College football coaching musical chairs is off to an early start. Tim Beckman did not reach the 2015 season. Maryland cut ties with Randy Edsall. Steve Sarkisian’s demons cost him the USC job. Steve Spurrier announced his abrupt retirement. Before rounding the bend into late October, four Power 5 jobs are available.
Much will be made about which coach could or should go where and the merits of particular jobs in the coming months. Below, we have the Power 5 jobs ranked, in tiers.
These rankings don’t reflect the current status of each program. Many jobs look better thanks to the current occupants. Some appear worse. The rankings are based on the raw material and potential each position would offer the next prospective coach. If your coach succeeds with less, that’s a credit to him.
TIER 1: SCHOOLS WITHOUT A CEILING
No college football job is perfect. The positions below are as close as they come. Any school can make a bad coaching hire. At these schools, that’s the only limitation. No one leaves these jobs under normal circumstances. Not competing for a conference title almost every year is failure.
Alabama: You can recruit the nation’s top class and compete for a national title every year. We know this, because Nick Saban is doing it. Make sure the superfans are kept at a safe distance.
Georgia: Georgia is one of the nation’s best recruiting states. UGA is the only relevant in-state recruiting power. SEC West passion and enthusiasm with an SEC East schedule. This may be the nation’s best job.
Florida: Florida is the best recruiting state. The Gators are the only in-state program offering SEC football. When they hire the right man, national titles happen.
LSU: Les Miles has been to two national title games. It’s not even clear he can coach on Saturdays. That’s the type of talent one finds in Louisiana.
Michigan: It’s Michigan fergodsakes. The Wolverines have the strongest brand in college football. They can pull recruits from anywhere. They no longer have Dave Brandon trying to build the future.
Notre Dame: Tradition, if you’re into that sort of thing. The Irish have to recruit nation-wide. They have the resources to do just that.
Ohio State: Ohio State’s worst hire since the 1950s won three Big Ten titles, ran off six-straight Top 15 seasons, and was elected to the CFB HOF.
Tennessee: Tennessee is a traditional SEC power. You can recruit there. It can be one of the nation’s top revenue programs. The difference between Tennessee and Alabama? Hiring Derek Dooley instead of Nick Saban.
Texas: Texas has access to talent and unparalleled largess. Austin is amazing. Steve Patterson is gone. Just keep the self-important private jet crowd happy.
USC: Take Notre Dame or Michigan’s tradition. Drop it in Los Angeles with great weather and one of the nation’s prime recruiting grounds.
TIER 2: CLOSE BUT NOT QUITE THERE
These jobs are very good to great, just missing something. Winning a national title here comes as no shock. Neither would a coach leaving for a better, different opportunity.
Auburn: Awesome in theory. Unstable in practice. The last three coaches have had an undefeated season. The last three coaches were run out of town after sub-.500 ones. But they love Gus, surely.
Clemson: The Tigers have SEC passion, boosters, and atmosphere. They have an ACC budget and schedule.
Florida State: First-tier access to talent and first-tier expectations. Second-tier budget and conference affiliation.
Miami: The small, not well supported private school with tradition and enough talent to win a national title within reasonable driving distance.
Oklahoma: Oklahoma is a job where you can stay and win. But, Texas recruiting is far more competitive than even a few years ago. The last Sooner class that ranked in the Top 10 came in 2010. Not clear how much of the staleness is Stoops.
Oregon: Phil Knight money gets you facilities and flashy uniforms. Recruiting has picked up under Helfrich. It’s still hard to win when finding 2-3 players in-state is a good year.
Penn State: Penn State has the tradition. It has the fan support. But, a coach has to forge a new identity there. The recruiting region is more competitive than it was during Paterno’s peak.
Texas A&M: The program that Johnny and Kevin built. A&M has always been a football school. The SEC move changed the paradigm in Texas moving forward.
UCLA: The AD has been behind on spending money, building facilities, hiring the right people. UCLA is still a name-brand program and Los Angeles isn’t a hard sell.
TIER 3: SOLID BUT UNSPECTACULAR
A great coach can win consistently at these schools. But, there are still significant obstacles to overcome.
Arizona State: Girls. Great Weather. Big program. Upgraded facilities and stadium. Kids love the uniforms, we’re told.
Arkansas: SEC. Big Revenue. Decent recruiting base. In the same division as Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M.
Iowa: Solid tradition. Incredible job security. Must be able to work with scant in-state recruiting base.
Michigan State: Large, well supported program. Most years, you have to be able to develop players Michigan, Notre Dame, and Ohio State overlooked.
Missouri: The SEC move has been favorable. The recruiting base is decent. The ceiling is high. The floor could crumble without Gary Pinkel.
Nebraska: A blueblood program stranded in the B1G West, away from its traditional rivals and recruiting grounds. Long way from the Tom Osborne days, or even Frank Solich.
North Carolina: There’s no reason for UNC not to be a football power. The state produces talent. It’s a name-brand school. Hire the right guy. Hold actual college courses. It should work.
North Carolina State: Upgraded stadium and facilities. Quite decent recruiting area. Willing administration. Why hasn’t this worked, yet?
Oklahoma State: T-Boone Money. Strong facilities. Mike Gundy has had success there. Its still not Oklahoma or Texas.
South Carolina: Profile has risen since joining the SEC. Still have to compete with Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee without recruiting like them. Has taken great coaches to get good results.
Virginia: Great school. Solid recruiting area. Not that much standing in the way of them. Major limiting factor has been head coach ability.
Virginia Tech: Been a solid program for decades. It has a strong recruiting base. What happens when Frank Beamer leaves?
Washington: Used to be a national contender, clear second to USC. Has been major casualty as Oregon and others in the Pac 12 have risen.
Wisconsin: Quality football culture accompanied by academic restrictions, financial restrictions, and cold weather. Have to turn unheralded line recruits into high draft picks to win.
TIER 4: PLUM PRIVATE JOBS, NOT SO PLUM PUBLIC ONES
You can win at these jobs. You need to build that winning culture from the ground up.
Arizona: Good weather. Upgraded facilities. Still fourth best job in its division, at best.
Baylor: Brand has improved markedly from Big 12 doormat. New stadium. Great recruiting area. How much does the Briles effect linger?
BYU: Strong football tradition. Weak schedule. Unique challenges given the school’s religious affiliation.
California: Nice location for living and recruiting. New facilities. Just not a football power.
Georgia Tech: In an outstanding SEC recruiting state, offering mediocre ACC football, academics, and an unfavorable male-to-female ratio.
Illinois: Decent recruiting base by B1G standards. It’s still a basketball school.
Kentucky: It’s still a basketball school, but with an SEC football budget. The right guy who can recruit can get into Ohio and the SEC states and make some things happen, but with a ceiling.
Louisville: Louisville has moved from Conference USA to the ACC under Tom Jurich. He has hired great coaches and convinced them to stay. Are they big enough to sustain football success without him?
Maryland: Surrounding talent. Near a major city. Under Armour’s flagship school. Can you build something? In theory. Will it be enough to beat Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State consistently?
Minnesota: New stadium. Ice Cream in the Snow. Have to do more with a lot less.
Mississippi: It’s the sixth best job in the SEC West. You can get players to come there. Sustaining competition year after year is hard. Going on 50-plus years without a conference title.
Mississippi State: Definite 7th best job in SEC West. Have to max out just to be relevant.
Oregon State: Oregon without the imaging or the Nike money. They’re renovating facilities. They rebranded. Really hard to recruit to Corvallis.
Pittsburgh: Some football tradition. Reasonable recruiting base. Stupidly large breakfasts, if you’re into that. Lame NFL stadium.
Rutgers: New York’s team! In theory, a coach could turn in-state recruits and B1G affiliation into something. Still just a theory. AD is a disaster area.
Stanford: Great location, a lot to offer. Some tradition. Have to recruit kids who can get into Stanford. Harbaugh and Shaw have made competing here look far easier than it is.
TCU: Patterson has built up the brand. Now a major conference program, with solid facilities in a great recruiting area. What happens when he leaves?
Texas Tech: Not impossible to build there. But, it’s hard to recruit to Lubbock. Kids that are now going to Baylor/TCU aren’t going to Texas Tech.
Utah: Status has improved since joining the Pac 12. Utah produces some players. Still hard to recruit enough talent to compete with USC and UCLA consistently.
West Virginia: Some recent tradition of success. Strong home field advantage. But, they are isolated geographically. Very hard to recruit.
TIER 5: PROGRAMS AT A SIGNIFICANT DISADVANTAGE
These programs have more weaknesses than strengths. Regular bowl play means you’re doing something good.
Boston College: Small private school. Not a college football town, or region.
Colorado: Tradition fades with each passing year. Colorado can’t land kids in Colorado. There’s potential there, after a thankless, comprehensive rebuilding project.
Duke: A basketball school with tough academics.
Indiana: It’s the 7th best job in the B1G East and a basketball school. Hard to recruit enough depth to compete with the rest of the conference, especially on defense.
Iowa State: Iowa, without any of the positives. Ceiling is a bowl game and pulling off the odd upset.
Kansas: Basketball school. Second-fiddle in a weak recruiting state. A long tunnel with no apparent light. Hard to fumigate the Charlie Weis.
Kansas State: Have to make lemonade with two-star recruits and JUCO transfers. Every positive of this job may be Bill Snyder magic that disappears when he finally retires for good.
Northwestern: Every school in your conference has better tradition, has an easier time recruiting (and getting recruits into school), and will fill at least 40 percent of your stadium during every home game. Have at it.
Purdue: Meh campus. No real recruiting base. School that doesn’t really want to invest in putting out a quality football product. Sounds like a good time.
Syracuse: It has been a Top 20 program in the past. Up-state New York, winter snowstorms, and a meh crowd in a dome are a tough sell. Will be harder to win moving forward in a tougher conference.
Wake Forest: Small, private basketball school obligated to field a football team.
Washington State: It’s remote. It’s isolated and it’s hard to get recruits there, even with a charismatic coach.
Vanderbilt: Small, private school. Overwhelmed in the SEC.