Best Remaining College Football Head Coaching Candidates

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2014

Best Remaining College Football Head Coaching Candidates

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    Much like the toy store shelves in the days before Christmas, the selection is starting to thin out in terms of top-notch head coaching candidates for the dwindling number of remaining FBS college football openings.

    With Paul Chryst leaving Pittsburgh for Wisconsin, the current openings are Chryst's old job with the Panthers—one that has turned over numerous times in the past few years—as well as Colorado State and Michigan. Others could come open, either after bowl season or when a seated head coach leaves for another gig.

    The candidate pool isn't nearly as thin, but with many of this offseason's vacancies getting filled either by  assistant coaches or coaches from outside FBS—new hires include coaches from Division III and the high school ranks—the notable names floating around are few.

    Here's a look at the best remaining FBS head coaching candidates, along with potential jobs to which their names have been linked.

Scott Frost

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    The man at the helm of Oregon's high-octane offense has been the offensive coordinator under Mark Helfrich the last two seasons. Scott Frost has been with the Ducks' staff since 2009, spending four years working with wide receivers before becoming the OC and quarterback coach.

    Now, the 39-year-old Frost is getting his name thrown into the hat for various openings. He's been mentioned as a possibility at Nebraska—where he played quarterback from 1995-97 and won a national title—and an option for the vacancy at Colorado State, per Paul Newberry of Yahoo Sports.

    If Frost were to get hired this offseason, though, it would likely be just that: in his offseason. With Oregon in the playoff semifinals, odds are he'll stay with the Ducks until after they're done playing. It would be a similar situation to that of Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman—though he's continuing to work with the Buckeyes despite having already been introduced as Houston's next head coach.

Jim Harbaugh

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    Jim Harbaugh's rise to coaching prominence began when he quickly turned around a listless Stanford program and made it a title contender. Now that his time with the NFL's San Francisco 49ers appears to be coming to an end, he's the biggest name out there when it comes to college's biggest opening: Michigan.

    Rumors of Harbaugh, a Michigan alum who played quarterback for the Wolverines from 1983-86, have been swirling since long before the school fired Brady Hoke in early December. Now reports are circulating that Michigan is still hot for Harbaugh, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.

    "Michigan has made another run at Jim Harbaugh after he initially rebuffed the school," Rapoport tweeted. "U-M has made an offer of 6 years, $48M. Wow."

    Harbaugh still has two more games left to coach for the 49ers, who have been eliminated from playoff contention.

    The 50-year-old Harbaugh's entire coaching career has been spent in California, working as an assistant with the Oakland Raiders before coaching FCS San Diego to 29 wins in three seasons from 2004-06. From there he went to Stanford, where he went from 4-8 in 2007 to 12-1 and an Orange Bowl winner in 2010.

Mark Mangino

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Kansas has been one of the worst power-conference programs in the country for several years, but for a brief period last decade the Jayhawks flirted with national-title contention. That was during the height of Mark Mangino's eight-year tenure in Lawrence, which ended in 2009.

    Mangino was out of football for three seasons before spending a season as an assistant at FCS Youngstown State in 2013. He spent this past year as Iowa State's offensive coordinator. The Cyclones were 2-10 this season, but progress was seen at times.

    "Him being on the sidelines is the ultimate motivator," Iowa State running back DeVondrick Nealy told Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register in September.

    The return to coaching could lead Mangino back to a head gig, as Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the 58-year-old Mangino (who grew up in Western Pennsylvania) would be interested in the Pittsburgh job.

Doug Meacham

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    Coordinators in charge of up-tempo offenses have been this year's carousel version of the hot new toy at Christmas. Four vacancies in FBS have been filled by such assistants, with Houston, SMU, Troy and Tulsa hiring offensive coordinators from Ohio State, Clemson, Kentucky and Baylor, respectively.

    Could Doug Meacham be the next one off the shelf?

    The TCU co-offensive coordinator has received a considerable amount of the credit for turning the Horned Frogs into a playoff contender and resurrecting the career of quarterback Trevone Boykin. TCU ranks fourth in the nation in total offense and second in scoring, going from 25.1 points per game in 2013 to 46.8 this season.

    Meacham, 50, was a finalist for the Broyles Award, given to the nation's top assistant coach.

Pat Narduzzi

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Long considered one of the best defensive coaches in the country, 2013 Broyles Award-winner Pat Narduzzi remains a go-to name to throw into candidate lists whenever a head-coach opening occurs in FBS. Yet the 48-year-old remains part of Michigan State's staff and looks to be staying in East Lansing for the time being.

    In November, Michigan State announced it had received a $3 million donation that was for, among other things, an "endowment of the defensive coordinator position."

    Last year, Narduzzi was up for the Connecticut job before withdrawing his name, per USA Today. That school ultimately chose Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco.

    Narduzzi, speaking about coaching rumors, told reporters Tuesday (h/t Joe Rexrode of the Lansing State Journal), "We'll deal with things like that when it's time to." For now, he's focused on trying to plan for Baylor's offense in the Cotton Bowl.

Greg Schiano

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    Before Greg Schiano took over Rutgers' program in 2001, the Scarlet Knights were horrible. By the time he left in 2011 to pursue an NFL coaching career, Rutgers had become one of the most consistent teams in FBS.

    Schiano's NFL tenure was short and unsuccessful. He went 11-21 in two seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before getting fired last December. Since then, a return to college has seemed like his most likely direction, and his name continues to pop up in connection with openings.

    His name has been mentioned for Michigan, via Dan Duggan of NJ.com, and now that Pittsburgh has opened up—and athletic director Steve Pederson has been fired—Schiano is getting a lot of buzz for that position.

    "With Steve Pederson out as AD at Pitt, I expect former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano will be much more interested in [the] Panthers HC job," Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman tweeted Wednesday.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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