Entering the 2021 college football season, industry experts expected limited head coaching changes.
Fresh off the financial impact of the pandemic, college athletic departments were dipping into reserves, slashing salaries and cutting positions. Surely, schools wouldn’t pay millions to fire their coaches.
Think again! By the end of the 2021 coaching cycle, there were a whopping 29 head coaching changes, tied for the most in a decade. The firings cost schools what is believed to be a one-year record of $94 million in buyout cash.
Now let’s jump ahead to this season. The same industry insiders are expecting a fairly quiet coaching cycle. Few, if any, major jobs should open, they say. The big gigs are stable. The big names are content and secure.
We’ll see about that.
As the 2023 season opens, Yahoo Sports spoke to a number of sports agents, athletic administrators and coaches to develop a list of FBS head coaches whose seats are warm, hot or sizzling.
The 2023 openings shouldn’t rival 2021. After all, that year saw changes at Florida, USC, LSU, Oregon, Oklahoma, Miami, Notre Dame and Tennessee. But you never know.
One big domino can set off a chain reaction.
What if Texas struggles in Steve Sarkisian’s third season? What if Texas A&M limps to a 5-7 finish? A Texas two-step of dismissals could send the dominoes tumbling.
Some have their eyes set on a pair of Big Ten coaches who many still believe are NFL material: Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Ohio State’s Ryan Day. Such openings could set off a cascade of changes.
Tom Allen, Indiana
An Indiana native, Allen has worked magic in his seven seasons in Bloomington, leading the Hoosiers to an eight-win 2019 season and then a 6-2 mark during the COVID 2020 season. But his last two teams have combined to go 6-18. However, his buyout — around $20 million — is a deterrent at a place like IU despite the Big Ten’s flood of cash.
Steve Sarkisian, Texas
As one sports agent put it, “the Texas coach is always on the hot seat.” Off the field (always croot’n!), the Longhorns are landing big fish (the 2023 class ranked third only behind Alabama and Georgia). However, recruiting has never been UT’s problem. On the field, things have gotten better (5-7 to 8-5), but Year 3 for Sark feels like a critical step before Texas heads into the SEC in 2024. If fired, Sark would be owed about 70% of his remaining salary, or about $13 million.
Justin Wilcox, Cal
In order to fire Wilcox this year, the Bears need money. Cal owns the country’s biggest athletic department debt (around $450 million). Wilcox’s buyout is significant, especially for a program in such a financial situation. He’d be owed his entire remaining salary on a contract that runs through 2027 (he got a new deal in January 2022). That’s about $20 million.
Thomas Hammock, Northern Illinois
A former NIU running back and Ravens assistant, Hammock led a brilliant turn-around in his third year, taking the Huskies from an 0-6 mark during the pandemic season to a nine-win MAC title in 2021. However, last year’s 3-9 record was the worst at the school since 2007 (discounting the six-game 2020 campaign). Pressure is on for Hammock to improve on a four-year record that stands at 17-27.
Mike Bloomgren, Rice
A longtime former Stanford assistant, Bloomgren’s Owls squeaked into a bowl game last season with five wins. But with a new athletic director taking over (Tommy McClelland) and 16 wins in five years, it’s time for Rice to take the next step. It won’t be easy. The school moves from C-USA to the AAC this year.
Eli Drinkwitz, Missouri
Drinkwitz began his tenure with three consecutive bowl trips — the first at the school since 2009-11. But, hey, this is the SEC and six wins isn’t going to cut it. Drinkwitz has been on a roll lately in the recruiting game, partly because of a new Missouri NIL law that the coach and school encouraged lawmakers to pass — a clever play that gives the program an advantage among its conference foes. With a contract that runs through 2027, Drinkwitz is owed $20 million if fired this fall. That’s a steep price — for teams not in the SEC.
Dana Holgorsen, Houston
The Cougars reeled off 12 wins in Holgorsen’s third season in 2021 and despite an eight-win season last year, this feels like a critical season for Houston in its first year in the Big 12. Remember, UH dumped Major Applewhite after his second season ended with… eight wins. The Cougs expected championships in hiring Holgorsen, but the hurdle got taller with the Power Five move. It won’t be cheap to cut him. In 2022, he signed a new contract through 2027. His buyout would be in the realm of $15 million.
Dino Babers, Syracuse
Starting his eighth year with the Orange, Babers entered last season on one of the hottest seats of anyone (Cuse had won 11 games in his previous three years). A trip to the Pinstripe Bowl cooled things, but only temporarily. Syracuse is a private school, but Babers’ buyout is believed to be around $8-9 million.
Jeff Hafley, Boston College
The former 49ers and Browns assistant, Hafley started with two six-win seasons at BC before a disappointing 3-9 in 2022. The Eagles avoid Clemson and Notre Dame this year, but have Florida State, Pitt and Miami on the schedule. Hafley signed a new deal in 2021. His buyout is expected to be around $10 million.
Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M
At most schools, a $70-plus million buyout would prevent any possible firing, but we’re not talking about any school here. The Aggies have more money than God, as they say. Fisher overhauled his coaching staff this offseason with the hiring of Bobby Petrino as offensive coordinator, and he is, allegedly, giving up play-calling duties. Since the 9-1 COVID season, the Aggies have gone 8-4 and 5-7. With a salary of nearly $10 million a year, Aggieland expects more.
Butch Jones, Arkansas State
The Red Wolves have won a combined five games in Jones’ first two seasons — the worst two-year record at the school in more than 20 years. Jones has three years left on his deal. Showing progress in Year 3 is imperative. Does that mean a bowl trip? Maybe. His buyout is around $1 million.
Scot Loeffler, Bowling Green
Loeffler, the former offensive coordinator at Auburn, Boston College and Virginia Tech, has won 13 games in four years. And while last season brought a six-win trip to the Quick Lane Bowl, Loeffler needs consistency, especially with a new athletic director hired a year ago. His buyout is around $1.3 million.
Neal Brown, West Virginia
As one person put it, Brown is “coaching for his life.” While that’s a bit sensationalized, it further emphasizes that Brown’s seat is the hottest among FBS coaches entering the 2023 season. With new AD Wren Baker hired last fall and an outgoing president in Gordon Gee, a coaching change feels imminent if Brown can’t, at the very least, get the Mountaineers bowling. He’s never lost more than seven games at the school — but he’s done that three times in four seasons. His buyout is expected to be around $13 million.
Ryan Silverfield, Memphis
Entering his fourth season at the helm, Silverfield’s fate was uncertain after last season — his second straight with at least six losses. While three consecutive bowl games is great, seventh- and eighth-place finishes in the American Athletic Conference is not. Silverfield’s buyout is low at about $2-2.5 million.
Danny Gonzalez, New Mexico
The former Arizona State defensive coordinator, Gonzalez’s teams have won seven games in three years. The Lobos have won one of their last 15 conference games. It’s easy to see why the school may cut ties with the coach, especially with a buyout of less than $500,000.