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TGS SPECIAL REPORT...COLLEGE COACHING CAROUSEL READY TO SPIN!
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


To those who don't believe that pending coaching changes in college football can be distractions to team members, think again. While at various conference media days over the past couple of summers, we have made a point of asking select players at those functions if pending dismissals of their previous coaches was a bit disconcerting to them and others. And almost all suggested that indeed it was a distraction that they and their teammates (and assistant coaches) could do without. Especially for teams whose seasons had gone careening out of control.

The latter has long been a staple of schools with effective "lame duck" coaches. Though we have seen a handful of interim mentors keep various ships afloat in recent campaigns (and which Clint Bowen seems to be achieving this season at Kansas), when the handwriting is on the wall for an existing coach, situations often go sideways in the final month of the season. Shrewd handicappers have always paid close attention to such developments as they keep their eyes peeled for teams that might be "packing it in" for the final weeks, knowing that such situations in the past have often involved hot-seat coaches.

Now into November, we're getting close to the time again when the college football coaching carousel begins to spin. With that in mind, there are several situations that we will be monitoring in the next few weeks. Four schools have already made changes this season; three of those (SMU, Kansas, and Buffalo) with coaches either resigning, forced to resign, or dismissed, and another (Troy) with a pending retirement. Before we address a couple of potential high-profile openings, we'll update the rumor mill at those four aforementioned locales where the carousel has already started to spin.

SMU...June Jones' early-September resignation (forced or otherwise) has sent the rumor mill whirring in the Metroplex. As the Mustangs have remained winless into mid-November, and, with no chance that interim HC and former d.c. Tom Mason will get the job on a permanent basis, sources say SMU is shooting high for a replacement. Ex-Texas HC Mack Brown reportedly is at the top of the Ponies' wish list and rumored to have been offered an 8-year, $32 million deal. Another former head coach, (ex-Boise, Arkansas, and Ole Miss) Houston Nutt, has reportedly thrown his hat into the ring in Dallas. High-profile assistants such as Alabama d.c. Kirby Smart (whom many believe to be Nick Saban's eventual successor with the Tide) and Clemson o.c. Chad Morris are also apparently on SMU's radar. Keep in mind that unlike some of the other schools shopping for a new coach, money is not going to be a deterrent at SMU.

Kansas...Unlike SMU, the Jayhawks' interim HC, former d.c. Clint Bowen, has generated a groundswell of support for the full-time appointment after mostly inspired play by KU since Charlie Weis' ouster on September 28. The Jayhawks finally scored their first SU win on Bowen's watch when thumping Iowa State 34-14 last weekend, and KU had been competitive in most of Bowen's earlier games. Still, many Big 12 sources believe Bowen is a fall-back candidate at best, though he could be expected to be offered a position on the staff of a new coach. Speculation has run the gauntlet in Jayhawk Nation, including the outlandish (Jim Harbaugh!), though AD Sheahon Zenger, who botched the Weis hire, is seeking a bit more help this time around by recently enlisting the support of search firm guru and former conference commissioner Chuck Nienas to help in the process. Some high-profile assistants are being mentioned, including several with connections to past Kansas staffs, including Texas A&M WR coach Dave Beaty (a recruiting wizard in Texas), Nebraska o.c. Tim Beck, and Ohio State co-o.c. Ed Warinner. High-level coordinators such as Clemson's aforementioned Chad Morris and Oregon o.c. (and former Nebraska QB) Scott Frost have also popped up as possibiliites. Other current head coaches with regional roots who could be targeted are NC State's Dave Doeren, Wyoming (and longtime North Dakota State) HC Craig Bohl and Georgia Southern HC Willie Fritz, also a successful FCS HC at Sam Houston State and a Sunshine State native. Former Ole Miss and Southern Cal (interim) HC Ed Orgeron is also reportedly seeking this position. An intriguing longshot could be Colorado School of Mines HC and "fly sweep" guru Bob Stitt.

Buffalo...Losing a game to Eastern Michigan can be dangerous for a coach, as Jeff Quinn found out when dismissed by the Bulls after an October 11 loss to the Eagles. With interim HC and former o.c. Alex Wood not considered a candidate for the full-time position, MAC sources say attention has turned to several higher-profile assistants and FCS head coaches. Among the latter are Towson's Rob Ambrose and Stony Brook's Chuck Priore. Buffalo Bills RB coach (and former Michigan All-American RB) Tyrone Wheatley is also apparently generating much local buzz. MAC insiders say a "pedigree" name UB might consider is Steve Spurrier, Jr., currently WR coach on his papa's staff at South Carolina.

Troy...As soon as veteran HC Larry Blakeney announced in early October that he would be retiring at the end of the season to spend more time at his fancy vacation home near the Gulf, the line began to form for his replacement, as many insiders believe that a decent Sun Belt job is a perfect stepping-stone opportunity, giving the right coach a more immediate chance to win than what might be the case at most "non-power conference" locales. Various up-and-comers from the assistant ranks have already been mentioned at Troy, including LSU RB coach Frank Wilson, Cincinnati o.c. Eddie Gron, Georgia o.c. (and former Bulldog QB) Mike Bobo, and Mississippi State d.c. Geoff Collins.

Meanwhile, speculation is still running rampant at Florida and Michigan, though both Will Muschamp and Brady Hoke are scratching and clawing to hang on. Hoke's plight seems far more tenuous, especially with Wolverine AD Dave Brandon stepping down (forced out?) last week. Most Big Ten sources believe that not even a season-ending upset over Ohio State would be enough to save Hoke, whose team sits at 5-5 after last week's narrow 10-9 win over Northwestern. As for Muschamp, he gave himself a fighting chance with the recent rousing upset win over Georgia, and last week's romp at Vandy behind RS frosh QB Treon Harris has fueled hopes of fast finish. But most SEC sources believe that Muschamp might have to beat Florida State in UF's regular-season finale to have any chance to be retained by AD Jeremy Foley, who did exercise patience a few weeks ago when many in Gator Nation were calling for Muschanp's scalp following a lopsided home loss in The Swamp vs. Missouri.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Florida announces Will Muschamp will not return as head coach in 2015, but will be allowed to coach the Gators for the remainder of the 2014 season, (11/16)

The subject of Michigan and especially Florida has also cast a different spotlight upon Mississippi State HC Dan Mullen, whose stock has never been higher than it is right now. Some SEC sources believe that it will be time for the Bulldogs to reward Mullen with a major, mega-money contract upgrade after this season or risk their star coach getting poached, perhaps by Florida (where Mullen served as Urban Meyer's o.c. before taking the MSU job) or maybe another "brand-name" school such as Michigan. Rest assured a call will be made to Starkville from Gainesville if Muschamp is indeed dismissed. If Hoke walks the plank as expected in Ann Arbor, Big Ten sources expect that obligatory calls will first be made to gauge the interest of Big Blue alums such as LSU HC Les Miles (who has quickly rejected Wolverine overtures in the past) and the aforementioned San Francisco 49ers HC Jim Harbaugh, though few in the region believe either will have any interest, which is when an inquiry regarding Mullen could occur. Stay tuned.

Following is a conference-by-conference update on the conference carousel situation...

AAC: The situation at SMU has been mentioned above. Elsewhere, no coach appears in immediate trouble ion the American other than perhaps Tulsa?s Bill Blankenship, in the final stages of a second straight massively disappointing season with the Golden Hurricane. Given the dramatic drop-off of a program that had been a bowl regular, regional sources are not sure that Blankenship is safe. Most believe that at best Tulsa will have him on a win-or-lese edict in 2015.

ACC: All eyes are on the Commonwealth of Virginia. At Charlottesville, UVa HC Mike London, working under what most believe was a bowl-or-else ultimatum this season, has presided over another late-season fade, with four straight losses now forcing Virginia to wins its last two (vs. Miami and VPI) to qualiofy for the postseason. London seemed safe into midseason with generally improved efforts by his team, but losses vs. the Canes and another setback vs. the Hokies (against whom London has yet to win) might seal his fate. Meanwhile, speaking of the Hokies, the Frank Beamer retirement rumors at Virginia Tech are heating up once again with the Gobblers in danger of missing a bowl for the first time since 1992, Beamer?s sixth season on the job. The recent retirement of school prexy Charles Steger, a longtime Beamer ally and VPI classmate in the late ?60s, has further fueled speculation that now might be the time for Beamer, the longest-tenured BCS-level coach in the country, to step down after 28 seasons.

Big 12: We?ve previously mentioned the situation at Kansas. The only other current trouble situation in the Big 12 could be at Iowa State, where Paul Rhoads is staring own the barrel of a 2-win season after last year?s disappointing 3-9, and could not have been helped by last week?s thumping loss to Kansas. The bar is set lower at Ames than most other locales, but recent performance has heightened angst among Cyclone backers. Saving Rhoads for the time being might be his buyout, estimated at $5.3 million, which might preclude any move in the coming offseason...or until ISU finds someone (or several someones) to help finance the remainder of Rhoads? contract. Elsewhere, we would monitor the situation at Texas Tech, where Kliff Kingsbury, a former Red Raider QB who was a rock star in Lubbock when winnign his first seven games on teh sideliens last season, has quickly fallen out of favor after his debut season a year ago. Though regional sources do not believe he is in any immediate trouble after signing a pricey extension after last season.

Big Ten: The plight of Brady Hoke at Michigan was addressed earlier. But Ann Arbor is not the only hot spot in the league. At Indiana, Kevin Wilson was generally thought to need a bowl bid in his fourth season on the job to keep the wolves at bay. At 2-7, that bowl ship has already sailed, and now Wilson will have to hope that administrators are going to give him a mulligan due to injury problems at QB, with productive QB Nate Sudfeld sidelined since earlier in the season. Most regional sources aren?t sure that will be enough for Wilson to stay safe. The bowl-or-lese edict was also supposedly in effect at Illinois, where the Fighting illini had endured a miserable couple of season on Tim Beckman?s watch. Beckman, however, has a chance to get to six wins with winnable games remaining vs. Iowa, Penn State, and Northwestern, and recently-injured starting QB Wes Lunt is due to return to active duty this week vs. the Hawkeyes. Elsewhere, Nebraska?s big year has taken the pressure off of Bo Pelini at Nebraska, and Purdue?s improved play has temporarily removed the heat form second-year HC Darrell Hazell. Rutgers? Kyle Flood, also though to be under the microscope entering 2014, was rewarded with a 2-year contract extension in September.

Conference USA: Most situations seem safe for now, with the possible exception of FIU, where Ron Turner needed to see some improvement from last year?s 1-11 disaster. To this point, most believe improved efforts from the Golden Panthers (now 3-7) keeps Turner safe for now, but remember that this school also dismissed the well-regarded Mario Cristobal out of the blue two years ago.

Mid-American: The opening at Buffalo was addressed earlier. Kent State seems to be headed in the wrong direction at rapid speed under Paul Haynes, now 1-8 in his second year since succeeding Darell Hazell. But most MAC insiders don?t believe the Golden Flashes pull the plug after just two season.

Mountain West: There are two situations to watch closely in the Mountain. First, at Hawaii, where Norm Chow has a 6-28 record in three seasons. Though the Rainbow Warriors have improved slightly this season, the program has yet to gain traction, and the long-awaited opportunity for Chow to finally become a head coach looks to be coming to a sad conclusion. Similarly at UNLV, where another one of the good guys in the profession, Bobby Hauck, is now on a very slippery slope as the Rebels are poised for a fourth 2-win season in Hauck?s five years. The momentum from last year?s apparent breakthrough and Dallas Bowl bid seems to have dissipated, and sources suggest that the school might be poised to make a change if arrangements can be made to fund Hauck?s buyout.

Pac-12: The only situation to watch might be at Oregon State, where the Beavers have suffered another downturn for Mike Riley, who has hit some high notes during his second tour of duty in Corvallis that commenced in 2003. There has always been a faction of anti-Riley OSU boosters, who are now gaining a bit wider platform as this year?s Beavers disappoint, needing two wins in their final three games to get bowl-eligible. Sources say Riley will survive with a bowl minimum six wins and is likely to make it to 2015 as long as the Beavs don?t completely collapse in the final three weeks, though losses to Arizona State, Washington, and another to Oregon would make the situation a bit tenuous for Riley.

SEC: Beyond the aforementioned situation at Florida, no coach appears in immediate danger in the SEC, although there are plenty of angry Vanderbilt supporters due to the quick regression of the Dores back to their old punching bag level under first-year HC Derek Mason.

Sun Belt: We?ve discussed possibilities as the retiring Larry Blakeney?s successor at Troy. A trio of second-year coaches including New Mexico State?s Doug Martin, Idaho?s Paul Petrino, and Georgia State?s Trent Miles are likely to be on the hot seat in 2015, but should survive disappointing seasons this fall.


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