call. But stranger things have happened, right?
Brian Kelly, Notre Dame head coach (hot seat/job candidate)
But be careful what you wish for, Notre Dame fans. Things didn’t go as planned this year, but Kelly is also a coach who had the Irish within one win of making the College Football Playoff last year. Run him out of town if you want, but there’s a pretty good chance the next guy won’t be half as good as he is.
P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan head coach (job candidate)
Of all the shocking things that happened during this coaching carousel, maybe the most shocking is that Fleck remained in Kalamazoo. While only he and his agent know what offers were truly on the table, good for him for not feeling forced to leave after a 13-0 regular season.
It’s hard to imagine him not getting big-time looks if the Broncos have a similar season next year. They probably won’t go 13-0, but the foundation is built, and it isn’t crazy to think Western will 10 games and be in the MAC title chase again. If that happens, someone will have to take a shot on Fleck, right?
Getty ImagesMichael Hickey
Tim Drevno, Michigan offensive coordinator (job candidate)
Drevno has been Jim Harbaugh’s right-hand man dating all the way back to their days at the University of San Diego (does that feel like a lifetime ago, or what?) and was a candidate this year for a number of jobs, including Florida Atlantic. Could 2017 be the year he breaks through?
It seems likely, especially if Michigan has similar success on offense. The Wolverines averaged 41 points per game in 2016 and while those numbers will probably dip a bit, Drevno should still get some big-time looks.