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Coaching carousel, championship weekend: It turns out nobody was safe

The early hires from this season’s coaching cycle showed just how chaotic this sport can become.

SMU v Cincinnati
Head coach Luke Fickell of the Cincinnati Bearcats looks on in the fourth quarter against the SMU Mustangs at Nippert Stadium on November 20, 2021 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Once again the weekly Hot Seat column will be tweaked to reflect the coaching landscape in college football. A lot of people could’ve seen Dan Mullen, Ed Orgeron, Jimmy Lake, Justin Fuente and many others get shown the door during this season. What people may not have been able to foresee was the chaos to follow.

Any time jobs like USC, LSU and Florida open up at the same time, there is some buzz. These are not just bluebloods. These are bluebloods attempting to re-stake their claim as bluebloods. That’s a dangerous thing, and it’s led to complete disarray.

Lincoln Riley and Brian Kelly, coaching at powerhouse programs in their own right in Oklahoma and Notre Dame respectively, bolted for USC and LSU. Kelly left before his team learned its fate in the College Football Playoff, where it realistically needed just a few results to be in. Riley decided to take go out West to fertile recruiting grounds without the SEC competition. By those accounts, Florida’s hire of Billy Napier was the most straightforward move. And those moves were only the tip of the iceberg.

Across the country, coaches started signing extensions. And we weren’t talking about two or three years deals for a small raise. We’re talking decade-long contracts in the $100 million ballpark. Michigan State, Penn State and Ole Miss didn’t want to sit around and wait for their coach to flirt with a big-name brand. Wake Forest was quick with an extension for Dave Clawson. Even Nebraska decided to keep Scott Frost around for at least another season to avoid joining the madness of a coaching search. No matter how big you think your school is, there’s someone out there at a bigger school with a blank cheque. Look for Baylor, Oregon, Pitt and Oklahoma State to follow suit in the coming days.

With all this activity, there are still some jobs to be filled and situations to monitor. Let’s dive in.

Oklahoma

With Riley gone, the Sooners are having to unexpectedly pivot ahead of their move to the SEC. Will Matt Campbell, Luke Fickell or any other coach be willing to take this gig knowing there’s a gauntlet coming up shortly? Oklahoma doesn’t have the natural football talent states like Louisiana, Georgia, Florida and Texas have. This is one of those programs where there is plenty of tradition and success but the road ahead is very daunting.

Cincinnati

Luke Fickell would’ve been a candidate for the Notre Dame gig, but the Irish decided to hire a coach due to the CFP implications of not having one in place. Now the Bearcats are likely headed to the Playoff, meaning Fickell will have to sit tight when it comes to exploring future options. And since Cincinnati is headed to the Big 12, there will be some extra cash coming Fickell’s way if he chooses to stay. He’s more of an extension candidate than a poach candidate at this point.

Iowa State

Matt Campbell seems to be the next name on the list. The Cyclones underwhelmed this season but Campbell has worked wonders in Ames over the course of his run there. If he bolts, where will the Cyclones turn?

Virginia, Duke

Bronco Mendenhall resigned in stunning fashion at the end of the season, so the Cavaliers have to find a new head coach. Coastal Carolina’s Jamey Chadwell could be a name for this opening. Virginia isn’t a football powerhouse but that also means lowered expectations for the incoming coach. Rivals Virginia Tech just hired a new coach as well, so there’s an immediate measuring stick for both programs. Duke is also looking for a new coach after “mutually parting ways” with longtime lead guy David Cutcliffe. These are basketball powers looking to gain some relevance in football in the ACC. It’ll be interesting to see where they go.

Florida State, Miami, California

Who even knows anymore with these three schools? The Seminoles and Hurricanes need to hire athletic directors, so the fate of Mike Norvell and Manny Diaz hinges on those hires. These are two schools who consider themselves football blue bloods, even if the recent record suggests otherwise. Cal has become a dumpster fire this season but there’s a chance the Bears decide the pandemic had a bigger impact on Justin Wilcox’s team than any of the coach’s shortcomings.