Group One is focused on their teams’ chances of finishing a dream season: either winning a conference title, or – even better – making it to the College Football Playoff. Group Two is looking at the latest bowl projections, trying to figure out whether they’ll have to pack a parka when they follow their team for the annual bowl pilgrimage. Group Three doesn’t give a rip about playoffs or bowl destinations – they simply want to know who’s going to coach their football team next year.
Ten FBS programs will have head coaching vacancies at the end of the season and that number is sure to grow. Up-and-coming head coaches, hotshot coordinators and guys just wanting to escape the NFL grind, will be bombarded this offseason by athletic directors and boosters who want to see their programs raised back to prominence.
Which job is the most attractive? I’ve ranked the top five vacancies based on factors including – but not limited to – tradition, facilities, money and fan expectations. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments section below!
5. Virginia Tech
Positives: Frank Beamer spent most of the past three decades building the Hokies into a perennial top 25 program. Despite the struggles of the past four years, this is far from a rebuilding job.
Virginia Tech is as much a “football school” as any in the country. Whoever succeeds Beamer will enjoy above-average facilities, a rabid fan base with reasonable expectations and a spot in the more winnable of the two divisions in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Negatives: It’s never easy to follow a legend. Plus, in-state recruiting’s become much more of a challenge for the Hokies in recent years, with regional programs and national powers swooping in to poach prospects from the fertile Tidewater region, as well as the D.C. area.
But most importantly, have you been to Blacksburg, Virginia? It’s rural, close to absolutely nothing – a tough sell for recruits or a potential head coach’s family.
Positives: The state of Florida has some of the most talented and intriguing high school prospects year in and year out. Establish a good relationship with some of the Miami-Dade power programs and you should be competing right away with Florida and Florida State for those in-state recruits.
The Canes have a winning tradition and play in that same winnable ACC Coastal Division as the Hokies. As much bad blood as there was toward Al Golden, the next guy up should get some sort of honeymoon period to turn the program around.
Oh, and year-round sunshine and warm temperatures give Miami a leg up on just about any job out there.
Negatives: While there will be a honeymoon period, the next head coach of the Canes is marrying into a crazy family. You’ve got boosters who like to spend money on players, while others like to rent airplanes to fly over home games with messages encouraging a change on the sidelines.
Add to that the fact that, for the first time in a long time, Miami is clearly the lesser of the Big Three programs in the Sunshine State. Jimbo Fisher’s won a national championship and Jim McElwain’s done an overnight rebuild at Florida, meaning the next Miami coach is going to have to bring his big boy britches and be ready to compete.
Positives: Two words: Under Armour. Terp alum Kevin Plank has made Maryland the flagship school for his multi-billion dollar brand. That means he’ll have as much money as anyone to throw at their next head football coach.
Under Armour has also helped with recruiting – not just the brand, but the crazy uniform combinations that appeal to 16 and 17 year old kids who have no clue just how hideous those outfits look.
The Terps have a new $155 million indoor practice facility on the way that should prove attractive to potential coaches and players alike.
This is also the rare job in a power conference (Big Ten) with relatively low fan expectations. The high water mark for a generation of Terp football faithful is a blowout loss in the Orange Bowl 14 years ago.
Negatives: Maryland is – and will always be – a basketball school. That fact alone is enough for a lot of potential coaches to cross it off the list.
The star-studded D.C. recruiting area is stocked with top-level talent. Good thing, right? Wrong. Urban Meyer, Nick Saban and James Franklin are among the coaches who come in each year and pluck five-star prospects right out of the Terps’ backyard.
And as exciting as the new indoor practice facility will be, the actual gameday facility (54,000 seat Byrd Stadium) is as unimpressive as they come in the Big Ten.
2. South Carolina
Positives: If you want to coach at the highest level of college football, here’s your shot. The Southeastern Conference has been the best in FBS for years and there’s only one vacancy right now.
Potential coaches are going to look at the very winnable SEC East – and what McElwain’s done overnight at Florida – and say “why can’t I do that?”
The Gamecocks have tremendous facilities and financial resources and South Carolina is very much a football school in a football-crazy state.
Did I mention the last guy who had the job also got a membership to Augusta National?
Negatives: There aren’t many. It won’t be easy to follow a legend – and legendary character – like Steve Spurrier.
The next coach not only steps into Spurrier’s shadow, but also into the shadow of Dabo Swinney and the rival Clemson Tigers.
While this program is ripe for a turnaround, Spurrier didn’t leave enough behind for this to be any more than a seven or eight win team in 2016.
1. Southern Cal
Positives: Outside of Texas and Notre Dame, this might be the most attractive job in America.
Getting recruits to come to USC should be like shooting fish in a barrel. You’ve got championship trophies, dozens of alums playing on Sundays and the allure of playing and living in Los Angeles.
The next coach of the Trojans will be expected to win right away, but after the roller coaster tenures of the past two coaches, the new guy should be well-received by fans and boosters.
The Pac-12 has become the SEC of the west – a top-to-bottom college football power. If you’re a west coast guy, you’ll be coaching at the very highest level.
Negatives: It’s no fun being hired at a job and, before you can unpack your boxes, seeing the boss who hired you get fired. If Pat Haden can keep his job long enough to make this coaching hire, that very well could be the case at USC.
The college football landscape has changed in the L.A. area. Jim Mora has turned UCLA into a conference power, while Arizona and Arizona State are both on the upswing. There really aren’t many “gimme” wins in the Pac-12 South.
With all that said, what do I personally consider the best FBS opening in America? No question, it’s Hawaii. Low-to-no expectations, work and live in Hawaii while making good money? That’s more attractive than Southern Cal, South Carolina or anybody else in my book.