After months — hell, a couple of seasons — worth of speculation, Mack Brown‘s tenure at Texas finally and somewhat mercifully came to an end, with the longtime Texas head coach announcing Saturday night that he would be stepping down after 16 seasons in Austin.
While there’s still the matter of a bowl game to put an official end to Brown’s time with the Longhorns, the search to replace a man who had been on the job since 1998 has commenced in earnest. Given the fact that UT is the most financially well-heeled football program in the country, don’t look for the university to target the hot coordinator du jour initially; rather, look for athletic director Steve Patterson and those who lord over him to chase a veritable who’s who of head coaches at both the collegiate and professional levels.
Despite appearances — and how laughably clumsy Brown’s departure played out in the media — Texas is still one of the top coaching jobs in any American sport let alone college football. UT officials should have little problem attracting top-flight candidates from across the country in spite of themselves and their backroom politicking.
With that as a backdrop, here’s a look at some of the names of coaches who have either already been mentioned or could potentially be mentioned as replacements for Brown… and knowing full well that there’s a very real possibility that absolutely none of those mentioned will be the guy to actually replace Brown.
Nick Saban, Alabama
Whoops. Sorry. Force of habit.
Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
Armed with a contract extension that will make him one of the highest-paid head coaches at the FBS level, Fisher will lead his Seminoles into the BCS title game early next month against Auburn. Fisher, who knows full well the weight that comes with replacing a legend, has seen his name pop up in connection to a potential opening at UT earlier this month, and look for the Longhorns to at least reach out him even as they could likely save themselves some time by not doing so.
Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers
Reportedly, Harbaugh is unhappy with ownership and could be open to a move back to the collegiate level. The former Stanford head coach was asked earlier this week about interest in a potential opening at UT, and didn’t take kindly to the line of questioning. It would seem unlikely that Harbaugh would drop back down to the collegiate level at this point in time, but Texas is one of the few programs in the country that could, to a point, go dollar-for-dollar with the NFL.
Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Out of all the names that will be mentioned, this is the one that would be both in the realm of possibility and considered a home-run hire by most. Finishing up his ninth season with the Cowboys, Gundy showed last year by talking to Arkansas and Tennessee about their openings that he’s at least receptive to overtures from other schools. Add in the tension with his bosses, and Gundy could very well be in play if/when Texas reaches out. Weakening a conference rival would be an added bonus for UT.
Art Briles, Baylor
Like Fisher, Briles recently received a contract extension that would seemingly lock him down with the Bears for the foreseeable future. Buyouts will be no hindrance in UT’s search, however, and Texas is expected to at least make a run at a coach who could very well do more for the football program than any other name on this list.
David Shaw, Stanford
Prying Shaw off The Farm would seem to be the dictionary definition of a pipe dream, but UT would be doing its program a disservice if they didn’t at least make a run at one of the best coaches at any level of football. It’s likely Stanford need only worry about the NFL when it comes to retaining Shaw, although Texas could certainly make a convincing case if, as unlikely as it is, Shaw is willing to listen.
James Franklin, Vanderbilt
Reportedly a candidate for the USC job, Franklin will see his name connected to every significant opening until he actually leaves the Commodores. Known as a master recruiter, what Franklin could do with the talent-rich state of Texas has to be intriguing on multiple levels to UT. In his time with the Commodores, he’s led his team to three straight bowl appearance; prior to his arrival, Vandy had appeared in just four games in its century-plus existence. While happy at Vandy, Franklin’s ears are open to any and all who want to discuss a move.
Todd Graham, Arizona State
Graham has shown, ahem, a propensity to be attracted to the next shiny coaching thing. Born and raised in the state of Texas, Graham became a high school coaching legend in that state. He left Rice after one season for Tulsa and bolted Pittsburgh after just one year for his “dream job” at Arizona State; do you think he wouldn’t at least be mildly interested in listening to overtures that would bring him home and result in him taking over the flagship football program in his state?
Kirby Smart, Alabama
If you can’t get Saban, why not target the man who has helped play a significant role in returning Alabama to national prominence? Smart has been tied to several head-coaching vacancies over the past couple of years, but has yet to pull the trigger on getting out from under Saban’s shadow. It’s only a matter of when and not if the defensive coordinator becomes a head coach. If Texas goes for a first-timer to replace Brown, they could do a lot worse than Smart.