Published September 19, 2015
Mack Brown and Lane Kiffin are both in extreme danger of losing their jobs. Both are coming off awful losses -- Texas at BYU and USC at home against Washington State -- that have shaken their programs to their core. If things continue in this direction, there's a good chance that both men are out, opening up two of the best jobs in the country at the same time.
In 2011, I ranked the top 25 coaching jobs in college football.
I had Texas No. 1 and USC No. 8.
It's rare that two jobs that rank this highly come open, let alone at the same time. When this happens, the stability of the college football landscape can be upended in a heartbeat. Coaches at other major programs are willing to bolt for Top 10 jobs like these, opening up what I call coaching dominoes as coaches at good jobs leap for great jobs at other schools. The last two hires that Texas and USC made cost North Carolina and Tennessee, two other major programs, their head coaches.
That sets off coaching dominoes throughout the college football landscape.
So what about this time?
I made my own list of potential coaching hires for Texas and USC, an effort to replicate the list that athletic directors at both schools keep handy in the event a new hire is necessary.
I'm working under the assumption that neither Texas nor USC will hire a coach who hasn't been a head coach before. Sure, that's possible, but neither program has done that in a long while; Texas not since the 1950s and USC not since the early 1980s.
So who are on those lists?
We start with Texas.
My Texas List:
1. Nick Saban
Saban is not going to leave Alabama for Texas for more money. But I really wish Texas and Alabama would get into a bidding war for Saban's services. I can't think of any story that would be more entertaining in a Twitter era than Alabama and Texas publicly bidding against each other.
What dollar figure would be too much for Alabama to pay Saban to coach football?
Is there any figure?
What would Texas have to offer for Alabama to push back from the table and say, "That's too rich for our blood."
Twenty million? Thirty million a year? Is there any number Alabama wouldn't match? Would the state of Alabama bankrupt itself to pay for Nick Saban?
Please let this happen.
2. Kevin Sumlin
What's the best way to stop Texas A&M's meteoric in-state rise and reestablish your Longhorn state dominance? Steal away the Aggies' prize coach. I don't think Sumlin would leave College Station for another college job, but the charismatic Sumlin would be a perfect fit with the Longhorn Network. Can you imagine the A&M fallout if this happened? And you thought Rick Pitino was hated? You ain't seen nothing yet.
What do you have to lose by making a run at Sumlin if you're Texas?
3. Will Muschamp
Texas probably doesn't want to fire Brown. The Longhorns need him to agree to step down to avoid making it too ugly. In order to make that decision Mack might want to be involved in selecting his successor. Since Muschamp has already been crowned once as the coach-in-waiting at Texas, could the Longhorns persuade Muschamp to leave Gainesville and come back to Texas?
That seems unlikely, but why not ask?
You know Muschamp could fix the defense.
What if Texas also offered three million a year to Clemson's Chad Morris to fix the offense for good?
That would be a hell of a tandem, right?
4. Les Miles
If Les was willing to flirt with Arkansas for more money, might he be willing to leave LSU for Texas?
Why not try?
In nine years with LSU, Miles is 87-21. That's an extraordinary record, but does Miles feel like he's taken LSU to the heights. Would he rather build a program instead of trying to maintain dominance?
I think he'd win huge. Especially if he brought John Chavis to Austin with him. Chavis is the best defensive coordinator in the SEC; he'd fix Texas' defensive issues fast.
Can you imagine Les Miles with the Longhorn Network?
5. Mike Gundy
Gundy considered making the jump to Tennessee last year. Sure, he's a lifelong Oklahoma State coach, but with the SI investigation into improprieties at the Oklahoma State program, would it make sense to bolt while he could?
Plus, if you're Texas, you're also weakening one of your major foes in the Big 12 by stealing him from the Cowboys. If Oklahoma State lost Gundy, would the program maintain its upward trajectory or would it sink back into college football oblivion?
Gundy doesn't seem particularly loyal to me, and you know he's familiar with all the Big 12 teams. Why not take a shot with him?
6. Art Briles
Briles is a Texas high school coaching legend. He's taken an awful Baylor job and made it one of the hottest names in college football. He'd be an immediate asset for quarterback David Ash, and he'd understand the Longhorn culture better than just about anyone who could take this job.
The only downside here?
He's 58 years old, just a few years younger than Mack Brown.
How much longer will he coach?
7. Pat Fitzgerald
Now in his eighth year at Northwestern, Fitzgerald has proven he can win at the highest levels of the Big Ten. He's been to five straight bowl games at Northwestern, and he's going to make it six this year.
Will he ever leave Northwestern?
Texas might be able to pry him away with money that Northwestern can't match.
He's only 39 years old, which means he's a full generation younger than Brown. Fitzgerald is telegenic, charismatic and without any hint of scandal.
Texas could do a ton worse.
8. James Franklin
The Texas job is unique because you need someone who enjoys the politician-like circus of the job. You need a coach who can kiss babies, rally a fan base on the speaking circult, make the boosters all feel special and put on an entertaining show in the process.
Oh, and that coach has to win football games, too.
Franklin is coming off a nine-win season at Vanderbilt, the first in 97 years, and he's poised to take Vandy to a third straight bowl game.
He turned down several opportunities to leave Vandy last year, but if Texas came calling could he turn them down? That seems unlikely.
9. Charlie Strong
He's going to post back-to-back 11-win seasons at Louisville, but his quarterback will leave after this season and there's likely to be a drop off in team quality just as the schedule becomes tougher in the ACC.
Could Strong decide that it's the perfect time to jump ship?
The only issue here is this: Would Strong welcome the increased media attention and social obligations that come with the job? Or might he bristle under the scrutiny?
My USC List:
1. Jack Del Rio
I put Del Rio first on this list because he's a USC grad who probably would take the job.
A 68-71 NFL head coach, Del Rio is the defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos.
Is he a sure-fire success? Probably not. Does he understand the USC culture and is the completely clean of NCAA improprieties? Yep.
2. Jeff Fisher
Another USC grad who has long been connected to the program, Fisher is the head coach of the St. Louis Rams.
But Fisher already makes $7 million a year to coach the St. Louis Rams.
Would USC pay him more than that?
If so, that would make Fisher the highest paid coach in college.
I'm putting him on the list, but is Fisher going to take a pay cut to coach in college? That seems highly unlikely. Plus, I'm here in Nashville and if you ask anyone who is close to Fisher whether he'd take the USC job, they all say no.
3. Chris Petersen
Ah, the coaching white whale.
Everyone asks, and everyone is told no.
Still, you're USC -- why not make a run at the most successful coach in the region? What's the worst thing that can happen? The Boise state coach will give you the same answer he's given every other program in the country: no.
4. David Shaw
Sure, he's a Stanford alum and probably wouldn't leave.
But maybe he would.
And worst case scenario: Why not make Stanford pony up big dollars to keep him?
5. Kevin Sumlin
I don't think Sumlin would leave for Texas, but could the bright lights of Los Angeles be attractive to him?
Why not try if you're USC, what do you have to lose?
6. Steve Sarkisian
Sarkisian is just 27-25 after four full years as the head coach at Washington.
But his team this year could be really good.
Plus, he's got major USC connections to the Pete Carroll era.
Could a 10-win Sark get a legit look if the top candidates all say no?
I think so.
7. James Franklin
USC needs a charismatic coach who can unite the fan base. Franklin's done that job for a much smaller fan base in Nashville. Plus, he's recruited California pretty well and gets that the primary job of a college football coach is to be an entertainer.
I've been saying it for over a year now: Franklin at USC is almost a perfect fit.
8. Bobby Petrino
The wild card here.
Would USC be willing to take a flier on Petrino given his off-field trangressions and subsequent rehabilitation?
Remember that Petrino's from the west and coached at Arizona State.
Personal foibles are less of an issue in LA than anywhere else in the country. You know what they call having an affair with your younger assistant in Hollywood? Monday.
How much do you think Petrino could win at USC?
An absolute ton.