So many college football head coaching jobs have switched hands in the past few years that the supply of rising potential head coaches is getting scarce. There are plenty of potential candidates, but nearly all of the rising stars expected to be hired the past few years have gotten the call, from Tom Herman to Justin Fuente to Matt Rhule to P.J. Fleck, leaving fewer certainties and more projections.
The American Athletic Conference has particularly been hit hard as it becomes a breeding ground for Power Five head coaches. Nearly every coach in the league is still a relatively new one, so there's more doubt about who could be called up to bigger jobs this year than the past couple seasons.
Last week, we covered the returning head coaches who are under the most pressure to win. There will inevitably be a bunch of changes come November and December, so it's time to start gauging which coaches could be in line to move up. Not all will jump at the first chance -- several of the top Power Five coordinators can literally afford to be patient and may be comfortable where they are -- but if the names on our list have impressive 2017 seasons, they'll be talked about for FBS head coaching jobs that come open at the end of the year.
Here's how the hiring broke down last cycle:
- Eight Power Five jobs switched hands. Teams hired three AAC head coaches, one Conference USA head coach, one MAC head coach, one Big Ten defensive coordinator and two assistants promoted from within.
- Thirteen Group of Five jobs changed. These teams hired four former Power Five head coaches, three Power Five coordinators, four Power Five assistants and one promoted coordinator, plus one current Power Five coordinator who used to be a head coach (Lane Kiffin).
We'll split our 2017 list into two categories: current head coaches at Group of Five schools and current Power Five coordinators who, in keeping in line with our "rising" theme, have never been FBS head coaches and could be in line for that first opportunity. Keep in mind that ex-head coaches like Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano (Rutgers), TCU offensive analyst Sonny Dykes (Cal) and Oregon co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal (FIU) are among those who may also be in those conversations for another head coaching chance.
Current Group of Five Head Coaches
1. Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State. Satterfield came so close to getting an attention-grabbing win opening weekend against Tennessee last year, but the Mountaineers came up just short in overtime. Then they got blown out at home vs. Miami a couple weeks later. He's nevertheless done a phenomenal job shepherding Appalachian State from FCS to FBS, as the transition period essentially lasted for the first half of the first season. In three years in the Sun Belt, Satterfield is 28-10 overall and 18-4 in the conference. He's 27-5 in his past 32 games. The Mountaineers won the league title last season, ranking first in the Sun Belt in yards per play on offense and second on defense. It's been a fantastic FBS transition for the 44-year-old head coach and his program, and an experienced roster puts the Mountaineers in position to be the Sun Belt frontrunner again. Appalachian State just gave him a contract extension, but he makes significantly less money than many of the Power Five coordinators listed below.
2. Bryan Harsin, Boise State. Harsin's biggest problem is his predecessor. Chris Petersen set a ridiculous standard for success at Boise State that may be impossible to duplicate, going 92-12 in eight seasons. Harsin, a Boise State alum and former Petersen offensive coordinator, has lost nine games in three seasons, going 12-2, 9-4 and 10-3 with only one Mountain West title -- 2014, when the Broncos won another Fiesta Bowl. Being the coach who follows Petersen is a tough task, even if a foundation was in place to continue to succeed, and the Broncos have had a few frustrating hiccups. Nevertheless, Harsin has a star junior QB in Brett Rypien, and this is capable of being a top-25 Boise State team that competes for a major bowl spot if it can navigate tricky road trips to Washington State, BYU, San Diego State and Colorado State.
3. Jason Candle, Toledo. It's still early for Candle, who was promoted from offensive coordinator last year to replace Matt Campbell. But he has built an excellent offense led by quarterback Logan Woodside and receiver Cody Thompson, and with P.J. Fleck gone from Western Michigan, the Rockets will enter the season as the favorite to win their long-awaited first MAC championship since 2004. If Candle can do that and take aim at double-digit wins, he can quickly become the biggest rising star coach in the MAC, which puts him on the Power Five radar.
4. Neal Brown, Troy. A Sun Belt power last decade, Troy had five straight seasons without a winning record before Brown's turnaround in his second season. The Trojans went 10-3 last year and even briefly appeared in the AP top 25 after an 8-1 start in which they beat Appalachian State and took Clemson down to the wire. They blew their chance at the Sun Belt title late in the season, but it was a highly successful season in which they played terrific defense. Brown is an offensive coach, the 37-year-old former offensive coordinator at Texas Tech and Kentucky. With a veteran offense, Troy could duplicate lat year's success and will be in the mix with Appalachian State at the top of the Sun Belt.
5. Craig Bohl, Wyoming. The 58-year-old Bohl is older than the other coaches on this list, having gone from Nebraska's staff as linebackers coach under Tom Osborne and defensive coordinator under Frank Solich to head coach at North Dakota State, where he guided the Bison from Division II to FCS and built the Bison up to the point where they won three straight national titles before he took the Wyoming job. (They won two more after he left.) After a rough first two years of rebuilding the Cowboys in which he went 6-18, Bohl took Wyoming to the Mountain West title game last year, ultimately finishing with an 8-6 record. Now, hopes are high because of the presence of touted junior quarterback Josh Allen, who is being hyped as a possible No. 1 draft pick. Bohl created an FCS dynasty in Fargo, and he's putting Laramie back on the college football map.
6. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy. One of the toughest names on this list to gauge. There is no question that Niumatalolo is a great head coach who's worthy of a lot of opportunities. The 52-year-old is a remarkable 77-42 at Navy, including two double-digit-win seasons and a top-20 finish in 2015. He's done a phenomenal job attaining a consistently high level of success at a military academy. However, he's also had that success with an option offense, and it's tough to tell which Power Five schools might be interested. Georgia Tech did hire Paul Johnson, Niumatalolo's predecessor, and it's reasonable to believe that Niumatalolo could adapt to a somewhat different offense while operating in a CEO role. But he turned down BYU last year, and he could prove to be a Navy lifer, because right now, even after the loss to Army, his job is as steady and safe as anybody in the country.
7. Scott Frost, UCF. How quickly can Frost rise? The AAC has already experienced massive turnover over the past few years, and Frost could be among the next to get an opportunity, even after only one 6-7 season. Hired as a receivers coach at Oregon by Chip Kelly, the ex-Nebraska quarterback was the offensive coordinator for Marcus Mariota's Heisman season in 2014. In his first year at UCF, he inherited a broken squad that had gone winless, so he engineered substantial improvement to get to a bowl game. There's no doubt that his star is on the rise, but it may take a couple more years of growth to make the next leap. And as long as he's a successful head coach, his name will always be mentioned for Nebraska's future, something that would not happen this season.
8. Chad Morris, SMU. Morris is a hard name to place right now. His work as offensive coordinator at Clemson was fantastic, and he's long been speculated as a potential Power Five head coach -- particularly in the state of Texas, where he was a longtime high school coach. At SMU, Morris has made clear progress, even if tangible success hasn't been instant. He inherited a mess, in a competitive division, and he has a 7-17 record in two seasons. The offense has climbed from 127th to 82nd in yards per play since he arrived, and last year's team managed to win five games -- including against Houston -- despite losing QB Matt Davis to a torn ACL at the beginning of the season. QB Ben Hicks has a year of experience under his belt now, whether he wins the job or it's one of two transfers, they'll have one of the nation's best wideouts in Courtland Sutton. Another step forward to bowl eligibility is possible. SMU knows that bigger schools could come after him and just signed him to an extension through 2023.
9. Philip Montgomery, Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane couldn't quite pull of an upset of Houston … but they actually finished second in the AAC West at 6-2, a game ahead of the Cougars. Montgomery, the former offensive coordinator at Baylor, is 16-10 in two seasons, including last year's 10-win campaign in which the team scored 42.5 points per game. It's been a swift turnaround after the Golden Hurricane won five games total in 2013-14. Tulsa could take a step back this year and the defense is an ongoing problem, but what perhaps most stands in the way for Montgomery is if Power Five programs are reluctant to hire Art Briles' assistants. Purely for football reasons, it's hard to imagine Montgomery wouldn't be on the Power Five radar soon, but the Baylor scandal complicates matters.
10. Mike Norvell, Memphis. A lot of pieces are in place for another strong year for Memphis. Justin Fuente built up the Tigers and landed the Virginia Tech job, and Norvell was the Arizona State offensive coordinator before replacing him. Last year, with Paxton Lynch and other key players gone, Norvell went a solid 8-5 with wins over Houston and Temple. Much of his offense is back, including senior QB Riley Ferguson, who threw for 3,698 yards and 32 TDs. Memphis is an AAC contender, and a big season will push the 35-year-old Norvell further into the spotlight, even after only two seasons.
Current Power Five Assistant Coaches
1. Joe Moorhead, Penn State. No current assistant has seen his stock rise more in the past year. Moorhead was the architect of prolific FCS offenses as head coach at Fordham, and James Franklin hired him to fix Penn State's offense after two rough seasons. He did just that, and he did it quickly. Moorhead transformed the Nittany Lions into an entertaining big-play machine, as they improved from 100th to 21st in scoring, won the Big Ten championship and developed a knack for comebacks. With post-sanctions depth restored and nearly the entire offense back, including Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley, expectations are soaring for Penn State, further thrusting Moorhead into the spotlight as an in-demand name.
2. Brent Venables, Clemson. There has been no need for Venables to be anything but patient. He's been a Power Five defensive co-coordinator or coordinator since 1999, but he's still only 46. Entering his sixth season at Clemson, Venables now makes $1.7 million per year with a contract running through 2020. He has stability, having turned Clemson's defense into a consistent juggernaut, and he makes more money than almost every Group of Five head coach. If Bill Snyder does retire at Kansas State, speculation will undoubtedly place Venables, the former Wildcats linebacker and assistant, in the mix there, but there's no guarantee that Venables will go anywhere soon. There's no reason to, unless he finds the perfect fit like Kirby Smart did with Georgia.
3. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma. The 33-year-old Riley just received a contract extension through 2020 that pays him $1.3 million per year. He's young, and as the offensive coordinator at what's been the most successful program in the Big 12, there's no rush for him to jump elsewhere and take over a lesser program too early. Riley coached prolific offenses at East Carolina, and at Oklahoma he has helped guide Baker Mayfield to back-to-back top-four finishes in the Heisman Trophy race. Oklahoma will do everything it can to keep him.
4. Dave Aranda, LSU. Aranda worked wonders with the Wisconsin defense, and he did an excellent job in his first year at LSU. Remember, despite the Tigers' disappointing season, they finished 10th in yards per play allowed, didn't allow more than 18 points in any of their four losses and gave up 10 points to Alabama and nine points to Louisville. The 40-year-old Aranda signed an enormous contract after last season, putting him in the category of coordinators who don't need to rush into a head coaching job, but he's undoubtedly a rising star and should have another big year with all the talent he has at his disposal. Also keep an eye on new LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada, if he can transform the Tigers offense.
5. Pep Hamilton, Michigan. Jim Harbaugh assistants are in demand. Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin was hired by Maryland after the 2015 season, and now co-offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch is the new coordinator at UCLA. Among Michigan assistants, the most heralded is Durkin's replacement, Don Brown. But Brown is 61 years old. Hamilton, who coached under Harbaugh at Stanford and was the Indianapolis Colts' offensive coordinator from 2013-15, is the 42-year-old replacement for Fisch. Line coach Tim Drevno is the offensive coordinator, but Hamilton is the quarterbacks coach and assistant head coach who is in charge of the passing game. With significant experience in both college and pro football and lots of work with Harbaugh, this job will likely be the launching point to a head coaching job.
6. Pete Kwiatkowski, Washington. Here is where Kwiatkowski's defenses have ranked nationally in yards per play allowed since becoming Boise State's coordinator in 2010 and Washington's in 2014: first, 40th, 10th, 35th, 51st, 23rd and fourth. The worst season came in a transition year for Washington, but he has built the Huskies defense into the Pac-12's best the past couple seasons, with a disruptive front and a lockdown secondary. The loss of stars Budda Baker, Sidney Jones and Kevin King from the defensive backfield will provide a major challenge as the Huskies try to defend their title, but increased attention for Kwiatkowski and other Petersen assistants is inevitable if Washington continues to succeed.
7. Jeremy Pruitt, Alabama. Pruitt, 42, has been the defensive coordinator at Florida State, Georgia and Alabama, and in his first season back with the Crimson Tide -- he was DBs coach from 2010-12 -- they led the nation in points allowed and yards per play allowed. Pruitt stepped into the best situation imaginable, with a ridiculous amount of talent coming back from a national championship team. Still, Nick Saban hired him for a reason, and as long as there is no significant drop-off on the Alabama defense, Pruitt will follow Kirby Smart, Jim McElwain and Lane Kiffin on the Alabama-coordinator-to-head-coach trajectory.
8. Tee Martin, USC. Elevated to offensive coordinator when Clay Helton got the head coaching job, Martin has mostly coached receivers, in addition to being a national championship winning quarterback at Tennessee in 1998. He was named 247Sports' recruiter of the year in 2016, and now he's part of the development of Sam Darnold into a superstar quarterback.
9. Todd Orlando, Texas. Houston chose to promote offensive coordinator Major Applewhite instead of Orlando, and Orlando thus followed Tom Herman to Texas to run the Longhorns' defense. Orlando coached excellent defenses at Utah State and Houston, and his next task is turning around a Texas defense that has struggled to live up to its potential. There is plenty of talent available, though, and a quick turnaround could lead to increased head coaching interest, at least among Group of Five teams. Remember, it was his unit that overwhelmed Lamar Jackson and Louisville last November.
10. Tony Gibson, West Virginia. Elevated from safeties coach to defensive coordinator in 2014, Gibson has done a fine job retooling the Mountaineers defense and helping open the door for last year's 10-win season. Gibson has shown a knack for slowing down some of the Big 12's wide-open offenses, and he did it last year with a new-look unit that returned only four starters. There's a lot of turnover again, making this season challenging, but he's done impressive work under Dana Holgorsen.