By Ryan Mayer, CBS Local Sports
The NCAA football coaching roulette wheel has begun to spin as seven jobs have opened up at this point in the season. Among the job openings, we have several high profile programs looking for their next leader. USC, South Carolina, Miami, Maryland, Illinois and now Minnesota, all Power 5 schools, all have head coaching vacancies to fill before next year. UCF and North Texas are the two Group of 5 schools that will be in the market.
With these jobs coming open there will be plenty of rumors, speculation, and debate about who the best coaching candidates are to fill these positions. You'll hear the list of hot, young coordinators/head coaches that are looking to make the jump to the next level. The more interesting question however, is which job offers the best opportunity for a coach.
UCF is intriguing because of the Orlando-area talent pool, but isn't going to be contending for national titles. North Texas is a spot for a young coach to build his resume by turning the Mean Green around after a disastrous season this year. Minnesota and Illinois, both Big Ten schools, are good jobs, but also tough ones as they don't offer inherent recruiting advantages in-state, and they're consistently competing against Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State, for the best recruits in the Midwest. It's going to be a tough road to hoe at either program. That leaves four schools that could be considered the best openings.
USC - One of the blue blood programs in the sport. The program tradition is rich here with multiple national championships and a long history of putting players in the NFL. Their facilities are top notch with the $70 million dollar McKay Center having opened in 2012 and the historical LA Coliseum being used as the team's stadium for home games. The recruiting base in California is strong. The problem for me here is the AD in Pat Haden. He's struck out with Steve Sarkisian and held on to Lane Kiffin too long, but more importantly he's handled their firings poorly. He let go of Kiffin in the airport following a game and had no problem with emailing Sarkisian to tell him he was fired. That to me signals a lack of interpersonal skills. They also play in the Pac-12 which has quickly become arguably the toughest conference in the country. It's not going to be as easy for a coach to come in and just dominate they way the Trojans have previously under Pete Carroll, John Robinson, and John McKay.
South Carolina - The tradition isn't strong with the Gamecocks, at least prior to Steve Spurrier's 11 years with the team. They do boast membership in the SEC's weaker division (East) which means the opportunity to reach the conference championship is definitely there. Recruiting is tough in-state, so this is a better job for someone who, like Spurrier, already has ties or has made inroads in the football hotbeds of Texas, Florida, etc.
Miami - Hurricanes alumni are fed up with losing. I get it. The history is rich here with the Jimmie Johnson teams of the 80's followed up by the Butch Davis/Larry Coker teams in the late 90's, early 2000's. Randy Shannon and Al Golden haven't worked out. Part of that comes from the NCAA sanctions levied surrounding the Shapiro investigation. That's not the only problem here.
The recruiting base in South Florida is top notch, and the tradition/alumni are great. The advantage for any coach here is in their relationship with the alumni. If you have Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Warren Sapp, etc. on the sidelines at games, that's star power that draws in recruits. The problem is, the university isn't willing/able to spend the money that top coaches are being paid. Al Golden was the 42nd highest paid coach. On top of that, they don't have their own stadium so they play in Sun Life (Dolphins Stadium) which is sub-optimal. The Hurricanes want to bring "The U" swagger back. Maybe they can, but it's not going to be easy.
Maryland - There's one main reason that Maryland is in this conversation: Under Armour. The CEO Kevin Plank is a graduate of Maryland and the company is the school's official gear provider for athletics. That can be a huge advantage in college football, just ask Oregon. If Under Armour pours the same kind of support into this program as Nike did to Oregon, this job could be the best on the list. Not just for the advantage that the Under Armour partnership brings, but because the school's tradition is still waiting to be written. The coach that helps make them into a power will be remembered as the architect of the program the way Chip Kelly is at Oregon.
All told, USC is the best job available. The Trojans will have their pick of the litter for their next coach. The Terrapins, and that Under Armour sponsorship, combined with an administration that is invested in the football program is the next best opening. Win big there, and you put a stamp on the landscape and the history of college football.
Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that's where you'll find him.
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