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College Football Insider

Top 10: The most intriguing coaches to keep an eye on during Silly Season

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For many programs, the football season is over, but now things really get crazy. We're officially in the midst of college football's Silly Season.

On Sunday, it kicked into high gear with five coaches getting fired. Speculation has already been running rampant about who is going where. Some names get thrown into the mix for virtually every plum job (hello, Chris Petersen!).

Wishful thinking? Yeah, probably.

And then there's the pursuit of the white whale of the coaching world -- Jon Gruden. We won't entirely dismiss the chance Gruden returns to the sidelines, but it sounds like a long shot for him and Tennessee. The real downside to the Grudenmania for the Vols is that a proud program and its fan base, which have endured so much disappointment during the past five years, is likely to end up hiring someone else who is going to be seen as the disappointing Plan B.

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This week's Top 10:

1. Bobby Petrino: The wild card of all coaching wild cards out there. He is a proven winner with a big-time record to back it up (75-26). He finished in the top five at two schools (Louisville and Arkansas), but he was seen as toxic last spring for the spectacular fiasco that ultimately cost him his job in Arkansas and turned the Hogs football program upside down. And it wasn't exactly like he was seen as a high-character guy before his ill-fated motorcycle ride. But he wins games. Lots of games. Auburn, which flirted with him before, needs a coach to try and compete with Alabama and Nick Saban, and also has the dark cloud of an NCAA investigation hanging above. That could scare off a lot of top candidates. It might be ideal for Petrino, though. Charles Barkley, one of the most beloved Auburn alums, is on the record as saying AU should flip Petrino the keys and go all in with him. Might this be a marriage made for the SEC? If not, does some program at the mid-major level scoop a guy with a résumé like Petrino's for a bargain price and a lot of qualifiers?

2. Charlie Strong, Louisville: Almost from the moment it was announced that Petrino was getting the boot at Arkansas, Strong's name surfaced as a viable candidate. An Arkansas native, who did well as an SEC defensive coordinator, Strong has done a solid job rebuilding Louisville. This has been the best of his three seasons at U of L with the Cards at 9-2, although they have fizzled down the stretch, losing their last two games to unranked Syracuse and Connecticut. Worse still, when Louisville was 9-0, no one was discussing the team in the context of the other unbeatens from the power conferences. That's what life in the Big East has become. Who knows what happens to Louisville in the latest turn in the conference-realignment game of musical chairs -- or if Strong will still be at U of L, when and if something does happen. Even though his AD told colleague Gregg Doyel he's prepared to make him the highest-paid coach in the country, I'm skeptical that the Cards would pay a football coach more than Saban or Mack Brown. Arkansas or Tennessee probably could, though.

3. Butch Jones, Cincinnati: The 44-year-old has already spent six seasons as a head coach and has a 49-27 career record. Jones has some charisma, and it's not hard to see him handling a bigger job. Is Purdue big enough, or could he land Tennessee or Arkansas?

4. Greg Roman, 49ers assistant: Jim Harbaugh's right-hand man has worked wonders with the 49ers offense, and he helped crank up the toughness when he was with Harbaugh at Stanford. I'm told the New Jersey native is a strong candidate at Boston College, as well as back in the Bay Area at California. Two years ago, Roman almost landed the Vanderbilt job. He might even get a shot back in the Volunteer state at UT.

5. Chad Morris, Clemson offensive coordinator: A former high school coach in Texas, Morris saved Dabo Swinney's job last year with his up-tempo attack. For that, Morris was rewarded with a huge new deal, putting him at $1.3 million a year. The Tigers' offense has shined again in 2012, ranking No. 6 in the nation in scoring. His system would bring sizzle to a program hungry for a spark. North Carolina State might be an ideal fit.

6. Sonny Dykes, La. Tech: Spike Dykes' son gradually has elevated a losing program at Louisiana Tech into an exciting 9-3 squad that had cracked the Top 25 this year. Dykes was an assistant at Kentucky, but the hunch here is he'll end up at a bigger program. Perhaps Purdue or maybe Cal, NC State or Arkansas.

7. Kirby Smart, Alabama defensive coordinator: Nick Saban has produced a bunch of assistants who have moved on to run their own programs. Some have proven to be home-run hires (Will Muschamp). Others, not so much (Derek Dooley). Smart's stock is high -- so is his salary ($950,000). The fact that Tennessee's AD, Dave Hart, came from Alabama might bode well for him in regards to the UT vacancy. Lord knows the Vols' D could use his help.

8. Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State: There's two Air Force guys getting discussed for a few vacancies: DeRuyter, the former Air Force player, and Troy Calhoun, Air Force's coach. The hunch here is DeRuyter will emerge as the more viable option, whether it's at Cal, Colorado, Purdue or even Boston College; not Calhoun, who has turned down several good jobs in previous years. In his debut season in Fresno State, DeRuyter led the Bulldogs to their first conference title in 13 seasons while helping turn a dreadful defense into a formidable one.

9. Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State: Smart isn't the only DC whose stock is soaring. Narduzzi, a former Rhode Island linebacker who consistently cranks out elite defenses (Michigan State is No. 4 in the nation in D despite its 6-6 record), is one of three other defensive assistants generating buzz this month. The others: Stanford's Derek Mason and Notre Dame's Bobby Diaco. Of these three, Narduzzi, also an ace recruiter, seems like he would have the best shot to land the Boston College job.

10. (tie) Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State: In 2010, his first season at San Jose State, the Spartans went 1-12 as he began overhauling the program. This year, they went 10-2. MacIntyre, the guy who found Patrick Willis for Ole Miss, has SEC roots, but he has got the skills where he could be a good fit anywhere from BC to Arkansas to Cal.

10. (tie) Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky: Another Jim Harbaugh protégé, Taggart has made people notice Western Kentucky. The 36-year-old's overall record isn't impressive (16-20) and he has not had a big year, but the ex-Hilltoppers QB has led them to an 11-5 record in Sun Belt play the past two seasons.

Just missed the cut: Recently fired Cal head coach Jeff Tedford; Dave Doeren, Northern Illinois; Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State; Pep Hamilton, Stanford OC; Bobby Diaco, Notre Dame DC; Derek Mason, Stanford DC; Brent Pease, Florida OC; Darrell Hazell, Kent State; Justin Wilcox, Washington DC; Bob Stitt, Colorado School of Mines; Mark Hudspeth, UL-Lafayette; Hue Jackson, Bengals assistant.


Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for CBSSports.com and college football commentator for CBS Sports Network. He is a New York Times Bestselling author, who has written books including Swing Your Sword, Meat Market and Cane Mutiny. Prior to joining CBS, Feldman spent 17 years at ESPN.
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