Coaches to Watch

The college coaching carousel has officially begun to spin for another year with two high profile, quickly executed hirings. Texas A&M has made the first major hiring of the offseason by hiring former Green Bay head coach and current Houston Texans offensive coordinator Mike Sherman to return to College Station as the replacement for Dennis Franchione.

Sherman spent time there twice in the past as an assistant. The second move was a stunner as Ole Miss hired Houston Nutt to replace Ed Orgeron. Nutt was expected to leave Arkansas, but most wouldn't have expected him to get hired at another SEC West school within 24 hours.

Sherman's hiring is a classic example of how a guy many schools might have zero interest in can seem like the perfect fit somewhere else. Hirings create openings no one anticipated, and the dominoes fall all throughout the coaching landscape. The new coaches don't always come from the background you'd anticipate, either. Who would imagine that Ed Orgeron would be the only Pete Carroll USC assistant to land a college head coaching job so far, or that the Houston Texans offensive coordinator would be hired as a head coach at two different schools in back to back years?

Let's take a look at some of the candidates who appear to have the best shot at surfacing in some school's coaching search this month. Here are some of the hottest names for each of the categories schools hire from - current college head coaches, former head coaches and current college assistants.


Mike Leach, Texas Tech
- Leach is an offensive whiz with a unique approach to life for a football coach. His name is one of the two most frequently brought up at UCLA but any school looking to make a splash could do a lot worse. Has Donald Trump recommending him - is that good or bad?

Brian Kelly, Cincinnati - Kelly's only spent one year at the school, but has extensive ties in Michigan and a creative, aggressive offense. Only a midwestern job seems like a fit right now.

Paul Johnson, Navy - Can his offense work at a BCS program? Johnson reportedly would like to find out. He's been linked to jobs before but failed to land them. Georgia Tech, Duke and Ole Miss are places his name will be thrown around.

Art Briles, Houston - Briles is Leach with a less interesting personality. Most think he'll wait and take the Texas Tech job if his former boss Leach leaves, but he's interviewed with Baylor. Arkansas might want to take a look, too.

Skip Holtz, East Carolina - He's taken a program that was a disaster when he arrived to back to back bowl trips in just three years. Holtz had been considered an up and comer when he was UConn head coach before making the mistake of signing on with his father as OC as South Carolina. He's got a good personality and a decent offensive mind.

Five other possible but less likely movers to keep an eye on - LSU's Les Miles, UCF's George O'Leary, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, Auburn's Tommy Tuberville, Clemson's Tommy Bowden


Rick Neuheisel, Baltimore Ravens OC
- Neuheisel has a creative mind. That's good for when you're designing offensive plays, but not for dealing with NCAA investigators. He was successful in his court case against Washington, though, and enough time has passed that he's ready for another shot at being a head coach. He's a UCLA alum, and a lot of people there would like to see him back.

Terry Bowden, broadcasting - Bowden says he got the urge to coach again last year when his alma mater West Virginia's job appeared to be coming open. The strange circumstances surrounding his exit from Auburn midway through 1998 shouldn't obscure the fact he had a good gameday coaching record. Auburn's post-Bowden fiascoes including the attempted Bobby Petrino hiring in 2003 may have helped restore some of his credibility. Bowden was not a great recruiter, and he's been out of the game almost a decade. If he can convince someone like SMU that he can overcome those obstacles, he may get another shot.

John L. Smith, St. Louis Rams scouting - Michigan State didn't work out for Smith, but he's a good offensive coach who had success at Utah State and Louisville. Any job in the west could be a fit - Washington State or Colorado State are two currently open that fit that description.

Glen Mason, broadcasting - Minnesota pitched a temper tantrum and fired Mason after his team blew a gigantic lead and lost their bowl game last year. They proceeded to fall apart this year, winning just once and losing to North Dakota State at home as well as Florida Atlantic. Mason's not great coach and is thin-skinned with fan criticism, but he has shown a consistent ability to take a bad program to mediocre bowls each season. He'll never win you ten, but if you're a school like Baylor seven wins would sound mighty good.

David Cutcliffe, Tennessee offensive coordinator - What's happened at Ole Miss after he was let go has only improved his reputation. Two years of work with Erik Ainge showed how much he can help a quarterback and also proved he's healthy again after a heart issue kept him from being a part of Charlie Weis's Notre Dame staff in 2005. Cutcliffe isn't electrifying, but any mid range SEC or ACC job could be a fit.


Bo Pelini, LSU defensive coordinator
- The most touted assistant coach in college football this year, despite the fact LSU's defense really didn't play all that well considering their buildup. He's a candidate at Nebraska for sure and thanks to connections with Georgia Tech's AD he likely will be there as well if he's still available. And if Les Miles actually gets the Michigan job, he might not have to move to get a head coaching spot.

Mike Locksley, Illinois offensive coordinator - One of the best recruiters in the game, he's now shown coaching skills as well by developing young Illini players into an effective attack. Any job east of the Mississippi could be a good fit. Locksley reportedly turned down Central Michigan last year and Illinois's future looks bright, so it's no given that he'll take a mediocre job this year just to be a head coach. With so few current black head coaches, Locksley should be one of the top names teams should be calling if they're trying to show diversity in their coaching searches.

Larry Fedora, Oklahoma State offensive coordinator - Has put together an impressive attack at Oklahoma State and has great recruiting ties into Texas. His name has been mentioned in the Baylor search and will be for any other open Texas jobs this year. Arkansas might get interested as well, since he has SEC experience from his time with Ron Zook at UF.

Jimbo Fisher, FSU offensive coordinator - Had the UAB job last year, but wanted more money than the school was willing to offer. Some wonder if he's head coach in waiting at FSU, but since Bobby Bowden is asking for a five year extension he may not want to wait that long. He has ties to Georgia Tech's AD from his LSU days and will be talked about for other open jobs on the east side of the Mississippi.

Chip Kelly, Oregon offensive coordinator - Might be hurt by the Ducks offense falling off after Dennis Dixon's injury, but he put up huge numbers at New Hampshire and was doing the same in the Pac Ten with talent that didn't produce big numbers last year for a reasonably well respected coach in Gary Crowton.

Five others to keep an eye on - UF DC Charlie Strong, Notre Dame OC Mike Haywood, Georgia Tech DC Jon Tenuta, Tennessee Titans OC Norm Chow, Oklahoma DC Brent Venables

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