The coaching carousel is always a crazy time in college football - but is especially crazy this season. A combination of a few guys getting an extra year because of Covid (cough, Clay Helton, cough) and the new world of the early signing period and transfer portal altering recruiting has accelerated a cycle that generally didn't used to start until the beginning of December.
Only here we are in mid-November and 12 coaches have been let go - the latest being Virginia Tech's Justin Fuente on Tuesday morning. Of all the strange firings this year however, this one was probably least surprising, as Fuente was in his sixth year as head coach and barely survived a season ago. A 5-5 record in 2021 and basically no momentum anywhere in the program marked the end for Fuente in Blacksburg.
Now the Virginia Tech job is open, one of the sneaky better ones that will open this cycle. While we all know the merits of LSU and USC, Virginia Tech is a school with a history of success (playing for a national championship in 1999), in a winnable conference and in a fertile recruiting area.
It should attract top candidates, and there are many both in the area and that just make sense in general. Here are a list of five that immediately come to mind.
Jamey Chadwell, head coach Coastal Carolina: Chadwell has quietly built the Chanticleers into a Group of Five power, that also plays an exciting brand of football.
Coastal currently ranks 15th nationally in total offense and fifth in scoring, putting up over 42 points per game. And while the team has struggled a bit following an injury to starting quarterback Grayson McCall, it hasn't slowed down the offense, which still put up 42 points last week without its signal-caller against Georgia State.
Add in the mullet and Chadwell's loose personality (he once denied interest in a coaching vacancy by saying he was too busy fixing his wife's car) and it seems like he is destined for a bigger stage soon. This might be the right fit.
Billy Napier, Louisiana: For years Billy Napier has been known for two things in college football circles: Winning big at Louisiana, and then subsequently turning down interest from mid-tier, but not elite Power 5 jobs in the off-season. Reports are that Mississippi State, South Carolina and Auburn have shown interest in recent years - and in each case, Napier either declined an interview or withdrew his name from candidacy before the search really heated up.
Well this year feels like the year where he may finally make a move. He has a loaded Rajun Cajuns squad that is set to lose several key pieces, including cornerstone quarterback Levi Lewis. More importantly - and this is something I've noticed - the normally reclusive Napier has all of a sudden starting down more public interviews, especially in the Baton Rouge area. While it could mean nothing, that also strikes me as a guy who wants his name out there.
While LSU might be eyeing bigger fish, the Virginia Tech job is the kind of job that Napier appears to have been waiting for. It's a school that has a good enough history and recruiting base to compete for conference titles and playoff berths. In an expanded College Football Playoff world, there's no reason Virginia Tech can't be there regularly. Heck, even in a four-team playoff world, they're right up there with Miami and Florida State as the programs that should be competing year-in and year-out with Clemson, even if they're not.
Point being, Napier has the track record (he's gone 11-3, 9-1 the last two years and is currently 10-1 this season) and this could be the job he jumps at.
Hugh Freeze, head coach Liberty: At some point, some Power 5 program is going to take the plunge on Freeze. So why not one that is located in the state he's already living in and is primed to win big with the right coach?
And that's the thing with Freeze - he has a 20-year track record of winning everywhere he's gone. Most relevant to this conversation that includes multiple New Year's Six bowls at Ole Miss - which isn't as easy as he, or Lane Kiffin is making it look. Oh, and he also took Liberty, a school transitioning from the FCS to eight wins in Year 1 and 10 wins a season ago.
It's also worth noting that - as he mentioned on the Aaron Torres Podcast, which you can listen to below - he's never really coached at a place like Virginia Tech, where he'd have a talent advantage over most of his peers. If he can win 10+ games at Ole Miss - beating Alabama multiple times in the process - can you imagine what he'd do with the type of talent he could recruit at Virginia Tech?
It's something to think about, and again, at some point, some Power 5 team is going to take the plunge on Freeze. Ironically, Liberty plays Louisiana this Saturday - a potential audition for both Freeze and Napier.
Dave Clawson, head coach Wake Forest: It isn't often that we see coaches in any sport leave one conference school for another's head coaching job. But when we do, it's almost always for a job that is unquestionably better, with a higher ceiling (think Chris Beard leaving Texas Tech basketball for Texas).
Which is the reason that this move, at least on paper makes sense.
Clawson currently has Wake Forest sitting at 9-1 and can clinch an ACC Coastal Division title this Saturday with a win at Clemson. But it's also worth noting that in a year where Wake Forest is having its best season in years and Clemson its worst, the Tigers are still a favorite at home against the Demon Deacons. That has to make you wonder: Is this the absolute ceiling for Clawson at Wake Forest? And if it is, and he still can't beat Clemson, might it be time to consider another opportunity? It's at least possible, especially since he'd taking a better job, with a higher upside. And it's in a familiar area to boot, as he's coached in the region for most of his life, both as head coach at the FCS level at Richmond and now at Wake.
The only question is one that only Clawson can answer: At 54-years-old, does he want to start over again? If he does, this feels like a great spot.
Shane Beamer, head coach South Carolina: This name obviously has sentimental value, since Shane Beamer is, you know, the son of legendary coach Frank Beamer who built this program into a national power.
On the one hand, he's kind of got to go if they call, right? On the other, it might be best for both school and Beamer if they don't.
While Beamer has been impressive in Year 1 at South Carolina (this team sitting at 5-5 is nothing to scoff at) it's still a major step up to Virginia Tech, and he'll have near impossible shoes to fill, following in his father's football.
It seems like for everyone involved, it's kind of best if Virginia Tech goes in another direction, right?