Texas’ combination of financial resources, rich recruiting soil as the flagship school of a football-crazy state and prominence as the only school in America with its own 24-hour cable network make Texas the best coaching job in college football.
So who will replace Mack Brown as the man to lead the Longhorns? Here’s a Nick Saban-less list of who Texas should chase after. 1. Art Briles, Baylor. There are plenty of reasons why Briles would say no. He seems happy at Baylor, who will open a new stadium in 2014 and is still celebrating its first-ever Big 12 title. Most importantly, he just signed a 10-year contract extension. He told me last month that he couldn’t even envision talking to other schools after the season. Texas needs to make him prove it. Briles name came up in nearly every conversation I had with people around the Big 12 when the subject of who should replace Brown arose. He is Texas personified, complete with a drawl and down-home quick-wittedness, as well as Eric Taylor-like folklore after spending 16 years as a high school coach in the state. His offensive system is exactly what you need to win the Big 12, and his ability to identify quarterback talent and develop it is unrivaled in college football. You’ll have to dig deep to find many negatives of Texas hiring Briles.
2. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State. This would require some patience for Texas, considering Fisher is preparing his team as the favorite against Auburn in the BCS title game. He’s 44-10 in four seasons as FSU’s coach and has recruited a monster at FSU and even swiped the nation’s No. 3 recruit, Mario Edwards, out of Denton, Texas in 2012. FSU is built to win big for a long time. He’s short on Texas ties, but the longtime LSU OC knows football at powerhouse schools and has shown a nice pedigree with quarterbacks lately. E.J. Manuel was the first quarterback drafted last season and Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman on Saturday night.
3. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State. Mike Gundy is as “Oklahoma State” as they come, but chatter that Texas is the only school who could lure Gundy away has persisted for years. He’s left his bosses and fan base annoyed after dalliances with Tennessee and Arkansas last offseason, but he’s built up OSU’s recruiting and knows the landscape in Texas very well. He’s had a solid run of quarterbacks recently, too, with Zac Robinson and Brandon Weeden.
4. Gus Malzahn, Auburn. I’ve seen Malzahn’s teams up close and covered some since he coached at Shiloh Christian School and Springdale High School in my hometown beginning in 1996. It was comical how much better his teams were compared to their peers shortly after Malzahn’s arrival at both schools. He does nothing but win everywhere he goes, and went from high school coach to Auburn head coach in eight years. The Tigers made one of the most impressive turnarounds in college football history to reach the BCS title game in Malzahn’s first year as head coach after going 3-9 and winless in the SEC last season. This would require some risk in that Malzahn is relatively unproven at the college level, but he knows how to manage every aspect of a program and is a brilliant offensive mind. Just like Briles, his story and pedigree would help him in endearing himself to Texas high school coaches. 5. David Shaw, Stanford. Have you seen what his teams have done to Oregon the last two seasons? Knowing how to slow down those kinds of spread offenses is extremely attractive, and offensively Stanford is what Texas was trying to be for the last four seasons: A balanced team built around a power running game. He took over for Jim Harbaugh in 2011, and we’re still waiting for his first season with fewer than 11 wins. In a more competitive recruiting landscape than ever in Texas with Briles, Kevin Sumlin, Mike Gundy and Bob Stoops all well-entrenched, I’d have some concerns about how well he could recruit immediately in Austin, but if he wins at Texas like he has at Stanford, those questions will be quickly forgotten.