Ranking potential coaching openings

If Chip Kelly leaves for the NFL this offseason, the Oregon job will be highly sought-after. Kelley L Cox/US Presswire

The Tennessee head coaching job is now officially open, joining Arkansas, Kentucky, UTEP and a couple of others. There are more to come as the regular season ends and the season of coaching movement begins.

If you were a high-end candidate, how would you approach the gigs that are vacant or ones that could potentially open in the coming weeks? How would you rank them?

Based on a variety of conversations and factors -- the central thought being, "Where can you win?", not just in the short-term but over the long-term -- I've ranked the jobs.

Additionally, I've tacked on a few at the end of this list that could open by the end of the 2013 season -- something potential candidates also have to keep in mind so that they take the right job and not just one that's conveniently available.

1. Oregon Ducks

Current status: Not open

Odds of opening (scale of 1-10): 6.5

It's a matter of when the Chip Kelly-to-the-NFL bet comes in. This year? Next year? When?

Kelly very nearly left last season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but something kept him hanging around. After last week's loss to Stanford, perhaps the same unresolved-business mantra remains, but maybe the correct NFL team pursues him this time around? There's certainly no lack of love for Kelly among NFL smarts.

Phil H. Knight is the game-changer here, because Knight's Nike money has vaulted the Oregon job and program into something it wasn't, oh, a decade ago. T. Boone Pickens is kind of doing the same at Oklahoma State, but Knight is the originator in program elevation.

Whoever takes over for Kelly, so long as he gets the premise of offense first (entertain!), should be fine. This is a great job, with the power of Nike behind the program and the pick of West Coast recruits.

2. Auburn Tigers

Current status: Not open

Odds of opening: 9.9

Even if Cam Newton was necessary for a national title two seasons ago, it isn't as if this program is bereft of resources or recruiting fertility.

Gene Chizik, presuming he's done, recruited top-flight classes the past three years; it's just a matter, beyond Newton, of what he did with them.

As a result of recent failures, AD Jay Jacobs is on a short leash as well. This becomes a crucial hire for him. The resources are present, and the fan base is drooling for a consistent winner. Even if Nick Saban is setting the standard, all the Tigers want to do is be competitive. Given the landscape and ability to regionally recruit, there's no reason for that not to happen.

One drawback with the job is the insular nature of the community. It works for it, the whole "family" concept, but it also works against it because Auburn becomes a fishbowl for whoever is in charge. Tommy Tuberville did a nice job managing everything, and you see where that got him: Lubbock, Texas.

3. Tennessee Volunteers

Current status: Open

After two decades with the same coach, the Vols are seeking their fourth in six seasons. So, stability is necessary for Dave Hart's first hire as AD. Hart has said he seeks a candidate with previous head coaching experience -- and someone who knows the SEC would be a bonus.

Tennessee is a tricky job because, really, it's a recruiting nightmare. It always was, but going beyond the state's borders requires a tete-a-tete against division rivals Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. And there are fewer selling points, at least for now, than Tennessee used to have. An intelligent salesman will be required for the job, regardless of where he was previously employed.

On the plus side, the facilities are top-notch and getting better, with a new football weight room and coaches' offices, but that alone doesn't equal success. As a friend of mine close to the program said, development is just as important for the next coach as recruiting is. Even if it isn't a top-10 sort of class, the incoming staff needs to be adept at mining and extracting talent. Perhaps an overachieving coach produces overachieving players.

4. Arkansas Razorbacks

Current status: Open

Is this the weirdest vacant job in America? A top-10 program fires its coach in April for unfairly hiring the woman with which he was having an affair (a 25-year-old former volleyball player, no less), and lying about it to his boss and the media after he wrecked his motorcycle while carrying her around as a passenger.

Is this a CW melodrama come to life? And where does AD Jeff Long go from here?

The good news is Arkansas has a strong commitment to the football program and the resources to make winning possible. The state is subtly strong in terms of recruiting, and just imagine what would happen if someone who knew the state of Texas could again open those doors. (Ahem, Art Briles?)

With an intelligent program-manager, someone who gets the fragile-but-fertile ground there, the Hogs could easily leap over the bar that Bobby Petrino ably set before he recklessly threw it all away.

5. North Carolina State Wolfpack

Current status: Not open

Odds of opening: 7

It's been a strange season for the Wolfpack. It lost in the opener against Tennessee, which has already dismissed its coach. It later waylaid the BCS title chances of the league's only viable contender, FSU.

Spoiled and spoiler, it has left Tom O'Brien in a most precarious position. With a veteran quarterback, Mike Glennon, and an experienced defense, many presumed NC State could at least hang in there in the division against FSU and Clemson.

No, the Pack weren't really even all that close. Despite a win against the Seminoles, they are currently three games back in the division (and barely above .500 overall). They were outscored by 27 by Virginia. They gave up 62 points last week against Clemson.

However many times O'Brien seems to have the program on the right track, there are subsequent missteps that undermine the progress. Like any other ACC program, there's room for more successful teams. And NC State has a lot to boast, like palatable facilities and a relatively strong in-state recruiting base.

6. California Golden Bears

Current Status: Open

The Cal job is a desirable destination because of California recruiting, a brand-new stadium and a league that makes it perennially possible for new winners -- at least on some level -- to emerge.

Jeff Tedford regularly brought in elite talent, especially at the skill positions; he just needed more of it spread across more positions to push the Bears to a higher level. There are far more difficult jobs in the Pac-12 -- Washington State and Colorado immediately come to mind -- so perhaps new blood could quickly turn Cal around.

7. South Florida Bulls

Current Status: Not open

Odds of opening: 7

The football program is only about a decade old, but it's a total sleeping giant based on its location and the there-for-the-taking Big East.

Some (including me) thought Skip Holtz could take advantage of the conference with an experienced team, but it simply has not performed. No one's really talking about it, in light of USC and Michigan State's pronounced flops, but the Bulls are unquestionably of the more disappointing teams in 2012.

The point being: The talent is there. It's available for USF, even if it has to compete with the state's "big three" to get players.

There are plenty of selling points for in-state kids -- especially when reminding them that Miami is sure to deal with some sort of NCAA consequences -- but that might not be enough for Holtz.

The facilities are improving, and the commitment to football is fairly solid. This is an underrated gig. Given the assets and his track record, it's surprising to a lot of people in the coaching profession that Holtz hasn't fared better.

8. Purdue Boilermakers

Current Status: Not open

Odds of opening: 8

Similar to South Florida, the Boilermakers had a veteran team and simply did not perform in a conference that was anything but controlled. Perhaps this would have been a different season if the Boilers would have held on late against Notre Dame. A five-game losing streak followed soon afterward, turning up the heat on Danny Hope.

Wisconsin, at 4-3 in the Big Ten, is going to rep the Leaders Division in the conference title game. There's no reason, to many, why Purdue couldn't have at least made it more of a race. If it wasn't going to win -- or at least compete -- this season, when is it going to?

West Lafayette isn't exactly Southern California or even South Bend in terms of appeal to recruits, but the program has enough recent history to draw a roster capable of winning games.

9. Boston College Eagles

Current Status: Not open

Odds of opening: 9

I know a couple of guys who actually want this job, even if it isn't officially open yet. They saw the ACC as vulnerable, even before this new round of realignment. They think there's room for BC, despite the academic limitations that similarly hamstring Duke and Wake Forest.

It's a beautiful city and campus and, let's be honest, the conference isn't that challenging to make the Matt Ryan years seem that distant. A couple of solid players on both sides of the ball, and the Eagles could be equipped to be a conference contender. Frank Spaziani, most everyone believes, is simply in over his head.

10. Kentucky Wildcats

Current Status: Open

For multiple reasons, this is a tough job. For one, hoops is and always will be the first love in the Bluegrass State.

I've been in the state in October, and the basketball team's Midnight Madness festivities on a Friday night are way more important than whoever the football team is playing on Saturday afternoon. That's just a way of life.

But that's not to say there isn't some place for a successful football team. It just works as a complement to whatever is happening with John Calipari and the hoops program. Whoever takes over in Lexington has to be prepared for that reality.
In a way, it takes pressure off him and the program. In the SEC, that's kind of a welcome relief. A relatively pressure-free gig in that league? It's a rarity. Make a bowl game, like Joker Phillips did his first year (but not again after that), and you'll be fine.

Jobs that could potentially be open by the end of 2013:

Texas Longhorns

The Longhorns got their act together this season to calm that Mack Brown retirement talk, but it could heat back up next year -- even if Texas performs well. Brown circled the '13 group as his best chance to get UT back among college football's elite. If that happens, he might ride off toward his North Carolina mountain home after next season.

The job speaks for itself. Limitless resources. Passionate fans. Recruiting base like no other. Kind of makes you wonder why Brown hasn't won more there, doesn't it? Don't misread this, because I'm not saying he's going there, but what would a Nick Saban-type do with that situation?

USC Trojans

AD Pat Haden has said Lane Kiffin will be the coach next season. But there are clearly no guarantees beyond that. If the shenanigans-to-losses ratio is again awry, there could be a new coach in South L.A.

USC isn't far off Texas' pace -- it would have been first in the rankings above, if the position were currently open or imminently opening -- and the job is aided even more by the brand-new $70 million McKay Center (for all athletics, not just football). The Trojans, sunshine included, have every advantage needed to recruit on an elite level.

It's just a matter of what happens to those players once they arrive on campus. Kiffin and his staff have gotten something out of some of them, but picture if USC had something special in terms of development. They're getting the best players. Can you honestly say they're getting the most out of those recruits? What if they were? Could any team in the country compete with the Trojans?

South Carolina Gamecocks

Even if it's not after next season, you've got to figure Steve Spurrier's retirement is coming at some point in the near future. (He did reportedly tell 2013 QB commit Connor Mitch that he'd stay through his career. Five more years? That feels subject to change.)

Give Spurrier credit. He sought out in 2005 to elevate this job, and along with help from the university's administration, he has. It's a better gig than Tennessee right now, something that would have been downright laughable less than a decade ago.

The state is a subtly stocked with elite talent -- Jadeveon Clowney and Marcus Lattimore immediately come to mind -- and Georgia and Florida are nearby for plucking a player or three. The facilities are on the rise, too. There's no reason to think South Carolina cannot continue to compete, so long as it targets a forward-thinking coach with a gift for gab with recruits' families.

Virginia Tech Hokies

This fits under the same umbrella as the note above about South Carolina. You know it's coming for Frank Beamer. If the program endures another difficult season like 2011, he might decide -- with some insistence -- that it's time to hang it up.

A win Saturday against Virginia and the Hokies can sustain their streak of making a bowl game (it extends all the way back to 1992), but this to me is about something more significant. There's nothing about this team's talent on both sides of the ball that suggests Miami or Georgia Tech, the Coastal competition, is more talented. And yet it's the first time in recent memory that Virginia Tech hasn't performed up to the standard that it's set for itself.

Beamer has launched this job into something meaningful, without any doubt, but what would it be without him? It would require someone with the same eye for underrated talent and ability to develop in-state kids.

Blacksburg isn't exactly a destination for recruits. The next staff would be wise to link to Beamer's mantras and standard.

Iowa Hawkeyes

The Hawkeyes have lost five consecutive games and are a loss against Nebraska from a 4-8 regular season. Granted, injuries and a depletion of talent has contributed in 2012, but how much can Kirk Ferentz endure before eventually it's too much?
Chilly Iowa City is a tough draw for recruits, but Hayden Fry and, at one point, Ferentz were able to make it work.

The fact that Ferentz has been making $3.5 million has been held against him for a few years now. Last year's Insight Bowl appearance -- and loss -- was one thing. A 4-8 year signals a yellow light, and another subpar season in 2013 could be the red light.