Gopher Football: Potential Coaching Jobs that Compete with Minnesota's

The Minnesota Gophers were first out of the gate in their coaching search by firing head coach Tim Brewster almost a month ago (hard to believe, but true!). Yesterday, the Colorado Buffaloes became the second school to fire their coach, and they certainly won't be the last BCS conference school to do so. Certainly there'll be other jobs opening at smaller schools, but let's focus on the BCS conference teams since they're most likely to be in direct competition for the candidates that Minnesota will be after. We'll start with the Colorado job, as well as the one other virtual certainty at Washington State, then move onto some other possibilities.

A couple of things before we get started:

  • The athletic department revenue information comes from the latest official NCAA data, which only goes back as far as 2008. I know there's a lot of other figures that can be found using The Google, but since the NCAA information is official, that's what we're going with. For comparison, the Gophers ranked 24th in the country with $69.9 million in total revenue for the athletic department.
  • When I say "BCS conference" I am not referring to the Big East. They are a distant 6th in football, revenues, and prestige to the other five BCS conferences, so I'm not going to even bother mentioning them, or any potential opening there. Any potential opening (except perhaps Pitt, but it looks like The Moustache is going to keep his job a season longer if they win the conference) isn't as good a job as Minnesota's so there's not point in looking at it. They're the best basketball conference in America, but they don't belong in the BCS in football.

Onto the openings...

COLORADO BUFFALOES
Current Former Coach: Dan Hawkins
Years at School: 5
Record: 13-39
Conference Titles: 0
Bowl games: 0
Salary (per year): $1.5 million
Athletic Department Revenue: $52.6 million (48th in Division 1-A)
Hot Seat: Extinguished

The Skinny: Hawkins was just flat awful at CU, as he was never able to establish the magic that made him so successful at Boise State. Or was Petersen, who has continued the Broncos run of dominance since Hawkins's departure, the real brains of the operation? Certainly looks that way.

The Positives: If you like the outdoors, the Rocky Mountains, and over 300 days of sunshine a year, it's hard to find a nicer place in the US of A to live than Boulder. As for the football program, there's some definite positives here too despite Hawkins' recent attempts to burn the program to the ground...oh what's that? He really was trying to win? Are you sure? Ok anyway, the move to the Pac 10 next season can be seen as nothing but a positive, and while it won't be as easy to win in the new Pac 10 South as it was in the Big 12 North, the Pac 10 South will still be a helluva lot easier than whatever name they end up calling Minnesota's new division. CU was also the only Big 12 school who's biggest recruiting base came from California instead of Texas, so now that the Buffs will play in the Golden State at least once a year (and sometimes twice in the years they travel to either Palo Alto or Berkeley), their recruiting there should only improve.

The Negatives: The pay, and the budget. Hawkins reportedly made about $1.5 million per season, which is second least among coaches in the Big 12 behind only Paul Rhodes at Iowa State (who is due a wee bit of a raise after this season). Yes, that's about the same amount as what the U paid Tim Brewster, but while Minnesota's administration claims they could go well into the $2 million-per-year range to get their next coach, it appears Colorado may not. AD Paul said in at the Hawkins firing that not only would getting to $2 million a year for a head coach be difficult, but so will paying assistants a decent salary. As we saw here with Brewster, getting the right assistants, and paying them accordingly, is almost as important as who you hire and pay as head coach.

The other issue is the school's budgets and current lack of resources. It was widely rumored that CU wanted to can Hawkins at the end of last year, but couldn't afford his buyout at the time. $52 million for athletic revenues isn't bad, but it lags far behind the Gophers. Certainly the move to the Pac 10 will help, but how much, and when, is a total unknown at this point.

Better than the Gophers job? Depends who's asking. As a Gopher fan I would say the Minnesota job is more appealing because there's more revenue and a bigger budget to work with than at Colorado. A Buff fan might reply that more revenue and a bigger budget is coming with the move to the Pac 10, and CU will be an easier place to win than Minnesota.

WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS
Current Coach: Years at School: 3
Record: 4-31
Conference Titles: 0
Bowl games: 0
Salary: $600,000
Athletic budget: $39.6 million (63rd)
Hot Seat: A 5 Alarm Fire

The Skinny: For all of the people wondering if Minnesota regretted firing Glen Mason after the Tim Brewster Debacle, let it be known the Gophers have nothing on the Cougs of Washington State. Mike Price had one of the most successful runs in school history from 1989-2003, then left for the Alabama job, which last less than 3 months. Nonetheless, the Cougs promoted defensive coordinator Bill Doba, who was an assistant for all of Price's 14 years in the Palouse. He had an amazing first season, finishing 10-3 and led Wazzu to a Holiday Bowl upset of Texas, but could not put together a winning season the next four straight years. Doba was fired at the of the 2007 season and replaced by Eastern Washington head coach Paul Wulff...who's been much, much worse. He's just 1-24 in the Pac 10, and his recruiting has been some of the worst in Division 1. It's not a matter of if, but when Wulff is fired this season.

The Positives: Other than it being a BCS conference school? Um...no offense to the good fans of Washington State and the residents of south eastern Washington state, but Wazzu might be the toughest place to win of any BCS conference school in the country. Only Iowa State and Baylor come close, and because those schools are both winning this year, as well as the fact Mike Price did it for so long, shows it can be done. But it sure won't be easy.

The Negatives: At the risk of piling on, the Cougs do have passionate fans, just not a ton of them, as most in the state cheer for UDub. Their stadium, at just over 34,000, is one of the smallest of any BCS school, and their recruiting backyard consists of eastern Washington, Idaho, and Montana, perhaps the least populated area in the Lower 48. Their athletic department revenues are the third worst of any BCS conference school behind only Iowa State and Ole Miss. Wulff's contract is absurdly low, and they'll obviously have to up the ante to get a better coach. But with athletic budgets where they are, how high can they reasonably go? Is even $1.5 million more than they'll be able to offer?

This is complete and total speculation on my part, but I have to ask: would WSU consider bringing Mike Price back? He's making far less than $600k currently at UTEP and at the age of 64, should have a few good seasons left. Would the Cougs and their fans want him back? I have to think that if Price wants to keep coaching a few more seasons, he'd much rather do it in Pullman than Texas-El Paso. Again, complete and total conjecture, but I had to ask.

Better than the Gophers? Uh, no.

Availability? A virtual certainty. Not a matter of if, but when.

ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS
Current Coach: Dennis Erickson
Years at School: 4
Record: 23-23 (15-18 in the Pac 10)
Conference Titles: 1
Bowl games: 1
Salary: $1.1 million in 2008 (received an extension through 2012, but details unknown)
Athletic budget: $54.8 million (44th
)
Hot Seat: A 4 Alarm Fire

The Skinny: This sentence from Erickson's wikipedia page about sums it up:

In 2008, the Arizona Board of Regents approved a contract extension to keep Dennis Erickson at Arizona State through the 2012 season, or until his incompetence inevitably leads to his termination.

Erickson started with a bang in 2007 by leading the Sun Devils to a 10-3 record and a share of the conference title and a Holiday Bowl berth. That's his only winning season at ASU, and at 4-5 in 2010, he'll need to go bowling to save his job. However, with games left against #6 Stanford, UCLA, and at #18 Arizona, that looks pretty unlikely right now.

The Positives: ASU is in Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix, so let's just say they don't have trouble attracting players to play for them. Their academic standards are not as high as Minnesota's, and they're only a 6 hour drive from LA and the recruiting hotbed of southern California. And because they'll be in the new South division with USC and UCLA, they'll continue to play one game per year in SoCal. Their arch rival is Arizona, who has only recently been good under Mark Stoops, and while there's pressure to win, it's not the same pressure as, say, a USC, Ohio State, Penn State, or one of the top football programs. Annual bowl games are expected, but annual conference or national title chases are not.

The Negatives: Not many. Their athletic revenue isn't great, but then again, there's been zero rumors of them not being able to buyout Erickson like at Colorado. I wasn't able to find Erickson's current salary as part of his extension, but there's been no quips about him being underpaid, or not having a competitve salary. The new divisional alignment could be looked at as a negative, as their in the same division as USC, and Utah will be a tough opponent as well. But will Lane Kiffin get USC back to the dominance they had under Pete Carroll? How long will Mark Stoops stay at Arizona?

Better than the Gophers? Yes. The only real drawback could be the budget, and even then I think ASU will pay to get a good coach. Otherwise, their academic standards are less, the recruiting base is much better, and they're in an easier division to win in than at Minnesota.

Availability? At the moment it's looking about 85% likely that it will. They should beat UCLA, but I can't see them beating either Stanford or Arizona, which means a third straight losing season. Bye bye Dennis.

These next three openings are all substantially better jobs than Minnesota, but right now are only possibilities. I'd put all of them at 50% or less of happening. Still...

MICHIGAN WOLVERINES
Current Coach: Years at School: 3
Record: 14-19 (5-16 Big Ten)
Conference Titles: 0
Bowl games: 0
Salary: $2.9 million
Athletic budget: $99 million (6th)
Hot Seat: Pretty toasty but cooling off

The Skinny: After two losing seasons filled with off-field incidents, Rich Rod's hot seat was the warmest in the country entering the season. With three games left in 2010 and the team 6-3 (although only 2-3 in the Big Ten), it's looking more and more likely that Rodriguez will get a fourth season. Assuming Michigan beats Purdue this week and don't get embarrassed in their final two games against Wisconsin and Ohio State, 7 wins SHOULD be enough to keep his job. They get, I believe, their entire 22 starters back on offense and defense, and a new defensive coordinator should be able to clean up the mess that Greg Robinson has made. The offense is crazy good and if they can get even a pulse from their D, the Wolverines could be very, very scary next season. But then again, this is RichRod, and his tumultuous time in Ann Arbor proves anything is possible. Stay tuned.

The Positives: It's Michigan. The Big House, the Winged Helmets, the tradition, the enormous budget and enormous fan support. It's easily one of the ten best jobs in America, and maybe one of the top five.

The Negatives: Along with all of those positives come enormous expectations.

Availability? Right now I'd say there's about a 75% chance that RichRod does enough to save his job this season and they go onto amazing things in 2011, but again, with Rich you just never know.

GEORGIA BULLDOGS
Current Coach: Years at School: 5
Record: 95-32 (53-26 SEC)
Conference Titles: 2
Bowl games: 9
Salary: $3.1 million
Athletic budget: $85.5 million (12th)
Hot Seat: Getting warmer by the week

The Skinny: Georgia fans are crazy. That's about all I can figure after looking at Richt's 10 seasons in Athens, GA. He's won them two conference titles, 3 East division titles, and has won at least 10 games six times. But last year he had just his second 8 win season (think about that Gopher fans...), didn't win the conference or the division and apparently that put him on the hot seat. In 2010 at 5-5 with two games left at Auburn and home to rival Georgia Tech that seat hasn't gotten any cooler, but again WHY? Two mediocre years in the SEC means you're looking for work? Just seems like insanity to me. I list this job only because IF Georgia is dumb enough to fire Richt he could be a Tubby-like hire for Minnesota. The Bulldogs would be looking at a different pool of candidates than Minnesota, so there wouldn't be much competition for the same coaches, but really, their coaching search would consist of one name: Kirby Smart. The current Alabama DC is a Georgia Alum and is THE hot name in SEC coaching circles. It'd be his job to lose.

The Positives: An SEC school, a huge budget, huge revenues, passionate fanbase, and great recruiting base.

The Negatives: Absolutely, positively ridiculous expectations.

Availability? I'd put it at about 50/50 right now. Auburn might be their biggest rival, and a win there would do wonders, but does anyone expect them to shock the Tigers? That leaves their annual rivalry with Georgia Tech, and while the Jackets will be without star QB Josh Nesbitt, a Paul Johnson coached team is always disciplined and always dangerous. That won't be easy either. IF they do get bowl eligible, it really could depend upon the bowl game. I think regardless Richt gets another season, but we'll see how the season finishes.

PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
Current Coach: Joe Paterno
Years at School: 45!!!!!
Record: 400-132-3
Conference Titles: 3
Bowl games: 36
Salary: $1.1 million
Athletic budget: $91.5 million (10th)
Hot Seat: Couldn't be cooler and more comfortable

The Skinny: The Nittany Lions are currently 6-3, but whether they were 9-0 or 0-9 it wouldn't matter: Joe Pa will retire when he's ready. And that really is the question: after becoming the first (and likely the only) Division 1-A head coach to win 400 games, will this be Paterno's last season? If it is, this becomes THE premiere job opening in the country, and many of the big names on the Gophers want list (Jim Harbaugh, Al Golden etc) would want this job over being in Minneapolis. It's been rumored that long-time assistant Tom Bradley, who has been with Paterno for the past 29 years, is the coach in waiting in Happy Valley, but we won't know for sure until the job is open.

The Positives: It's Penn State. Like Michigan it's one of the five or ten best jobs in the country.

The Negatives: You have to follow a coaching legend who had been there for 45 years. No pressure.

Availability? Only Paterno knows, and thus far, he isn't saying whether he'll be back in 2011 or not.

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