Here are 10 coaches to keep an eye on for new jobs after the season.
1. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State Bulldogs
He’s tops on this list because no coach’s stock could surge more over the next two weeks. The 42-year-old’s timing might be perfect to vault from one of the SEC’s toughest jobs to one of the best in the Big Ten or the SEC. Mullen spent four seasons in Gainesville on Urban Meyer’s staff and quickly turned the Bulldogs into a solid SEC squad, going 9-4 in his second season. But over the next three seasons MSU was 9-15 in SEC play and it seemed like the program might be backsliding with Hugh Freeze’s recruiting storm taking over in the state. However, Mullen’s team, led by budding star QB Dak Prescott, finished 2013 on a roll winning its last three, including beating the arch-rival Rebels.
Mullen’s got MSU fans fired up now after the Bulldogs went into LSU and beat the Tigers on a Saturday night by dominating on both lines of scrimmage. It was only the third time any team had done that since Les Miles had been there. Starkville may well be the center of the SEC world in the next two weeks with the Bulldogs hosting No. 6 Texas A&M this weekend and No. 5 Auburn next weekend. If Mullen’s team wins both, his coaching stock takes off. Even if Mullen (who interviewed for the Miami vacancy when Al Golden got it four years ago) wins only one of the two, it would sure put him on a lot of folks’ radar.
That doesn’t mean he’d be a lock to bolt Starkville, but it doesn’t seem like such a stretch to think he would if he could. Keep in mind, Mississippi State has won only one SEC title, in 1941, and they’ve made it into the final rankings of the Coaches Poll only six times ever and only once in the past 14 seasons. Also, those other divisions — the Big Ten East or SEC East — would seem a lot easier to navigate than the meat-grinder that is the SEC West.
2. Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers
The former Wolverine star is brash and odd and his people skills sometimes are downright bewildering if you listen to some of the stories those close to him will share privately, but the guy gets great results. His turnaround job at Stanford was remarkable. So was what he’s done with the Niners.
If there is a coaching search at Michigan down the road, he needs to get the first call, but would he come? Probably not. I hear he’s more likely to get the autonomy he’s looking for from some NFL franchise.
3. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss Rebels
The guy whose recruiting whirlwind shook up the SEC a few years back has a chance, like Mullen, to boost his coaching stock dramatically over the next month (Mullen’s higher on this list because he’s already got one huge W this season with that Saturday night road win in Baton Rouge).
The Rebels host No. 3 Alabama on Saturday and then visit No. 6 A&M next week, then they face Tennessee, visit No. 15 LSU and host No. 5 Auburn. Even going 3-2 through those five would make Freeze a hot name around the country.
4. Les Miles, LSU Tigers
The Bo Schembechler protege turns 61 next month and has long been linked to the job at his alma mater. You can’t knock his success rate: 99-25. He’s already won a national title at LSU, but if there is ever a time he’d coach the Wolverines, you’d have to think this could be his last real shot at it.
5. Greg Schiano, former head coach of Tampa Bay Bucs
A few days before Rich Rodriguez jumped at the chance to be Michigan’s head coach, the Wolverines offered the job to Schiano. He turned it down, and then word is had a lot of second thoughts. Schiano ended up staying on at Rutgers, a program he turned from punchline into a perennial bowl team, for four more seasons, winning 30 more games before leaving for the NFL. That didn’t go so well, but the guy is very smart, very organized and a dogged recruiter. Don’t be surprised if he lands a good college head coaching gig this winter.
6. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State Cowboys
Key assistants come and go on his staff and he keeps winning. There’s been plenty of talk about friction between Gundy and his bosses. There’s a good chance his team could be 7-1 heading into November with that lone loss being a tight one to No. 1 FSU. Persona-wise he wouldn’t seem like a fit at Michigan. At Florida or LSU (if Miles left) might be more viable.
7. Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State Spartans defensive coordinator
The Spartans D will be in the spotlight again this weekend when unbeaten Nebraska, with Heisman contender Ameer Abdullah, visits. Might Narduzzi be an option if Michigan is looking for a new head coach? Doubtful UM brass would want to hire a guy from their arch-rival. Of course, they might also have taken note that MSU has beaten the Wolverines in five of the past six seasons and held them to an average of 12 ppg in the last four meetings.
8. Jim McElwain, Colorado State Rams
Not a lot of mid-major type coaches out there who look like they could get hot this year. Tim DeRuyter’s Fresno State team is struggling. CSU, though, just beat Boston College and looks like it could be the class of the Mountain West. McElwain, a Nick Saban protege, does have a pretty hefty buyout though.
9. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
He’s already on record as throwing his support for the Michigan job behind Brady Hoke, a former colleague. Then again, it would’ve seemed ridiculous for him to say almost anything else on the topic now. The older Harbaugh, who went to high school in Ann Arbor, would be an intriguing choice as a college head coach. He did spend a decade plus in college coaching, but his contract still has three more years on it at a hefty price.
10. Mack Brown, ESPN announcer
Word is the former Texas coach is intrigued by the SMU job and made it known to the right political people there as such, and there is interest from the Mustangs side. Brown’s still got a big game in the state of Texas despite the Longhorns’ struggles the past few years