NCAA Football: Big 12 Championship-Texas vs Oklahoma
Kevin Jairaj / USA TODAY Sports

With COVID-19 taking a significant toll on college athletics and the future economics of NCAA athletic departments coming into question, a multitude of big-time college coaches are more open to a jump to the NFL, according to numerous sources close to the situation.

Major restructurings are going on as the pandemic rages on in this country, and athletic programs are being dropped with greater frequency. College football games continue to be canceled in higher numbers each week, and several conferences did not participate in football at all in 2020. The fiscal wherewithal, and, to some degree, morality, of having the highest-paid state employee in many states where Covid rates are soaring be a local college football coach is something being talked about with more frequency among coaching agents and their clients, with some projecting a recalibration coming in the type of compensation coaches can expect while campuses remain in varying degrees of virtual learning.

Some coaches who were already open to skipping to the pro game are even more motivated to do so, sources said, and others will certainly be more open to it than they have in the past. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly's name comes up most frequently in this regard, which is not surprising given he has been seeking to jump to the NFL for quite some time now but has not been able to gain much real traction. The situation at the University of Michigan may be coming to a head with Jim Harbaugh's program under more scrutiny than ever after a loss to Michigan State, and he obviously has a very successful record as an NFL head coach with the 49ers.

Lincoln Riley's name is not nearly as hot as it was in some years past, but the Oklahoma coach is certainly someone who NFL teams have considered in the past, and his work with Kyler Murray, a potential MVP candidate with the Cardinals in his second season, has not gone unnoticed. Riley will be willing to at least listen to NFL teams should they pursue him, sources said, and some close to him would not be shocked if he were to seriously embrace the NFL option in 2021.

And Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald has been coveted by other NFL teams in the past, most recently by the Green Bay Packers in 2019 prior to hiring Matt LaFleur. Fitzgerald removed himself from the process after being contacted by the team, and it would take something close to a utopian situation to get him out of Evanston, sources have long contended ... but coaching the home town Chicago Bears just might be that situation. The Bears are plummeting after a 5-1 start, they have grossly mismanaged the quarterback position and head coach Matt Nagy just turned over play-calling duties ahead of a critical game with the Vikings this weekend.

If ownership does make a coaching change in 2021, you can guarantee that Fitzgerald is the first call, with him long considered a potential coach there by many within that family. The Bears would not be the only team strongly interested in his services, but they have inherent advantages over any other potential suitor.