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College Football Coaching Carousel 2023: Who Replaces Coaches on the Hot Seat?

Garrett Riley, Clemson

Now about one month into the 2023 college football season, we are starting to get a general idea of which teams will develop into contenders this fall and which teams may be watching bowl season from home. Naturally, that means the 2023 coaching carousel is starting to come into focus and what's college football without a little bit of wild speculation? With numerous Power Five posts likely to open, here's who I envision taking over for each expected vacancy.

Baylor Bears

The Situation: Dave Aranda was dealt the unenviable task of following up Matt Rhule's impressive rebuild in Waco but after a turbulent 2020, Baylor won 12 games and a Big 12 Title in '21. Aranda was one of the most coveted coaching names in college football but instead decided to stay firm, signing a massive extension with the school that was set to keep him in town through 2029. Less than two full years later, Aranda's stock is an all-time low, with Baylor sitting at 1-3 after a humiliating loss to Texas. It's not just the on-field results, either. Recruiting has completely stalled since Joey McGuire left to take the Texas Tech head coach job and there's an energy around the program that feels distinctively off. There's still time for Aranda to turn things around, but in the fast-paced world of college football coaching, it wouldn't be a shock to see a new head man patrolling the Baylor sidelines in 2024.

The Replacement - Garrett Riley (Clemson OC): After winning the Broyles Award and helping lead TCU to a National Championship Game appearance, Garrett Riley was one of the flashiest hires of the 2023 coaching carousel. It felt like a statement for Dabo Swinney after two "down" years at Clemson, landing an elite offensive mind who was rising quickly up the coaching ladder. Although the Tigers have been a disappointment up to this point, Riley seems to be finding his rhythm as the team's play-caller and should remain a popular coaching candidate into the offseason. He makes plenty of sense for Baylor, as he checks nearly all the important boxes. He's a Texas native knows the intricacies of the state, he's an innovative offensive mind that should jolt an offense that has become lethargic under Aranda, and at 34 years of age, he can grow into the position. It feels like only a matter of time before Garrett is a head man and although jumping straight to a Power Five head coaching job is a sizable leap, this just feels right.

Other Names to Watch: Jeff Traylor (UTSA HC), Willie Fritz (Tulane HC), Jamey Chadwell (Liberty HC), G.J. Kinne (Texas State HC), Maurice Linguist (Buffalo HC)

Boston College Eagles

The Situation: A Northeast native with both college and NFL coaching experience, Jeff Hafley was considered a shrewd hire by Boston College after the program rid itself of Steve Addazio post-2019. The early returns were impressive, with Hafley going 6-5 during the wacky 2020 season and making early recruiting waves, but things have gone downhill in short order. After going 6-6 in 2021, Hafley is 4-13 since, including a 2-8 mark inside the ACC. So far this fall, the Eagles looked like they might be turning a corner by putting a fright into Florida State, but followed it up with a four-touchdown loss to Louisville. Things feel stale here, and I don't envision BC keeping Hafley for much longer, even if this isn't a football program known for its deep pocketbooks.

The Replacement - Joe Harasymiak (Rutgers DC): There's not an obvious direction Boston College would be looking for their next head coach, assuming they move on from Hafley this offseason. With that being said, Rutgers defensive coordinator Joe Harasymiak makes plenty of sense. BC fans may be hesitant of another coach with ties to Greg Schiano, as Hafley coached with the current Rutgers head man at multiple stops, but Harasymiak has built a strong resume throughout his time in the collegiate ranks. He was head man at Maine and spent time with Minnesota before joining Schiano's staff. He's built a quality defense in Piscataway and will get looks for head coaching vacancies this offseason. Harasymiak could be considered an up-and-comer at 37 years of age but previous head coaching experience, even at the FCS level, is a major selling point in his favor.

Other Names to Watch: Joe Rossi (Minnesota DC), Al Washington (Notre Dame DL Coach), Chris Creighton (Eastern Michigan HC), Manny Diaz (Penn State DC)

Houston Cougars

The Situation: After nearly a decade in charge at West Virginia, Dana Holgorsen made the surprising decision to bolt to Houston, then a Group of Five program. As the Cougars have made the move to the Big 12, the program feels ready for bigger and better things, but Dana just hasn't delivered. It certainly hasn't been a complete disaster; the 12-2 2021 season felt like the beginning of a new era for Houston football, but the Cougars have gone 10-7 since. There were rumors last winter that Houston brass was set to fire the 52-year old and an uninspired 2-2 start likely isn't going to calm the waters. It feels like a change is needed, and Houston is going to be willing to throw around money to land a big name.

The Replacement - Tom Herman (Florida Atlantic HC): Is this just wishful thinking on my end? Tom Herman's Houston teams in 2015 and 2016 were among my favorite college football teams in recent memory and it feels like a real possibility the two could meet up again. Herman is trying to claw his way back up the college football coaching world after being let go at Texas, and his current position at Florida Atlantic feels like a pit stop. Houston, on the other hand, has been solid since Herman left town, but doesn't feel like a program fulfilling its vast potential. Herman knows what it takes to win here and even though the college football landscape has changed aplenty since 2016, I love the idea of a reunion.

Other Names to Watch: Jeff Traylor (UTSA HC), G.J. Kinne (Texas State HC), Doug Belk (Houston DC), Kliff Kingsbury (former Texas Tech HC, USC analyst & QB coach), Zack Kittley (Texas Tech OC), Blake Baker (Missouri DC)

Indiana Hoosiers

The Situation: Kevin Wilson's abrupt resignation in 2016 led to Indiana alum Tom Allen being promoted from the team's defensive coordinator position to head coach. Following a pair of 5-7 campaigns, Allen delivered two of the most successful seasons in Bloomington since longtime head man Bill Mallory, going 8-5 in 2019 and 6-2 in 2020. Allen seemed like the ideal fit for the program, a coach with infectious energy who loves everything about the Hoosiers. Unfortunately, the wins since then just haven't shown up, as Allen is 8-20 overall and a lowly 2-17 in the Big Ten over the last two-plus years. It looks like it will be another season in the Big Ten cellar for the Hoosiers, enough to make Indiana brass look for a change in direction. It's unfortunate because Allen does truly seem like a great guy, but big-time college football is a business and winning means everything.

The Replacement - Sean Lewis (Colorado OC): 37-year old Sean Lewis took an unconventional route this past offseason when he opted to move on from a head coaching post at Kent State to join up with "Coach Prime" as Colorado offensive coordinator. You just don't see that very often in this day and age, an FBS head coach choosing to step into an OC role. But the decision appears to be paying dividends, as Lewis has been in the spotlight this entire fall and will almost surely get another crack at a head coaching position. Indiana seems like a reasonable landing spot, as Lewis is a Wisconsin alum with plenty of familiarity with the Midwest. For Indiana fans, this gives them a chance at an elite offensive mind whose 24-31 mark at Kent State doesn't wow you, but is extremely impressive given the lack of resources at that program.

Other Names to Watch: Chris Creighton (Eastern Michigan HC), Kane Wommack (South Alabama HC), Jason Candle (Toledo HC), Ryan Grubb (Washington OC), Brian Hartline (Ohio State OC)

Michigan State Spartans

The Situation: Less than two years ago, Mel Tucker was riding high, leading Michigan State to a dream 2021 season and earning a 10-year, $95 million contract. Fast forward to this September, it seems unlikely that Tucker, who is currently suspended, will coach again at MSU. He was suspended in mid-September as a result of sexual harassment allegations and the university has already announced that they have begun the process to fire him. It's likely to be a messy process for both sides but in a strictly football sense, the Michigan State job holds plenty of value to potential head coaches. This has remained a quality program with ample resources, bolstered by an administration and booster base not afraid to spend money. There are several notable names that may be interested in taking the jump to East Lansing this fall.

The Replacement - Mike Elko (Duke HC): Mike Elko is going to be a popular name this coaching carousel, particularly if he can keep the momentum going in Durham after Duke's 4-0 start. Elko had already established a name for himself as defensive coordinator at Texas A&M and Notre Dame, but his work as Duke head man has been incredibly impressive. He took over a program mired in mediocrity and has delivered a 13-4 start, including a throttling of Clemson to begin the year. The Blue Devils will undoubtedly pull out all the stops to keep him in town, but it wouldn't be shocking to see a program with more resources lure him away, and Michigan State could be it. Elko doesn't have direct ties to the program nor the Big Ten, but has experience coaching in the Midwest and would be the type of steady, level-headed coach the program needs as they transition away from the Tucker era.

Other Names to Watch: Harlon Barnett (interim HC), Brian Hartline (Ohio State OC), Pat Narduzzi (Pittsburgh HC), Jim Leonhard (former Wisconsin interim HC, Illinois analyst), Mike Tressel (Wisconsin DC)

Northwestern Wildcats

The Situation: Scandal brought down Pat Fitzgerald after a decade-and-a-half in charge in Evanston but even before things broke this past July, the Wildcat football program was going in the wrong direction. Northwestern had gone just 4-20 in the two seasons since winning the Big Ten West during the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign and the prognosis for 2023 didn't look altogether encouraging. Interim head man David Braun has gone 2-2 in a nearly impossible situation, but I suspect the Wildcats are looking for a new figurehead to lead them into a new era. For as successful as Fitzgerald was, and there's little denying he was, Northwestern remains a difficult job that could only get tougher as USC, UCLA, Oregon, and Washington arrive.

The Replacement - Mike Kafka (New York Giants OC): This would be a dream scenario for Northwestern after a turbulent few months, bringing home an alum who has quickly ascended up the coaching ladder in the NFL. Kafka, who played QB in Evanston from 2006-2009, served one season as a grad assistant here before moving on the NFL, where he has become a head coaching candidate. The New York Giants offensive coordinator, Kafka interviewed for NFL HC vacancies over the offseason, but the allure of returning home is likely to be a strong one. Going back to the collegiate game after a long stint in the NFL would be an adjustment, but Northwestern will be very patient with the alum and at the very least, he's going to put up enough points to satisfy fans starved for offensive football.

Other Names to Watch: David Braun (interim HC), Jim Leonhard (former Wisconsin interim HC, Illinois analyst), Bronco Mendenhall (former Virginia HC), Sherrone Moore (Michigan OC), Jason Candle (Toledo HC)

Other Potential Vacancies to Watch

Arkansas State Red Wolves (Butch Jones): Arkansas State has traditionally been a stepping stone job and I'm sure Butch Jones believed it was the spot to get his career back on track. Instead, the Red Wolves have gone 7-21 under his leadership, including a horrific 77-0 loss to Oklahoma to open up the fall.

California Golden Bears (Justin Wilcox): Justin Wilcox has been about as average as you can be in the world of college football, going 32-38 over his time in Berkeley. He's had to face down brutal COVID restrictions and an uncertain future for Bear football, but a third straight full season without a bowl trip could doom him.

Memphis Tigers (Ryan Silverfield): Memphis made two incredibly strong head coach hires back-to-back, with Justin Fuente and Mike Norvell. Ryan Silverfield just hasn't been able to live up to those two, going 24-17 overall and sub-.500 within the American Athletic Conference.

Mississippi State Bulldogs (Zach Arnett): The tragic passing of Mike Leach this past offseason led Mississippi State to promote defensive coordinator Zach Arnett, but you wonder if the administration is having buyer's remorse. Arnett has looked outclassed in the brutal SEC during a 2-2 start, and it's not crazy to think the program could look for an immediate change-of-pace to usher in a new era of Bulldog football.

Nevada Wolf Pack (Ken Wilson): Jay Norvell's surprising decision to move inside the Mountain West to take the Colorado State job left Nevada moving forward with Oregon co-DC Ken Wilson in 2021. Wilson knows the program, coaching here from 1989-2012, but his return as head man has been a disaster. The Wolf Pack have lost 14 of 16 games and are currently among the worst in FBS ball.

New Mexico Lobos (Danny Gonzales): New Mexico is a notoriously difficult place to win, but Danny Gonzales just hasn't done enough to warrant a fifth season in charge in 2024. He's 9-26 with the Lobos and currently sits at 2-2 on the season.

Texas A&M Aggies (Jimbo Fisher): This could be the ultimate dynamo to fall this coaching carousel. Jimbo Fisher would still be owed a staggering $77 million if he were to be fired after 2023, but if the Aggies suffer through another brutal fall it's not out of the realm of possibility for them to pay up. This is a job that would certainly attract major names if it were to open including Kalen DeBoer, Dan Lanning, and Deion Sanders.

West Virginia Mountaineers (Neal Brown): Has West Virginia's 3-1 start cooled off Neal Brown's seat enough? That appears to be case for the time being, but the program remains mired in mediocrity and Brown has been under pressure for years at this point.

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