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CFB Coaching Carousel 2023: Evaluating Candidates to Replace Jimbo Fisher

Dan Lanning, Oregon

As compared to the last several years, the 2023 college football coaching carousel has been a quiet one, but the potential of a Jimbo Fisher firing seemed to loom over the entire cycle. This weekend that possibility turned into reality, with Texas A&M swallowing $75 million in buyout money to rid themselves of the sixth-year head coach. Jimbo will take that money and enjoy a vacation somewhere, but for A&M, the move seems to ramp up the pressure on the program. Since moving to the SEC, Texas A&M has been routinely "good" but is there a coach out there that can take them to elite status? I evaluate ten possible options to usher in a new era on the gridiron in College Station.

The Short List

There will be an abundance of names tossed around for such a high-profile, but these names are the ones I consider most likely. Not only do I think A&M would want them, but I believe the interest would likely be mutual.

Dan Lanning, Oregon Head Coach

The last three years of Dan Lanning's career should make every football coach in America jealous. He was the architect of one of the best defenses in college football history back in 2021 for the National Champion Georgia Bulldogs, and has followed it up with a pair of impressive seasons as head coach at Oregon. After a 10-3 debut, he has the Ducks firmly entrenched in the College Football Playoff mix, a feat Oregon has not achieved since 2014. At 37 years of age with a 19-4 career record and reputation an elite recruiter, it seems the sky is the limit for Lanning - and he should absolutely be on A&M's short list. Now, he doesn't have any obvious ties to the Aggies, but there are still powerful enough incentives for him to consider a move. For one, he'll get a chance to get back in the SEC and work in one of the best recruiting bases in the United States, but even more alluring? Lanning would reel in a staggering amount of money from A&M, likely quite a bit more than the $7 million he current makes with Oregon. It's hard to dismiss that amount of life-saving money, no matter Lanning's long-term priorities in Eugene.

Mike Elko, Duke Head Coach

Mike Elko's coaching stock has taken a bit of a hit due to the unfortunate injury to star QB Riley Leonard, but the Duke head man should still be an attractive name to suitors this winter. After a long and successful run as a defensive coordinator, including a four-year run as the A&M defensive coordinator, he's impressed in two seasons in charge at Duke. Elko has gone 15-8 with the Blue Devils up to this point, which becomes much more impressive when you consider the program had won a total of just 10 games the three years prior to his arrival. It's clear that Elko knows how to come in and turn things around in a hurry, and his familiarity with the program is a major selling point. He understands the culture here and knows what it takes to be successful on at least one side of the ball - that shouldn't be overlooked. He's not as flashy as others I'll mention, but I believe he'd be a strong hire.

Jeff Traylor, UTSA Head Coach

If Texas A&M brass wants to stay inside the state and land a coach with deep Texas ties, they couldn't do a ton better than Jeff Traylor. The UTSA head man was born in the state and has spent nearly his entire career in Texas, with the lone exception being two-year stint with Arkansas. After taking over at UTSA, Traylor has gone 37-13, and is looking for his third straight season with double-digit victories. It hasn't been just beating up on lowly opponents, either. Traylor has taken the program from the C-USA to the American Athletic and retained their competitive edge, including an undefeated mark in the league up to this point in the fall. Certainly going from UTSA to Texas A&M would be a major leap, but it feels like it's only a matter of time before Traylor makes the jump to the Power Five. If not at A&M, two other Texas schools likely looking for new head coaches this offseason, Baylor and Houston, would likely be in the mix. 

The Long Shots

Sometimes, coaching short lists are based more in fantasy than reality. There are plenty of names out there that likely would never take this job but hey, what's college football without some wild speculation?

Urban Meyer, former Florida & Ohio State Head Coach

It's now been a half-decade since Urban Meyer was last coaching on a college football sideline, but we just can't quit with the idea of his eventual return to the collegiate ranks. Now that he's 59 years of age it's feeling even less likely, but is there any part of him that wants to scratch the itch? I'd venture to guess college football coaching is becoming even less attractive to him with the NIL and roster management changes of the last several years, but you just never know with a guy like Urban.

Mike Norvell, Florida State Head Coach

Could Texas A&M really go back into Tallahassee and steal away their head coach once again? Likely not - for a variety of reasons. While Jimbo Fisher seemed eager to move on from Florida State, Mike Norvell seems to throughly enjoy his current situation in Tallahassee, and he's fully supported by the university. Just as important, Norvell's Florida State program seems to be on the rise, while Jimbo's was starting to feel stale when he left, several years removed from a National Title and the heights of the Jameis Winston era. SEC money may be enticing, but I'm not sure it's enough to swing Norvell to take this job based on where he's at in his career.

Dan Campbell, Detroit Lions Head Coach

We're past the days of successful NFL coaches returning to the collegiate ranks, but could the possibility of turning around his alma mater be enough to sway Dan Campbell? The former A&M tight end is 18-23 overall with the Lions, but has them shaping up to be an NFC Title contender this year. Campbell has become a fan favorite, both in Detroit and around the NFL, and if he did ever want to coach in college, he would likely kill it. But, the timing doesn't feel right with this one and even a notable name like Campbell likely wouldn't satisfy A&M brass considering his lack of college coaching experience.

The True "Home Run" Hires - But Unlikely

Kalen DeBoer, Washington Head Coach

What a job Kalen DeBoer has done in Seattle. DeBoer took over a program that had suffered through a horrendous stretch under Jimmy Lake and within two seasons, he has them competing for a College Football Playoff berth. It's not just the on-field success that makes him appealing to potential suitors, but also the way Washington plays. This is one of the most fun and exciting offenses anywhere in college football, enough to pack the stands anywhere in America. That's never an issue at Texas A&M, but for a program that dealt with years of Jimbo's frustrating offenses, this type of wide-open scheme would be a welcome change. But with Washington leaving for the Big Ten, it's likely Husky brass will pull out the red carpet to ensure their prized head man doesn't take off this winter.

Lance Leipold, Kansas Head Coach

No matter at what level or where in America, Lance Leipold does one thing: win. After six National Titles at his alma mater, Wisconsin-Whitewater, Leipold jumped to the FBS ranks and quickly turned around Buffalo, leading them to three straight bowls over his final three years there. Leipold again made the jump, this time to Kansas, and he has completely flipped the script at one of Power Five football's toughest locations. The Jayhawks have gone from 2-10, to 6-7, and are 7-3 and ranked in the Top 25, even after an upset loss to Texas Tech this past weekend. Much like Washington, Kansas decision-makers are going to do whatever they can to ensure Leipold is back for 2024 but the Texas A&M job just doesn't seem like the right for him, in my opinion. Leipold seems like the type of coach who would be fine staying in the Midwest at a job with less pressure, whether at Kansas long-term or somewhere else.

Jonathan Smith, Oregon State Head Coach

He's still not super well-known outside the Pacific Northwest, but Jonathan Smith is one of the best college football coaches in the country, full stop. The one-time Oregon State quarterback has done a wonderful job with his alma mater, leading the Beavers to their third consecutive winning season this fall, including an 18-5 mark in his last 23 games. It's going to be hard to peel him away from a school that he clearly adores, but Oregon State does have an uncertain football future and with a $2.4 million salary, plenty could offer Smith more money. But again, the fit here feels strange to me and I just can't wrap my head around it, even though I believe the credentials here are more than worthy.

Other Names to Watch

It feels like there's an endless list of options for this particular job. So in that spirit, here are even more to consider!

Glenn Schumann, Georgia Defensive Coordinator

Dan Lanning has gone from Georgia defensive coordinator to a winning head football coach - could Glenn Schumann be next? Schumann is a Kirby Smart disciple, the first coach Smart lured away from Alabama when he took over in Athens. That relationship alone would make it hard for him to move on, but Schumann's success on the defensive side of the ball speaks for itself. 

Jedd Fisch, Arizona Head Coach

Jedd Fisch has steadily progressed at Arizona, and has the Wildcats in the Top 25 in Year Three. It's been an impressive run for a coach that had begun to develop a reputation as a journeyman, and with how young Arizona's roster is, the future is incredibly bright. My bet is that Fisch, who has no obvious ties to A&M, would rather stay put here and cash in on that future than take his chances in College Station.

Brian Hartline, Ohio State Offensive Coordinator

One of the top recruiters in college football right now, Brian Hartline was recently promoted from his perch as Ohio State WR coach to the school's offensive coordinator. It's likely he'll keep on moving up the ranks, but it's hard to imagine what that next path would look like if he stays put in Columbus.

Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss Head Coach

Lane Kiffin is always a wild card, and it doesn't feel like Ole Miss is the end goal for the 48-year old head coach. For all the chaos and controversy that seems to follow Lane, there's no denying his success on the field, and a place like A&M would offer him nearly unlimited resources to build the roster of his choosing.

Deion Sanders, Colorado Head Coach

Deion may be in the midst of a four-game losing streak, but it feels like only a matter of time before a big-name program takes a swing at him. Despite sitting under .500 with the Buffaloes as things stand today, he's still accomplished a pretty impressive turnaround in one offseason, and the attention he brings with him is a selling point for many. 

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