Brace yourself: Coaching change silly season set to begin

James Franklin's name: be prepared to hear it a lot during coaching change season. (USATSI)
James Franklin's name: be prepared to hear it a lot during coaching change season. (USATSI)

Buyouts. Search firms. Leverage plays. Crafty agents. Mutual interest. Agreed to in principle. According to sources. Save the recruiting class.

Yes, the open season has returned, and you will hear those phrases for the next month. The coaching carousel is like a great state fair ride. The thrills are there, but you’ll need a shower and a brown bag afterward.

We’ll be with you every contract negotiation of the way, debuting a series Monday labeled "Coaching Changes Daily."

CCD will analyze, provide news and capture all looming absurdity in the next month.

What this open season loses in volume, it could make up for in quality.

Three of the country’s top five jobs could open, depending on whether Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley follows through on his word to keep Will Muschamp.

That’s actually four of the top 10 jobs if Nebraska decides nine- and 10-win seasons under Bo Pelini simply aren’t enough anymore.

Most industry sources expect a lighter coaching season than last year’s eye-popping total of 31. Five jobs opened before November hit, but overall there aren’t enough glaring, begging-to-be-fired coaches out there.

Of course, just as we say that, 12 athletic directors from power conferences plot their buyout strategies.

You can bank on a few hearty surprises every year. Tom O’Brien and Bret Bielema from last year’s class come to mind.

Then there’s the potential NFL poaching. An owner looking to clean house would have a few attractive college options.

Before we get started, let’s set a few guidelines.

  • No hyperventilating: Your coach can’t hire Kevin Sumlin, James Franklin AND Jack Del Rio. This will happen for you. Have a seat, grab a Sunny D and enjoy the chaos.
  • You can’t fire everybody: Some guys you’re just stuck with. Maybe things aren’t as bad you’d think. Maybe the buyout is unmovable. Maybe the athletic director is feeling loyal or simply can’t get somebody better. Historical context is in play, too. Where was the program before the coach took over?
  • Two words: Search firms. They are more powerful than ever. Just look at the jobs currently open -- USC (Jed Hughes), UConn (Parker Executive), FAU (Todd Turner) and Miami (Ohio) (Todd Turner). This is the game. Agents can’t alienate these dudes or else they do a disservice to their clients.

We’ll have much more starting next week, but here are a few random thoughts – in part gleaned from conversations with several industry sources -- entering silly season.

1. The Big 12 has several coaches taking heat that probably won’t result in significant movement. The stability in the league has been impressive. Kansas’ Charlie Weis and Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury are the only Big 12 coaches with less than three years experience of league experience. But four coaches are perceived to be on the hot seat. No need to dig into the Mack Brown situation. That’s been debated for months. After asking around, however, I’ll be fairly surprised if Weis or West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen or Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads are not retained. Holgorsen’s buyout is huge (a reported $11.3 million), and AD Oliver Luck understands the transition to the Big 12 takes time. Weis’ win over WVU helps, and it seems doubtful AD Sheahon Zenger wants to fire two coaches in four years. Is he still paying Turner Gill? Rhoads was coveted by at least one BCS school last offseason and is clearly in a transitional year with a young team.

2. Several BCS coaches need to finish strong this week -- real strong. From what I’m told, Indiana would like to give Kevin Wilson another year, but 1-11 to 4-8 to 4-8 might be a tough sell. What better way to change the narrative than by beating Purdue this week? A well-placed ACC source says there’s been no smoke around the league that Virginia’s Mike London or Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe will be fired. Of course, things can get weird on the Sunday after the season. Grobe has built up plenty of goodwill at a place where it’s tough to win, but he’s going on five years of middling results. London has regressed at UVA, so let’s see if AD Craig Littlepage can back up his public stumping for the fourth-year coach. As it stands, thinking Tim Beckman gets another year, but a dud against Big-Ten-winless Northwestern on Saturday could amplify the uneasiness.

3. Is Florida making a business decision by keeping Will Muschamp? Foley is publicly standing by his man and seems to have genuine belief in Muschamp’s abilities. But it’s worth pointing out that hiring a new coach would be pricey, even by SEC standards. Let’s say Florida wanted someone like Charlie Strong to be its new coach. Florida would be paying a $5 million buyout to help Strong escape his Louisville deal and roughly $8 million to get rid of Muschamp (per buyout numbers from the Palm Beach Post, $2 million each year until 2017). Would Florida cake batter that frosting? If Florida’s not contending for a title next year, why make that move now? Maybe the timing’s just not right.

4. You really want to apply heat on Dan Mullen? Really? I’ve seen speculation about Mullen, and it makes no sense to me. If the Bulldogs win the Egg Bowl Thanksgiving night, Mullen will have taken Mississippi State to four straight bowls for the first time in school history. The way a Mississippi State source explained to me, a Bulldogs coach can hover around .500 as long as he beats Ole Miss. Mullen’s got three of the last four over the Rebs while playing above .500 ball.

5. This season has done little to dissuade me that Bret Bielema can have success at Arkansas. Talked to a coach from one of Arkansas’ non-conference games -- like, one of the really bad teams -- and he said they might have had more overall talent than what Arkansas was putting on the field. In the inheritance split, Bielema didn’t get the Porsche.


6. Yes, Jon Gruden’s camp did get a feeler from someone affiliated with USC. The answer was no. If he gets back in, it won’t be for a college gig.

7. Fresno State’s Tim DeRuyter, Ball State’s Pete Lembo, Louisiana-Lafayette's Mark Hudspeth among popular mid-major guys search firms have been asking about.

8. Several FCS coaches could get a hard look. Don’t be surprised if UConn has interest in Towson’s Rob Ambrose. Also consider North Dakota State’s Craig Bohl, Youngstown State’s Eric Wolford and Eastern Illinois’ Dino Babers.

9. Hot coordinators -- Michigan State DC Pat Narduzzi, Stanford DC Derek Mason, Baylor OC Philip Montgomery, Oregon OC Scott Frost and, of course, Clemson OC Chad Morris. There are more.

10. Buzz around Tallahassee is FSU is preparing to sweeten Jimbo Fisher’s contract. Think the recent Baylor-Art Briles deal. He’s earned it.

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