10 College Football Head Coaches Poised For Huge Promotions
Which of today’s college football head coaches are bucking for big promotions and hefty pay raises with another year or two of solid results on the field?
If you had to handpick a dozen current head coaches with the highest ceilings in college football, who’d they be? Who’s most likely to be hotly pursued to fill openings in November and December? Put differently, who’ll be this year’s P.J. Fleck or Tom Herman or Willie Taggart, that upwardly mobile head guy set to parlay on-field success into a much bigger spotlight in 2018?
Because no one knows what the future may bring, athletic directors always maintain a wish list, formal or otherwise, of possible coaching candidates. In the event ADs need some outside input, we’ve assembled
our own list of head coaches ready to use 2017 as a springboard to a higher rung on the professional ladder.
10. Jason Candle, Toledo
Four of the last five Rockets’ head coaches, including Nick Saban, would go on to coach at a Power Five school. The ground floor is down for Candle to make it five out of six before his 40th birthday.
Candle took the baton from Matt Campbell in 2016 and did a pretty good job, winning nine times. More important, Toledo averaged 38 points per game and QB Logan Woodside was dynamite after sitting out 2015. Woodside is back, as are receivers big-play receivers Cody Thompson and Jon’Vea Johnson. And when this program is racing up and down the field, it’s one of the scariest of the MAC squads.
9. Neal Brown, Troy
Brown’s Trojans won 10 games and nearly stunned eventual national champ Clemson in Week 2. If he keeps Troy rolling in 2017, Power Five ADs could be burning up his agent’s phone in December.
As an assistant, Brown built a reputation as an offensive wunderkind. As the 37-year-old leader of Troy, he’s beginning to flash signs of being a rising star in the coaching ranks. Brown has been a coordinator in the SEC and the Big 12 at Kentucky and Texas Tech, respectively. And in two seasons in the Sun Belt Conference, his teams have been well coached on both sides of the ball and especially balanced on offense.
8. Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State
Satterfield is basically Appalachian State’s version of Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald. However, at some point soon the lifelong Mountaineer is going to be lured out of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Satterfield starred as an App State QB, spent his first 11 years as an assistant with his alma mater and returned in 2012 to lead Jerry Moore’s offense. When Moore’s contract wasn’t renewed, Satterfield was promoted. After a rocky start, the 44-year-old has improved in each of the last three seasons, winning the Sun Belt in 2016 and piloting the program to its first-ever bowl game and win in 2015. And with the returns of so many stars in 2017, like RB Jalin Moore, Satterfield’s Mountaineers are built to remain the class of the Sun Belt.
7. Chuck Martin, Miami U.
Martin has serious sleeper potential as a future Power Five head coach, because the average fan doesn’t know him but the average AD is well aware of his work.
Martin is a former Division II national champion at Grand Valley State, and he’s impressively turning around a RedHawk team that was winless the year before he arrived. Miami has improved in each of Martin’s three seasons, going 6-2 in MAC play and appearing in the St. Petersburg Bowl in 2016. The trend will continue this fall, which could be just the catapult Martin needs to a high-profile opportunity. Remember, he spent four successful seasons under Brian Kelly at Notre Dame, which could be in the market for a new leader at season’s end.
6. Mike Norvell, Memphis
The last Tiger coach, Justin Fuente, was a young quarterback whisperer who used Memphis as a launching pad to a Power Five gig at Virginia Tech. Norvell is liable to follow Fuente’s blueprint out of the American Athletic Conference before too long.
The 35-year-old Norvell was one of the game’s hot young assistant when he was hired off Todd Graham’s Arizona State staff following the 2015 campaign. And now that he picked up where Fuente left off, winning nine games last fall, inexperience isn’t quite as concerning. Sun Devil quarterbacks Taylor Kelly and Mike Bercovici thrived in Norvell’s system, as did Riley Ferguson who threw 32 touchdown passes in his Memphis debut a year ago.
5. Scott Frost, UCF
In all likelihood, Frost will wind up being a short-term lease, not a long-term purchase, for the Knights.
Frost was a really good hire in 2016 by the UCF administration. It was a forward thinking move that’s already paid dividends in the form of a six-win improvement and an unlikely bowl game befitting a Disney fairytale. Frost has learned from some great coaches, and a solid seven-year stint at Oregon helped build his national profile. If he can get his UCFast attack populated with the right skill players, look out. The Knights could once again be a force in the American in short time, and the popular young coach will be fielding a slew of Power Five offers.
4. Chad Morris, SMU
Look beyond the aggregate record, just 7-17 in two seasons on the Hilltop. Morris is a big-league coach who’d be leading a Power Five program today had he just stuck around Clemson a little while longer.
Morris was Dabo Swinney’s offensive coordinator and a seminal figure in getting Deshaun Watson to Clemson. He was one of the nation’s hottest assistants before heading home to take on the SMU challenge. The Mustangs improved by three wins in 2016, while developing in areas that transcend the standings. Morris knows the Texas high school landscape intimately well, so don’t be surprised if he’s on the short list if Texas A&M or Texas Tech is searching for new leadership at the end of the year.
3. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Fitz has spent nearly half his life in Evanston, four years as a linebacker and 16 as a Wildcat assistant and head coach. If he ever decides to leave his alma mater, he’ll have options. Good options.
Bronco Mendenhall left BYU. Chris Petersen eventually parted ways with Boise State. Maybe Fitzgerald decides someday that he wants to strive for more than just eight-win seasons and second-tier bowl games. He’s consistently won and overachieved at one of the most challenging Big Ten schools. And at just 42, Fitzgerald is firmly in his coaching prime. He’s an old school, fundamentally sound builder, with a proven track record. But will he ever scratch the itch and venture out to a new campus?
2. Larry Fedora, North Carolina
Fedora has a good thing going at Carolina. But at some point, he might tire of coaching at a basketball school that’ll forever be chasing the likes of Clemson and Florida State in the ACC football pecking order.
Fedora’s Tar Heels have averaged more than 32 points per game in each of his five seasons in Chapel Hill, and his last quarterback, Mitch Trubisky, was taken No. 2 overall in April’s NFL Draft. There have been two constants in Fedora’s nine seasons as an FBS head coach—offensive firepower and wins, only missing a bowl game once when Carolina was banned in 2012. If the coach wants to seriously compete for titles and playoff berths, he’ll need to join forces with a football-first university, likely in the Big 12 or SEC.
1. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
Starkville was a coaching graveyard at the beginning of this decade, by far the toughest assignment in the rugged SEC West. That Mullen has lasted eight seasons is testament to his coaching ability.
Despite the hurdles, Mullen has turned the Bulldogs into a solid program. He’s won at least nine games three times, copped five bowl victories and twice finished in the AP top 15. He and his staff have been downright masterful at transforming modest high school athletes into NFL timber. Mullen has done his time and has proven he can do more with less. Now 45, he’s ready for his shot to operate at the kind of program that affords him an opportunity for championship contention and widespread national notoriety.