(Alternate title: The State job is better than some people seem to think.)
I can't pretend to know the mind of any coach currently on the market for a new job this Firing-and-Hiring Season, but I would like to take a look at the relative attractiveness of each FBS head coaching position currently available. For reference, here's the SBNation coaching carousel page.
In alphabetical order, here's the list of open positions:
- Arkansas (SEC)
- Auburn (SEC)
- Boston College (ACC)
- Cal (PAC12)
- Colorado (PAC12)
- Idaho (WAC/independent in 2013)
- Kentucky (SEC)
- NC State (ACC)
- Purdue (B1G)
- Tennessee (SEC)
- UTEP (Conference USA)
- Western Michigan (MAC)
Let's just go ahead and establish that State is a better job than UTEP, Western Michigan, Kentucky, Idaho, Colorado, and Boston College. UTEP, WMU, and Idaho are all non-BCS conference schools; Colorado has decided to take up the habit of firing coaches every two years while spending no money; Kentucky is a "dead end job;" and Boston College is a private Catholic school in the Northeast, based in a pro sports town. It isn't Duke or Wake, but neither is it Notre Dame, and any BC head coach will have an uphill battle in recruiting.
That leaves Purdue, NCSU, Cal, and the SEC trio. While Purdue is not a bad job by any means (public school, 60,000-seat stadium, BCS conference, a history of knocking off #1 teams, Drew Brees), Indiana compares unfavorably with the South in terms of producing football prospects, and Purdue has to challenge Wisconsin, Ohio State, Penn State, and Nebraska for Midwestern prospects. The Boilermakers' job sits below the four remaining Southern schools and Cal.
If we assume that an SEC job that isn't Kentucky or Vanderbilt is better than all other jobs (and I don't think that's the case, but I'll get to that in a second), then the remaining five openings go:
- Tennessee: Large name-brand public university with national championships, a large fanbase and a very large stadium, situated in the Southeast.
- Arkansas: Large public university with a passionate fanbase, situated in the South adjacent to Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and near Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, and a single national title.
- Auburn: Large public university in recruiting hotbed of Alabama, and near/adjacent to all the other recruiting hotbeds in the Southeast, plus a recent national title.
- Cal: Large public name-brand university in the most populous state in the country, and just completed a massive renovation of their stadium. (And five national championships from way back in the 1920s and '30s.)
- NC State: Large public university in Rivals' 9th best state for football recruiting, adjacent to South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia, and near the other Southeastern recruiting pipelines. Has a fairly large stadium and Top 25 facilities.
So, at worst, NC State is the fifth-best job currently open.
At best? Consider that Auburn just fired its coach two years removed from a national championship. That's unheard of in college football, and prospective coaching hires are certainly aware that the leash is ridiculously short. On top of that, the next coach at Auburn will have to directly recruit and coach against Saban at Alabama, and against Miles at LSU. Auburn's fanbase won't take kindly to more 49-0 losses to Alabama, so the next coach is facing one heck of a challenge. Arkansas has the same problem in dealing with Alabama and LSU every year, and has to do so without a natural recruiting base in-state.
The next Tennessee coach will face similar difficulties, having to struggle against Georgia, resurgent Florida, and Spurrier at South Carolina. Tennessee may be a name-brand school with (potentially) a lot of money but, like Arkansas, it doesn't have a natural recruiting base in-state, and Vanderbilt isn't a pushover as long as James Franklin is there. Furthermore, Tennessee just fired its coach after only three years. Yes, the Tennessee job might make you rich, but there's a better-than-average chance you won't last long if you don't turn the program around quickly.
Cal is less intimidating than the SEC trio, though they did just fire the winningest head coach in school history. Recruiting to Berkeley isn't impossible, as the successes of Josh Lupoi and others under Tedford proved. Cal does have to contend with the Oregon Scrooge McDucks in their neon money-green uniforms and David Shaw's perennially strong, well-coached Stanford team, but Stanford is not invincible (losses to Washington, Notre Dame this year) and neither is Oregon if the next coach can build a strong defensive front seven.
The next NC State coach will take a job in what looks like the "toughest" division in the ACC currently, although that doesn't seem all that troublesome, given that Tom O'Brien defeated Florida State as recently as October and took down Clemson in 2011. North Carolina produces a good number of football prospects each year, and the next coach clearly will be asked to keep more of those prospects in-state and playing in Raleigh. Neither of these tasks is insurmountable, and certainly less difficult than challenging for division titles in the SEC East or West. NC State is not the University of North Carolina, but UNC will always be a basketball school first when it comes to hiring and retaining coaches, and its fanbase is quick to bail on the football program once basketball season begins; prospects notice these things, and a coach considering NC State shouldn't think that UNC is an unbeatable recruiting powerhouse just because of its name.
All that said, coaches don't choose their next job based on a simple calculation of how easy it is to win and recruit at a given school. Every person has different career goals and family priorities, not to mention the strength of any desire for money, prestige, or a challenge. And not every coach is looking to move on to the next job as soon as it comes available. Many coaches are happy where they are, being paid plenty of money, and succeeding.
Let's re-rank the top five openings in a few different ways.
Most difficult to least difficult (i.e. how easy to win/recruit):
- Arkansas: Smack-dab in the middle of the Southeast, but not a traditional power and has to deal with Alabama/LSU annually (and apparently Texas A&M now).
- Auburn: Auburn has a better recruiting base than Arkansas, but has to directly recruit against Alabama.
- Tennessee: Is still Tennessee, but the SEC East is not getting any easier to compete in.
- Cal: Oregon and Stanford (and USC if they ever get back to form) are tough opponents, but California is a nice place to be, easy to recruit to, and situated in a very productive state for recruits.
- NC State: The ACC sucks, North Carolina is a good state for recruiting, and UNC is beatable.
In order of financial resources (i.e. how much can they pay a coach and staff):
I lack knowledge about this, y'all. My guess is Tennessee or Cal, though I don't think the Vols are exactly rolling in dough, then Arkansas, Auburn (that Chizik & Friends buyout is a lot), and then State. Somebody inform me, if you know. State might need to go in front of Auburn, given the absurd amount of money the Tigers owe Chizik, and the relatively pedestrian 1.2 million we owe TOB.
In order of prestige:
- Tennesee: Is Tennessee.
- Auburn: I dunno, maybe Cal should go here. They did win a a BCSNCG in 2010, though.
- Cal: Is the University of California.
- Arkansas: Is the University of Arkansas.
- NC State: Welp.
In order of expectations (highest to lowest):
- Tennessee: Is Tennessee and would like to get back to being Tennessee as soon as possible.
- Auburn: If a national title doesn't buy a coach more than two years, the bar is quite high. Will continually be compared to Alabama as long as Saban remains Tuscaloosa.
- Cal: Fired the winningest coach in school history for not winning enough lately.
- Arkansas: Expects to compete in the SEC West, though I don't know at what level. Presumably they'd like to get back to Petrino-esque double-digit win seasons.
- NC State: The fans don't expect national titles - merely consistency. Just beat Carolina and win the games you're supposed to win, and even Debbie Yow will have a hard time firing you.
I have more to say about the expectations at NC State, but I'm at nearly 1,500 words here so I'm going to close out this post. The bottom line is that State is one of the better jobs open this offseason, and while being the fifth-best (or better) opening isn't a guarantee that we'll get the fifth-best (or better) available coach, it certainly should mean we won't get the worst. If I were a coach in demand this offseason, I'd take a job based on that "how easy is it to win" ranking up there, but every coach is different.
I've got a poll set up below, so vote and leave a comment if you have something to add.