Photo credit: Paul Hokanson/Buffalo athletics
The coaching carousel is like Tinder.
Teams go through a list of candidates, swiping left and right until they find their perfect match. Alabama “swiped right” on Nick Saban, as did Clemson with Dabo Swinney. It’s a perfect app and it doesn’t have the same bad pickup lines.
Over the weekend, three more Power 5 jobs opened up. Arizona fired Kevin Sumlin following the Wildcats’ 70-7 loss to rival Arizona State. Illinois fired Lovie Smith, who finishes his Illinois tenure with a 17-37 record. On Sunday, Auburn fired Gus Malzhan after eight years in charge.
While more Power 5 jobs are likely to open up in the future, these jobs will take the limelight. Each job will likely have a list of fitting candidates, all with different experiences.
Arizona – Brent Brennan, San Jose State HC
Age: 47 (Born March 20, 1973)
Coaching Record: 14-29
Playing Career: UCLA WR (1991-95)
The Kevin Sumlin tenure at Arizona was… rocky. After three seasons in charge, Sumlin departs Tucson with a 9-20 record. Over their last 12 games, the Wildcats failed to win a game, including two losses to rival Arizona State. At this point, it’s pretty safe to say that it’s truly Bear Down for the Wildcats.
Arizona needs a football coach and it needs one now. The potential to win at Arizona is there, especially with the state being a fertile ground for recruiting.
Enter Brent Brennan, who is currently coaching at San Jose State.
Brennan began coaching at San Jose State in 2005, when he became the Spartans’ wide receivers coach. Brennan’s first stint at the university ended in 2010, when he joined Oregon State as the team’s wide receivers coach. After coaching the Beavers from 2010 to 2016, Brennan left to become the head coach at San Jose State.
The rough record at San Jose State may turn some people off, but he acquired a rough situation. Before taking over, San Jose State had won just one bowl game between 2013 and 2016 and didn’t finish with more than six wins in that same time frame. After going 2-11 and 1-11 in his first two seasons, Brennan is now 6-0 in his fourth season in charge.
Brennan’s offense has been highly efficient this season. The Spartans rank 43rd in offensive SP+ and 57th overall. This season, the Spartans are averaging 30.3 points and 433.7 yards per game. In six games, the Spartans have turned the ball over just five times.
Brennan doesn’t have the most ties to Arizona but he did serve as a graduate assistant in 2000 under legendary coach Dick Tomey. He’s also a West Coast guy through and through, being born in California and playing college football at UCLA. The move makes too much sense.
Illinois – Lance Leipold, Buffalo HC
Age: 56 (Born May 6, 1964)
Coaching Record: 145-38 overall (36-32 Buffalo)
Playing Career: Wisconsin-Whitewater QB (1983-86)
Illinois needs a coach who can rebuild the program and Lance Leipold of Buffalo makes a ton of sense.
Leipold began coaching at Buffalo in 2015, after winning six Division III national championships with Wisconsin-Whitewater. Since then, the Bulls have turned into a formidable Group of 5 program. They’ve made the MAC Championship game twice (2018 and 2020) and made two bowl games, winning the Bahamas Bowl in 2019. Overall, Leipold is 36-32 as Buffalo’s head man.
However, it wasn’t always like this for Buffalo. Between 2010 and 2014, Buffalo had made one bowl game and had seasons of two and three wins. Leipold was clearly the right hire for Buffalo and he can be the right hire for a Illinois team in desperate need of improving.
After going 17-37 under Lovie Smith, Illinois needs to find a way to get back into the fold of the Big Ten. Having a coach like Leipold, with plenty of experience in the Midwest, will help that in the long term.
Auburn – Billy Napier, Louisiana HC
Age: 41 (Born July 21, 1979)
Coaching Record: 27-11
Playing Career: Furman QB (1999-2002)
Another year means another year of Billy Napier getting his name thrown into the hat of every Power 5 head coaching job. Last season wasn’t much different than this season in that sense.
Napier’s name was listed as a candidate for the South Carolina opening and Napier even, according to reports from The Athletic, talked with South Carolina officials about the job. Napier obviously didn’t take the job. That now belongs to Shane Beamer.
With the Auburn job available, Napier’s name is once again being listed as a candidate. This time, however, it just makes too much sense.
Napier has experience coaching in Alabama, coaching the Crimson Tide’s wide receivers between 2013 and 2016. Over that time, the Crimson Tide saw Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley and Ardarius Stewart put up solid statistical numbers at wide receiver. From 2006 to 2010, Napier coached at Clemson.
Since taking over as Louisiana’s head coach in 2018, the Ragin’ Cajuns have been nothing but class in the Sun Belt. Napier is 27-11 as Louisana’s head coach, making the Sun Belt Championship all three years.
From 2015 to 2017, Louisiana was a meddling Sun Belt program. It had made a bowl game once but in the other two seasons, finished the regular season with an under-.500 record.
Does Auburn need a home run hire at head coach? No, but it does need to make the right hire. Napier’s experience is in the south and Napier has experience coaching and recruiting in Alabama. The only question that remains is if Napier is willing to depart Louisiana for Auburn.