Ranking the Head Coaching Jobs Most Likely to Be Available in 2014

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistNovember 22, 2013

Ranking the Head Coaching Jobs Most Likely to Be Available in 2014

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    There are only a few weeks left in the regular season for college football, so we know what that means.

    Yup, the coaching carousel is about to get rolling. (Oh, and that whole BCS thing.)

    Five of the 126 FBS college football head coaching positions are already open, with Connecticut, Eastern Michigan, Florida Atlantic, Miami (Ohio) and USC under the guidance of interim coaches. And if last season is any indication, a bunch more will pop open almost immediately after teams' final games are played, if not earlier.

    There were 31 coaching changes during or after the 2012 season, with nine head coaches bolting for the greener pastures of another program.

    Most of the changes last year weren't a surprise, mostly based on long-term failure or a sudden drop in success. Others, though, came out of nowhere, making this carousel a lot less docile than the one at the county fair.

    How many changes will happen before the 2014 season? That's anyone's guess, but we're putting our money down on the 15 most likely jobs that will have someone different in them in the next few months, ranked from worst to best situation for whoever would take over.

15. Texas A&M Aggies

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    Chance the job will be open: 20 percent

    Reason for the opening: If the USC athletic director is determined to get a home run coach to replace Lane Kiffin, one that's worthy of the Hollywood atmosphere and lifestyle, Kevin Sumlin might be hard-pressed to turn down the enormous payout that could come with a move to Los Angeles.

    It would take a lot for Sumlin to leave Texas A&M, considering its currently the best job in Texas, and the move to the SEC has enabled the school to recruit better in places like Louisiana. It's a great gig and one that most coaches would be unwise to walk away from.

    But what also needs to be considered is that Sumlin has won these past two years at A&M with players he didn't recruit; they're leftovers from the Mike Sherman era, and that includes Johnny Manziel. And with "Johnny Football" almost definitely leaving after this season, does Sumlin want to have to worry about how to replace that production?

14. Utah Utes

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    Chance the job will be open: 30 percent

    Reason for the opening: This ain't the Mountain West anymore, Kyle Whittingham.

    Whittingham's first game as Utah head coach was in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, filling in for the departed Urban Meyer. He led the Utes to a win over Pittsburgh as the first "BCS buster" entrant in one of the big bowls. He did it again in 2008, going 13-0 and beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

    But since Utah joined the Pac-12 in 2011, it's been a much tougher road for Whittingham. He got the Utes into a bowl that first season, despite a 4-5 league mark, but he was 5-7 last season and sits at 4-6 (and 1-6 in the league) right now.

    Utah's only Pac-12 win, amazingly, is against Stanford, the only time the offense didn't make too many mistakes to overcome.

13. Vanderbilt Commodores

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    Chance the job will be open: 40 percent

    Reason for opening: James Franklin has piloted Vanderbilt to three straight bowl-eligible seasons, a first in school history, so his job is far from unsafe. Instead, the "hot young coach" may be considered for numerous other potential openings as a great hire due to his age (41) and quick turnaround job at Vandy.

    Franklin had been the head-coach-in-waiting at Maryland but decided to move on in November 2010 after it looked like that school was going to hold on to Ralph Friedgen. Then Maryland canned Friedgen a month later.

    With USC already open and other high-profile jobs expected to come available, Franklin's name is going to get brought up a lot in the next month or two. Whether he'll leave will depend on the situation.

12. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

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    Chance the job will be open: 50 percent

    Reason for the opening: Bobby Petrino doesn't have a great reputation for sticking around.

    Petrino was a surprise hire when Western Kentucky looked to replace Willie Taggart, but two days after Taggart left for South Florida, the Sun Belt school had landed the fallen Arkansas coach looking for a second chance. Petrino was fired by Arkansas in connection with a scandal involving a motorcycle accident and a female athletic director.

    The Hilltoppers are moving to Conference USA next season, but that might not be enough to hold on to a coach who jumped from Louisville to the NFL's Atlanta Falcons after four seasons, only to then quit that gig before his first season was over to take the Arkansas job.

    If a BCS conference team comes calling, Petrino is apt to make the move.

11. Virginia Cavaliers

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    Chance the job will be open: 55 percent

    Reason for the opening: Mike London doesn't have the luxury of being in a place where patience is a virtue, like other standout FCS coaches who've jumped to FBS.

    Virginia went 8-5 in his second year in Charlottesville, losing in the Chick-fil-A Bowl to Auburn. Since then, the Cavaliers are 6-16, including 2-12 in ACC play and are staring at the prospect of a winless league campaign for the first time since 1981.

    Unlike Bobby Hauck, the former Montana standout coach who managed to still hold on to his UNLV job despite three straight 10-loss seasons—and now UNLV's first bowl-eligible year since 2000—London is in a league where getting a chance to slowly build isn't common.

10. Wyoming Cowboys

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    Chance the job will be open: 60 percent

    Reason for the opening: Dave Christensen is likely headed for his second straight losing season and third in five years in Laramie.

    Christensen could have been canned last year after his confrontation with Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, after a loss, got him suspended for a game, but having gone to bowl games in two of his first three seasons earned him some rope. The vote of confidence looked like a good one when the Cowboys started 3-1 (that included a convincing win at Air Force and no further tirades).

    But Wyoming is 1-5 since, the only win coming by a touchdown at home over New Mexico. And the skid has included home losses by margins of 30 and 38 points, including an embarrassing 52-22 defeat at the hands of bitter rival Colorado State.

9. Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    Chance the job will be open: 65 percent

    Reason for the opening: Dan Mullen peaked midway through last season, and the fall from that point has been fast and hard.

    Mississippi State was 7-0 and ranked 13th in the Associated Press poll last October when the Bulldogs visited No. 1 Alabama. They lost 38-7, the start of a 1-6 skid to end the season. Throw in this year's 1-6 mark in SEC play, and Mullen's numbers aren't looking so hot.

    He's won just two of his last 13 league games entering Saturday's trip to Arkansas, with the wins coming at home to Arkansas last season and Kentucky this year. And throw in the 15 consecutive losses to ranked opponents, and it's easy to label Mullen as a coach unable to win "the big game."

    Mullen will have one more chance to pull off a job-saving victory next week at home against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, but that might not be enough. 

8. Florida Gators

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    Chance the job will be open: 60 percent

    Reason for the opening: Failing to play in a bowl game is unacceptable in Gainesville.

    Even before it became very apparent Florida wouldn't be finishing above .500—unless it not only beats Georgia Southern on Saturday but also shocks the college football world with a win at Florida State next week—the writing was starting to show up on the wall that Will Muschamp's tenure with the Gators was in jeopardy.

    Injuries have contributed heavily to Florida's 4-6 record this season but so have poor personnel choices. Everyone goes through injuries, but the backups who have come in have looked far worse than you'd expect from an SEC program that's normally near the top of the recruiting rankings.

    Muschamp was considered the heir apparent to Mack Brown at Texas, but chose not to wait around. Maybe that wasn't the best decision.

7. Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Chance the job will be open: 65 percent

    Reason for the job being open: It's not about wins at Nebraska, it's about appearances.

    Bo Pelini has won at least nine games in each of his five full seasons in Lincoln, and that's a distinct possibility again this year, depending on the Cornhuskers' bowl matchup.

    But Frank Solich averaged 9.5 wins in six years there and still got fired, while Bill Callahan had eight or more wins in two of his four seasons and was booted.

    Pelini has been on the hot seat nearly all year, especially after the double whammy of getting blown out at home by UCLA and then the leaking of an audiotape of Pelini ripping the Nebraska fanbase. And it's kept getting hotter following losses to Minnesota and Michigan State that knocked the Cornhuskers out of Big Ten title consideration.

    Assuming Nebraska cuts Pelini, though, it might have trouble getting a big name to replace him. This isn't the same landscape as when Tom Osborne was there. The Cornhuskers can't get big names from Texas like they used to, not now that they're no longer in the Big 8/12, so winning big in Lincoln is a much harder task, despite the still-high expectations.

6. Illinois Fighting Illini

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    Chance the job will be open: 70 percent

    Reason for the opening: It's hard to keep the job of being a Big Ten football coach without actually being able to win in the Big Ten.

    Tim Beckman's been at Illinois for nearly two full seasons now, during which time he has won five games. Those five victories have come against Charleston Southern, Cincinnati, Miami (Ohio), Southern Illinois and Western Michigan.

    Last we checked, none of those schools play in the Big Ten Conference. Nope, against those opponents, Beckman's Fighting Illini teams are 0-14 heading into Saturday's tilt with a Purdue team that's lost its last nine Big Ten games but still beat Illinois 20-17 last season.

    Two years might be too short of a sample size most of the time but not when there's been no real signs of improvement from one year to the next.

5. Iowa State Cyclones

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    Chance the job will be open: 75 percent

    Reason for the opening: Paul Rhoads has gone from a promising young coach who's on the cusp of turning around a moribund program to one who's lost his team.

    Iowa State has made bowls in three of Rhoads' four full seasons in Ames, but only one of those ended in victories, and as a result, he's had only one winning year. The wheels have come off in 2013, with the Cyclones facing the prospect of their first winless Big 12 campaign.

    Ironically, Rhoads ended up at ISU after former ISU coach Gene Chizik decided not to keep him on at Auburn as defensive coordinator following his hiring there.

    Rhoads has shown a lot of passion, as was evident following a referee-influenced 31-30 home loss to Texas earlier this season. But no amount of passion can mask a season as bad as this one.


4. Texas Longhorns

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    Chance the job will be open: 80 percent

    Reason for the opening: The time has come for the Mack Brown era to end.

    Brown isn't going to get fired at Texas, not after turning around a 1-2 start to be 7-2 and atop the Big 12 entering the final stretch. But he's probably not going to be running things in Austin after this season either, the result of a steady decline in the program with no big wins in several years.

    Yes, the Oklahoma win was nice, but short of the Longhorns running the table in the Big 12 and making the Fiesta Bowl, a change was inevitable.

    Brown's longstanding relationship with athletic director DeLoss Dodds (not to mention the midseason surge) saved him from getting caned midseason, but with Dodds stepping down and new AD Steve Patterson wanting to make a name for himself right away, look for Brown to retire either right after Texas's bowl game or announce such a plan in the days leading up to it.

3. Florida Atlantic Owls

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    Chance the job will be open: 95 percent

    Reason for the opening: Carl Pelini was forced out on Oct. 30 amid allegations he and an assistant had used illegal drugs during the season. Pelini has since denied the claims and has demanded he be reinstated as coach.

    Pelini wasn't exactly lighting the world on fire when he was canned, going 5-15 in one-and-a-half seasons in Boca Raton. The Owls were 2-6 this year when he was let go and since have gone 2-0 under interim coach Brian Wright to put them in position to make a bowl game in their first season as members of Conference USA. But Wright isn't likely to get the full-time gig.

    Odds are the FAU administration will look to hire a coach with a name, like it did with Pelini, but rather than just the brother of an existing head coach, they might try to steal away a successful one from another school, possibly the Mid-American Conference.

    The school's south Florida locale makes it attractive, even if that means having to compete with Miami, Florida State and now Central Florida for recruits.

2. USC Trojans

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    Chance the job will be open: 99 percent

    Reason for the opening: Pat Haden is not going to let Twitter decide his head coach.

    As much as there has become major backing for interim coach Ed Orgeron to get the full-time gig based on his performance stepping in for the fired Lane Kiffin, all signs point to Haden wanting to make a big splash with his football coach.

    Haden has cleaned house on coaches the last few years, and he's not afraid to take chances—Exhibit A: plucking Andy Enfield from Florida Gulf Coast based on one weekend of college basketball games.

    The USC job is too high-profile and flashy to go to an interim coach, regardless of how well he's doing, and Haden knows that. He wants someone big, someone like Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin or an NFL guy like Jack Del Rio or even Jon Gruden. Someone who sells the brand, not just brings in the recruits like Orgeron has been credited with doing.

1. Connecticut Huskies

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    Chance the job will be open: 100 percent

    Reason for the opening: Paul Pasqualoni was fired on Sept. 30, after starting 0-4 in his third season with the Huskies. He was 10-18 overall.

    T.J. Weist has been Connecticut's interim coach ever since, and at 0-5 (and losing by 22.2 points per game), he's not going to get hired on full-time. Pasqualoni's hiring as a replacement for the departed Randy Edsall was a peculiar one at the time, seeing as he'd been in the NFL for eight years as an assistant after getting dumped by Syracuse in 2004.

    That being said, this won't exactly be the most sought-after opening on the market this offseason. Connecticut's in a foundering conference that's lost its high-level status for championship purposes, and it was hard enough getting someone to replace Edsall when the school was in a BCS league.