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Some college football coaches enter the season with low—or at least shaky—job security.

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Among those with low—or at the very least uncertain—job security heading into the season are Bryan Harsin and Scott Frost.

This fall, could we be in for a less ridiculous “silly season”? Within the college football coaching community, there is some hope that this cycle will be less turbulent. There is only one genuine blue-blood position that seems to be in peril heading into the season (perhaps two, depending on how you view Nebraska). This is significantly different from 2021, when head coaching positions at Miami and USC appeared to be in play and an opening at Michigan appeared to be conceivable.

We all know, though, that just because churn isn’t anticipated doesn’t mean it won’t. When Florida and LSU dismissed their coaches, which did not appear likely in August, and when sitting coaches at powerhouses Oklahoma and Notre Dame uprooted stakes, causing extraordinary upheavals, all hell broke loose in the coaching world. The real volatility in a coaching cycle appears to be less about who will be let go and more about who will stay. Since such major programs can lose coaches to lateral moves, everything is up for grabs. Even a coach moving up to the NFL, where the work-life balance is drastically skewed in the league’s favor, is not included in that. The lure of the league grows stronger. When explaining to Sports Illustrated the differences between off-field obligations for college and professional athletes, one newly hired NFL coach simply pointed to his phone and noted that it hadn’t rang once during our chat in June, often the slowest month of the college offseason.

This cycle will undoubtedly throw some curveballs. Someone will abruptly retire or give a poor performance that makes them unpopular with their program. But for now, here is what we know about a number of positions that might be up for grabs at the end of the season.

Auburn

At the SEC media days in July, Harsin commented, “I know some of you out there looking at me didn’t expect me to be here at this time.” “There was a probe. It was unpleasant. It was not supported. It gave individuals a chance to criticize myself, my family, and our program on a personal level. And it was unsuccessful.

Earlier this year, when another coach in a same situation might have just decided on a buyout to take the money and go, Harsin didn’t give in. The individuals who dislike Harsin or, at the absolute least, would prefer that a different individual lead Auburn won’t vanish after. He can only win games if he wants to win them over. With Penn State arriving in Week 3, coupled with the typical SEC West schedule and Georgia from the East, Auburn’s schedule presents an early challenge. Whether they keep Harsin or not, the Tigers risk missing out on a golden-generation recruiting class in Alabama because their ability to recruit is already in doubt and because of the difficult circumstances surrounding Harsin’s situation.

Allen Greene’s upcoming contract, which is set to expire in the early months of 2023 and has not yet been renewed, hangs over all of this. He and Harsin might be fired at the end of the season, or maybe Greene changes jobs before the year is up. How much will that appease Harsin’s powerful detractors, if he continues to vacillate between 6 and 8 victories?

Nebraska

Scott Frost’s situation appears to be straightforward: Make a bowl game, and he might be able to keep his job. Things might become complicated if Nebraska loses once more. The Cornhuskers were snakebitten last year, going 3-9 with eight of their losses being decided by a single point. Those games are meant to eventually balance out, but Frost is 5-20 in those situations. For that win total to go in Frost’s favor, the Huskers will also need to improve in a few other areas, including their terrible special teams, their acceptance of a new offense under former Pitt coordinator Mark Whipple, and the performance of newly named starter Casey Thompson at quarterback.

Atlanta Tech

After three consecutive seasons with three wins, Geoff Collins’ tenure began with a lot of potential and anticipation, but it has yet to translate into on-field success. Collins is hoping that a transfer injection of 16 players—one of the largest totals in the country—pays off. Until January 1st, his buyout is more than $10 million; after that day, it becomes $7.2 million. The nonconference schedule, which features Georgia, UCF, and Ole Miss, is noteworthy. The Jackets’ over/under in Vegas is set at 3.5 wins, which reflects the lack of belief in their ability to advance, particularly without Alabama-transfer running back Jahmyr Gibbs.

Phoenix State

Arizona State’s program appears to be the most directly targeted by the NCAA, aside from Tennessee and Miami. A select few schools are waiting for NCAA sanctions to be announced before attempting to fire a coach for reason, forgo a buyout entirely, or at the at least, force a buyout amount that is agreeable to the institution.

When all is said and done, Herm Edwards and athletic director Ray Anderson may benefit from their friendship (Anderson once served as Edwards’ attorney). However, it is obvious that the NCAA probe is hurting recruiting, and it is only a matter of time before this is evident on the playing field. ASU president Michael Crow told The Athletic in early August that the NCAA’s probe was going “deliberately,” so it’s unclear when a notice of allegation may be issued. However, if a position at ASU became available, it would draw a wide range of applicants.

Louisville

If Scott Satterfield’s Louisville team suffers this season, the upcoming recruiting class will be put to the test in a real-world scenario.

Many coaches whose careers were on the line in the past were saved by a strong class. But how much influence does it really have in this era of transfer portal mania? With five-star running back Rueben Owens and quarterback Pierce Clarkson as its cornerstones, Louisville is outperforming its weight class. The future looks bright for the Cardinals after a bumpy start to the Satterfield era—which included him having to publicly apologize for interviewing at South Carolina before the 2020 season. Coaches admit that high-school recruiting is still the method to sustainably construct a roster. Absent a complete breakdown on the field, Satterfield ought to be able to sell the future.

UCLA

It is obvious that UCLA’s AD Martin Jarmond and other influential decision-makers want Chip Kelly to succeed as their coach. Following his greatest year as manager, an 8-4 campaign, Kelly signed an extension in January. His buyout is school-friendly, and according to the L.A. Times, the school would be responsible for paying 70% of what is owed through December 15, 2023 (about $4 million) if he were dismissed at the end of the season. The extension is undoubtedly a renewed commitment, but the structure is a strong indication that, if things don’t go as planned, the Bruin brass may decide to move on without making a significant financial investment in order to get ready for the Big Ten’s future.

Colorado

Karl Dorrell’s hiring was unorthodox at the time, but the Buffs’ 4-8 finish in 21 followed a startling 4-2 record in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Some in the business believe it wouldn’t be surprising to see CU stick with the plan now that Dorrell has been in place since Rick George became the athletic director.

UAB North Texas

Technically, the position is already open because Bryant Vincent is the interim coach now that Bill Clark retired over the summer due to health reasons. With a good foundation created by previous success in Conference USA, the Blazers will undoubtedly want to maintain that this season as they prepare to join the American Athletic Conference in 2023. Vincent should have a good chance of keeping the job permanently, but he’ll probably have to maintain UAB’s standard of living because the AAC move will attract competitors.

Middle Tennessee USF

Since taking over the program in 2006, Rick Stockstill has expected the Blue Raiders to play in a bowl game and perform to a certain standard. If the program doesn’t meet those expectations this season, we’ll have to wait and see what its short-term objectives are given that it’s in a rapidly growing population center.

Jake Spavital has a 9–27 record in three seasons for Texas State. Despite playing in a talent-heavy state, the Bobcats continue to be a transfer-heavy team, signing the great bulk of their recruiting class via the portal. Experienced talent may enhance efforts and swiftly turn things around if it pays off, but it didn’t last year (the team finished 4–8, the most wins of the Spavital era). Coaches will be drawn to it because of its location, but there are still concerns about the program’s financial commitment to football and clues that not all of its issues may be attributable to Spavital.

Syracuse

Three years have passed since Dino Babers’ last contract extension, and the Orange have not seen much success since that 10-3 campaign in 2018. Some think the Orange must make the playoffs or else, however in late June, athletic director John Wildhack stated the following:

During a media appearance on Tuesday afternoon to preview the forthcoming athletic season, Wildhack stated, “Dino’s not on the hot seat,” and then repeated it. I think what we’ve accomplished in the last six months sets the stage for what we can achieve in 2022 and beyond, so I’m really happy with that.

Furthermore, Babers’ buyout is significant. According to ESPN, firing him this year would cost more than $10 million.

More coverage of college football:

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