As you may have heard, Texas A&M has a coaching vacancy to fill. Everyone is wondering who will be the man to replace Jimbo Fisher, and suggestions are flying in left, right, and center. If you're like me, you probably aren't intimately familiar with most of the candidates being tossed around. Fret not, dear reader! I've done my utmost best to review the candidates and build a statistics-based profile of each one. I'll be presenting my findings in a multi-part series, and this is the final Part 3!
Some quick ground rules: I haven't profiled anyone who has explicitly said no to the job or who I consider an unlikely candidate. This includes Dan Lanning, Deion Sanders, Dan Campbell, Dabo Swinney, and Urban Meyer. Also, comparing coaching histories is an inherently apples-to-oranges comparison. I've done my best to flatten out the numbers and compare coaches on an even footing, but it breaks down a bit when comparing someone who's been a long-time head coach to someone who's never been one. Lastly, I'm writing this before any games are played Saturday, 11/18. Let's get to it!
In this part, I'll be profiling current P5 head coaches in the ACC and Big 12. First up...
Mike Norvell - Florida State
Mike Norvell has been the head coach at Florida State for 4 years. Prior to that, he was the head coach at Memphis, where he went a combined 38-15 (including 12-1 in his final year).
I've tracked the Seminoles' team performances back to 2017, three years before Norvell was hired. The years prior to his hiring are included in the greyed-out area of the table below for reference. I tracked team wins and losses, point differential, and team FPI ranking. I've also tracked points and yards per game (both scored and allowed), as well as offensive and defensive efficiency. I also tracked recruiting class rankings.
FSU Before and After Norvell:
Coach Norvell has been a resounding success at FSU, returning the Noles to national prominence. After a strong 2022, they're undefeated this year. Everyone will be watching to see if they can overcome the injury to Jordan Travis to claim the ACC title and a spot in the CFB playoff. The Noles have been strong on both offense and defense under Norvell, and recruiting is rebounding to levels last seen under Jimbo when he was in Tallahassee.
The Case For: Coach Norvell took over a program that floundered at the end of Fisher's reign and collapsed under Willie Taggart. After bottoming out in the 2020 pandemic season, Coach Norvell has steadily built the Noles into a title contender. His team is well balanced on offense and defense, and he clearly has the recruiting chops to compete in the southeast. After 4 years in Tallahassee, he has experience dealing with the pressures of a frothing fanbase and fractious boosters.
The Case Against: On the field? Not much. Off the field, could A&M lure Coach Norvell away? Similar to Kalen DeBoer at Washington (covered in Part 2 of this series), why would Norvell leave a champion contender in a weaker conference to take over a program at a crossroads? From A&M's side, I'm sure plenty of people are wary of getting rid of the championship caliber coach from FSU just to replace him with the championship caliber coach from FSU.
The Verdict: In my opinion, Coach Norvell is the best candidate who hasn't explicitly turned down the A&M job. He's found success at both Florida State and Memphis, so I consider him more of a sure thing than DeBoer. His level of success at FSU eclipses every other candidate except DeBoer. To top it off, he's a better geographic fit, having worked in the southeast for most of his career. If Norvell is interested, we should make every effort to bring him to College Station.
Mike Elko - Duke
Every A&M fan should already be pretty familiar with Mike Elko. He's been head coach at Duke for 2 years. Prior to that, he was the defensive coordinator right here in Aggieland for 4 years, leading one of the best units in the country and propping up some erratic offenses.
I've tracked Duke's team performances back to 2019, three years before Elko took over, using the same metrics as I tracked for Coach Norvell above. The years prior to his hiring are included in the greyed-out area of the table below for reference.
Duke Before and After Elko:
After the David Cutcliffe era ended with two 9-loss seasons in a row, Elko seems to have the Blue Devils headed in the right direction. As expected, Elko took a defense that ranked in the 100's just a few seasons ago and has them playing at a top-30 level. Perhaps a bit of a surprise, Elko's offenses have also been top 30, showing just as much improvement as the defense. Recruiting is mostly holding steady, though 2024 looks promising. While this year's 6-4 record appears modest, all 4 losses have come against ranked teams, and two have come since losing starting QB Riley Leonard to injury.
The Case For: Coach Elko returning to College Station would be a dream scenario for many Aggies. Nobody doubts his defensive prowess, and his early returns as a head coach have been promising. A&M could offer Coach Elko the kind of resources and recruiting reach that Duke can't hope to match.
The Case Against: Just to play (Blue) Devil's advocate, I wish Coach Elko had been able to reel in one of those big games against ranked teams. Also, we've seen a few head coaches string together two good years only to lose steam and either plateau or fade. Would really like to see Elko have one more year at Duke to prove his programs can reach that elite level.
The Verdict: I think any Aggie, myself included, would welcome Coach Elko back to Aggieland with open arms. He's a bit more of a gamble than some of the tippy-top candidates, but he's earned the trust of Aggies everywhere by giving us all flashbacks to the Wrecking Crew. Coach Elko has already proved he can succeed as a coordinator in College Station. I'd be excited to see what he could do leading the whole program.
Lance Leipold - Kansas
Lance Leipold has been the head man at Kansas for three years. Prior to that, he was the head coach for the University at Buffalo Bulls (not to be confused with the Buffalo Bills).
I've tracked Kansas' team performances back to 2018, three years before Leipold arrived, using the same metrics as I tracked for Coach Norvell above. The years prior to his hiring are included in the greyed-out area of the table below for reference.
Kansas Before and After Leipold:
Coach Leipold has taken a Jayhawks squad that was a laughingstock and made them respectable again. The offense is potent enough to keep them in any game, and the defense has shown steady improvement. Recruiting has been a mixed bag so far but looks to be improving into 2024.
The Case For: Winning at football in Lawrence is tough, but Coach Leipold's offense has provided a spark to the program. It would be intriguing to see what he could do with the kind of talent A&M brings in.
The Case Against: As with Coach Elko, a few good years could just be fool's gold. Coach Leipold's Buffalo teams were decent, but he only went 37-33 overall. Coach Leipold has also spent his entire career in the Midwest. Will he be able to establish connections in the crowded southeastern recruiting hotbeds?
The Verdict: I might be more interested in Coach Leipold's offensive coordinator than in Leipold himself. What Leipold has done in his short time at Kansas is impressive, but his time with the Bulls makes me wonder if he can keep up the momentum. If I were Ross Bjork, I would have several candidates ahead of Leipold on my list.
Chris Klieman - Kansas State
We turn now to the coach who just beat Leipold: Chris Klieman. Coach Klieman has been at K-State for 5 years. Prior to that, he had a very impressive run at North Dakota State University, appearing in 5 straight FCS national championships and winning 4 of them.
I've tracked K-State's performances back to 2016, three years before Leipold arrived, using the same metrics as I tracked for Coach Norvell above. The years prior to his hiring are included in the greyed-out area of the table below for reference.
Kansas State Before and After Klieman:
Except for a down covid year, Coach Klieman has the Wildcats playing with the steady competence that defined the Bill Snyder era. The last two years, they've been top 30 on both offense and defense. He's also got the 33rd best recruiting class in 2023, which is way above K-State's historical average.
The Case For: Coach Klieman has shown that he can a build a program under less-than-optimal conditions. His teams in Manhattan have been solid to excellent on both sides of the ball. No doubt he'd bring a stabilizing presence to a Maroon and White squad that has been anything but consistent.
The Case Against: For all the efficiency, the team's W-L record is just ok. Coach Klieman's Wildcats have produced the same good-but-not-great results that Aggies are dying to overcome. If we weren't happy with Sumlin and Jimbo going 8-4, would we be happy to land another guy who's been doing pretty much the same the last 5 years? Like Leipold, Klieman has also almost exclusively coached in the Midwest, so he'd be adjusting to a new recruiting environment as well.
The Verdict: A Klieman hire would probably be ok, but we haven't been satisfied with just ok for the last decade. I think there are candidates with more upside and a better fit for where the program wants to go.
Since this is the last one of these I'm planning on doing, I'm going to go wild and rank all of the candidates I've previewed so far. Here we go:
- Mike Norvell - FSU
- Kalen DeBoer - Washington
- Mike Elko - Duke
- Lane Kiffin - Ole Miss
- Glenn Schumann - Georgia DC
- Jonathan Smith - Oregon State
- Jon Sumrall - Troy
- Lance Leipold - Kansas
- Elijah Robinson - Texas A&M Interim & DL Coach
- Jeff Traylor - UTSA
- Chris Klieman - K-State
- Jedd Fisch - Arizona
- Willie Fritz - Tulane
Coach Norvell or Coach DeBoer would be dream hires, but I think they're unlikely to leave their current situations. After that, I think bringing Elko home or pinching our noses for Lane Kiffin would be our best bet. Glenn Schumann is my best candidate from the non-P5 head coaching ranks, and I'd give him a shot if we whiff on too many of the top guys. After that, it becomes a jumble of proven floor vs. potential ceiling.
As always, I'm curious to see what y'all think. If anything, this process has shown me that there's no one true perspective on coaching hires. I'm sure that some of my top candidates will go on to be complete busts, just as I'm sure that at least one of the guys near the bottom of my list will go on to do great things. Either way, I'll be a fool. But if it were easy, we'd all be ADs!
If you found this guide useful, check out Parts 1 and 2, in which I profiled all of the candidates I ranked but didn't cover here. Thanks for reading!