College Football Coaching Candidates Search: What We Hear in Auburn, Nebraska, Arizona State, and Beyond

Sunday has all the signs of being a free-for-all coach. There are currently eight vacancies now and the first one has been filled with Charlotte hiring Michigan assistant Bev Boogie, but there are more changes to come.

Although pink slips have been limited over the past few weeks, teams looking to make changes will likely have to wait until the regular season is over. That means there will likely be a few more firings on Sunday — and some programs may be ready to hire staff now that the top candidates have moved into the postseason.

Our final hot seat rankings update Earlier this month I covered several positions that could still open for this course. As such, it’s time to take one last look at some of these programs before asking the question of who might actually fill the vacancies.

Possible future openings

  • West Virginia: Sophomore Neil Brown is heading into his worst season with the Mountaineers – 4-8 if they lose to Oklahoma State. Is the administration waiting until the appointment of a new sports director?
  • Navy: Looks like it will be Ken Niumatalulu’s call after 16 seasons. The Midshipmen have not had a winning campaign since 2019.
  • New Mexico: Danny Gonzalez is in the middle of his worst season with the Lobos (2-9, 7-23 overall).
  • Texas State: Jake Spavital, former offensive coordinator for Johnny Manziel, is 13-34 in Year 4.
  • Texas A&M: No, not Jimbo Fisher. But he will probably be persuaded to hire the offensive play coordinator.

Last year, there were a record 31 job changes. It wouldn’t be anywhere near that carousel. Perhaps the ads have become more patient. Maybe there are not many jobs to fill. Going into this season, there have been 72 career changes over the past three years.

what we hear

Auburn

Lane Kiffin will be paid either from Auburn as the No. 1 target or from Ole Miss in the retention game. Kiffin won 18 games and the number in two seasons, falling short of the school record (20). Given his agent (Jimmy Sexton) and the current market, Kiffin may also be looking for a complete package in the high eight figures over 10 seasons. He is already the 11th highest paid coach at $7.25 million annually. Sexton would pit Ole Miss and Auburn against each other to ensure Kiffin gets paid, and reports that Kiffin has already been brought down only help toward that end.

This is similar to 2017 when Gus Malzahn got the same offer from both Auburn and Arkansas (six years, $42 million). He chose Auburn and continued for four more seasons. If Kevin moves on to the Tigers, he needs to make it a condition of his work that the meddlers don’t interfere with. Why is it a better job than Ole Miss? No matter what, Auburn seems to be in contention for a national championship every five years or so. This may be the deciding factor. As usual, Kevin is incredibly self-aware. Maybe if they saw the first [half of a 15-point loss to Arkansas]”I won’t be the first anymore,” he told reporters Saturday night.

If Kiffin stays, Liberty’s Hugh Freeze will take a long look.

Nebraska

Did Matt Rule turn down the Cornhuskers this weekend? This was the word from several sources. Rhule was the frontrunner to replace Scott Frost. If Rhule did indeed take his name into consideration, that’s not necessarily a statement about the quality of the job. It’s still a heavy burden for whoever takes Nebraska, but for Rhule it could be a further indication that he intends to sit out 2023 to rest and step back. Ryul is at a point in his career where he can choose jobs and doesn’t have to settle down. His first two college jobs were the latter two (Temple, Baylor), but he made his reputation with success stories from worst to first.

If Rhule is no longer available, will Nebraska turn its attention to Kansas’ Lance Leipold? The 58-year-old coach has deep roots in Nebraska as a former Nebraska-Omaha analyst and Frank Solich’s assistant on the Huskers. Has the shine faded? The Jayhawks started 5-0 and were ranked but would finish 6-6 if they lost to Kansas State this week. Another name to watch at Nebraska: Washington’s first-year head coach Kallen DeBoer.

Wisconsin

A report released Saturday night said interim head coach Jim Leonard is on his way to getting the permanent gig. Leonard was the Badgers’ defensive coordinator since 2017 before he sat on the big chair. He is very popular among the Wisconsin faithful and has long been expected to be an eventual prime candidate to coach the Badgers. Wisconsin is 4-2 since replacing Paul Crist on Oct. 2.

Arizona

Watch Oregon offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham for a good look. Arizona State University may fall within one of the best course assignments. The talented Dillingham seems to be the leader at the club, but you never know with a management that got rid of Herm Edwards and then kept the AD office he appointed (Ray Anderson). Dillingham, 32, is a proven commodity despite his relative youth. Quarterback Bo Nix may get a Heisman Trophy invitation. Dillingham will be given all kinds of resources to overturn the Sun Demons. In the new Pac-12 (without USC and UCLA), why can’t ASU compete for a playoff spot every year?

Los Angeles Rams head coach Thomas Brown is said to be interested. Jackson State native Deion Sanders took his name out of the race, saying he would never go “to the West.”

Georgia Tech

Interim head coach Brent Key may have made a big move after upsetting North Carolina State. GT might hit a bowl game. That means beating Georgia this week. If not, keep an eye on Bulldogs running backs coach Dale McGee, Tulane coach Willie Fritz, and former Houston/Texas A&M/Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin. Sanders should also be considered due to the Atlanta connection.

Colorado

Northwest defensive coordinator Ryan Walters is by far the favorite. Walters played safety for the Buffaloes from 2004 to 2008. If he doesn’t get the job somehow, there’s a long line of worthy competitors. Departing Auburn coach Brian Harsen is interested, as are former Texas coach Tom Herrmann, former Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall and Sacramento State coach Troy Taylor. Texas analyst and former TCU coach, Gary Patterson, is also interested in returning somewhere.

South Florida

AD Mike Kelly is said to be keeping an open mind as to any number of different directions he can head in the aftermath of the Jeff Scott debacle. Don’t be surprised if at least one NFL assistant’s name comes up. Here’s a suggestion: Three years after leaving Missouri, Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom is ready to be a head coach again. Sanders is another name that might be interesting here because Kelly is casting a wide net.

uab

Former head coach Bill Clark made a good recovery from the back injury which caused him to resign before the season. However, don’t look for him to go back to the program he created from scratch. We hear former Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente or veterans like Sumlin and Brown (if West Virginia moves), Skip Holtz and Larry Fedora.

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