Take 5: Top CFB coaching jobs not available … yet

Florida and Tennessee chose not to drag out the inevitable, with the Gators “parting ways” with Jim McElwain and the Volunteers firing Butch Jones with multiple games remaining on their schedules.

The coaching carousel will be in full swing when the regular season winds down in a few weeks, with several more intriguing jobs all but certain to become vacated.

The Top 5 FBS football coaching jobs that aren’t available … yet:

Illinois coach Lovie Smith
(Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports)

5. Illinois (current coach, Lovie Smith): The Illini are 5-17 in two years under the long-time NFL coach, including 2-8 this season (0-7 Big Ten). Smith’s contract will be hard to swallow – he signed a six-year deal in 2016 that includes $21 million in guaranteed money and is worth up to $29 million.

Smith’s base salary is due to rise to $3 million in 2018, $4 million the following year and $5 million in each of the final two years of the contract. He will also be paid a $1 million bonus if he remains at Illinois for three seasons. By contrast, Smith will be owed a reported $16 million buyout if fired without cause this year.

The IU trustees no doubt regret signing off on this one.

The product on the field under Smith’s direction has been nothing short of miserable. The Illini started off 2017 with victories over Ball State and Western Kentucky – and it speaks volumes that the 2-0 start was considered a mild surprise. They are 0-8 since, with all but one loss coming by double digits. Illinois ranks 124th out of 130 FBS teams in points scored (16.4 per game) and 76th in scoring defense (28.4) under the defensive-minded Smith.

Arizona State coach Todd Graham
(Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)

4. Arizona State (Todd Graham): Graham bought a little breathing room with ASU’s 13-7 victory over then-unbeaten Washington on Oct. 14. However, the Sun Devils are 2-2 since and at 5-5 overall (4-3 in the Pac-12), ASU may need to close with wins over Oregon State and rival Arizona for Graham to have a shot at returning for a seventh season in the desert.

ASU president Michael Crow said in August that consecutive losing records in any sport are unacceptable. Graham is likely to lock up at least a .500 record with a win over the Beavers this weekend, but the Sun Devils are 16-19 over the past three seasons.

Crow’s comments along with ASU not extending Graham’s contract by one year over the summer as it had done each of the previous four years sent a clear message that more was expected in 2017. Will a 7-5 record and a low-level bowl game in a down year for the Pac-12 be enough?

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema
(Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

3. Arkansas (Bret Bielema): Bielema is a middling 29-32 at Arkansas, including 4-6 this season, but his job wasn’t considered in imminent danger because of the strong support he enjoyed from athletic director Jeff Long.

Ehh…

Long was shown the dooron Wednesday, and now Bielema’s time is considered numbered as well. A new AD is almost certain to bring a new coach to Fayetteville to wipe the slate clean.

Working in Bielema’s favor is that his contract runs through 2020, he is owed a buyout of around $15 million if fired without cause, and the available pool of coaches likely to be considered an upgrade is limited. Arkansas faces a stacked deck in trying to be continuously competitive in the SEC, and can the new AD realistically expect a huge boost in the football program by getting rid of Bielema?

With numerous other openings around the country that present better opportunities to build a winning program, luring a coach to Fayetteville that will excite the fan base and the boosters may prove difficult.

Nebraska coach Mike Riley
(Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports)

2. Nebraska (Mike Riley): New AD Bill Moos said on Monday that Riley “deserved” to finish the season as the Huskers’ coach, but a change is all but official. Moos, who has previously served as the AD at Oregon and Washington State, told the Lincoln Journal Star this week that he thinks his review of the football program will be complete before the end of the season.

While at WSU in 2011, Moos decided to make a coaching change but did not fire Paul Wulff until the end of the season. He will likely take the same course with Riley, who is 19-17 in three seasons at Nebraska, including 4-6 in 2017.

The rumor mill is already strong that Moos will try to bring in Mike Leach, despite catching the WSU coach off-guard with his departure for Nebraska. Moos is a huge Leach fan, and covertly traveled to Key West, Fla. to lure him to the Palouse.

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin
(Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

1. Texas A&M (Kevin Sumlin): Closing with two victories for an 8-4 record might not be enough for Sumlin to save his job. The embattled coach has a lot of detractors around the program and on the Board of Regents, and a report by USA Today on Tuesday said the school is already working on a separation agreement, with plans to pursue Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher.

Sumlin led the Aggies to an 11-2 record and a Cotton Bowl victory in his first season in 2021, but Texas A&M has not won double-digit games since. If the Aggies cannot run the table against Ole Miss and LSU to close out the regular season, they will finish with their lowest win total in six seasons under Sumlin.

His fate might have been sealed with consecutive blowout losses at home to Mississippi State and Auburn. Sumlin has $10 million remaining on his deal, but that will not prevent AD Scott Woodward from making a change.

That’s especially true if Woodward believes a friend like Fisher or another marquee coach is in play to take over the Aggies. And there is plenty to lure a big name to Texas A&M with. The school recently invested $20.8 million to renovate the football complex, and nearly $500 million was earmarked in 2013 to renovate Kyle Field and upgrade program’s facilities.

Kyle Field now houses an SEC-high 102,512 fans, and the money flowing into the program could entice a big-name coach in search of unwavering financial support and modern facilities, not to mention the deep recruiting grounds in Texas.

A full ranking of 30 coaches on the hot seat is available at coacheshotseat.com.

–Derek Harper

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