With Kiffin canned, to whom does USC turn?

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Shortly after Arizona State had put the finishing touches on an yet another embarrassing loss for the storied USC football program, the questions surrounding the future of head coach Lane Kiffin once again surfaced. Less than three hours later, at 4:28 a.m. PT, the athletic department posted the following on its Twitter account:

“Breaking news: Lane Kiffin has been relieved of his duties as USC’s head football coach per AD Pat Haden.”

And with that, the Kiffin Era in Los Angeles came to a (merciful) end in an LAX parking lot.

Despite extremely punitive NCAA sanctions slapped on the program… despite very steadfast support from his athletic director… the physical act of canning the 38-year-old Kiffin was the easy part.  Beginning in 2012 and after being picked by many as the No. 1 team in the country heading into the new season, the admittedly undermanned Trojans have stumbled and tripped their way to a 10-8 record, including a 5-6 mark in Pac-12 play.  Oregon and Stanford have far surpassed USC in the Pac-12 football pecking order; perhaps more importantly, hated cross-town rival UCLA has done the same.

No, the hard part will be just who Pat Haden hires to replace the man hired by his predecessor.  Haden was tabbed by his alma mater in August of 2010 to replace Mike Garrett, and this will easily be the biggest hire the former Rhodes Scholar makes and will leave the most lasting impact on his résumé.

The good news for Haden specifically and the Trojan fan base in general is that USC still has a helluva lot to offer any potential Kiffin replacement.  From sparkling new facilities to well-heeled boosters to a fertile recruiting base to lasting brand name, USC remains one of the top jobs at the FBS level.

With just a couple of hours to digest the stunning (but yet not-so-stunning) news, here’s a quick-hit look at just whose name will be mentioned — realistically or not — as Kiffin’s replacement, knowing full well that the actual permanent successor likely won’t come from this initial pool of possibilities.

CHRIS PETERSEN
Regardless of how big of a pipe dream this may be, anyone and everyone knows full well that USC officials will back the Brinks truck up to the Broncos head coach’s door and dare him not to answer.  Prior to Kiffin’s hiring, Petersen was reportedly contacted by USC about their opening and rejected the overtures.  In December of 2011, Petersen reportedly rejected UCLA — for a second time — when they offered him $4 million annually at a time he was making just over $1.5 with the Broncos.  Petersen has had myriad opportunities to leave Boise, and has yet to take the financial bait.  Don’t expect him to do it this time, either.  Probably.

JACK DEL RIO
The former USC All-American’s name is already being bandied about as perhaps the top candidate to replace Kiffin.  Currently the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos, Del Rio was also mentioned as a possibility to replace Pete Carroll.  Del Rio has never been a coach — head, assistant or otherwise — at the collegiate level and it would be stunning if the Trojans went in this direction.  Speaking of which…

JEFF FISHER
Another former USC All-American, Fisher’s name, as expected, surfaced (again) earlier this month even before Kiffin was officially booted in an LAX parking lot.  Like Del Rio, Fisher has never been a coach at the collegiate level.  Would Fisher give up a head coaching job in the NFL to return home and rescue his college program?  Don’t look for USC to even give him an opportunity to make such a choice despite a segment of the fan base that would love to see it happen.

JAMES FRANKLIN
Four names in, and this might be the most realistic and viable option.  While Franklin has very few ties to the West Coast — one year at Washington State (1998) and one at Idaho State (1999) — he’s one of the best young head coaches in the game and turned Vanderbilt into a competitive football program in the best football conference in the country, no small feat that won’t go unnoticed by those at this level looking for a new coach.  Franklin is one of the top recruiters in the game, and has done well on that battlefield in the SEC; one could imagine what he would do on the fertile California recruiting grounds with “less-intense” competition plus his ties in that arena to the South.

STEVE SARKISIAN
Sarkisian is just 30-25 in his four-plus years at Washington, but he has the Huskies undefeated and ranked (at the moment) No. 16 in the country.  He was a USC assistant for seven of the eight years prior to his hiring by UW and grew up in Torrance, Calif., less than an hour’s drive to Los Angeles.  It would be beyond surprising if Haden didn’t at least reach out to Sarkisian let alone not make a full-blown effort to land him.

GREG ROMAN
Roman was the offensive coordinator at Stanford for two seasons before following Jim Harbaugh to the San Francisco 49ers.  He has previously been linked to openings at Cal and Penn State.  With the success Harbaugh had in the Pac-12, and with Roman playing a role in it, this could be a direction in which Haden turns.  Keep an eye on this name.

KIRBY SMART
As far as coordinators, it wouldn’t take long to call roll on those more respected than Alabama’s defensive (co-) boss.  He’s had numerous opportunities to leave Nick Saban’s side the past couple of years but has remained in Tuscaloosa as the situation simply wasn’t right.  Smart’s entire coaching career has been east of the Mississippi; would the bright lights of LA scare him off if the Trojans came knocking?

CHAD MORRIS
If Haden is looking to go outside the box, you wouldn’t get much further out than this.  Not only has the Clemson offensive coordinator never been a head coach at the collegiate level, he didn’t take his first college job until 2010 at the age of 42 after a highly successful run as a high school coach in Texas.  Despite that lack of experience, Morris is one of the brightest and most respected offensive minds in college football — Urban Meyer tried to lure him to Ohio State upon his hiring — and has turned the Tigers’ offense into one of the nation’s best.  With college football leaning more and more toward up-tempo offense, especially in the Pac-12, kicking the tires on Morris might make sense on some level.

Mike Riley
USC’s offensive coordinator from 1993-96, the 60-year old Riley has spent the past 11 seasons as the head coach at Oregon State.  While it would seem unlikely that a coach of his age would make a move, he did reply “you never know” when the Los Angeles Daily News asked a couple of years ago about a potential return to the Trojans.  That same paper is already listing Riley as a possibility, although that would be hard to see becoming a viable option if for nothing more than the age factor.

KEVIN SUMLIN
I’m not saying USC will reach out to the Texas A&M head coach, but I’m saying they damn well should.  And they’d better do it before the NFL gets its hooks into one of the brightest coaches at the FBS level.  It won’t be easy for anyone to pry Sumlin out of College Station, though, as A&M officials will rightly do anything and everything to blunt even flirtatious overtures let alone full-blown pursuits.  It wouldn’t seem like Sumlin would leave an SEC job to plow new ground out west, but stranger things have happened.

DAVID SHAW
See above.  The Stanford head coach’s name has already been mentioned as longshot possibility, although it seems more likely that he would leave The Farm for the NFL rather than another college job.

JON GRUDEN
In accordance with federal and state regulations, we’re required to include Chucky on any and all lists related to major head-coaching vacancies.  Seeing as his wife was not a cheerleader at USC, though, we highly doubt this one has a torso much less legs.

James Madison signs head coach Mike Houston to 10-year extension

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This won’t stop bigger programs from sniffing around its head coach, but James Madison is doing its best to show its commitment to the man.

The FCS powerhouse announced Tuesday that it has reached an agreement on a 10-year contract extension with Mike Houston. The new deal would technically keep Houston with the Dukes through the 2027 season.

Houston’s old contract had him signed through the 2021 season.

“Mike Houston has proven to be the perfect fit as football coach at James Madison University, and we are thrilled that the Houston family has found JMU to be its perfect home,” JMU athletic director Jeff Bourne said in a statement. “While Mike’s accomplishments on the field speak loudly, his most valuable role is guiding the student-athletes in our program, teaching them about leadership and about life, helping them to succeed in the classroom and building a culture of genuine care and compassion for each other. We look forward to many more victories on and off the field with Mike Houston at James Madison.”

Houston is in the midst of his second season as the sideline boss of the football program. In those two years, the Dukes have gone 27-1, with the lone loss coming to North Carolina in the third game of the 2016 season. He is 26-0 vs. FCS teams, capping his first season with a national championship by beating five-time defending champion North Dakota State.

JMU has also won 25 straight games, the second-longest winning streak in FCS history, behind only NDSU’s 33-game streak from 2012 through 2014.

Houston has the Dukes zeroing in on back-to-back titles, with top-seed JMU facing fifth-seed South Dakota State Saturday afternoon in one of the two FCS semifinal matchups.

“James Madison is a special place. Amanda, our boys and I want to be here and consider this home,” Houston said. “JMU approached me in the second half of the regular season to discuss an extended contract. During negotiations, there was significant interest from multiple FBS programs. Throughout the process, JMU was proactive in wanting to make a long-term commitment while ensuring that our staff could remain intact. I’ve turned down opportunities at the FBS level, and I did it because I believe in James Madison University. I believe in the leadership of Jeff Bourne, Senior Vice President Charlie King and President Jonathan Alger. I believe in their vision for our university and our athletics programs. I also believe in our student-athletes, everyone in athletics who supports us and the passionate fan base that cheers for us. I am committed to ensuring that the JMU football program is one that is a reflection of our outstanding institution. I’m committed to staying here because JMU is different.”

Georgia’s Latavious Brini arrested on felony forgery charge

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For the third time since winning the SEC championship nearly two weeks ago, a member of the Georgia football program has found himself on the wrong side of the law.

The Macon Telegraph and Rivals.com are both reporting Tuesday night that Latavious Brini has been arrested on a first-degree felony charge of forgery.  Brini was arrested shortly after six local time earlier today and released from the Athens-Clarke County (Ga.) Jail a couple of hours later after posting a $5,700 bond.

No details of what led to the arrest and charge have been released.

Brini was a three-star member of UGA’s 2017 recruiting class.  The linebacker hasn’t played a down for the Bulldogs as a true freshman.

Earlier this month, Natrez Patrick and Jayson Stanley were arrested on marijuana-related charges.

Phil Bennett leaves Arizona State staff

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The plan for success at Arizona State under AD Ray Anderson was to remove head coach Todd Graham and while keeping everything else the same — just with a head coach that was… better. And as we know, that head coach turned out to be Herm Edwards.

But not a week into his tenure, Edwards has already hit his first crossroads.

The Sun Devils announced Tuesday that defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has left the staff over family matters.

The statement from Edwards:

“While I would have liked for Defensive Coordinator Phil Bennett to remain on the coaching staff, I do appreciate the fact that he has chosen not to stay based upon family reasons,” said Edwards. “Family always comes first and right now he needs to turn his attention to that.  My top priorities right now going forward are to solidify our recruiting class and to assemble a defensive coaching staff.  Both objectives are moving along quite well.”

The question now will be who Edwards turns to as Bennett’s replacement. As we know, the new Devils coach has not coached in a decade and not coached in college in nearly three.

So this hire will be anyone’s guess.

Report: Bill Snyder to return to Kansas State in 2018

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Retirement rumors will persist about Bill Snyder until he inevitably retires, especially at this time of year. But a report from K-StateOnline on Tuesday will push those rumors back another year.

According to the site, the Wizard will return to the Kansas State sideline in 2018:

Four separate sources have now confirmed to K-StateOnline.com that Bill Snyder plans to return to coach Kansas State in 2018.

Multiple sources also said that the mood within the Vanier Football Complex and K-State program is “good” heading into bowl season – despite speculation to the contrary.

Snyder took a leave of absence in the offseason to battle throat cancer, but he returned in time for fall camp and has not missed any games this season. A report also emerged last month that former AD John Currie attempted to bring Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt aboard as a head coach-in-waiting, but the school rebutted that by stating Snyder will be the Wildcats’ head coach until he decides he’s not.

Snyder has made no secret he’d like his son, Sean Snyder, to one day succeed him, but a number of logical candidates exist in Leavitt, Brent Venables and new UTEP head coach Dana Dimel.

Now in the ninth year of his second stint as K-State head coach, Snyder owns a record of 209-110-1 with the Wildcats. He has guided the program to two Big 12 championships and six top-10 finishes, though none since 2002.

Kansas State entered this season ranked No. 18 in the AP poll but finished the regular portion at 7-5. The Wildcats will meet UCLA in the Cactus Bowl on Dec. 26 (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).