In my last article concerning college football head coaches, we looked at the negative side of the circle of life that defines the coaching profession as we took a look at the coaches whose résumés will more likely need to be updated once the upcoming season ends. Today we will look at the happier side of the coaching carousel that comes with college football and instead focus on the assistant and head coaches that may find themselves at a bigger school with a bigger contract next season. Here’s my list of the top ten coaches that have a chance to move up on the totem pole and where I see them landing. 10. Major Applewhite, Texas co-offensive coordinator. Applewhite, who played quarterback for the Longhorns from 1998 to 2001 and still holds the school’s record for passing yards in a game, has been with the school since 2008, when he gave up the Alabama offensive coordinator position to return to his alma mater.
Predicted Landing Spot: Rice. I think that Applewhite will eventually succeed Mack Brown as Longhorns’ head coach, but in the meantime I think that him taking the Owls’ head coaching job would make a lot of sense: he’s familiar with the school (spent the 2006 season as Rice offensive coordinator), it’s an FBS job that doesn’t exactly come with a lot of pressure (Rice has only posted seven winning seasons in the last twenty years), and success can lead to greener pastures (current Arizona State head coach Todd Graham spent only one season with Rice before bolting for Tulsa). Current Owls head coach David Bailiff made my list of coaches that are in hot water coming into 2012, so it just makes too much sense for Rice to not go after Applewhite.
9. Doc Holliday, Marshall head coach. Holliday, who spent twenty-three years as an assistant at West Virginia and is regarded as a top-notch recruiter, is in his third season as Thundering Herd head coach and currently holds a 12-13 record with the team.
Predicted Landing Spot: Kentucky. Here’s a piece of information that may shock you: Kentucky Wildcats football is not relevant, which means that change will be required sooner rather than later. This makes Holliday, who has SEC experience from serving as an assistant at Florida from 2005 to 2007 under Urban Meyer, a legitimate possibility. If Marshall is able to go to a bowl game this season, which I believe they will, expect Kentucky as well as a few other schools to inquire about Holliday and his job status.
8. Bud Foster, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator. Foster has been a significant piece of the Hokies’ coaching staff since 1987 and will see his eighteenth season as defensive coordinator once Virginia Tech squares off with Georgia Tech to start the season. During that time, Virginia Tech has won or tied for seven conference titles and has posted thirteen seasons of ten or more wins.
Predicted Landing Spot: Virginia Tech. Foster has flirted with other schools in the past, previously interviewing for the head coaching positions at Clemson and Pittsburgh, but it’s clear that he is a Virginia Tech man through and through and will not leave the program any time soon. Although it may not happen as soon as the other moves in this list, you can bank on Foster being Beamer’s replacement, which I predict will happen by the time the incoming freshman class graduates.
7. Todd Grantham, Georgia defensive coordinator. Grantham was known more for his NFL background (previously served as Browns defensive coordinator and Cowboys defensive line coach before landing in Athens) prior to becoming Bulldogs defensive coordinator, but his success in rebuilding a Dawgs defense that was just plain dismal has many seeing bright things in Grantham’s future.
Predicted Landing Spot: Florida International. Grantham has said over and over that he wants to be a head coach, and the Panthers head coaching position—vacated by Mario Cristobal, who you will learn more about below—is pretty much perfect for anyone looking to make a name for himself as a head coach. Grantham’s fiery attitude is one of his upsides in terms of recruiting, and you can bet he would make some significant noise in the Sunshine State.
6. Dave Doeren, Northern Illinois head coach. The former Wisconsin defensive coordinator has kept up the Huskies’ winning ways, as the team posted an 11-3 mark and won the MAC Championship for the first time since 1983. Now going into his second season, it appears as Northern Illinois will continue their success as one of the best non-BCS schools under Doeren’s guidance.
Predicted Landing Spot: Indiana. Doeren landing the Hoosiers head coaching position would be very ironic considering the fact that Doeren has done so many things right in his short time in DeKalb and current Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson has done so many things wrong in his short time in Bloomington. Doeren has shown through his success at Wisconsin and now at Northern Illinois that he can handle recruiting and coaching in Big Ten country, so if Indiana does indeed choose to pull the plug on Wilson, Doeren is definitely the one to call.
5. Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State defensive coordinator. Narduzzi is one of the hottest defensive coordinators around thanks to the continued success of the Spartans’ defense, which he has coached since 2007. Narduzzi has been a coach on Mark Dantonio’s staff since his days at Cincinnati, and it’s clear by his decision to decline taking the Texas A&M defensive coordinator position, which would have meant more money, that he won’t be leaving East Lansing unless it’s for a head coaching job.
Predicted Landing Spot: Central Michigan. The Chippewas were the most consistent MAC team around during Brian Kelly and Butch Jones’ time with the team, but the same can not be said under the guidance of Dan Enos, a former Michigan State assistant who has notched six wins in two seasons with the team. While a school may not want to hire a coach from the same school as the one they had just fired, Narduzzi appears to be a can’t miss that would rebuild a Chippewas’ defense that gave up an average of 29.67 points per game last year.
4. Todd Monken, Oklahoma State offensive coordinator. Monken had been a bit of a drifter as an assistant coach prior to landing in Stillwater last season, as the forty-five year old had held jobs with six different schools and one NFL team (WR coach with the Jaguars) prior to replacing Dana Holgorsen as the play-caller for the Cowboys. Now with a Big 12 championship under his belt, Monken comes into the 2012 season looking for more yards, which will lead to more wins, which will lead to more head coaching job offers, which will lead to more money.
Predicted Landing Spot: Louisiana Tech. Monken will probably have the opportunity to be choosy concerning his first head coaching position, and the Bulldogs’ job, which will be vacated by #3 on this list, is one that can’t be turned down. Louisiana Tech has slowly built itself up to a point where it is has the capability of beating notable BCS schools (beat Ole Miss last season by twenty points and lost to Mississippi State in overtime), and if everything falls a certain way Monken could very well be the one leading the team come 2013.
3. Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech head coach. Dykes has had an admirable amount of success in his two seasons as Bulldogs’ head coach, as the Bulldogs bounced back after barely missing out on bowl eligibility in 2010 to post an 8-5 record and win the WAC for the first time since 2001. Formerly the offensive coordinator at Arizona, Dykes is starting to turn heads thanks to his success in Ruston, and another good season for Louisiana Tech would do Dykes a good bit of good in regards to getting a bigger and better job.
Predicted Landing Spot: Texas Tech. This makes too much sense to not happen: Dykes is a Texas Tech alum, his father Spike is the all-time winningest coach in Red Raiders’ history, and he spent seven seasons as an assistant with the school from 2000 to 2006. Tommy Tuberville isn’t exactly on the coolest seat out in Lubbock, and I guarantee that another bad season will result in his firing and Dykes appearing at the top of Texas Tech’s wish list.
2. Mario Cristobal, Florida International head coach. Cristobal, a former tight end at Miami, has been one of the brightest young head coaches in college football, as he has successfully built a Florida International program that was a doormat to even the lowest of teams into an excellent Sun Belt team—yes, there is such a thing—that can beat BCS schools from time to time. With a spot in the C-USA on the horizon, it looks as if the Golden Panthers future is as promising as I could be, and it’s all thanks to Cristobal’s hard work.
Predicted Landing Spot: Boston College. Cristobal has ACC experience from his three years as tight ends and offensive lineman coach at the U following the Hurricanes move to the conference from the Big East (Cristobal was a graduate assistant with the Hurricanes from 1998-2000 before that), and although the Boston College job is much farther north than Cristobal is used to, it is a head coaching position in the ACC, and he has the recruiting and coaching talent to fit in quickly and turn around a proud Eagles program.
1. Kirby Smart, Alabama defensive coordinator. Smart has been the defensive coordinator for the two-time national champion Alabama Crimson Tide since 2007, and at only thirty-six years old finds himself as the hottest head coaching prospect around. Last year I was completely shocked when Smart did not leave Tuscaloosa for a chance to run his own program, but when you, along with head coach Nick Saban, have been in charge of a devastating defense like Alabama, you have earned the right to wait on the perfect job.
Predicted Landing Spot: Tennessee. The Volunteers football program may not be considered “perfect”, but it is a great fit for Smart. An SEC coach through and through (played at Georgia, coached at Georgia as well as at LSU), Smart has the know-how to find the errors Tennessee’s defense has made over and over since former defensive coordinator John Chavis left for LSU and the drive to motivate the entire team into becoming a dangerous SEC East team again. The Volunteer faithful haven’t been exactly patient during the Derek Dooley era in Knoxville, but if Smart does in fact take over as head coach, they have to be patient; if they are, they will see a Tennessee team that’s been missing since Phillip Fulmer left.