The Best Coaches Who Could Jump on the 2013 College Football Coaching Carousel

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistDecember 23, 2013

The Best Coaches Who Could Jump on the 2013 College Football Coaching Carousel

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    Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

    The merry-go-round that is the annual shuffling of head coaches throughout college football is well underway, even as nearly half of the FBS schools still have games to play before the 2013 season is in the books.

    Steve Sarkisian got it started when he bolted Washington for USC, which prompted Chris Petersen to skip out on Boise State to fill Sarkisian's spot in Seattle. Boise State then kept the carousel going by plucking Bryan Harsin from Arkansas State, leaving that school to tab Blake Anderson as its fifth coach in as many seasons.

    In all, 13 FBS head coaching positions opened up either during the year or since the regular season ended, with 11 of those vacancies getting filled already. In addition to those mentioned above, three other schools hired away active head coaches, with Eastern Michigan and Wyoming reaching down to the FCS to find their men.

    Make sure to stay buckled in and seated, though, kids, because this ride is far from over. The Texas opening alone could provide enough tangential personnel moves to keep the carousel going for months.

    Who else might hop onto this crazy train? Check out our picks for the best coaches who might take a ride.

Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee

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    Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

    What he's done: Middle Tennessee has had five winning seasons since joining the FBS in 1999. Four of those have come in Rick Stockstill's eight years in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

    The Blue Raiders are 8-4 this season, their first in Conference USA play after playing in the Sun Belt. They're facing Navy on Dec. 30 in the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas.

    Why he might leave: Stockstill's name popped up in the past for openings at East Carolina and Memphis, but he didn't make the move because he didn't consider it the right time to go. But now that he's successfully transitioned MTSU to an upgraded conference, he may be more apt to take on a bigger challenge.

    Where he might end up: At 56, Stockstill would probably be looking to go somewhere that he can finish a coaching career that dates back to the early 1980s.  The National Football Post listed him as a good candidate for the Wake Forest job that ultimately went to Bowling Green's Dave Clawson. If a similar low-end BCS gig were to open up this offseason, look for Stockstill to get a sniff.

Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette

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    What he's done: Mark Hudspeth took over a program that was 3-9 in 2010 and hadn't been to a bowl game in 40 years. He's since led the Ragin' Cajuns to three consecutive 9-4 seasons, each culminating in a New Orleans Bowl victory, including a 24-21 win last Saturday over Tulane.

    Hudspeth had been an assistant at Mississippi State for two years before coming to ULL, and prior to that, he went 66-21 in seven years as head coach at Division II North Alabama.

    Why he might leave: The Sun Belt Conference isn't where coaches or teams long to stay. The league lost four schools to Conference USA prior to the 2013 season, and Western Kentucky is going to C-USA in 2014. The replacement schools have mostly come from the FCS or in the form of nomad programs like Idaho and New Mexico who can't find a closer conference.

    Hudspeth could just stick around and dominate the league for decades, but who does that nowadays?

    Where he might end up: Hudspeth is a Southern guy, with all of his playing and coaching taking place in the Deep South. He was raised in Mississippi and his short stint working with the wide receivers at Mississippi State could put him in the mix if Dan Mullen were to be let go or grab another job as a result of the Texas hiring aftermath.

Beau Baldwin, Eastern Washington

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    What he's done: Much like North Dakota State had done under new Wyoming coach Craig Bohl, Beau Baldwin has turned Eastern Washington into one of those rare FCS powers that can play with the big boys of the FBS.

    The Eagles opened the season with a win at Oregon State en route to another FCS semifinal appearance, to go along with making the FCS semifinals in 2012 and winning the FCS championship in 2010. The Eagles did all of that while playing on red (yes, red) turf that has been dubbed "The Inferno."

    Why he might leave: Though he's spent his entire coaching career in the state of Washington, Baldwin is young enough (41) where he might want to step outside his comfort zone if the right position comes along. He's only a few years younger than—and almost as successful as—Bobby Hauck was when he left Montana for UNLV in 2010.

    Where he might end up: FCS coaches tend not to get big-time positions at the FBS level, so Baldwin's best shot would be from a league like the Mid-American or Mountain West, where Eastern Michigan's Chris Creighton (formerly of Drake) and Bohl were tabbed. There aren't any openings in those conferences now, but it's still early.

Pete Lembo, Ball State

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    What he's done: Pete Lembo is 25-12 in three seasons at Ball State, which is set to face Arkansas State in the GoDaddy Bowl on Jan. 5.

    Lembo also spent five years apiece at FCS programs Lehigh and Elon, where he went a combined 79-36.

    Why he might leave: Lembo has already made upward moves twice, with success at each rung on the ladder. There's no indication that a Mid-American Conference gig is his ultimate goal, especially considering that league's history of serving as a minor league feeder system for BCS coaches.

    Notre Dame's Brian Kelly, Tennessee's Butch Jones, North Carolina State's Dave Doeren, Illinois' Tim Beckman, Minnesota's Jerry Kill and Missouri's Gary Pinkel all came from the MAC, with only Pinkel spending more than three years in his gig there.

    Where he might end up: Lembo's name was linked to the openings at Connecticut and Wake Forest, with the latter job going to MAC compatriot Dave Clawson of Bowling Green. Odds are, he'll be included on more short lists if future carousel action causes similar positions to become available.

Tim DeRuyer, Fresno State

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    Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    What he's done: Tim DeRuyter rode the prolific passing prowess of quarterback Derek Carr to a 20-6 record in two seasons at Fresno State, getting close to a BCS bid this year before struggling down the stretch.

    Prior to Fresno State, DeRuyter was the defensive coordinator for two years at Texas A&M and, as interim coach there, led the Aggies to a win over Northwestern in the 2011 Meineke Car Care Bowl.

    Why he might leave: DeRuyter is a defensive mind with successes on that end at A&M and Air Force before that. It hasn't been the case at Fresno State, where he's had to rely on outscoring the opposition an due to a lack of talent on the defensive side of the ball. He might look to go somewhere else that will fit better with his style.

    Where he might end up: The Fresno Bee reported in November that the school was working on a contract extension for DeRuyter, but contracts mean nothing in college sports. His name could pop up if any of the places he's previously worked at were to have an opening, such as if Kevin Sumlin were to walk away from his extension at Texas A&M or Troy Calhoun were to get fired by Air Force, DeRuyter's alma mater.

Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky

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    What he's done: Bobby Petrino was a surprise hire by Western Kentucky prior to this season, but he performed well in leading the Hilltoppers to an 8-4 record, including a win over Kentucky. That didn't earn them a bowl bid, however.

    Petrino has previous been head coach at Louisville and Arkansas, along with very short stint with the Atlanta Falcons in between.

    Why he might leave: Petrino doesn't have a good track record of sticking around places, leaving the Falcons midway through his one season as coach there to go to Arkansas. He previously had left Louisville for Atlanta only months after signing a 10-year extension to coach the Cardinals. 

    The hire by Western Kentucky was referred openly as a second chance for Petrino, who was fired at Arkansas following a scandal involving a motorcycle accident and a young female athletic department employee. When he was hired, he talked about being at his new school "as long as possible," but who knows how long that could be.

    Where he might end up: WKU is moving up to Conference USA next season. The combination of that—along with a hefty buyout he'd owe the school—might keep Petrino around for at least another year. But depending on what happens with the Texas situation, the tentacles of that hire and corresponding moves could pull him away.

Todd Graham, Arizona State

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    What he's done: Todd Graham has gone 18-8 in two seasons at Arizona State, including a berth in this year's Pac-12 championship game, which the Sun Devils lost at home to Stanford. ASU faces Texas Tech on Dec. 30 in the Holiday Bowl.

    Graham has previous head coaching stints at Pittsburgh, Tulsa and Rice, and has earned his teams bowl bids in seven of eight years.

    Why he might leave: Yes, you read that right: Graham has been head coach at four schools in eight years. He was at Rice for one year before going to Tulsa, where he stuck it out for four seasons before taking the Pittsburgh job...for one year.

    With that kind of track record, it's hard not to think Graham is always looking for the next big thing, especially when he's used the term "dream job" at more than one stop.

    Where he might end up: Internet trolls quickly posted mocked-up pictures of Graham wearing a burnt-orange tie after Steve Patterson was hired away from ASU to be Texas' athletic director, but part of Patterson's exit agreement from ASU involves a ban on hiring Sun Devil employees at Texas.

    But that doesn't mean Graham couldn't benefit from whoever Texas hires, and that coach's previous school vacancy.

James Franklin, Vanderbilt

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    What he's done: James Franklin has piloted Vanderbilt to its best three-year stretch in modern school history, going 23-15 and making a bowl each year. The Commodores face Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Jan. 4. 

    Prior to Vanderbilt, Franklin was the offensive coordinator for three years at Maryland, where he was listed as the head coach in waiting under Ralph Friedgen, but decided not to stick around.

    Why he might leave: What Franklin has done in Nashville is unprecedented and, as a result, it's made him one of the hottest commodities in college football. As good as he's been there, it still hasn't been enough to get Vanderbilt higher than fourth in the SEC's East Division.

    Where he might end up: Name an opening this year and Franklin's name has been attached. Heck, even mention the possibility of an opening and he's on the proverbial short list. Pundits had considered him the odds-on favorite to take the USC job, but that didn't happen, and now similar predictions are being made about Franklin with the opening at Texas.

Charlie Strong, Louisville

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    What he's done: Charlie Strong is 36-15 in four seasons at Louisville, which includes a BCS bowl appearance in winning the 2013 Sugar Bowl and shares of two Big East titles. This year's team is 11-1 and set to face Miami (Fla.) in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 28.

    Prior to Louisville, Strong spent eight years in various roles at Florida, serving as the team's interim coach for the 2004 Peach Bowl after Ron Zook was fired.

    Why he might leave: It could be a respect thing more than anything. His Cardinals only lost one game this season, but that lone setback pretty much eliminated any chance of Louisville making a BCS bowl because of the weak reputation of the American Athletic Conference.

    Much of that will be rectified with Louisville's move to the ACC next year, but at the same time, having to battle with Clemson, Florida State and Miami for a spot in the College Football Playoff might be equally as disconcerting for Strong.

    Where he might end up: According to Las Vegas oddsmakers (h/t Yahoo! Sports), Strong may be headed to Texas. Even though Strong has reportedly said he has no interest in that job, per Jerry Hinnen of CBS Sports, it's hard to argue with the bookmakers. Then again, Johnny Manziel was the heavy favorite to repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner this year.