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Coaching Carousel Slows as Texas, LSU Fill Positions

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Minnesota's announcement Monday that Tracy Claeys would be back in 2017 was further confirmation that the college football coaching carousel will be relatively calm this year barring a late surprise, particularly at the top level.

Only four schools in the Power Five conferences have fired their coaches (including Baylor strictly for off-the-field reasons), with Oregon's decision on Mark Helfrich pending.

Though that's not necessarily a major departure from the norm -- three Power Five schools fired their coaches in 2013 and four in 2014 -- it is a decrease from the seven who were let go last season. And it challenges the conventional wisdom that schools are so flush with cash and unreasonable expectations these days that coaches' jobs are in jeopardy from the minute they arrive on campus.

In part because of massive guaranteed money owed to coaches and a lack of home run candidates, a long list of schools that could have made changes decided instead to stand pat, including Texas A&M, UCLA, Arizona State, Texas Tech and Connecticut.

Moreover, Texas pulling Tom Herman from Houston and LSU staying in-house with Ed Orgeron severely limits the number of dominoes that could have caused an industrywide shake-up. A potential Oregon coaching hire could produce fallout, but it appears there will be precious few opportunities for promising coaches such as Western Kentucky's Jeff Brohm, South Florida's Willie Taggart, Temple's Matt Rhule, Tulsa's Philip Montgomery, Troy's Neal Brown and Appalachian State's Scott Satterfield to move into Power Five jobs.

Where things stand, with insight from various industry insiders who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions.

OREGON

As USA TODAY Sports reported late Saturday night, Oregon officials were hoping not to have to fire Helfrich but had moved in that direction after a loss to Oregon State and laid the groundwork for a coaching search that would follow. Oregon's silence Sunday complicated the timing and did not reflect well on athletics director Rob Mullens, who showed a stunning lack of leadership by failing to inform Helfrich of his fate Sunday before his staff went on the road recruiting.

If Oregon was intent on keeping Helfrich, there is no reason it couldn't have informed him Sunday rather than wait for Mullens to return from Dallas, where he has duties with the College Football Playoff selection committee.

When/if Oregon begins a search, the expectation is that Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck and Boise State's Bryan Harsin would be prime candidates. But don't be surprised if Oregon pursues splashier names such as Penn State's James Franklin and North Carolina's Larry Fedora, who are at Nike-affiliated schools. There also are whispers that Florida's Jim McElwain could be intrigued by the chance to return to the Pacific Northwest, close to where he went to college and started his coaching career at Eastern Washington. Despite winning Southeastern Conference East titles in his first two years, McElwain has been a bit underappreciated by the Florida fan base and just got a new athletics director.

NOTRE DAME

Though Brian Kelly said unequivocally that he would be back in South Bend and has publicly had the support of athletics director Jack Swarbrick, school officials were furious about reports last weekend that his representatives were exploring coaching options for Kelly outside of Notre Dame. Angry enough to just go ahead and fire Kelly? Almost certainly not, but Notre Dame staff members have privately expressed concern about the situation.

The tension between Notre Dame, Kelly and his agent, Trace Armstrong, dates to last season when, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, there was at least a conversation on behalf of Kelly with Southern California, who ultimately gave the job to Clay Helton. After that, Notre Dame awarded Kelly a six-year extension, and you can't blame the school for being upset that its loyalty is being repaid less than a year later by rumors that he's looking to leave.

HOUSTON

Herman's departure opens up one of the most attractive jobs outside the Power Five, where three of the last four coaches (Art Briles, Kevin Sumlin and Herman) all won big and moved on. Houston mega-booster Tilman Fertitta, who made his fortune in the chain restaurant business and also owns the Golden Nugget hotel and casino in Las Vegas, is going to be a major factor in the search and has the resources to at least get the attention of some big names.

If any current Power Five coach is likely to take the Houston job, it's West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen, who has personal ties to the city, worked at the school in 2008-09 and didn't get a contract extension from new athletics director Shane Lyons after last season. With Holgorsen going 9-2 this year, he has major leverage, and it will be interesting to see how much West Virginia is willing to spend on a coach who was on the hot seat to start the season.

Another name floating around is Washington State's Mike Leach, though that seems a bit more far-fetched. Continuity could also be a factor, as defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and offensive coordinator Major Applewhite would like to be considered for the job.

PURDUE

Things appear to be on hold, at least until the weekend. Fleck and his representatives have made it clear he won't entertain conversations about other jobs until after Friday's Mid-American Conference championship game, so it makes sense for Purdue to wait. With the job market not nearly as robust as in previous years, Purdue could end up being Fleck's best Power Five option -- and it's not completely clear he would even take it, as he could return to Western Michigan for one more year and see what the landscape looks like next December.

If Purdue and Fleck aren't a match, the school has interviewed several others. Among the more prominent names in the mix are former LSU coach Les Miles, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun and Illinois State coach Brock Spack, a Purdue alum.

BAYLOR

It's possible nothing gets finalized at Baylor until early next week after the team finishes its season, but SMU's Chad Morris remains solidly atop a group of the usual suspects who have ties to the state of Texas such as Fedora and California's Sonny Dykes. Someone such as Rhule could be intriguing to Baylor athletics director Mack Rhoades, but concerns about the cultural fit of a Northeasterner who doesn't have experience recruiting the state of Texas are part of the calculus.

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November 29, 2016
 
 
 

 

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