Monday, March 2, 2015

Tweaking ESPN's Top College Football Coaching Jobs

Texas coach Charlie Strong has the most desirable job in college football, according to the folks over at ESPN.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

ESPN finished unveiling its rankings of the top "Power-5" college football coaching jobs last week, and I've always found the subject fun and ripe for debate.

Obviously, there are always going to be subjective parts of any "job" ranking. The Ohio State and Notre Dame gigs are dream jobs to any coach that grew up in America's heartland, but a SoCal guy would probably take USC over either of them.

A deep south country coach would likely take any of the Top-5 jobs in the SEC over any other school in the country, and a coach from the Lone Star State would likely view the Longhorns coaching job as the best in the land.

The point is, there are a bunch of great job, and the best one is in the eye of the beholder. Still, let's grant ESPN this crazy and awesomely fun hypothetical: Which jobs would be the most appealing if every "Power-5" job in the country suddenly opened up tomorrow?

If you've read the site long enough (I'm talking, of course, only to my mother and wife at this point), you know that I've touched on this subject before. Way back in early 2013 I ranked the 100 Best Coaching Jobs in Football, taking into account most major college jobs and all NFL gigs.

My Top-3 jobs came from the college ranks, as did six of my Top-10.

My old list was a bit different, ranking jobs on general prestige, chances of being successful and the length of leash a coach has. Basically, is coaching there a big deal, can you win there, and will you be able to make mistakes without being fired?

Here are my Top-10 college jobs from two years ago, which DID NOT take current rosters into consideration, but did keep in mind the types of teams each program has traditionally fielded.

1. USC
2. Alabama
3. Texas
4. Florida
5. Ohio State
6. Notre Dame
7. Michigan
8. Florida State
9. Oregon
10. LSU

Honorable Mentions: Oklahoma, Stanford, Georgia, Miami, Nebraska

I had to take USC, with the most fertile recruiting grounds this side of Miami within an hour's drive of campus, and no other in-state "power" programs to compete with. USC has great academics to sell, but also an administration that has been more than willing to play fast and loose with NCAA rules and eligibility requirements.

It's the perfect job to have your cake and eat it too. Bama came in second for its historical dominance of the SEC and record number of national championships, plus a die-hard fan base and group of boosters that will give you everything you need to succeed. Texas checked in at third due to money, and the fact that it is the flagship school of the state that produces the most Division 1 and NFL football players in the country. Florida gets the same treatment as Texas, but competing with Florida State (8) and Miami for recruits hurts, and Ohio State sneaks in for drawing a fence around the state of Ohio and competing in a lesser conference.

Traditional powers Notre Dame and Michigan check in next, followed by the Seminoles and up-and-comer Oregon, which has become a unique national brand unto itself. LSU rounds out my Top-10 ahead of traditional power Oklahoma, academic beacon Stanford, should-always-be-better-than-it-is Georgia, potentially great, but flawed Miami and capable Nebraska.

Here's ESPN's Top-10, based on "if every Power-5 conference coaching job opened tomorrow…" This stipulation implies that current rosters matter, but they aren't the be-all, end-all of each job.

1. Texas
2. Alabama
3. USC
4. Ohio State
5. Florida
6. LSU
7. Florida State
8. Georgia
9. Oklahoma
10. Notre Dame

A pretty solid list, but I have a few gripes. First of all, if current rosters matter, I have a hard time believing that Texas would be No. 1. All things being equal, you could make an argument that UT is the best job in the country, but with current rosters and recruiting momentum taken into account, it's hard to rank the Longhorns ahead of Alabama, Florida State or Ohio State.

I also think ESPN is under-selling the Irish, who are annoying as sin, but should always be among the nation's elite.

Here's what my Top-10 would look like.

10. LSU

The Tigers recruit their loaded home state and the rest of the south well, plus a rowdy fan base creates one of college football's best home field advantages in Death Valley, and more than pays the bills.

With current rosters taken into consideration, it is important to mention that the Tigers have a wealth of young talent and had the look of a "team about to break through" last year, led by freshman phenom running back Leonard Fournette.

9. Michigan

The Wolverines can sell some of the best tradition in college football, along with a great college town and constantly improving facilities. The state of Michigan isn't what it once was in terms of producing NFL players, but UM has the clout to recruit nationwide. The right coach can win a national title there, and I'd be surprised NOT to see Jim Harbaugh return Big Blue to national prominence.

8. USC

The Trojans take a hit because the current roster has underachieved, but with the most fertile local recruiting grounds in the country, limited in-state competition, a history of winning, beautiful campus, tons of money and the ability to recruit nationwide if need be, it's easy to see why USC was my top job with all things being equal.

7. Oregon

A ton of Nike uniform creativity, not to mention money, has made the Ducks the most unique brand in college football. Almost synonymous with speed, tempo and fun, the Ducks demand the attention of any big-time recruit in the country, but the absence of a natural recruiting hot-bed may keep the job from ever cracking the Top-5.

6. Notre Dame

Another legendary brand that relies on recruiting nationally to make up for less than elite in-state talent. Working in Notre Dame's favor is the improved high school football scene in the Hoosier state, a larger national following than Michigan, a natural tie-in with every Catholic high school football program in the country and, of course, its own television deal with NBC.

Much like Oregon, Notre Dame may not crack the Top-5 due to demographics, but it is one of the truly special jobs in the country.

5. Florida

The Gators were the best job in the Sunshine State in my rankings that didn't include current rosters, but the failings of Will Muschamp on the field, and in player development, caused UF to fall behind the hated Seminoles. This program is, as always, a good coach and quarterback away from competing for national titles due to its immense in-state talent, top-notch facilities, outstanding fan support and storied home field advantage inside The Swamp.

4. Texas

Here's where I disagree with ESPN. If we're counting current rosters, I just don't see how you can rate Texas ahead of three other national powers that are all playing at a national championship level.

The Longhorns have struggled with consistency the last few years, but a ton of cash and the best in-state recruiting in the country make this a perennial Top-5 job. In a year or two, this could easily be No. 1 in my eyes.

3. Florida State

FSU has been recruiting at an immensely high-level since Jimbo Fisher came to town, and there is a ton of future NFL talent waiting its turn in Tallahassee, lightening the loss of Jameis Winston and company.

The administration always makes sure the Noles are well-funded, and recent events have shown that the school and local police department, for better or for worse, will do anything to help FSU compete for titles.

2. Alabama

The current roster is the best in the country, and the Crimson Tide can sell history out the wazoo with one of the most passionate, and willing to donate, fan bases in the country. Nick Saban has taken the job to another level, but any coach that takes over in Tuscaloosa should be expected to win big.

1. Ohio State

The Buckeyes recruit their home state better than anybody in the country, and have the clout to pluck players from around the country, with a pipeline directly into talent-rich South Florida. With a current roster on par with anybody around, and the opportunity to compete in the improving, but still not elite, Big Ten, why wouldn't you grab the Buckeye job and try to win a quick national championship?

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