We are in an environment where college sports can no longer pretend to be considered amateur, a truism obvious for decades but only recently deemed appropriate to say out loud. A flurry of court rulings, the impotence of the NCAA and seismic realignment moves have removed the final layers of the thin veneer of amateurism.
So any notion of a slower season in the industry of hiring and firing college football coaches is as naïve as ignoring the profound impact that the past few years have had on the future of college sports.
No buyout is too big, especially when you consider the television paydays coming in the Big Ten and the SEC. And don’t underestimate the pressure created by the collective jockeying to join one of those leagues.
Hope is a powerful market driver. And the roster turnover inherent to the transfer portal and the ability to more easily run off players thanks to new scholarship rules will only speed up the coaching carousel. A program overhaul, in theory, is only a recruiting class away. This new landscape has streamlined dreams of quick fixes.
So what does that mean for the coaching carousel in the 2022 season?
History says it will be slower, as the 30 changes following the 2021 season tied for the most historically since the FBS/FCS split in 1978, per ESPN Stats & Information research. There were also 30 changes entering 2013, and just 19 the next season. Over the past 10 years, there has been an average of 23.8 changes per year in FBS.
It’d be surprising if we see a dizzying spree of high-end jobs again, with many of the sport’s bluebloods and playoff contenders — USC, Oklahoma, LSU, Notre Dame, Florida, Miami, Oregon and Washington — all open in the same season.
“I don’t think you’ll find a lot of good jobs open without retirements,” said an industry source. “Everyone wants and wishes for a huge carousel every year. This may be the year the carousel slows down. This doesn’t project to be the crazy year.”
That’s an observation grounded in common sense. But with coaching buyouts becoming just another line item and institutional patience reduced to nostalgia, predicting a drastic slowdown would be as wise as predicting Alabama to miss a bowl.
So what’s the reality of the 2022 coaching carousel?
We’ve split our analysis into two parts, starting with the most obvious Power 5 jobs set to open, which are Nebraska, Arizona State, Georgia Tech and Auburn. That’s followed by a conference-by-conference analysis of the jobs that could open and jobs that might be talked about but project to be thorny because of financial constraints.
The Huskers haven’t made a bowl game in five straight seasons, including the past four under Frost. To understand what a historical anomaly that is, consider that from 1969 to the start of the streak in 2017, Nebraska missed bowls just twice. (Both under the underwhelming Bill Callahan in 2004 and 2007.)
This is a program that fired Bo Pelini, who never won fewer than nine games in seven seasons. In the seven seasons since, the Huskers have won nine games just once. You get the point.
New athletic director Trev Alberts knows all this history and brought Scott Frost back this year with a salary cut by $1 million and a buyout that’s essentially cut in half after Oct. 1 to $7.5 million. Was this fiscal prudence? A contractual Hail Mary for a favorite son? Or just delaying the inevitable at a more tolerable buyout?
Frost has done little right, including follow NCAA rules. But he did deftly summarize his tenure better than any bard — “it looked like the same movie” — after losing to Illinois in last season’s opener. Horrific special teams, a passion for turning the ball over and an uncanny ability to lose close games have played on a loop.
The hope for change is based around the belief that the schedule is easy and the turnover issues were more based on quarterback Adrian Martinez — now at Kansas State — than the coaching.
The fascinating referendum on Frost is what it would actually take for him to keep his job. When he has dragged a program so far below its historical expectations, progress still represents a faint echo of the past.
In the grand universe of self-induced Auburn afflictions, running an inquiry to attempt to fire the football coach based off a completely false internet rumor almost seems like an attempt to satirize the school’s dysfunctional reputation.
All signs point to Auburn’s infamous puppeteers — the cosmic forces outside the athletic department — as eager to oust Harsin in his second season after hamstringing his tenure through the ham-handed inquiry this February.
It’s difficult enough to win in Nick Saban’s shadow, but the inquiry doubled as a vote of no confidence that has done significant reputational harm. Auburn is last in the SEC recruiting rankings for 2023, and Harsin’s departure after this season looms as an inevitability unless there’s some significant on-field magic in the wake of a 6-7 debut season.
The soon-to-be-expiring contract of athletic director Allen Greene looms as an equally blinking sign of Auburn’s athletic intentions as the failed coup of Harsin. Greene is twisting in the wind, as the silence around his contract, which runs out in January 2023, speaks volumes about Auburn’s plan for him going forward. It’s extremely rare for a school to have an AD essentially working with less than a year remaining on his deal.
Greene directed the hire that ended up with Harsin in December of 2020, but only after multiple high-profile candidates passed on walking into Auburn’s institutional dysfunction. When Auburn’s outgoing president announced in February that the school was going to make an “appropriate decision” on Harsin and later that the “evaluation of concerns” was complete, it was really the beginning of the school piecing together an exit strategy on the coach.
With the athletic director who hired Harsin getting a vote of no-confidence every day that his contract isn’t extended, it underscores the frailty of Harsin’s future. Harsin didn’t take the Auburn job without significant contractual protection, as he’d be owed more than $15 million if fired after the season. (That includes more than $7.5 million within 30 days.)
Auburn’s failed sabotage of Harsin’s tenure shows how the powers feel about him. And Green’s expiring deal shows what they think of the AD who hired him. Auburn was a clock management error — Tank Bigsby failing to avoid going out of bounds — from beating Alabama last year and opens this season with five home games. Any hope rests in both winning and somehow rejuvenating the apathy on the recruiting trail.
In the history of college football, it’s unlikely there has ever been a bigger disparity between introductory news release promises and current-day realities than Herm Edwards’ tenure at Arizona State.
The cartoonish way that AD Ray Anderson attempted to spin the hire of Edwards — his former client when Anderson was an agent — back in 2017 now reads like an article from The Onion.
They claimed a “Vision Unveiled” filled with ideas that went hilariously wrong — mostly notably player and staff retention.
The capable staff that wasn’t pushed out in the ongoing NCAA investigation has fled Edwards’ sinking ship. Players have followed, as the program’s best quarterback, running back, defensive lineman and linebacker and two best wide receivers have transferred out. Instead of retention, ASU’s alleged ambivalence to NCAA rules — most notably allegations from former staffers of completely ignoring dead periods during the pandemic — have turned ASU into a starless farm team. (It would cost ASU nearly $8 million to fire Edwards, but there’s an expectation that he’ll either retire or ASU will use the NCAA investigation to fire him for cause.)
Arizona State president Michael Crow annually would present his athletic department with fiery rhetoric about steep consequences for not following NCAA rules. That makes his refusal so far to fire Edwards amid a significant NCAA probe both baffling and hypocritical, as the program has spiraled into the laughing stock of the Pac-12.
ASU has a bad roster, underwhelming staff and the Pac-12’s worst recruiting class in 2023. All that, and a milquetoast 25-18 record under Edwards. ASU passed on starting over when the scope of the potential allegations against Edwards became apparent. Instead, they’ve emboldened the aggrieved staffers who claim they got pushed out for not cheating, who have been overloading NCAA investigators with evidence of the violations under Edwards’ watch. And the only people who don’t see this ending poorly are in the president’s and AD chairs in Tempe.
If today’s one-time transfer rules and lenient scholarship restrictions existed in December 2018 when Geoff Collins took the Georgia Tech job, it’d have been a lot easier to flip the roster and turn the program around.
Instead, the painful roster overhaul has been as predictable as one would expect from a program with little high-end talent that was designed to run an option offense. (No Tech player has been drafted earlier than the sixth round since 2016, an indictment of the prior staff.)
In Year 4, Collins is 9-25 and short on time. He has won three games for three straight seasons, and an exodus of a dozen players — including star tailback Jahmyr Gibbs to Alabama — has left Tech with little hope. (Not to mention a schedule that seems as it was designed to assure that Collins is fired, as it has non-league games with Ole Miss, at UCF and at Georgia and league road games at Pitt, FSU, Virginia Tech and UNC.)
Still, considering the caliber of school, location of campus and radius to top talent, it’s amazing that the Georgia Tech program is awash with so much apathy. Collins has losses to The Citadel, Temple and Northern Illinois, which meant his buzzy marketing hasn’t translated to the field.
The early tell here will be the fate of athletic director Todd Stansbury, who has been in charge as Georgia, Clemson and the entire SEC have all pulled away to turn Tech into an afterthought in Atlanta. If he’s ousted sometime this fall, it will be because president Angel Cabrera wants a new coach/athletic director pairing to lead Tech into the future.
Collins is owed nearly $10.6 million if he’s fired in early December. That number drops to $7.2 million after Jan. 1. That means if Tech needs to move after the season, some type of settlement would be necessary if it doesn’t want to slog through a month to save $3 million. Don’t bet on Stansbury being around to make the call.
The ACC’s climb back to relevance — beyond Clemson, of course — won’t likely intersect with the coaching carousel this year. The league’s financial limitations, which have the top schools edgy, could end up becoming factors if a school like Florida State struggles again.
Syracuse: Dino Babers is amid three consecutive losing seasons and five losing seasons in six years. The massive contract extension athletic director John Wildhack gave Babers in December 2018 still looms large here, as Babers would be owed more than $10 million if fired after this year. (Wildhack has said publicly Babers “is not on the hot seat” and that he has been pleased with staff additions, including new offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterback coach Jason Beck.) Syracuse isn’t flush with cash, which would make any decision more vexing than the results would appear to dictate. Babers is 29-43 overall and 15-35 in ACC play, including 5-21 the past three years. Another losing season would bring the classic carousel conundrum: Syracuse can’t afford to fire him and can’t afford to keep him.
Louisville: There’s some strong momentum for Scott Satterfield, as Louisville has the No. 17 recruiting class in 2023 and a wide swath of returning players and production for 2022. There were also no tears shed over the departure of former athletic director Vince Tyra, whom Satterfield never meshed with. But with back-to-back losing seasons and just two years remaining on his contract after this year, there’s likely going to be some action on Satterfield — an extension or departure — after this year. He’s owed nearly $4.9 million if fired. New athletic director Josh Heird and Satterfield have a strong relationship, but there’s a feeling that progress is needed after two losing seasons.
Florida State: Florida State’s contractual actions indicate significant support for Mike Norvell, as it added a year to his deal after last season. It’d cost $18.8 million to fire him after the regular season, as FSU added another year at $7 million — 85% of which is guaranteed — after FSU went 5-7. If the Seminoles are hoping or planning to fire him, that’d be a baffling administrative decision to make it so much more expensive. It’s also important to remember that FSU’s finances are underwhelming and Willie Taggart is reportedly still receiving just under $300,000 per month from his $14 million buyout both this year and next year.
North Carolina: Mack Brown threw a tizzy last year about untrue rumors surrounding his retirement. Brown turns 71 later this month. Twilight notions are going to hover over him more if UNC continues to slide after a disappointing 6-7 season. Clearly last year, the sum of the team’s performance failed to match the quality of the parts. There’s plenty of hope at UNC that some new hires this offseason — including Gene Chizik at defensive coordinator — should unlock that more. But it’s also hard to imagine a huge leap considering how valuable departed quarterback Sam Howell was to the program. It’s unlikely this season, but tracking Brown over the next few years remains worthwhile.
Mike Gundy enters Year 18 as the league’s longest-tenured coach, ahead of Matt Campbell (seven years) by more than a decade. Half the coaches have been around for three years or less, which leads to general stability on the coaching front.
West Virginia: With all the turnover, the only place in the Big 12 where there’s a murmur of unrest is WVU, as Neal Brown has been an unspectacular 17-18 with two losing seasons in three years. But the $16.7 million buyout brings the conversation to a hard stop, as that’s an untenable amount for WVU. The lack of certainty from future television earnings makes pondering that even more difficult.
Nebraska is the only school in the conversation. Indiana would owe Tom Allen more than $25 million after this season, which ends that conversation rather quickly, even if IU goes winless again in the Big Ten.
Unfortunately for the league, the most turnover this year came from its membership. Outside of ASU, things are expected to be generally quiet.
Colorado: Karl Dorrell is another third-year coach who arrived during 2020 and has university support as he finds his footing. He’s 8-10 and not in particular danger, especially because he’s owed $11.4 million before Dec. 31 and $7.8 million after that date. Perhaps the most notable part of Colorado moving forward is that institutionally, with the uncertainty of what television money will look like after the 2023 season, decisions like these will be become more difficult. If budgets need to be adjusted, it’s hard to find large chunks of money.
UCLA: Chip Kelly is coming off a breakthrough year in 2021, as UCLA went 8-4, thumped LSU and hung 62 on USC. A lot of Pac-12 coaches are high on the Bruins, who return a lot of key pieces and a distinct identity. The lingering notion here is the confluence of the school entering the Big Ten in two years and Kelly being owed only slightly more than $4 million if he’s fired. Overall, he’s 18-25 through four years. It’s hard to imagine a bad year considering the Bruins will be prohibitive favorites in their three non-league games, play eight home games and have returning starter Dorian Thompson-Robinson (21 TDs, 6 INTs last year).
Utah: Kyle Whittingham turns 63 this year and is 144-70 heading into his 18th year. It has been a Hall of Fame career, one that he’ll decide when to retire from. Whittingham projects to have one of his best teams, as the Utes are the favorites in the Pac-12 and are a smart pick to crash the College Football Playoff. Does he want to walk out on top?
The standard bearer for chaos in college football looms as one of the quietest spots in the coaching carousel. Barring a Nick Saban retirement, the only projected opening comes at Auburn. This is what happens when 10 of the league’s 14 coaches have less than three seasons on the job.
There aren’t any jobs in the AAC that are expected to open. (Incoming AAC members UAB, Rice and North Texas could all make changes after this season, however.)
Memphis: Ryan Silverfield has gone 8-3 and 6-6 in two seasons and been generally solid, especially considering Memphis’ history prior to Justin Fuente arriving in 2013. The only variable here is that Memphis’ larger conference ambitions and notoriously fickle university leadership could intervene, especially if Memphis is mediocre. He’d be owed nearly $3.5 million at the end of this year, which isn’t untenable for Memphis.
Navy: Kenny Niumatalolo is 105-75 headed into his 15th season. With losing seasons three of the past four years and the awkward firing and un-firing of offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper last year, there’s some unease. (Jasper is now the quarterbacks coach.) Niumatalolo, 57, still has beaten Army two of the past three years. He’ll need one of his best teams, as Navy closes at Cincinnati, Notre Dame (Baltimore), at UCF and Army (Philadelphia). A winning season would likely keep him at the helm. The buyout to part ways with him would be minimal, and retirement could also be an option if Navy has a poor season.
South Florida: At just 3-18 headed into Year 3, USF officials extended Jeff Scott for two seasons through 2026. That’s the most glaring sign of the significance of USF’s commitment. Little of that money USF is able to publicly guarantee because of wonky Florida laws. However, it’s important to remember that most head-coaching contracts in Florida are guaranteed through a supplemental foundation agreement. With Scott having nearly $10.5 million remaining on his contract after this season, it’s fair to assume a substantial portion of that is guaranteed money. That’s perceived to be too expensive, as it’s a major commitment for an AAC school. Progress is still needed here, especially in league play, where Scott is 1-14. But the contract terms, as always, are the best indicator of university support.
As the league prepares for an exodus of strong programs, there’s uncertainty throughout. That includes a flurry of schools moving up to the AAC, which would make them more attractive to potential candidates.
UAB: This job is already open, with interim coach Bryant Vincent taking over after Bill Clark stepped down for medical reasons. Vincent has a strong team for an on-the-job audition. And it’s important to remember he has been a key cog in recruiting, coaching and playcalling on the UAB teams that have reached three of four league title games. AD Mark Ingram intends to run a search for an outside hire, but Vincent still has a strong shot at the job if the Blazers win big. If Ingram goes outside on this hire, one scenario is a potential early hire from a movable coach, like we saw at UConn, Texas Tech and Georgia Southern last year. That has shown to give a distinct advantage in the portal era. With an upcoming move to the AAC, a new stadium that opened last year and an administration that has recently invested in football, UAB has the potential to lure a strong candidate.
North Texas: North Texas athletic director Wren Baker showed rare patience last season after North Texas started 1-6. Seth Littrell won five straight games to close the year, clinch a bowl bid and likely preserve his job. Progress is expected again this season, as Littrell is just 14-21 over the past three years. He has one year remaining on his deal after the season ends, and he’d be owed nearly $1.3 million if he’s fired. Littrell is well liked on campus, which is why UNT leaders have shown patience after he couldn’t maintain a hot start that included back-to-back nine-win seasons in 2017 and 2018. He has made bowl games in five of six seasons, but three of those bowl teams finished with losing records. The AAC league upgrade looming means there’s some urgency for improvement.
Rice: Through four seasons at one of the hardest jobs in college football, Mike Bloomgren is 11-31. He’s entering his fifth season and has just one year remaining on his contract after this year ends. Rice is coming off a 4-8 season in 2021, which is the program’s best since 2015. Is the rate of improvement fast enough, especially with Rice upgrading to the AAC in 2023? Rice plays at USC and Houston in the nonconference schedule and hosts Louisiana, which will make it hard to start hot. It’s difficult to put a number on what any coach needs, but a bowl game would almost guarantee enough improvement to earn an extension.
Middle Tennessee: Rick Stockstill, 64, has capably guided Middle since 2006 and has a deal that’s guaranteed for nearly $5 million. That buyout, combined with a 7-6 season in 2021 — after consecutive losing seasons — mean any firing is highly unlikely. With his son, Brett, back coaching quarterbacks, Stockstill is expected to stick around for a few more years. That means retirement is unlikely. But as the school’s ambitions grow with the boom happening around Nashville, the pressure might increase as Middle Tennessee tries to find its footing amid the fallout of all the defections from Conference USA.
The MAC has lived up to its reputation as one of the sport’s most unpredictable entities. Northern Illinois won the league last year after going winless in the pandemic year and at one point playing seven consecutive one-score games in league play, winning six of them. It shouldn’t be too busy of a year in the MAC, as eight schools were bowl eligible last year. Among the four that weren’t, three had changes either last season or the one before.
Bowling Green: With just one year remaining after this season and a 7-22 record through three years, Scot Loeffler needs to win more. There’s also uncertainty in the athletic director chair, which could go a long way in determining what happens here. A local report in late June indicated AD Bob Moosbrugger had been informed by the administration they are moving on from him. This came after a report emerged he spoke to Washington about a deputy job there, which never materialized. Moosbrugger is still around and hiring coaches, with two years left on his contract. That situation will be the North Star on what happens with Loeffler, who showed distinct improvement by going 4-8 and beating Minnesota last year. An extension or departure is likely after the season, which means Loeffler’s continued improvement is paramount. He’d be owed $525,000 if fired.
Toledo: Jason Candle won the MAC in 2017, stuck around after a few high-profile overtures and has run a respected program. The results have been modest since 2017, as he’s 24-20 at a school considered one of the better jobs in the league. There’s also the dynamic of a new athletic director, Bryan Blair, who arrived in February with Candle having only a year left on his contract after 2022. So far, there has been no extension. Candle has been generally successful and highly regarded enough as a playcaller that Miami targeted him for the school’s offensive coordinator job last year. This is another scenario in which a decision is expected after the season — either an extension or departure. (Firing Candle would cost $750,000.) Candle is 45-27 with a MAC title and a team among the favorites in the league, which makes a return the most likely option.
Ohio: Frank Solich’s sudden retirement in July thrust longtime offensive coordinator Tim Albin into the job in a difficult spot. Ohio struggled last year, going 3-9 for the school’s first losing season since 2008 and worst year since 2003. Ohio changed defensive coordinators and brings back a solid core on offense, which should trigger improvement. It could be needed, as Albin signed a four-year contract last summer that indicates he’d be owed nothing if fired after Dec. 31. He’s a good fit and a valued part of the staff and community since 2005. He needs to show this year that the program is trending back to MAC relevancy.
There has been a flurry of recent turnover in the league with Utah State, Hawaii, Colorado State, Nevada, Boise State and Fresno State all turning over in the past two years. That projects a slower year this year, with two newer coaches whose rebuilds were hamstrung by the COVID-19-addled 2020 season appearing likely to get more time.
New Mexico: Danny Gonzales is just 5-14 in two seasons at New Mexico, but he has full support of the administration in what’s considered a total rebuild. AD Eddie Nunez told ESPN there is “no chance” Gonzales is fired for losing games after this season. “It’s a process building a program, and he has my 100% support.” Gonzales would be owed $1.6 million, a significant number, if fired. Nunez understands the difficulty of Gonzales starting his tenure during the first pandemic season, which included the program’s relocation to Las Vegas.
UNLV: This is another total rebuild that struggled to get off the ground after being disrupted by the haywire 2020 season. Marcus Arroyo debuted at 0-6 in 2020 and showed some life late last season by beating New Mexico and Hawai’i and playing San Diego State to a one-score game. Arroyo is expected to get more time, and he’d be owed $2.3 million on his deal, which has two years remaining after this one. Arroyo is 2-16 at a school with almost no significant consistency. The good news for Arroyo: UNLV has given its past three coaches five years each.
The league has catapulted itself into relevancy by doubling down on being proudly regional and valuing organic rivalries over shotgun marriages arranged to fill television windows. The Sun Belt has added James Madison, Marshall, Southern Miss and Old Dominion, making it a 14-team league. There’s relative stability in the coaching ranks, as there’s more of a chance for upward mobility from Coastal Carolina’s Jamey Chadwell or Marshall’s Charles Huff than a spree of firings.
Texas State: The only Sun Belt school in Texas has fallen behind, as Jake Spavital is 9-27 entering his fourth year. Amid a boom run for the league at places like Louisiana, Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State, there’s no arguing that Texas State has a long way to go to catch up both on and off the field. Spavital needs to win in Year 4, as his contract has one year remaining after this season and he’s owed $400,000 after this year. This job is coveted by every assistant coach who has ever bought a piece of jerky at a Buc-ee’s gas station, as there’s a belief the results should be better than zero bowl games in 10 years of FBS play.