Coaching carousel at the midseason: Who’s on the hot seat? Who’s off it? Who are the names to watch?
The season's halfway point arrives without a performance-based firing, a first in more than a decade. What could that mean? Let's turn to the industry experts and take a look at potential movement.
The last time a college football season made it this far without a performance-based firing at the FBS level was all the way back in 2012, when Idaho fired Robb Akey after a 1-7 start.
We’re not saying that that was a long time ago, but the Vandals returned to the FCS level five years ago.
Welcome to 2023, the year of normalcy.
There are currently two open jobs for entirely off-field reasons, as Northwestern fired Pat Fitzgerald in July in the aftermath of a hazing scandal and Michigan State fired Mel Tucker in September amid a school investigation for a sexual misconduct complaint.
By this point last season, there were six FBS openings, five as a result of on-field shortcomings.
The quiet carousel so far could create an odd dynamic for programs that are a cut below the elite level, and for programs that may have a previous tendency to act more sensible than others.
“If you’re Mississippi State or Syracuse right now and it looks like a lost year, you want to make a change when it’s light,” a coaching agent told The Inside Zone. “If it’s a normal year, you’re the eighth- or ninth-best job on the board.
“There are some people that want to be head coaches and who will take these jobs. I think you have a good chance of getting (one of those coaches) this year as opposed to not being able to get them in future or past years.”
Then there’s this perspective, from another coaching agent, about the current transfer and portal climate.
“Do you think there is anything to the thought that maybe administrators are a little more patient in firing coaches because in the last two years when a coach has been fired early in the year, the next guy has had a hard time keeping the roster together?” the agent said.
Where does that leave the market this year? After speaking to a number of agents and industry sources, let’s take a look now that we’ve reached the midway point of the season. And let’s remember that there is always a surprise or two.
There is healthy debate within the industry over just how good of a job this is. The cons are obvious: There is plenty of internal friction over the handling of Fitzgerald’s firing, there are legitimate questions about who is ultimately in charge (although we have been told that AD Derrick Gragg’s job remains safe) and the team has won more than three games in a season just once since 2019. (The Wildcats are a surprising 3-3 so far under interim coach David Braun.) Throw in the fact that the soft Big Ten West division will be gone next year, and that this team will be homeless for at least the next two years as Ryan Field gets rebuilt, and a new coach could be staring at a dark rebuild.
The pros? It’s a Big Ten job that will pay top dollar while not commanding outrageous on-field expectations, as Fitzgerald was set to make $6.3 million next season as part of a 10-year contract, according to a copy of his contract included as part of the nine-figure lawsuit his representatives have filed against the school on his behalf. Living and working in a big market like Chicago is attractive to many in the profession, too.
Glenn Sugiyama of DHR International is leading the search, as The Inside Zone first reported. Expect the ‘Cats to target a veteran coach in the mold of Tulane’s Willie Fritz or Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson, both of whom have proven to be expert program-builders who have offered a sense of stability and maturity everywhere they have been.