The 10 Best NCAA Football Head Coach Jobs That Could Soon Be Open

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For many college football programs, we are at the mathematical halfway point of the season, and while at one end of the spectrum, the College Football Playoff race is coming into focus, so too, at the other, less celebratory end of the spectrum, is the coaching carousel beginning to spin for schools trying to upgrade at head coach. If we look carefully, we can begin to see which programs will have openings to fill, which ones could unexpectedly create vacancies and what the ripple effect might be.

Undoubtedly, the epicenter of the supply chain to fill the open positions begins and ends over on Cullen Boulevard, with University of Houston head coach Tom Herman being the apple of many a program's eye. The UH loss to Navy will undoubtedly do nothing to damper the desire that some of the marquee schools in college football will have for Herman's brand of football love. If anything, the loss to Navy has now created a dynamic where a second- or third-tier bowl game is more likely for UH than a New Year's Six bowl game, making an early jump for Herman more feasible, if the coach chooses to go that route. 

To be clear, the assembly of this list has nothing to do with stoking a Herman-centric inferno that's already being discussed outside of Houston, but to narrow the talking points on a sports topic that is becoming increasingly relevant by the week. In short, everyone around the country is discussing head coaching position openings, and as a subset of that, where Tom Herman may be going, IF he goes anywhere. 

And we should acknowledge that possibility, as well — there's still a chance Herman could remain at Houston for another season (or more), but that may be contingent on the Coogs's getting into the Big XII, a likelihood that seems to shrink by the week. So, for now, let's take a seat in the real world, and look at the Power Five jobs that could come available and, as an adjunct, assess Herman's likelihood of taking those jobs.

For odds making purposes, the odds of Herman taking each job ("HERMAN ODDS" for each one below) are the odds if all ten of these jobs came open, which we know won't happen, but it's easiest to express order that way. The "ODDS of AVAILABILITY" is the chance that each job comes open either through firing the current coach or the chance the current coach could leave for another job. 

Let's take a look...

10. UCLA
2016 RECORD: 3-3 (1-2, 5th in Pac-12 South)
CURRENT HEAD COACH: Jim Mora, Jr. (5th season, 40-19)

10/15 at Washington State
10/22 vs. No. 21 Utah
11/3 at Colorado
11/12 vs. Oregon State
11/19 vs. USC
11/26 at Cal

ODDS of AVAILABILITY: 25 percent

MITIGATING FACTORS: I don't know if this job would come open because UCLA finishes the season on a down note (a decent possibility given the remaining schedule) or because Mora decides he'd rather head back to the NFL (more likely as a coordinator than a head coach, but who knows). What we do know is that Mora is on a downward trajectory after peaking with two 10-3 seasons in 2013 and 2014. He went 8-5 in QB Josh Rosen's freshman year last season, and after heightened expectations, Mora has already lost his requisite at-least-three-games before we even get to mid-October. At the very least, if USC fires Clay Helton and makes a sexy hire in his place, the heat on Mora's seat gets ratcheted up a couple hundred degrees.

HERMAN ODDS: +20,000

2016 RECORD:
5-0 (2-0, 1st in Big XII)
CURRENT HEAD COACH: Jim Grobe (1st season, 5-0)

10/15 vs. Kansas
10/29 at Texas
11/5 vs. TCU
11/12 at 19 Oklahoma
11/19 vs. Kansas State
11/25 vs. Texas Tech
12/3 at No. 20 West Virginia

ODDS of AVAILABILITY: 90 percent

MITIGATING FACTORS: We are working under the assumption that Baylor is going to truly treat Grobe as an interim head coach, as has been the stated plan all along. We will leave 10 percent wiggle room that he's able to win and keep the full-time job, after all, what if he goes undefeated? Will the administration see that as someone else just doing what Art Briles would have done, or will they see Grobe's coaching job for what it is — an amazing circling of the wagons under horrific circumstances. If Grobe is out at the end of the year, the specter of recovering from sparse recruiting classes and transfers spurred on by the rape scandal that engulfed the program will factor in to just how good a candidate they can chase. Tom Herman, while flush with ties to the state of Texas, will have much better options. 

HERMAN ODDS: +10,000

2016 RECORD:
4-2 (2-1, 3rd in Big Ten East)
CURRENT HEAD COACH: James Franklin (3rd season, 18-14)

10/22 vs. No. 2 Ohio State
10/29 at Purdue
11/5 vs. Iowa
11/12 at Indiana
11/19 at Rutgers
11/26 vs. Michigan State

ODDS of AVAILABILITY: 10 percent

MITIGATING FACTORS: Franklin, who was at one time the "Tom Herman" of the coaching world, a rising coach destined for stardom with a blue blood program, has had trouble maintaining the momentum that Bill O'Brien was able to stoke from the embers of what was left post-Paterno and amidst NCAA sanctions. Franklin is generally thought to be singlehandedly responsible for ruining QB Christian Hackenburg, which makes recruiting quarterbacks tough. For now, Franklin is probably safe, but with Indiana no longer a patsy, you can find four losses on the remaining schedule. How good is this job viewed in the marketplace? Does the continued Paterno worshipping damage the school's chances of ever getting a marquee coach?

HERMAN ODDS: +35,000

2016 RECORD: 4-2 (1-2, 5th in ACC Atlantic)
CURRENT HEAD COACH: Jimbo Fisher (7th season, 72-16)

10/15 vs. Wake Forest
10/29 vs. No. 3 Clemson
11/5 at N.C. State
11/11 vs. Boston College
11/19 at Syracuse
11/26 vs. No. 18 Florida

ODDS of AVAILABILITY: 40 percent

MITIGATING FACTORS: To be clear, I don't think this job comes open because of dissatisfaction with Fisher, although 2016's Seminoles are clearly a cut below what the folks in Tallahassee have become accustomed to. Instead, I think Fisher is one of the top two or three candidates for the open LSU job, a job he reportedly was close to taking last season when the restless Baton Rouge natives were set to can Les Miles. I think ultimately Fisher stays at FSU, but this one could go down to the wire. 


2016 RECORD: 4-2 (2-1, 3rd in SEC West)
CURRENT HEAD COACH: Gus Malzahn (4th season, 31-15)

10/22 vs. No. 22 Arkansas
10/29 at No. 12 Ole Miss
11/5 vs. Vanderbilt
11/12 at Georgia
11/19 vs. Alabama A&M
11/26 vs. No. 1 Alabama

ODDS of AVAILABILITY: 33 percent

MITIGATING FACTORS: A few weeks ago, Malzahn was coming off hard fought losses to Clemson and Texas A&M, and the world was wondering if he would go from BCS title game in 2013 to fired in 2016. However, Malzahn may have weathered the storm, as the Tigers find themselves entering the Top 25 this week at No. 23. Now, there's a chance this could just be a brief spate of sunshine, as there are definitely four games ranging from possible to likely losses, including an Iron Bowl matchup against the top-ranked Crimson Tide that could be for Malzahn to keep his job, like a quasi-WWE stipulation. What makes this job attractive is, ironically, also what makes it a tricky one to fill — it's in the marquee division in all of college football, the SEC West, and while there is prestige in the job, you are also sharing a state with the greatest head coach of the last three decades. 


2016 RECORD: 2-4
CURRENT HEAD COACH: Brian Kelly (7th season, 57-27)

10/15 vs. Stanford
10/29 vs. No. 16 Miami
11/5 vs. No. 25 Navy
11/12 vs. Army
11/19 vs. No. 17 Virginia Tech
11/26 @ USC

ODDS of AVAILABILITY: 25 percent

MITIGATING FACTORS: I never thought that Brian Kelly would find his way onto lists like this one in 2016, but this season is turning into an unmitigated disaster in South Bend. Let us count up the ways —

1. The Notre Dame defense is a joke, giving up 174 points in their four losses...
2. ...something that Kelly has gone out of his way to blame on the players and, by firing him, on ousted defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder. 
3. Those four losses are to Texas, Michigan State, Duke and N.C. State. Three of those teams have three losses already.
4. The rest of the schedule is, all of a sudden, dotted with losable games — three ranked teams to go plus Stanford and USC. Yikes.

So if Notre Dame goes 5-7 or 4-8 with a quarterback who could be a top five pick in the draft, what does that say about Kelly? Many people don't realize that Brian Kelly has had three five-loss seasons and a four-loss season in his time in South Bend. The Notre Dame job is more about the prestige of being CEO of the brand than any intrinsic advantage that facilitates winning. If anything, it's harder to win at a high level within the Notre Dame culture than it is at most other places on this list. Also, the TV coverage of the Irish isn't nearly the advantage in recruiting that it was before the Internet became a thing. The only way Herman winds up here is if he has Notre Dame on his dream list, and there's been no indication that's the case.


2016 RECORD: 2-4 (0-3, 6th in Pac-12 North)
CURRENT HEAD COACH: Mark Helfrich (4th season, 35-12)

10/21 at Cal
10/29 vs. Arizona State
11/5 at USC
11/12 vs. Stanford
11/19 at No. 21 Utah
11/26 at Oregon State

ODDS of AVAILABILITY: 75 percent

MITIGATING FACTORS: Mark Helfrich's legacy may wind up being "He was a younger, more handsome Larry Coker." In other words, Helfrich was able to ride his predecessor's stacked roster (including Marcus Mariota) to a College Football Playoff title game berth, but now, two seasons later, he is giving up 70 points to Washington. Phil Knight hasn't showered this program with hundreds of millions in donations to watch them go 4-8. This is, empirically, a good college football job that needs to right the ship quickly so they don't settle back into the mid-to-lower part of the Pac-12, like they were before Chip Kelly and Mike Bellotti patrolled the sidelines there. 

HERMAN ODDS: +10,000

3. LSU
2016 RECORD: 3-2 (2-1, 3rd in SEC West)
CURRENT HEAD COACH: Ed Orgeron (interim, 1-0)

10/15 vs. Southern Miss
10/12 vs. 12 Ole Miss
11/5 vs. No. 1 Alabama
11/12 at No. 22 Arkansas
11/19 vs Univerity of South Alabama
11/24 at No. 6 Texas A&M

ODDS of AVAILABILITY: 100 percent

MITIGATING FACTORS: The advantages of this job are quite evident — the only Power Five program in a state that is one of the top ten states for high school talent every single year, a rabid fan base, and top notch facilities and resources. The downsides of the job are equally evident — Nick Saban is on your schedule every year and you're dealing with an administration that is an inarguable kook show. Also, do you want to work for a school that essentially flushes a season down the toilet by firing the head coach in September, which unwittingly creates a distraction for about a dozen other coaches around the world of college football?


2. USC
2016 RECORD: 3-3 (2-2, 4th in Pac-12 South)
CURRENT HEAD COACH: Clay Helton (2nd year, 9-7)

10/15 at Arizona
10/27 vs. Cal
11/5 vs. Oregon
11/12 at No. 5 Washington
11/19 at UCLA
11/26 vs. Notre Dame

ODDS of AVAILABILITY: 50 percent

MITIGATING FACTORS: If you lived through the Pete Carroll Era, it's crazy to see USC in the state they're in now, flush with talent but unable to really scare anybody anymore. Being in his first full season as head coach, I think Helton probably only gets fired if Lynn Swann (the AD) knows that he has a better candidate (read: Herman, Southern California native) ready to say "Yes." The one thing helping Helton right now is that, aside from Washington, all the big games on the schedule (Arizona, Oregon, UCLA, Notre Dame) are easier than they initially looked heading into the season. The Trojans are the number two team on most Herman lists, when you factor in what we guess his criteria might be (since none of us really knows). 


2016 RECORD: 2-3 (0-2, 8th in Big XII)
CURRENT HEAD COACH: Charlie Strong (3rd year, 13-17)

10/15 vs. Iowa State
10/22 at Kansas State
10/29 vs. No. 11 Baylor
11/5 at Texas Tech
11/12 vs. No. 20 West Virginia
11/19 at Kansas
11/25 vs. TCU

ODDS of AVAILABILITY: 95 percent

MITIGATING FACTORS: With at least two more losses somewhere on that schedule, and the Notre Dame win getting less and less impressive retroactively by the week, Strong seems as good as gone. His successor (okay, Herman) would be inheriting some quality recruiting classes and a conference that offers a path of far less resistance to the College Football Playoff than, say, the SEC  or the Pac-12. You have your own TV network, first dibs on recruits in the state of Texas, and resources out the wazoo. If you're Tom Herman, your recruiting rolodex requires virtually no adjustment from the job you're in right now, except you're now in on EVERY recruit in Texas, not just the second- and third-tier guys. 


Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.

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