Before I go into detail, let’s get this straight: Jon Gruden is not going anywhere. Sorry Tennessee.
Gruden has too much of a good thing going on as the Monday Night Football commentator and his QB Camp with ESPN. He has already won a Super Bowl as a coach. He has no pressure whatsoever — he doesn’t have to worry about recruiting and relying on 19- and 20-year-olds — and he gets paid about $4.3 million annually by ESPN. Would you leave that?
At this time last year, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was an analyst with ESPN, Arizona football coach Rich Rodriguez was with CBS Sports, Washington State coach Mike Leach was a radio personality on SiriusXM’s College Sports Nation show, and New Mexico coach Bob Davie was completing his 10th year as an analyst for ABC.
They are back on the sideline, talking to their players, rather than a national audience, about the game they love.
Most coaches get a second chance even if they were fired or forced to resign. Athletic directors know these guys have experience with building a program, recruiting, and X’s and O’s. They have achieved success. They are hungrier to prove their worth.
The following is a list of former college coaches who can be re-living their dream next season:
1. Bobby Petrino — Athletic directors in need of victories care more about what Petrino, 51, did as the coach at Arkansas than his adultery and lack-of-honesty that led to his firing in Fayetteville. He was 21-5 as the Razorbacks’ coach in 2010 and 2011. If he avoided his personal turmoil, Petrino would be coaching an Arkansas team that had preseason Top 10 talent. Auburn is a possibility for Petrino if Gene Chizik’s contract is bought out. Petrino will field many offers.
2. Dan Hawkins — He struggled at Colorado with a 19-39 record in five years. Out of football two years and serving as a radio personality with SiriusXM, Hawkins should be ready to prove that he is more like the coach who led Boise State to a 53-11 record in five seasons. Don’t be surprised if Hawkins, 51, becomes the head coach at Idaho, which fired Robb Akey this week. The Vandals will be an FBS independent and in need of an identity. Hawkins can work the same magic in Moscow that he did in Boise.
3. Rick Neuheisel — The former UCLA, Washington and Colorado coach has let it be known that he wants to be back on the sideline as soon as possible. He currently is a personality with SiriusXM and is a studio analyst with the Pac-12 Networks. Given his west coast roots, Neuheisel, 51, would be a solid hire in the Mountain West Conference. Possibilities there include San Jose State (if coach Mike MacIntyre is hired by a BCS program) and UNLV (Bobby Hauck is 5-28 in his third season with the Rebels). The Spartans are moving from the WAC to the Mountain West next season. Or perhaps Neuheisel and Mike Price (2-6 with UTEP this season) can switch occupations when this year concludes.
4. Houston Nutt — He may have been unsuccessful in his last two seasons with Ole Miss in 2010 and 2011, but Nutt, 55, has the experience of coaching two programs (Arkansas and Mississippi) in the toughest conference — the Southeastern Conference. That must register with athletic directors in need of an experienced coach. Nutt, an analyst with CBS Sports and SiriusXM, also was 75-48 in 10 seasons with Arkansas and was 18-8 in his first two years with Ole Miss before the wheels came off. A Sun Belt conference gig would be ideal for Nutt given his background in that region.
5. Butch Davis — The former Miami and North Carolina coach maintains his innocence in the NCAA probe that resulted in his firing in Chapel Hill. The NCAA report did not cite Davis for wrongdoing at North Carolina, but he was fired because the infractions happened on his watch. An NCAA investigation revealed academic misconduct and agents providing benefits to players. Davis, 50, is currently serving as a coaching consultant with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He will get another shot at the NCAA level. Conference USA has six programs with two wins or less at this point of the season, including Memphis, UAB, Tulane and UTEP.
6. Jim Tressel — He turns 60 in December, which means time is catching up to him. But look at how Frank Solich, 68, is succeeding with Ohio, and Bill Snyder, 73, is dominanting at Kansas State. Tressel’s transgressions at Ohio State were severe — he withheld information regarding infractions from the school and NCAA. But he does not have a history of wrongdoing and he carries a squeaky-clean image overall. Given his success at Ohio State, Tressel’s system can work at most places, including at the BCS level again. If Tressel does not land a major job, a Mid-American Conference athletic director would be wise to gauge Tressel’s interest. He is at Akron in a non-athletic department position as the vice president of strategic engagement. That kind of gig will not last long.
7. Tommy Bowden — The last time Bowden, 58, coached was in 2009, completing a 72-45 run with Clemson in nine-plus seasons. His brother Terry Bowden is coaching at Akron after once being out of the game for 11 seasons. Terry returned to coaching at North Alabama from 2009-2011 after completing five-plus seasons at Auburn in 1998. If Terry can do it, so can Tommy. The Bowden name, with their legendary dad Bobby Bowden, is synonymous with success in college football. Tommy Bowden, a Fox Sports analyst, would be welcomed with open arms by an FBS program in search of an identity.
8. Phillip Fulmer — The former Tennessee coach, who is 62, is still asked whether he wants to return to the sideline. He always says he will if the situation is right. If he gets the itch to coach, an athletic director in the Sun Belt Conference would be willing to give it a shot. The model of success provided by older established coaches such as Solich and Snyder again comes into play with this scenario. Fulmer’s record of 152-52 at Tennessee is very impressive but he has been out of coaching for four years now. Fulmer, who works for CBS Sports as an analyst, expressed interest in openings at Louisville and Connecticut in recent years.
9. Ron Zook — Another CBS Sports analyst, Zook is a possibility for a MAC position given is Midwest background. He is 58-years-old and has 10 years of major college head coaching experience at Florida and Illinois. Zook told the Chicago Sun-Times before the season that he does not have to be a coach to be happy. “I’m having more fun just studying football than I’ve had in 10 years,” Zook said. “Maybe I’ll like this TV thing I’m doing.”
10. Mike Bellotti — He was rumored in recent years as a coaching candidate at Arizona, Washington State and Arizona State, but it appears that Bellotti, 61, is content with being an analyst with ESPN. He left coaching at Oregon to become the school’s athletic director; he can always get that itch to return to coaching, but it appears that being on the sideline is not a necessity to him.