Ranking college football's 20 most desirable head coaching jobs
Short of receiving the Death Penalty, Ohio State will remain a truly elite position
Texas boasts whopping revenue, its pick of recruits and runs a major conference
Key factors: proximity to recruits, money, conference affiliation, fan pressure
The sudden head coach opening and ongoing NCAA investigation at Ohio State prompted an interesting question: Given the circumstances, where does coaching the Buckeyes fall on the list of most desirable college football jobs?
When I examined college football's destination jobs two years ago, Ohio State was in the highest echelon. If it wasn't the best job in America, it was a close second. So where is it now? Here's a hint: It will take a lot to make that job less desirable.
In compiling this list of America's best coaching jobs, I considered a few factors. Most important was proximity to recruits. Schools located in recruiting hotbeds have a prohibitive advantage over schools that must travel the nation to find players. Obviously, that isn't the only factor. If it were, South Florida coach Skip Holtz would have the best job in America. It also matters how recruits view a school. For example, Texas, Ohio State, Georgia and LSU got significant points because recruits consider them the dominant programs in their heavily stocked states. Conference affiliation matters as well. SEC and Big Ten programs generally have more money to spend, while Big 12 and Pac-12 programs are catching up thanks to their new television deals. I also considered how well the schools pay their coaches -- and their assistants -- and how programs make and spend money. Tradition factored in, and so did fan/booster support. Of course, if fans are a little too passionate and turn the job into a pressure-cooker, that might make a gig a little less desirable.
Remember, this isn't a ranking of the actual on-field product. If your favorite team is good and isn't on this list, it means your team's coach is excellent. If your team is on this list and isn't good, it means your team might need to hire a new coach soon. This is a ranking of which jobs, if they opened, would draw the most interest from coaches because they allow the greatest opportunity for success. Whether coaches take advantage of that opportunity is entirely up to them.
Forget the Longhorns' record last year and remember this: If Mack Brown retired tomorrow, the agent for every coach in America would feverishly dial numbers in the 512 area code. Texas has the wealthiest athletic program in America. According to data submitted to the U.S. Department of Education, the Longhorns raked in $461.6 million in revenue the past five school years, including a whopping $143.6 million in the 2009-2010 school year. The numbers will only rise after Texas launches its own TV network. The Longhorns have their annual pick of recruits from the state that produces more BCS conference signees than any state besides Florida, where Florida, Florida State and Miami have jockeyed for top position for decades. Texas essentially runs a major conference. Obviously, the coach at Texas is under tremendous pressure to win, but he has the most tools at his disposal to win big every year.
Yes, the NCAA might still come down hard on the Buckeyes for the rules violated during the Jim Tressel era. Short of the Death Penalty, which won't happen, that shouldn't scare away anyone from applying for the job. (It might, but it shouldn't.) Consider this: Miami won a national title in 2001, a little more than five years after it received crippling sanctions from the NCAA. Alabama won a national title in 2009, seven years after receiving crippling sanctions from the NCAA. Ohio State is in better position to bounce back than either of those two programs, regardless of what the NCAA does. Ohio State owns a state loaded with excellent players. As an added bonus, many of those recruits come from high schools with small college-quality coaching. Ohio State enjoys a recruiting advantage no other Big Ten school -- with the possible exception of Penn State -- can duplicate. As any reporter covering the recent scandal knows, the fan base's passion is unmatched by anyone outside the state of Alabama. The program brings in more money than everyone but Texas ($451.9 million over the past five years), so the coach essentially has a blank check for facilities and staffing needs. When Ohio State officials go in search of a new coach in 2012, they should have no shortage of willing candidates -- no matter how severe the NCAA's sanctions.
In terms of pay, access to recruits, fan support and all the other factors used to determine the best jobs, Oklahoma isn't much different from the SEC schools ranked just below it. So why is Oklahoma ranked higher? Because it isn't in the SEC. Beat Texas, and chances are high that you'll compete for the Big 12 and national titles. Bob Stoops has proved that by winning the conference seven of the past 11 years and playing for the BCS title four times.
The forthcoming cavalcade of SEC schools probably should be listed as 4a-4d, but my bosses won't let me have a four-way tie. So the SEC East's best jobs get a slight nod over the SEC West's best jobs only because the competition doesn't seem so cutthroat in the East. You're only supposed to win the national title every other year at Florida or Georgia; at LSU and Alabama, you're supposed to win the national title every year. Sure, Florida has to compete with Florida State and Miami for recruits, but there is plenty of talent in the Sunshine State to go around. The state of Florida produces more talent than any other, and the University of Florida is the flagship university and the only SEC member within a 10-hour drive of the extremely fertile grounds on the southern end of the state.
Want to know why Mark Richt is on the hot seat despite six seasons with at least 10 wins since 2001? Because Georgia has the resources to be in the national title hunt every season. The Bulldogs just finished a major football facility upgrade, and they play in one of the nation's iconic stadiums. They have plenty of money. In terms of recruit preference, the Bulldogs rule a state that cranks out 90-100 BCS AQ-conference signees each year. Theoretically, Georgia should have its pick of those players, but Bulldogs coaches can't always stop Alabama, Auburn, Clemson and Florida State from cherry-picking some of the state's top recruits. Unlike Florida or Alabama, which must fight off in-state rivals, Georgia recruits on a different level than Georgia Tech. The situation is more comparable to Texas and Texas A&M, which is why Georgia fans had a right to be dismayed that the Bulldogs had to win last year's installment of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate just to pull even with the Yellow Jackets at 6-6 on the regular season. (Never mind the Liberty Bowl loss to Central Florida.) Put simply, this is a great job for Richt if he can return to his early 2000s dominance. If Richt can't, the right choice can come in and win big in Athens.
LSU edges Alabama because of only one factor. Alabama must fight Auburn for the best recruits in the state of Alabama. LSU has to fight no one for the best recruits in talent-rich Louisiana. Sure, out-of-state schools occasionally try to swoop in, but just as Ohio children grow up wanting to be Buckeyes and Georgia children grow up wanting to be Bulldogs, Louisiana children grow up wanting to be Tigers. Other than that, LSU and Alabama are about the same. Both programs rake in the cash and play in massive stadiums before deafening crowds. And in both places, if the coach can't keep his team in the hunt for the national title every year, people will start clamoring for a coach who will.
In the 2009-10 school year, Alabama finished second to Texas in total revenue ($129.3 million), and the school opened an addition to Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2010 that raised capacity above 100,000. No fan base in America cares more about its football team, which can cut both ways for a coach. Win a national title and get a statue. Don't win a national title and get run out of town.
Penn State is the last of the true destination jobs on this list. Any coach who has one of the jobs already listed would not voluntarily leave for another job unless he just always wanted to coach at his alma mater or in Hawaii. Why is Penn State in this group? The school could pay a fat salary, but Joe Paterno hasn't requested one. More important, the Nittany Lions have the best Q-rating of all the schools in a huge swath of recruit-rich territory. Their hunting grounds include all of Pennsylvania and the Eastern Seaboard from the District of Columbia to New York. In the Big Ten, only Ohio State has a firmer grip on a talent-rich area. If Paterno ever decides to hang up his black shoes, almost every coach in the country will want this job.
Auburn falls below the dead-heat SEC quartet above for one reason. Because the Tigers historically are the Red Sox to Alabama's Yankees, the Crimson Tide have the initial edge in most in-state recruiting fights. This edge isn't insurmountable, though. Auburn also is only a short drive from talent-rich Atlanta, but those players have to be wrestled away from Georgia and Tennessee. Auburn doesn't bring in quite as much money as Alabama, but the Tigers still have cash to burn. They can pay a handsome salary and have plenty left over to pay offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn $1.3 million a year to turn down the head coaching job at Vanderbilt. This is critical, and it is a common factor among all the schools listed so far. Any school willing to shell out for quality assistants is serious about winning.
Oregon is an oddity on this list. It has no natural recruiting ground. It has a 60,000-seat stadium. It has a relatively small alumni base compared to the monstrous bases in the Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC. But it has an X-factor the other schools don't: It's the University of Nike. That means something to high school football stars. I may think the uniforms are hideous, but I'm not a 17-year-old. All that Nike money continues to give Oregon an edge in the facilities department as well. Last year, Oregon unveiled plans to turn the Len Casanova Center -- which is pretty nice as currently constituted -- into an absolute palace. The Swoosh is the most powerful brand in sports, and Nike founder Phil Knight's support of his alma mater makes the Oregon job one of the nation's most desirable even if the school doesn't fit the profile of a traditional power.