Commentary

Is biggest coaching news looming?

Originally Published: December 6, 2013
By Chris Low | ESPN.com

It's almost too quiet for this time of year in college football.

This is when agents make their money, when speculation and misinformation run rampant and when coaches try to discern whether the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence.

Although there hasn't been a great deal of movement, it certainly will be worth watching what happens at Texas, which obviously could trigger a serious domino effect. If Mack Brown retires, don't be surprised if Florida State's Jimbo Fisher is a name that surfaces in the Longhorns' search.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaIf the Texas job comes open, Jimbo Fisher's name could be in the mix.

Getting Fisher out of Tallahassee could be a chore. If the Seminoles, as expected, play in the Vizio BCS National Championship, that adds another month to the timetable before Fisher would be available. He's also sitting on a gold mine in terms of talent and has an easier pathway every year to the national title game with the Seminoles playing in the ACC.

Of course, what typically drives the perennial coaching carousel is the green. That's green as in cold, hard cash.

We've already seen USC act quickly by hiring away Steve Sarkisian from Washington. The Trojans had initially targeted Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin, who parlayed the Trojans' interest into becoming a member of the $5 million club.

We're rapidly approaching the day when a coach in the SEC making $3 million per year will fall somewhere in the bottom of the pack in terms of salary.

It's called market value, and that's what the going rate is right now to hire (and keep) good coaches.

Auburn's Gus Malzahn will be the next to cash in after the job he has done in leading the Tigers to the SEC championship game in his first season.

But the number of coaches packing up their offices this week has paled in comparison with most years. There just aren't that many jobs open right now.

Just look at the SEC. This might actually be a year when there aren't any changes at the top.

There were four a year ago, and the last time there weren't any head-coaching changes in the SEC after a season was 2005.

Yes, we've just jinxed it.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
AP Photo/Jae C. HongSteve Sarkisian's move from Washington to USC set off one of the few big chain reactions in coaching moves that we might see this offseason.

Perhaps the biggest news is that someone has finally lured Chris Petersen away from Boise State. Petersen, who has been mentioned for just about every marquee opening out there over the years, is expected to be named the head coach at Washington today. He has been one of the hottest names for several years now and has turned down numerous opportunities.

Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier also interviewed for the Huskies' opening. Nussmeier, who was Washington's offensive coordinator for three seasons before coming to Alabama in 2012, will continue to be on athletic directors' short list.

Washington was interested in Missouri's Gary Pinkel, whose mentor was former Huskies coach Don James, but Pinkel said this week that he was staying at Mizzou. Earlier, Jim Mora Jr. told Washington no thanks and elected to stay put at UCLA after the Bruins came through with a contract extension, not to mention more money for Mora's assistants and a pledge to upgrade facilities.

The Huskies also talked to defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who is highly respected in football circles and destined to be a head coach at some point. And with the hiring of Petersen, for whom he worked at Boise State, he might have options to stay at Washington or go with Sarkisian to USC as defensive coordinator.

Still, Wilcox's name is one to keep in mind when you start making a list of the next wave of up-and-coming coaches.

It might be difficult to pinpoint who all those guys are this year because there simply aren't a lot of jobs open.

At Wake Forest, some of the names being mentioned are Ball State's Pete Lembo, Bowling Green's Dave Clawson and Middle Tennessee's Rick Stockstill. All three have had success at schools with limited resources.

Clawson's Bowling Green team will face No. 14 Northern Illinois on Friday night in the Mid-American Conference championship game. Clawson also won at Fordham and Richmond before one ill-fated season at Tennessee in 2008 as the Vols' offensive coordinator.

[+] EnlargePete Lembo
Danny Wild/USA TODAY SportsPete Lembo went 10-2 at Ball State this season.

Clawson absorbed much of the blame that season when the Vols' offense went south and veteran coach Phillip Fulmer was fired. But, when you look at Clawson's track record before he went to Tennessee and what he's been able to accomplish at Bowling Green since, that one season at Tennessee was obviously the exception. The guy can coach.

Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris is somebody else who's going to get a shot somewhere. His fast-paced, no-huddle offense is what's in vogue right now, and it's what a lot of athletic directors are looking for.

Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery would be in that same group, as would Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. Staying on offense, Ohio State offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Tom Herman, Duke offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper and Virginia Tech associate head coach and running backs coach Shane Beamer are also guys who will be on athletic directors' short lists.

It's not all about offense, either. On the defensive side, Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt are names to watch. Shoop was the head coach at Columbia from 2003 to 2005.

Some of the best news for Alabama fans is that it looks as if defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will be staying put for at least another year. He has been one of the hottest commodities among assistant coaches for a couple of years now but has been in a position to be selective.

He's not going to jump just to be a head coach. He interviewed at Auburn last season but has passed on several other opportunities. Right now, there's not a job out there that would pry him away from Alabama, where he's scheduled to make $1.35 million next season. But, if Fisher were to leave Florida State for Texas, Smart would be a natural in Tallahassee.

As we've seen in the coaching profession, the winds of change can blow swiftly and without much warning.

So stay tuned.

• • •

Kevin Steele too good to be off the sideline

[+] EnlargeKevin Steele
AP Photo/ Richard ShiroKevin Steele has a proven track record as a defensive coach at many levels.

Sometimes, coaches get lost in the shuffle or branded because of one bad season -- or even one bad game. Kevin Steele certainly comes to mind. He's at Alabama now as the Crimson Tide's director of player personnel and not coaching on the field. But he's too good a coach and too good a recruiter to stay off the field much longer. Steele was at Clemson for three seasons as defensive coordinator, 2009-11, and the Tigers had top-20 defenses nationally his first two seasons.

But they dipped that third season after losing some key guys to the NFL and having to lean on some younger players, and Steele didn't survive the 70-33 debacle against West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. The ironic thing is that Tennessee was interested in hiring him as its defensive coordinator at the time, and that obviously didn't sit well with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney after such an embarrassing loss. It's just another reminder of how quickly a coach's star can fade. But Steele has been too big a part of too many good defenses over the years not to get another shot, and he has done it everywhere -- the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and even the NFL, where he was the Carolina Panthers' linebackers coach in 1996, when they reached the NFC Championship Game in only their second year of existence.

• • •

Coaches keep changing their tune

It's always a hoot to hear coaches changing their tune when they switch conferences. Remember Urban Meyer's comments earlier this season about the BCS system being flawed when it looked as if Ohio State might get squeezed out even if the Buckeyes finished unbeaten? Meyer failed to mention that it worked out just fine for his two national championship teams at Florida in 2006 and 2008, when the Gators made the big game each year despite having a loss. Well, this week, first-year Arkansas coach Bret Bielema made it abundantly clear where he thinks the best football is played. "There's just no comparison between the SEC and other leagues in terms of the competition," Bielema told Arkansas radio personality Bo Mattingly. Rewind not quite two years, to when Bielema was still at Wisconsin, and the only thing he was saying about the SEC was that nobody in the Big Ten wanted to be like the SEC "in any way, shape or form."

• • •

Ka'Deem Carey's impressive season

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsKa'Deem Carey is a workhorse running back, but also can block and take care of the ball.

Running backs haven't fared too well recently in the Heisman Trophy voting. Only once in the past 12 years has a running back won -- Alabama's Mark Ingram in 2009. Boston College's Andre Williams figures to be one of the finalists this season with his 2,102 yards and 17 touchdowns. But it's also difficult to dismiss the season Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey has had. He might be the most complete running back in the country.

Carey has rushed for 1,716 yards and 17 touchdowns and has 26 catches and another touchdown. As a blocker, 5-10, 207-pound Carey can hold his own against anybody. The other thing about Carey is that he has done it against top competition. In the Wildcats' four games against ranked foes, he has averaged 161 rushing yards and had at least one touchdown in all four games. He has faced three top-30 defenses this season and has averaged 175.6 yards in those games. Most impressively, he has carried the ball 322 times this season (second among FBS players) and fumbled just twice.

• • •

Duke's Cutcliffe impressed by FSU

Duke coach David Cutcliffe was a part of Tennessee's 1998 national championship team and, while the offensive coordinator at Tennessee and head coach at Ole Miss, has coached against some of the best the SEC has had to offer. That said, he thinks the Florida State squad his Blue Devils will face in Saturday's ACC title game is "probably one of the better collections of talent on a football team that I've ever seen." Cutcliffe thought the Seminoles were as good as anybody last year.

"The ball just bounced wrong for them a couple of games," he said. "This year, I know they're as good as anybody in the country." Cutcliffe said the Seminoles have NFL talent at every position and in every class. He said Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin would be one of the best receivers in the NFL right now. "You just don't see guys that big, that physical and that fast," Cutcliffe said.

• • •

Coaching in the Cutcliffe genes

Cutcliffe won't be the only member of his family playing for a championship Saturday night. One of his sons, Chris Cutcliffe, is an assistant coach at Oxford (Miss.) High School, which will play for the 5A state championship in Jackson, Miss. The two games kick off at roughly the same time, so the elder Cutcliffe won't be listening in as he is on most Friday nights.

Chris Low | email

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