The college football season is winding down, with talk of conference championship games, bowls and the College Football Playoff starting to ramp up. None of thats matters for fans of the six Power 5 programs that decided to move on from their head coach this season.
Those fans are busy scouring message boards and flight trackers for any clues about their possible next coach. Allow me to play matchmaker, Tinder-style but sober, for the six schools tasked with finding someone to lead their respective football programs. It’s 6:51 a.m. as I write this and I’m currently not drinking, so hopefully I have a higher swipe-right rate than “Dylan, 25” at the local lounge. Here goes nothing.
The Situation: Influential boosters trumped up a make-believe scandal to try and oust Bryan Harsin after last season because they realized what most knew when the hire was initially made: He is an awful fit for Auburn. The attempted coup failed but the boosters won the war. Harsin’s job turned virtually impossible, which led to a 3-5 start to the season and the end of his tenure on the Plains.
The Match: Lane Kiffin
There’s no guarantee that Kiffin would leave Ole Miss for Auburn but I’m certain he would win at Auburn at a high level. He is doing so currently at Ole Miss while also complaining about attendance at home games and outwardly flirting with (and possibly trolling) other programs. If Kiffin doesn’t have any interest in another job, he’s not doing a great job of squashing the chatter.
The truth is Lane Kiffin loves the smoke and wants all of it. He is also smart enough to know that Auburn’s four previous coaches either won or played for a national championship, or finished undefeated. Financial support and recruiting isn’t the problem at Auburn. Too many cooks in the kitchen is the problem. A highly regarded and strong-willed coach like Lane Kiffin could eliminate that problem.
Imagine the annual Iron Bowl between Nick Saban and his former OC. Sign me up. And Auburn should do what it takes to sign him up.
The Situation: Athletics director Chris McIntosh fired Paul Chryst after a 2-3 start and a demoralizing 34-10 loss to an Illinois team led by former head coach Bret Bielema. Chryst’s recruiting was also a problem late in his Wisconsin tenure. But things weren’t all bad. Chryst finished 67-26 in 7-plus seasons at Wisconsin. He won 10 or more games in 4 of his 7 seasons.
The Match: Jim Leonhard
This is a “don’t overthink it” scenario in Madison. Leonhard played at the school before embarking on a 10-year NFL career. He is highly thought of in the coaching community and Wisconsin is 3-1 since he took over as interim coach. Plus, Wisconsin historically has success when it hires from within the family. Barry Alvarez hand-picked Bret Bielema and it worked before Bielema bolted for Arkansas.
The Badgers need to stick with one of their own again and take the interim tag off Leonhard.
The Situation: Existential crisis. Nebraska brought Scott Frost home after he went undefeated at UCF and it was heralded by almost everyone as one of the best hires in the last 20 years. The result? Frost finished 16-31. What’s next for the Huskers? Hire a proven and steady football coach.
The Match: Mark Stoops
This is an aspirational pick and I believe it’s a slight long shot that Stoops would leave Kentucky for Nebraska. But I think it’s more possible than many believe. Kentucky is having a solid yet disappointing season given the Wildcats were picked to win the SEC East and currently sit at three losses with a game against Georgia on the horizon. Combine that with the growing feud between Stoops and John Calipari over Calipari’s public (and correct) claim that Kentucky is a basketball school, and you have the makings of a coach that may be willing to look around. Just this week, Stoops hinted at problems with NIL organization at Kentucky and how it’s putting his program in a tough spot.
Stoops won’t have to worry about anyone confusing Nebraska for anything other than a football school.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
The Situation: The transition from the Triple Option to a more pro-style offense is always rough but it was especially so for Geoff Collins. Tech parted ways with Collins after a 10-28 start to his Tech tenure. There’s not a lot to say about Georgia Tech Football which ironically says a lot. How do you turn that around?
The Match: Deion Sanders
Don’t laugh. Deion is doing a great job at Jackson State. “Coach Prime” has infused style, swag, and life to the program and it’s helped all of HBCU football. Landing 5-star Travis Hunter over his alma mater, Florida State, was a big and unexpected win on the recruiting trail. Now imagine what the Primetime name can bring in Atlanta. It’s a city stocked with 4 and 5-star talent and a city where Deion starred as a football and baseball star for the Falcons and Braves.
There’s an opening in the ACC for someone to challenge Clemson for conference superiority. Why not Tech? This is a program that won a national championship in 1990 and while it’s going to be next to impossible to catch Georgia and Kirby Smart, you don’t have to. You can build a consistent winner in the ACC by focusing on Atlanta area talent. You also give your program a gigantic shot in the arm by hiring the celebrity coach.
Arizona State Sun Devils
The Situation: Herm Edwards was fired after a rough start and an even rougher track record within his own program. Arizona State is currently under NCAA investigation for recruiting violations. The Sun Devils currently sit at 3-6 and will likely be knocked out of bowl eligibility this Saturday at Washington State.
The Match: Kenny Dillingham
The Oregon offensive coordinator is only 32 years old but he has done an outstanding job with Bo Nix and the Oregon offense this season. It also helps that he attended high school in Scottsdale and graduated from ASU.
Dillingham’s story is different from a lot of college coaches. His coaching career began at 17 when he tore his ACL playing high school football. He started helping the coaching staff at Chaparral High School and was promoted to OC at 21 years old while he was still taking classes at Arizona State. Fast forward 11 years and he has coached at Arizona State, Memphis, Auburn, Florida State and now Oregon.
Given the unknown of NCAA penalties, the Sun Devils need someone who comes in with a big picture, long-term approach while also being up to speed on the current landscape. Basically they need someone young that knows how to navigate the transfer portal and NIL. Dillingham fits the mold.
The Situation: Colorado remains a giant mystery to me. If you’ve ever been on its Boulder campus, you know it’s one of the best and most spectacularly beautiful places in America to attend school. It’s a short drive from Denver. In the Buffs heyday under Bill McCartney they were able to attract talent out of California and Texas. But that hasn’t been the case over the last 20+ years. It’s now a school with a reputation of indifference towards athletics. It’s why Mel Tucker was looking to bolt after one season. Karl Dorrel felt like a desperate hire and that proved true. So where should the Buffs turn next?
The Match: Jeff Lebby
Offense is all the rage and Lebby, the current Oklahoma offensive coordinator, has worked under Josh Heupel, Art Briles, and Lane Kiffin. Not bad. He is an Oklahoma grad who will want that job if it doesn’t work out for Brent Venables but if the ultimate goal is to be a head coach, the 38 year old should take a long look at the potential at Colorado. And even if he doesn’t win 10 games a year, he can continue to flex his handle of offensive football by turning the Buffs into something they haven’t been in years: Fun.