Two of the 10 best jobs in the country are open, even if Texas hasn’t officially announced its parting with Charlie Strong. If Jimbo Fisher takes the LSU job this time — he was offered it last year, when the Tigers wound up changing their minds and keeping Les Miles — that would leave another prime spot vacant. This has the potential to be a dizzying November/December.
Texas is Tom Herman’s job to turn down. We’ve been saying and writing that for almost a year, but it has been true all along. He’s the best youngish coach in the country and maybe the third-best of any age. He balked on South Carolina last winter, but South Carolina is not Texas. Within the industry, the three best jobs in the nation are regarded as Texas, Florida and Ohio State.
(Since you asked: Alabama is a great job when a Paul Bryant or Nick Saban holds it, but how good was it for Ray Perkins, Bill Curry, Mike Dubose and Mike Shula? Didn’t Dennis Franchione leave Tuscaloosa for Texas A&M?)
Charlie Strong is well-liked in the industry — and in Austin — but a Texas coach cannot lose to Kansas, which Strong just did. Note to self, but not only to self: Early-season results must be taken with a ton of salt. Remember the Longhorns’ opening victory over Notre Dame? Remember Joe Tessitore’s unbelievably overheated call — “Texas is back!” — on ABC? Between them, Texas and Notre Dame are 9-13.
There’s a chance — a slight one — that Texas A&M could dump Kevin Sumlin if the Aggies lose to LSU on Thanksgiving night, but 8-4 with a new quarterback mightn’t be a firing offense. (Then again, Mark Richt was 9-3 last year with a new quarterback.) The feeling during last year’s College Football Playoff was that Herman would soon be able to pick between Austin and College Station, but even if that occurs, that’s no real choice. Texas is the better job. Texas will always be the better job.
Herman is the big domino but not the key domino. That’s Fisher. If he wants the LSU job — it’s believed he does — he can have it. (Those Tigers were spared the mistake of keeping interim-coach-to-the-world Ed Orgeron on a permanent basis by the wretched loss to Florida.) But if it’s Jimbo to Baton Rouge, who’s the new man for FSU?
There’s no obvious candidate in the way that Fisher-to-LSU — he worked there under Saban — is obvious. North Carolina’s Larry Fedora and Colorado’s Mike MacIntyre — the latter will be the national coach of the year — are buzzy names as we speak, but they’re seen as possibilities for Baylor, not a place like FSU. (And if Fedora leaves Chapel Hill, that would open the door for Gene Chizik, who’s the Tar Heel defensive coordinator and who was fired at Auburn two years after winning a national title.)
As crazy as it sounds, there might be some sentiment in Tallahassee for Jeremy Pruitt, who has technically never been a collegiate head coach but who was the defensive coordinator on Florida State’s 2013 national championship team; who’s the DC on the nation’s No. 1 team now and who, over two years in Athens, was Georgia’s de facto co-head coach. There was speculation last season that he really wanted the Central Florida job that went to Scott Frost, who’d been Oregon’s offensive coordinator. Imagine if Pruitt stumps the band and hooks an even bigger job.
While on the topic of Florida coaches, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say a word about the University of Florida’s latest head ball coach. Jim McElwain has won consecutive SEC East titles without much of an offense, which says a lot about the SEC East but also something about Jimmy Mac. If his recruiting holds up — and any Florida coach should be able to recruit — the Gators will well and truly be on to something.
Oh, and one thing more: The hidden hand of the agent Jimmy Sexton cannot be understated in any coaching decisions. He represents nearly every coach in the South. As much as we on the periphery might think we know what will happen, only Sexton knows for sure. Know how big a deal Scott Boras is in baseball? Sexton is a far bigger deal in college football. Far bigger, I say.