These are the guys who seem to come up no matter who you're talking to. They might not be unanimous, but they appear to be pretty darned close. Any one of these four would be a home run hire.
Jimbo Fisher, Florida State — My No. 1 target on the Texas board, Fisher seems to have it all. Has a strong history in Xs and Os, as well as a sterling reputation as a recruiter. Oh, and have I mentioned that he's already used to taking the reins from a legendary coach? And perhaps no coach is as well equipped to deal with the media and Longhorn Network demands. Would be a home run hire.
Gus Malzahn, Auburn — One of the most innovative offensive minds in the country, Malzahn's hurry up stresses defenses while at the same time being relatively easy to execute. He's another strong recruiter, and like Fisher, has his team in the BCS National Championship game. Question with Malzahn: does he have enough skins on the wall?
Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers — There won't be many pro names on the list for a couple reasons. One, it isn't always likely for coaches to jump from the NFL back to college, at least not by choice. And second, Texas is looking for somebody with pretty extensive college experience. Harbaugh would seem to fit both bills as somebody who would potentially leave, and somebody that Texas has interest in. A large portion of that comes from his successes as the Stanford boss before taking his current job. At Texas, he'd be an excellent recruiter and coach.
Urban Meyer, Ohio State — Notable mostly because Texas wants him, though it would be surprising for Meyer to pick up and move on from Columbus. Of the four coaches on the shortlist, he's probably the least likely candidate to move to Austin. Still, Meyer is a national championship coach with a background as both a teacher and recruiter.
Normally, Plan B has a negative connotation. But all the names below are strong ones that could also pan out well in Austin, but, for whatever reason, are below the four above.
James Franklin, Vanderbilt; Jim Mora, UCLA; Charlie Strong, Louisville; Art Briles, Baylor; Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State — Franklin's biggest strengths — his youthful energy and enthusiasm — are also his biggest weakness … does he have the experience Texas wants? Most of Mora's work came in the NFL, though he's done an outstanding job recently at UCLA. Strong has the coaching chops, but does he have the public polish for the Longhorn Network, et al.? Briles and Gundy would bring the double advantage of weakening a conference opponent while also landing an excellent coach. But Briles likely wants to stay in Waco to bask in what he's built, and for whatever reason, Texas doesn't seem as high on Gundy as maybe the university should be.
DON'T PAY ATTENTION TO
These are names that for whatever reason, I've heard associated with the Texas job. But they aren't realistic options, for one reason or another.
Jon Gruden, announcer; Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles; Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers — Gruden has expressed interest in the job, but it doesn't appear that his interest is reciprocated. Even beyond that, Gruden is known for taking a look at every possible opening. Kelly has a show-clause penalty from his time at Oregon, and even if the university could work around that, would the big-money donors truly want to? Texas's candidate doesn't have to be squeaky clean, per se, but you also don't want somebody recently caught rolling in the mud. As for Tomlin, it's hard to believe that he has the college chops that Steve Patterson is looking for. Tomlin was a college football assistant coach for six years from 1995-2000, with one of those seasons spent as a graduate assistant, none as a coordinator and none as a coach in a BCS conference.