Think of the top football programs in the country as major technology players in the current economic market. Google, Amazon, Facebook, and others are all constantly on the search for ‘the next big thing’ to elevate their company past those around them. College football is no different. But instead of seeking out the newest wearable gadget or time saving product, the commodities are coaches. It is no coincidence that the perennially great programs are lead by historically great coaches while the Lavar Ball of football sits at home waiting for the phone to ring.
Big spending tries to make people happy and happy now. More than ever, college football head coaching seats start to warm, and warm quickly. Schools like Alabama, Texas, USC, LSU, Auburn, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan and others are all funneling hundreds of millions of dollars into their football programs. But as many point out, especially in places like the SEC: where do all the wins go?
As a Baton Rouge native, but and University of Georgia graduate, I was able to see mild program implosion relatively closely. With the prevalence of social media within the sports community, it is easier to gauge to the macro state of opinion from a particular school, city, or region – especially from the 45 year old high school hero who swears he has better clock management skills than LSU’s former signal caller. Something I saw as a huge trend in Baton Rouge six months ago was the same trend I saw in Athens in 2015 after the Mark Richt firing: most fan bases are delusional.
Everywhere can’t be “a top 5 program/coaching job.” It’s just not practical. LSU certainly is a upper echelon program, but so are 20 schools in college football. The Gary Pattersons, Jimbo Fishers, Chris Petersens, etc. of the world are not uprooting themselves to get their brain bashed in by Nick Saban 4 out of 5 years. The name of the game at these top tier schools is national championships, but unless you can see something I cannot; there just is not much consistent competition with Nick Saban or Urban Meyer (maybe something is brewing in Ann Arbor/Clemson) until they decide to retire.
With all of the churning of the rumor mill, booster strangleholds of athletic association funding, and displeasure with coaches that only win 78% (Sorry Les) of their games, I have attempted to categorize and rank all 128 FBS head coaching jobs.
The issue, with the rare propensity to make lateral moves by head coaches (unless you’re Gary Andersen…come on, man), it is difficult to nit pick between individual programs that may be on the same playing field competitively, monetarily, and prestigiously. So, I have created a SIX TIER list, categorizing these coaching jobs if they were to become available.
I will try to group/rank the teams within the tiers, going off of the basis of a college head coach: would going to ___X___ school be an improvement from where I currently am?
1. COLLEGE FOOTBALL ROYALTY
The top of the top. If you don a winged or gold hemet, you may find yourself here. Not only do these teams historically and perennially win, their down periods are not down for long. If one of these jobs opens, it becomes a “drop what you’re doing and get it” opportunity. Funding comes from former presidents, stadiums look like cathedrals, and history and tradition run rampant through campus.
1) The Standard: 1. ALABAMA – The current standard for college football. Nick Saban has lost 13 games since the end of the 2007 season. The boosters are cutthroat, the fans are terrifying, and unless you attend the University of Mississippi, they can end any trash talking argument almost immediately. Georgia is doing all they can to gut the beast from the inside, taking Kirby Smart and Mel Tucker last offseason, but as long as Saban continues to pitch the NFL Promise to the nation’s top recruits, we’re in for a long spell of Tuscaloosa-centered dominance. If open, names from every end of the Earth would be pulled and no dime would be spared to find the next heir to the college football throne. As a coach, if you like massive contracts, exquisite facilities, and an unparalleled tradition, this may be the place for you.
T-2) The Rivalry: 2. OHIO STATE – Urban Meyer faked a heart attack to get this job, have you ever seen more commitment? In a talent rich state, with tradition dripping from Woody Hayes to Jim Tressel to now Urban Meyer, Ohio State will do all they can to spend and outspend to continue beating “The School Up North.” Provided there is not another controversy stemming from Columbus, expect this job to stay occupied for the distant future.
T-2) The Rivalry Continued: 2. MICHIGAN – “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Ohio State is not Ohio State without Michigan and Michigan is not Michigan without Ohio State, as much as that makes each fanbase cringe. Winning this rivalry is above all importance in these two states. From one ups-manship on the recruiting trail, to facilities improvements, even merchandise and uniforms deals (think Michigan may be able to sell some Jordan brand stuff?) Michigan, like Ohio State spares no cost. With The Big House, Desmond’s forever ruining of the Heisman pose, Bo Schembechler, and his reincarnation in khakis, Michigan continues to be (and pay like) one of college football’s most prestigious programs.
4) College Football’s Golden Child: 4. NOTRE DAME – They have the Good Lord, and seemingly every Catholic person in America, on their side. Quite literally the golden child of college football, Notre Dame oozes tradition, pageantry, and recently, victories. The Four Horsemen, “Win it for the Gipper,” Lou Holtz’s lisp, and now Brian Kelly. Although, 4-8 last year stings more than a South Bend winter to the unadjusted skin. The University of Notre Dame has a name to uphold, and if Kelly continues to slip, I am sure they are willing to get creative.
5) More Money Than You U: 5. TEXAS – I hate that they are on here as much as you do, but for a school with enough money to fund their own television network, in the middle of the deepest recruiting territory in the country, The University of Texas is a college football staple. The likes of Texas A&M, Baylor, and TCU have set the recent standard for football success in the state and that cannot be sitting well with Austin’s elite. Charlie Strong seems to be the reason why some of college football’s major programs have stayed with their current head coach, not risking near implosion for the brief thought of possible betterment. Like expected, Tom Herman, Lane Kiffin, and the coach outside of the Power 5 that finishes with the best record appeared to be left at the end of a necessary coaching search. If Herman does not work, Mike Perrin, let’s get #SabanToTexas going again. 5 years/$100 million. The “let’s not play around, your ego cannot turn this down” money. This is Texas, pay like it.
6) West Coast Football Factory: 6. USC – Clay Helton hit the jackpot here. The USC Administration? That’s yet to be seen. After combating rumors about the perfect USC-Chip Kelly marriage, then-current players, headed by Su’a Cravens and Cody Kessler made it very clear who they thought would be the best man for the job in Los Angeles after the 2015 season. In a conference where no one program can establish themselves as dominant, USC boasts as good of qualifications as any. Making $4+ million in the heart of Hollywood has some appeal to the upcoming crop of college football head coaches. The return to the early 2000’s has been yearned for by USC fans, young and old alike.
7) The Royal Family’s Party Boy Younger Brother: 7. FLORIDA STATE – To round out the highest class of college football’s elite family comes the guy who’s been drinking since the sun rose. Bobby Bowden and Jimbo Fisher have done an exquisite job at two things: 1) Keeping some of the state’s top talent away from the University of Florida and Miami and 2) ever so carefully brushing potential scandals under the rug. Florida State has made it clear that one thing is king – winning. Whether good or bad, Jimbo Fisher seems to have turned down LSU at the end of the 2015 season, spurning an absurd number of questions as to what went down during that whole process. Regardless of what may or may not have happened on campus two Novembers ago, Fisher seems to be the man for years to come.
2. THE ELITE (featuring: THE ATHLETIC YOUNGER BROTHERS)
With the quickly changing landscape of college football, programs can be made or broken, by one single hire. This next crop of football programs are perennial winners, 9 and 10 win seasons are commonplace, with the national championship runs made as of late. Recruits want to play here and coaches want to come here, but due to either recent inefficiencies, faltering, or a lack of program history/willingness to break the bank, these programs fall just short of College Football Royalty. Here, teams begin to be ranked by grouping, not as much in particular order.
8-9) The Heads of the New Age: 8. Clemson | 9. Oregon – Different uniforms every game, pump up songs being raps from the players, and an absurd overuse of the word ‘Swag’, Oregon and Clemson seem to be the new crop of college football’s elite. These programs are predicated on a flurry of recent success.After back to back national championship appearances and the single most comically absurd football facility in the history of sports waiting in the wings, the sky is the limit for Clemson and Dabo. Mark Helfrich had a rough go round in 2016, prompting Oregon to go with Willie Taggart, whose work on the recruiting trail has been no joke, thus far.
(If you haven’t witnessed that in person, it’s terrifying.)
10-13) Alabama’s Younger Brothers: 10. Florida | 11. LSU | 12. Georgia | 13. Auburn – I grew up in Baton Rouge and attend the University of Georgia, this is not a fun list to be on, trust me. Programs that are perennially angry that they cannot beat Nick Saban and will do anything to find someone who can consistently beat him, even if that person does not exist (Alabama beat every SEC opponent by 10+ points in 2015 and 2016). Tradition and passion run rampant in the SEC, as well as the strong ability to recruit, but lofty expectations coupled with geographical proximity means that not every one of these schools can be great every year. LSU just had an opening. Georgia did in 2015. Florida did in 2014. Auburn may be nearing one. The times are a-changing in the SEC; 9-3 does not cut it anymore.
Why are these schools behind Clemson and Oregon? At those places, you load up for one or two games, in the SEC, it’s a gauntlet.
14-18) Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride: 14. Oklahoma | 15. UCLA | 16. Michigan State | 17. Stanford | 18. Washington – Whether it be a fluke loss, the injury of a star player, or the lack of intelligence by the signal caller, these schools seem to always be near the top, but never at the top. Oklahoma will inexplicably be ranked in the Top 5 this season. Washington appears to be on a typical Chris Petersen-esque rise. UCLA seems to be just one step behind someone every year, while MSU and Stanford try to boast that they have a bigger rivalry with the team in their state (UCLA-USC is still a bigger rivalry than Stanford-USC, same goes for Ohio State-Michigan, sorry Sparty). Although, can we watch this one more time?
19-20) Tradition Restored: The Next Crop of the SEC: 19. Texas A&M | 20. Tennessee – These programs have featured historic success at the pinnacle of their sport, but outside of a stint with Johnny Manziel, have not lived up to lofty expectations over the past few years. Kyle Allen was supposed to be the best quarterback in the conference behind Jeremy Johnson (hahahahaha) and Tennessee’s prowess on the recruiting trail was finally going to result in them being the greatest team since the inception of the forward pass. But, if we let message board rants do the talking, we would have to crown 25 national champions every season. The money is there. The hoping period is over, the winning period needs to be here. Otherwise, it’s nothing but life championships.
21-24) Remember Us? We spend a lot of money on each win: – 21. Miami | 22. Penn State | 23. Wisconsin | 24. Nebraska – For schools prepared to pay their coach $4+ million a year, they sure are paying a high premium for each win. Unfortunately, these are schools, that for the foreseeable future, need to be content with 9 win seasons, because their counterparts are more set to compete now. Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Penn State – there are simply not enough wins to go around to keep the White Outs in Happy Valley, well, happy, people still ‘Jumping Around’ in Camp Randall, and Tom Osborne content in Lincoln. As for Miami? Mark Richt may be up to something in Coral Gables, but there’s still Dabo and Jimbo that may have something to say about that.
3. THE GOOD
As a coach, these are all places you could retire to, but if young enough/ambitious/crazy enough (again…Gary Andersen, dude…), you may want to test your hand at one of the true big money players in college football. Bowl games are expected for these schools every year, and maybe even a seldom run at the national championship trophy. The bottom line being, with the way other teams in their conferences pay and recruit, these particular programs need to be content with in between 6-8 wins in their Power 5 conference as the landscape of college football currently stands.
25-31) They’re Willing to Pay Us, But This is Tough: 25. Arkansas | 26. Ole Miss | 27. North Carolina | 28. Oklahoma State | 29. South Carolina | 30. Mississippi | State | 31. Iowa – This is another case of being a smaller fish in a relatively large pond. Arkansas has reeled off impressive second halves each of the past three seasons. Early faltering cost the Hogs in 2014 and 2015. Somehow, Bret Bielema emulates the perfect representation of the Arkansas Head Football Coach, maybe it is his physical resemblance to their mascot, or the trash talking ability of a 4th grader; I see him staying put for a while. Ole Miss is….well….yeah. Come on Hugh. Say it with me, “Cricket. Wireless. Burner. Phone.” North Carolina is still mildly overshadowed by their basketball program. Mike Gundy has had success as of late, but is still overshadowed by Texas and Oklahoma in terms of appeal for available head coaches. More tough times may be on the way in Columbia and despite what anyone may tell you, no, they are not a “sneaky pick to win the East”. You might as well make some money while you’re there, Coach Boom. Dan Mullen has survived eight seasons in Starkville, but it is appearing that he’s realizing he just can’t win the SEC West from Starkville. While Iowa boasted a 12-2 campaign in 2015, they lost 30 games in the previous 5 seasons and still appear to want to pay Kirk Ferentz a king’s ransom for mediocrity.
32-34) May not be here for a long time, but I’m here for a good time: 32. TCU | 33. Baylor | 34. Arizona State – These are all programs that could be one bad hire away from a reasonably long down period. If Texas A&M continues to recruit the way they do, and Texas can return to being Texas, TCU and Baylor may have an issue poaching top talent. Have you seen Arizona State? It may not be the easiest place to win, but it sure does look fun out West.
35-39) The Power 5 Pick ‘Em: 35. Virginia Tech | 36. Colorado | 37. West Virginia | 38. Missouri | 39. Northwestern – Brian Fuentes got his call to the big leagues when Virginia Tech named him their head coach late in 2015, while Fuentes was watching prodigy Paxton Lynch throw 7 TDs in the first half. Bill McIntyre won Coach of the Year last year for catapulting Colorado into relevance for the first time since the Slash days. All that legal weed and weekend hiking seems to make the #Buffs a destination again.If burning couches and general debauchery is your bread and butter, Morgantown may be the place for you. Has West Virginia thought of a Rob Ryan hire? It would only make sense. Missouri won the SEC East in 2013 & 2014, but the future of higher ups in Columbia seems less certain than the current outlook of this football season. Barry Odom may have found a QB in Drew Lock, though. Pat Fitzgerald and the near unionized Northwestern Wildcats have been up and down during his tenure there. Much like a Stanford of the Big 10, it can be a little difficult to recruit their due to more stringent academic qualifications.
40-41) The State of Kentucky: 40. Louisville | 41. Kentucky – Football programs in a basketball state. Mark Stoops has had back to back to back Top 30 recruiting classes in Lexington and the Strong Era/Petrino re-emergence in Louisville have managed to raise the appeal of these positions, as of late. Although, it is tough to pay assistants with the names Pitino and Calipari still on the payroll. Petrino is one of the most dynamic play callers that college football has seen, but if he moves on for greener pastures, I would not anticipate football relevance to stay around to compete with FSU and Clemson.
42-47) Is this the definition of mediocrity?: 42. Maryland | 43. Utah | 44. Arizona | 45. Washington State | 46. North Carolina State | 47.Texas Tech – There was an opening at Maryland recently. It appears D.J. Durkin has it filled for the near future. They have Under Armour money and a beatable division, but SVP’s boys may be a few years away from competing in the ACC. Utah, Arizona, and Washington State have all been wildly inconsistent in the Pac-12 and with the money that USC, Oregon, UCLA, and Stanford manage to spend, coaches may have a tough time winning. NC State produces athletes and always beats a team that they shouldn’t, but can never manage to put a full season campaign together. After the dismissal of Shadrach Thornton in 2015, another average season was imminent in Raleigh, followed by an 7-6 campaign in 2016. I think Kliff Kingsbury is the first person to ever willingly move BACK to Lubbock, Texas.
48-52) Random appeal: 48. California | 49. Georgia Tech | 50. BYU | 51. Pittsburgh | 52. Kansas State – Cal has seen the likes of Marshawn Lynch, Aaron Rodgers, DeSean Jackson, and Jahvid Best come through, so it is unclear just how good Jeff Tedford really was in Berkley. Sonny Dykes had big arms in QBs Jared Goff and Davis Webb, but a late faltering ended in more forgettable seasons. Now, it’s Justin Wilcox’s turn. Georgia Tech might be able to compete in the ACC if they could ever get rid of Paul Johnson and the dreaded, athlete-killing option offense (The fact that Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas played in that putrid, run heavy scheme should be a crime that violates the Geneva Conventions). A miracle win versus Florida State saved a 10 loss season in Atlanta in 2015, and a win over Georgia in 2016 may have secured PJ in ATL for a while longer. As a Georgia alum, I think we should institute an automatic loss to Georgia Tech every six years to ensure a Paul Johnson contract extension. No drinking or diddling each other in Provo, but the right talent could make a winner, not to mention this could be the next addition to the Big 12 (lolz). Pittsburgh with Pat Narduzzi has begun to win again, but he could look to make another move into the college football’s elite as one of the sport’s best defensive minds.
53-55) The Service Academies: Navy, Army, Air Force – I’m not sure how the government has not figured this out yet, but you are allowed to pass in college football. With three of the most run heavy offenses in the country, the service academies boast nothing but clock management and college football prestige. Let’s just say, I don’t think Jimbo Fisher will be getting a call about a coaching vacancy anytime soon.
4. HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW
Unless you’re Gary Andersen (I’m having fun with this), most of the jobs you will find here, end up being a stepping stone to bigger and better things. These teams tend to find themselves in the bottom of the Power 5 or the top of the Group of 5 many seasons, especially as of late. Bowl games are appreciated at these schools and Playoff runs will be few and far between.
56-58) 6-6 and on to the next year: 56. Boston College | 57. Minnesota | 58. Oregon State – Recent history has not been all too kind to these programs, but they are no team to laugh at on the schedule. When Gary Andersen inexplicably left Madison for Corvallis, college football reasonablists were left scratching their heads. 6-18 over the past two seasons is not a ringing endorsement for a contract extension. Clock’s ticking, Gar. Steve Adazzio provides another branch on the Urban Meyer coaching tree, but his offense has been putrid of late, bowl games are all that need to be expected in Boston. Much of the same goes for Minnesota, the Big 10 has too many teams not named Minnesota for Minnesota to perennially compete. Although, PJ Fleck and the newly trademarked #RowTheBoat are headed to the Twin Cities looking to shake things up.
59-64) Football is played here too?: 59. Illinois | 60. Iowa State | 61. Indiana | 62. Syracuse | 63. Duke – Much like their Kentucky counterparts, the campus drum beats as the basketball team goes. Many football players do not want to continue to play at noon and be overshadowed by others on campus. The Fighting Cutcliffes have boasted a great secondary that was headed by Jeremy Cash, but Coach K reigns supreme in Durham. The Carrier Dome is more crowded for basketball games. Yogi Ferrell has the greatest name in sports, and how can we watch football in Bloomington without Tevin Coleman? Iowa State plucked Matt Campbell from Toledo as their head man, while Illinois signed Lovie Smith got paid $1 million for each win his team had last year (7 year/$21M contract | 3-9 in Season 1)
65-67) We’re a…baseball school…: 65. Virginia | 66. Vanderbilt | 67. Wake Forest – James Franklin cashed in, Mike London unsuccessfully tried to do the same, but Bronco came in too soon. With rigorous academic admission standards and a legitimate pull towards the baseball and basketball programs, football has taken a backseat.
68-71. College Gameday may not be calling for a while: 68. Boise State | 69. Cincinnati | 70. Purdue | 71. Rutgers | 72. Connecticut – Blue Turf, What’s a Bearcat? , Drew Brees, “Ohhhh that’s where Ray Rice went?”, “Remember that time UConn made the Fiesta Bowl?” Those are probably the first, and only, things that come to mind when you think about football at these programs In terms of sexiness for college football coaches, these don’t quite come to mind. Change could be on the horizon.
72-75) The Group of 5’s Elite: 72. Houston | 73. Memphis | 74. Temple | 75. South Florida – Make no mistake, I know how good Houston is. But this list is analyzing these programs as if the job was available, not necessarily the coach at the school. Tom Herman was responsible for a majority of the success at Houston. We’ll see how one of the greatest names in sports, Major Applewhite, does as his replacement. Memphis, as expected, took a step back after the Brian Fuentes fallout. As for Temple and South Florida, we’ll see, but these jobs just look like perfect stepping stones to a major job.
5. I CANNOT END MY CAREER HERE
Most of the Group of 5 resides here as coaches look to bring their program’s short term success, before moving on to bigger and better things, leaving the school with plenty of answer-less questions. There is one Power 5 school on here. I would not recommend taking this job. Ask Charlie Weis.
76-81) Come on, man: 76. Kansas | 77. SMU | 78. UCF |79. ECU | 80. Tulsa | 81. Tulane – Kansas is the only Power 5 school I felt not deserving of even college football mediocrity after posting a 2-22 record over the last two seasons.Say a prayer for Dave Beaty’s sanity. On the bright side, half of their wins over the last two seasons have come against the University of Texas. UCF has about a million students and a lot of talent to recruit, but winless. Chad Morris went 2-10 and then 5-7, hopefully he can continue the trend without illegally paying anyone. It’s now the Willie Fritz era in New Orleans. The bottom of the AAC is a complete toss up.
82-85) #MACtion: 82. Toledo | 83. Bowling Green | 84. Northern Illinois | 85. Ohio – The best part of Wednesdays in the fall. College football’s elite from the Mid-American Conference to give the real gambling addicts, and Clay Travis (#BowlingGreenCoverSpree2015) something to do in the middle of the week. When it comes to appeal, it’s anyone’s guess, although BGSU produced Urban Meyer.
86-91) The Mountain West’s Rare Air: 86. Nevada | 87. Colorado State | 88. San Diego State | 89. Fresno State | 90. New Mexico | 91. Hawaii – While the top of the MAC currently stands a little taller than the elite of the Mountain West, excluding Boise State, the MW seems to run a little deeper with quality teams. Colin Kaepernick, Garrett Grayson, Derek Carr, David Carr, and Colt Brennan have emerged from this conference. Maybe it’s something in the water.
92-94) The West’s Second Cut: 92. UNLV | 93. Utah State| 94. Wyoming – A bit more difficult to win and recruit to these schools. One player can make or break a coach’s career in places like this. If only Chuckie Keaton could have stayed healthy for an entire season.
95-99) Rounding out the MAC: 95. Western Michigan | 96. Central Michigan | 97. Akron | 98. Buffalo | 99. Miami (Ohio) – Two things are certain about these programs: 1) you will lose games, 2) you will be cold. These places are not the easiest sell.
100-106) Hey, what about Conference USA?: 100. Florida Atlantic | 101. Western Kentucky | 102.Southern Miss | 103.Marshall | 104.MTSU | 105. Rice | 106. Louisiana Tech – We haven’t forgot about you. Trust me. We haven’t forgotten about you.
107-110) Oh wait, the Sun Belt, the not bad ones: 107. Appalachian State | 108. Georgia Southern | 109. Arkansas State | 110. UTEP – I mean, you’ve got heat stroke, and had Matt Breida, that’s about all I can tell you from the Sun Belt recently. I’d try to get out of these places if I could, but if you want to beat the Sun Belt into a bloody pulp for the next decade, go ahead, stick around.
6. I GOTTA GET OUT OF HERE, YESTERDAY
Do I have to do this? Spin a wheel, flip a coin, wherever you go, you will probably lose, but maybe you can ride the coat tails of an all time great player that makes a mistake and ends up with your program.
111-115) Again, we uhhh, don’t play in the Sun Belt: 111. Kent State | 112. Eastern Michigan | 113. Ball State | 114. UMass | 115. FIU – I’d like to take this time to show the only thing we’ve seen from any of these teams within the last 5 years. #SledgehammerFail
116-118) The Texas Bottom Feeders: 116. North Texas | 117. UTSA | 118. Texas State – I probably shouldn’t make fun of these jobs, considering Texas’ next head coach is most likely at one of these programs currently. They only appeal is the scraps from the State of Texas recruiting table fall around here.
119-125) The Sun Belt – loud, proud, and perennially crappy: 119. Troy | 120. ULL | 121. ULM | 122. New Mexico State | 123. Idaho | 124. South Alabama | 125. Coastal Carolina – Some major upsets have been pulled (AT NICK SABAN) but I would not count on that becoming commonplace. I would get out if I were you.
126-129) We have a football team?: 126. Georgia State | 127. Charlotte | 128. Old Dominion | 129. UMass – With a combined ten years of FBS experience, tradition does not exactly run rampant here. Win, and win quickly, so you’re not here anymore.
130) We actually don’t have a football team: UAB – Ah, the Blazers. After much controversy surrounding the team’s sudden dispersion due to a “lack of funding” following a 6-6 2014 campaign, UAB will return to football in 2017.
Too long, didn’t read? With nearly 40-50 programs willing to inject millions in their football programs, not everyone will be happy, or even content.
But, as big money continues to talk in college sports, people listen.
I would love to know how your team is criminally under ranked.