AUSTIN, Texas -- If Texas truly is the No. 1 coaching job in college football, we're about to find out what that means.
With no obvious front-runner at the moment, and athletic director Steve Patterson keeping as quiet as possible, there's still plenty we don't know about what the Longhorns are looking for in their search to find the next Mack Brown.
But we do know the criteria that matter to Patterson and Texas president Bill Powers. At Brown’s resignation news conference last month, Patterson laid out some of what he's seeking.
“I think you have to be good with the press, you have to be able to recruit, you have to be able to understand what a big-time college football program is about,” Patterson said. “You're going to be under a lot of scrutiny. You've got to win and you've got to win big.
“You have to graduate your student-athletes, you have to take real classes. You've got to mentor them, you've got to recruit the right kind of folks. You're not going to necessarily have all of those requirements at some other schools out there.”
And so, we started crunching the numbers and comparing resumes. No matter whether you think Texas is down to 10, five or two candidates, the public speculation over who’s interested and available has created a long, long list of potential candidates worth considering.
We’ve trimmed that list down to 25 big names. Some of these coaches have already said publicly they’re not interested. But chances are good that, by Jan. 15, one of these 25 will be the next coach of the Texas Longhorns.
Comparing the candidates
A few trends to consider among these coaches, just to give a better sense of how loaded the field might be for Patterson and his committee:
Of these 25 coaches Texas could consider, 21 have BCS conference head coaching experience, 19 have won at least one division or conference title, and 16 have led programs to BCS bowl games.
The coaches on this list have an average of nearly 20 years of college coaching experience, and 21 of them have a 10-win season on their head coaching resume.
Only seven of these coaches have experience coaching in Texas at any level: Art Briles, Gary Patterson, Les Miles, Will Muschamp, Nick Saban, Charlie Strong and Mike Gundy. Briles (Rule), Gus Malzahn (Irving) and Mark Dantonio (El Paso) were born in the state.
Need an elite recruiter? You’ll find plenty on this list. Of these coaches, 13 currently have top-25 recruiting classes, according to ESPN, and based on past recruiting data, as many as 14 have a track record of averaging top-25 classes.
Grades and integrity matter to Powers, and 16 of these 25 coaches have APR grades surpassing 950. The national average is 949. At least 18 of the 25 have a clean resume from an “integrity” standpoint. Realistically, though, that’s a subjective matter that should be left to the vetting of the search firm and committee.
It’s a strong group and Patterson has plenty of appealing options. But data on paper isn’t everything. This information helps build reputations and will land some candidates interviews.
What you can’t put on paper might be the most important factor: Fit.
Former Big 12 interim commissioner and Big East commissioner Chuck Neinas has run an executive search firm since 1997 and aided in the hires of Brown, Bob Stoops, Mark Richt, Miles and countless other head coaches. He’s a strong believer in the importance of finding comfortable fits between coach and institution.
“I’ve never been in an interview process where they bring in the board and say, ‘How do you diagram blocking a zone blitz?' " Neinas said. “They’re looking for leadership. You just work it out, spend time and see what interaction there is and hopefully be able to judge how everyone is going to work together.”
What makes a successful hire
To get more background, we also analyzed the 25 best college coaching hires of the past five years. What did these successful coaches have in common?
Four trends stood out. The majority of these coaches shared the following traits:
A total of 21 of 25 had more than 10 years of college experience as head coaches or assistants.
Surprisingly, 18 of the 25 had never held a BCS conference head coaching job prior to being hired.
Of the 25, 16 were in their 40s, and 16 had backgrounds as offensive coaches.
Only 16 of the 25 had been head coaches in the past, but 13 of those 16 already had won at least one division or conference title.
For nine of these schools, hiring a coordinator instead of a head coach paid off big. Five of those coordinators were in-house and promoted, and the strong majority of those were on offense. Five of the 25 best hires were of coaches who had taken off the previous season.
Texas isn’t looking to hire a coordinator to replace Brown. Patterson rightfully wants someone who’s already won big. It’s worth noting that only four of these coaches (Urban Meyer, Brian Kelly, Rich Rodriguez and the rehired Bill Snyder) already had led programs to BCS bowl games.
But here’s what matters: Five new hires in the past five years have led their programs to the BCS title games.
Finding a coach who meets most of Patterson’s criteria won’t be difficult. Finding one who can lead the Longhorns back to national-title contention is the reason Texas is searching in the first place.