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Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Ranking college football coaching openings: Where do Virginia Tech, USC, Maryland fall?





By Adam Kilgore

November 2, 2015

Virginia Tech has not chosen a new football coach in about three decades, but that will not put them at any kind of disadvantage. No college football program has experienced circumstances anything like the present: The Hokies are among a confluence of schools in Power Five conferences and a smattering of lesser programs that will be looking to fill head coaching vacancies this offseason. By the time the carousel stops, it’s feasible a quarter or even a third of Football Bowl Subdivision programs will have new top whistles.

The hierarchy of coaching vacancies is not as cut-and-dried as many would make it seem. The first consideration is a coach’s current station. The USC opening is a dream job for, say, Justin Fuente, but it’s possibly a lateral jump, if not a step back, for Urban Meyer. The fit also matters more than perceived prestige. Geography, familiarity and a million other overlooked factors come into play when it comes times for a coach to actually make a decision.

“How do we determine a good job?” said Neil Cornrich, a leading agent for college and NFL coaches. “Our evaluation of a particular job is unique to every coach. We debate it on an individual basis for each coach and each job. What may be a good job for one coach may not be a good job for another coach. It depends on his other opportunities. They may be similar coaches, but it may not be the right fit for a number of reasons.”

Still, the offseason is about to tell us a whole lot about the pecking order of college football programs. Is South Carolina a more appealing job than Virginia Tech? Wait two months, see which coach lands where and we’ll find out. Does Minnesota have the cash and cachet to look beyond an interim? We’ll see. Can Maryland convince a big name to compete in the Big Ten’s varsity division? The answer is on the way.

Virginia Tech will not be able to pick its next coach at leisure. It will have to pry Beamer’s replacement from the clutches of another power school, or else wait and choose off the discard pile.

So where in the hierarchy does Virginia Tech fit? It is undoubtedly the biggest program in its region, if not the most powerful sports enterprise in the state of Virginia. The Hokies have a strong recruiting pipeline out of the Hampton Roads region, one of the most fertile territories in the nation. They have top-shelf facilities. They have big-boy games scheduled for years to come, starting with Notre Dame and Tennessee – at Bristol Motor Speedway! – next season. They play in the easier division of the easiest Power 5 conference to win.

On the other hand, if Memphis’s Justin Fuente or Houston’s Tom Herman is choosing between Virginia Tech and South Carolina, they may be inclined to lean toward Columbia. Recruits want to play in the SEC. South Carolina has a bigger stadium. It’s an uphill climb in the SEC, but it’s not as brutal in the East division and, if you reach the top, the national championship is there for the taking.

The amazing thing is how many schools will find themselves asking the same questions of themselves. Many years, Maryland would be in position to woo the best up-and-comer. Now? They’ll need to line up behind several schools.

The crush of openings may be a blessing for coaches on the hot seat. For example: It might be the right move for Virginia to fire Mike London, but it would be the wrong year to hire a replacement. With so many other schools in the market, Virginia would be forced to pick at the scraps. It may be smarter to be on a more normal coaching-change cycle next year.

Any ultimate ranking of coaching vacancies is premature. What happens if Georgia slides and the school parts ways with Mark Richt? Or if South Carolina shocks the industry and convinces alum Mark Dantonio to come home? But there already have been startling tremors across the sport, and who doesn’t love a list?

1. USC: The only no-doubt crown jewel program with an opening. Recruits pour through the doors. Even with the recent rise of Oregon and Stanford and the overall increase in quality, USC is unquestionably the king of the Pac-12. The athletic director seems to have lost control of the program and the Trojans just fired a coach who literally showed up to a game drunk, yet two weeks ago they stomped the No. 3 team in the country. With the right coach, the Trojans should contend for the College Football Playoff on an annual basis.

2. South Carolina: It’s the SEC, stupid. Even a middling program in the country’s best conference is a prime attraction. The stadium seats more than 80,000, and the pay is right. Steve Spurrier proved the best of the best recruits will go to South Carolina. Winning the SEC East and toppling a juggernaut from the West in Atlanta is far from fantasy.

3. Virginia Tech: There’s no real reason an engineering school tucked in the southwestern Virginia hills should be a power. Beamer elevated it to that status, but that doesn’t guarantee it’ll stay there. The next coach will have a great opportunity, especially because of the strong recruiting ties to the Tidewater and the school’s facilities are first-rate. But it’s not a guarantee.

4. Miami: No job offers greater reward or more potentially pratfalls. The money probably won’t be great, the facilities are a mess, the stadium is often empty and every school in the country invades the recruiting territory. Then again, the history and recruiting base means there’s also a clearer path to the national championship from Miami than any opening aside from Southern Cal.

5. Minnesota: The new stadium is a boon. The recruiting base is thin, but the best players in the state usually grow up wanting to be Gophers. A coach can build a good roster with the leftovers from Michigan and Ohio. The division provides little resistance. Most years, if Minnesota can upset Wisconsin it will have a strong chance to play in the Big Ten title game.

6. Maryland: The new coach will have to compete with Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State with an outdated stadium and a recruiting base that the best teams from three major conferences invade on a regular basis. We keep hearing that Kevin Plank and Under Armour are going to turn Maryland into Oregon East. Well, why hasn’t it happened yet?

7: Illinois: It’s probably one of the worst Power Five jobs, but it’s still a Big Ten coaching job.

8: UCF: Even though George O’Leary left it a mess, UCF is one of the best small-conference jobs out there. It’s got a massive alumni bas,e and it’s smack in the middle of Florida. It should be an ideal spot for an up-and-comer – this year’s version of Tom Herman or Chad Morris could be wooed here.

9: North Texas: At least it’s in the continental 48 states.

10: Hawaii: You get to live in Hawaii, but there might not be a football program left when you get there.

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