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College football coaches you might want to hire if you just fired your coach

Here are the biggest candidates everyone will be pursuing after the hot seat season this year.

Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Elko before the first half of the game against North Carolina State Wolfpack at Wallace Wade Stadium. Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports

College football is a sport in a constant state of flux, because there are only so many wins but more universities that feel entitled to them. Despite knowing that wins are a finite number, hungry boosters are always willing to fire their current coach in hopes of finding the next big thing.

If your favorite football program has fired a coach this year, these are some candidates that could take his place.

Jason Candle

Given his 64-33 and accomplishments with the Toledo Rockets it’s hard to believe that Candle is about to finish his ninth season there. But he can afford to be selective. At just 44 years old, Candle is a relative youngster among the coaches that are expected to get looks this offseason. One would expect Candle to be a candidate for the Michigan State Spartans job given his long-time coaching and personal residency in neighboring Ohio.

Mike Elko

Elko has gotten the Duke Blue Devils bowl eligible in each of his first two seasons with the program. The wins haven’t just been empty calories either as the Blue Devils opened the season with a strong performance against the Clemson Tigers and were less than two minutes from an upset over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Elko is the former defensive coordinator for the Texas A&M Aggies and has been linked to that job. But don’t be surprised if Michigan State and potentially others also come calling.

Jimbo Fishers

Yeah, I know he’s been the butt of a few jokes, but Fisher has a career record of 128-48 and 8-2 in bowl games with a national title (2013 Florida State Seminoles). Even though his 45-25 record with Texas A&M is considered a “disappointment”, Fisher did lead the Aggies to a No. 4 finish in 2020 — the best ranking the program has achieved since 1939! His recruiting classes are annually among the best in the nation. If there was a drawback to Fisher it’s that he has a tendency to float his name around for job openings only to squeeze his current employer for more money. Fisher’s next job might not be open just yet, but if Mack Brown leaves the North Carolina Tar Heels, that could be a fit. If Gus Malzahn leaves the UCF Knights that would also be another possibility. He is more likely to take a year off, enjoy his $76 million buyout from Texas A&M and do some television.

Lance Leiopold

Expect Leipold to be a hot name for several job openings, namely Michigan State (or the Michigan Wolverines if Jim Harbaugh decides to leave). Leipold started out with Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he had a ridiculous 109-6 record with six Division III champion in his eight seasons. Leipold went to the Buffalo Bulls from there and went 37-33 in six seasons with three bowl appearances. He has continued his winning ways with the Kansas Jayhawks, where he has them as a Top 25 program in his third year. The Jefferson, Wisconsin native is 59 years old, so he might decide to stay in Kansas, where he is building something nice.

Dan Lanning

There’s something about the Oregon Ducks job that coaches just don’t hang around despite good success. The last coach to stay in Eugene for more than four seasons is Mike Bellotti It’s hard to see why the Ducks fail to keep coaches. They pay well and the program has consistently been in the top 15 since 2000. With Phil Knight’s deep pockets the program will never lack for resources. Lanning, who is in his second season, has already won 20 games there and claims that he is happy and in it for the long haul. But we’ve heard that before.

Chris Klieman

All Klieman does is win football games. He won a ton with the North Dakota State Bison, where he went 69-6 with four FCS championships in five seasons. Now with the Kansas State Wildcats, Kleiman has won 8-or-more games in four of his first five seasons and won a Big XII title in 2022 that led to a Sugar Bowl appearance. Klieman seems very comfortable in the upper midwest and it would take a lot to get him to Michigan State, Texas A&M or any other job he is rumored for. He signed an 8-year contract extension for $44 million in May.

Dan Mullen

Mullen seems quite happy in his role as a television analyst for ABC/ESPN. His three-plus year with the Florida Gators showed that Mullen isn’t most aggressive presence on the recruiting trail and didn’t handle the pressure cooker of a program with championship expectations. But there are no championship expectations with the Mississippi State Bulldogs, where Mullen had a great nine-year run (69-46 record). Could a reunion be on the table in Starkville? Both sides know what the other brings to the table and the Mississippi State program could use some stability after the death of Mike Leach and recent firing of Zach Arnett.

Jonathan Smith

It took Smith a few years to get going, but he’s found a ton of success with the Oregon State Beavers — his alma mater. Smith’s future with the program could depend on how the Beavers can stay relevant without the Pac-12 conference. Oregon State is 25-11 with a top 20 finish over the past three seasons. If the UCLA Bruins decide on a coaching change would Smith be interested? He’s from Pasadena, California and played high school football in Los Angeles county.

Jon Sumrall

Sumrall won 12 games with the Troy Trojans in his first year and is looking at another double-digit win season. The 41-year-old from Huntsville, Alabama has a SEC background with assistant coaching stints at Ole Miss and Kentucky. Sumrall could decide to be patient and see if a job he desires opens up. He played college football at Kentucky, but it seems like Mark Stoops has a power grip on that job for now.

Jeff Traylor

If Texas A&M decides to make a responsible, non-flashy hire (unlikely), then Traylor would have to be the guy. The 55-year from Gilmer, Texas spent 25 years coaching in the the Texas high school ranks and is extremely popular among coaches in the state. In his four seasons leading the UTSA Roadrunners, Traylor is 38-13 with a Conference-USA championship in 2022. He is very familiar with the culture at Texas A&M and would be a good fit, but will the Aggie faithful take the risk?


Dabo Swinney

As upset as Swinney gets with radio show callers like “Tyler from Spartanburg” there’s only a few options for a guy making $11 million annually. Even with a couple of less-than-stellar seasons Swinney is not going to be forced out anytime soon. But if he wants to take the Clemson Tigers back to the college football playoff, Swinney might start looking at pulling players from the transfer portal.

Deion Sanders

Coach Prime brings all the attention a program could want. He brought in over 70 players in his first year with the Colorado Buffaloes and turned a lifeless 1-11 team into a must-see show that improved by a few games. If Michigan State loses out on its top choices could they get desperate? Maybe. But it’s hard to see Sanders leaving after just one season. He recently said that his family was with him in Colorado and he has no plans to leave.


Brent Vigen

Vigen is 32-8 in three years with the Montana State Bobcats and as finished in the top five of the FCS rankings in each of those seasons. If the success of Chris Kleiman is any indication, several teams should be interested in the 48-year-old from Buxton, North Dakota. If Kleiman or Lance Leipold leave their respective jobs, why wouldn’t Vigen be looked at as a possible replacement?