This season has been unlike any other in terms of coaching vacancies. We are still three weeks from the end of the regular season, but there are already a dozen coaching vacancies, from the bottom of the Group of Five in North Texas and Louisiana-Monroe, all the way up to one of college football’s most storied programs, Southern California.
The openings stretch from Hawaii to Miami to Maryland. These openings will need to be filled, and you should expect some of the schools with a coaching opening to spend big bucks to get their man. Let’s look at five coaches who might be prowling a new sideline in 2016.
JUSTIN FUENTE – MEMPHIS
Justin Fuente is a star. Just 39 years of age, Fuente has done a remarkable job of taking Memphis to heights never before seen in the 103-year history of the program. After going a combined 7-17 in his first two seasons, Fuente’s Tigers have won 18 of their last 22 games. The 10-win season last year is the most successful one in Memphis history. While the Tigers’ playoff hopes have been dashed the last two weeks, that is no indictment of Memphis or Fuente; that’s an indication of the growing strength of the AAC. Fuente can still finish with at least 10 wins if his squad can win two of its last three games, including the bowl.
PROBABLE LANDING SPOTS: South Carolina, Missouri
MATT RHULE – TEMPLE
Temple’s football history is the sport’s most inglorious. The Owls’ best seasons either came before World War II or during the coaching reign of Wayne Hardin that ended in 1982. Since then the Owls have gone through seasons in which they were forced to forfeit all their wins (1986), were thrown out of a conference because of poor performance (the Big East in 2004), and went through a streak of 19 years without a winning season (1990-2008). Matt Rhule has been the one to bring the Owls to their greatest heights in the last half century.
Al Golden revived the program with eight-win and nine-win seasons in 2008 and 2009, but Rhule, who was the offensive coordinator under Golden during the winning seasons, took them even higher. In his three years at the helm he has picked up two wins, six wins, and now eight wins with still more games left to be played this season. His Owls were ranked in the top 25 for multiple weeks, hosted a GameDay game, and took Notre Dame to the wall. Another young coach at 40 years old, expect Rhule to get a promotion and pay raise this offseason.
PROBABLE LANDING SPOTS: Any of the Big Ten openings
MATT CAMPBELL – TOLEDO
Wherever Matt Campbell has been in college football, winning has followed. Over his four-year playing career at Mount Union, Campbell was part of a team that went a combined 54-1 and won three straight Division III national championships. As an assistant coach at Mount Union, he won two more championships. Across seven years as an assistant at Bowling Green and Toledo, Campbell was a part of only one losing team (2009 Toledo went 5-7), and his head coaching resume has remained just as stellar in his time at the helm of Toledo. A record of 34-14 is good by any measure, and his wins over Iowa State and at Arkansas this season are quality feathers in his cap. Did I mention he was still just 35?
PROBABLE LANDING SPOTS: Any of the Big Ten openings.
TODD MONKEN – SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI
When Todd Monken took over at Southern Miss in 2013, the program was in shambles. After a string of 18 straight winning seasons, including five with nine or more wins, the program fell apart in 2012 and didn’t win a game during the only year of Ellis Johnson’s tenure.
Monken arrived and rebuilt. After a win in 2013, the Eagles improved to three wins last year and currently have seven wins this year. They sit tied atop the West division of Conference USA with Louisiana Tech. The Eagles travel west to play the Bulldogs in two weeks for the division title. If Monken and the Eagles win out and finish 11-3, you can expect athletic directors to make a pit stop in Hattiesburg to talk.
PROBABLE LANDING SPOTS: Miami, Virginia Tech
DAN MULLEN – MISSISSIPPI STATE
Dan Mullen has created nothing short of a miracle in Starkville. A program that has historically lived in the shadow of the giants of the SEC has been turned into a legitimate contender by Mullen. The Bulldogs have been ranked in the AP top 20 in five of Mullen’s seven seasons at the helm, including a number-one ranking last year. The question is, has Mullen reached the ceiling in Starkville?
Dak Prescott graduates after this season, and he has been the franchise in Starkville ever since he stepped onto the field at Davis Wade Stadium. Prescott has rewritten the State record books multiple times over and will almost certainly be one of the top quarterback prospects in next spring’s NFL draft.
The success has been unprecedented, but it also comes with asterisks. Mullen has won six of eight Egg Bowls over Ole Miss, which is huge in the Magnolia State, but he’s a combined 1-13 against LSU and Alabama. His stock might never be higher, though. His $3.2 million salary pales in comparison to former USC head coach Steve Sarkisian’s salary, $4.25 million. If a school opens the checkbook you can bet Mullen, only 49 years old, will head to greener pastures.
PROBABLE LANDING SPOTS: USC