College football reached Week 10 without a head coach fired in-season for performance reasons — the longest such stretch in a decade.
The first boom erupted Sunday morning.
Texas A&M fired Jimbo Fisher, opening one of the country’s highest-paying jobs at one of the most well-resourced programs. The move could trigger a cascade of coaching changes and serve as a giant domino in the carousel of turnover this cycle.
Rife with mega-boosters and aggressive spenders, the Aggies are expected to focus their coaching search on some of the highest-paid sitting Power Five coaches in the country, many of them with large buyouts. However, money is no object in College Station.
The move to fire Fisher goes well beyond the more than $75 million owed to him in buyout money. A contract for a new head coach could cost in excess of $80 million. Combined with assistant buyouts and new staff hires, the price tag for the move could exceed $150 million.
Let’s get to the presumed list of candidates available for such a lucrative gig:
Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss
In his fourth season in Oxford, Kiffin was a hot name during last year’s cycle, especially for the gig at fellow SEC West program Auburn. His stock has only soared as the Rebels find themselves 8-2 and, before this weekend’s loss at Georgia, ranked in the top 10. Kiffin brings with him a reputation as one of the nation’s best play-callers and he’s been one of the more aggressive coaches with the transfer portal, landing key commitments to fill holes. Kiffin is due to make nearly $9 million in salary next season. Kiffin’s buyout for leaving is steep, but particulars are not clear as the contract — believed to be at least six years in length — is under the umbrella of the school’s private foundation. If the buyout is even half of his remaining compensation, the price tag will be in the $20 million range.
Mike Elko, Duke
The former Texas A&M defensive coordinator has had immediate success in a difficult place to win. The Blue Devils won nine games in his first season last year and are 6-4 this year after a double-overtime loss at North Carolina on Saturday night. The 46-year-old spent four years with Fisher on A&M’s staff, helping mold the Aggies into one of the best defensive units in the country. Elko has one of the smallest buyouts of anyone on this list at about $5 million. And while the school is adamant about keeping him, it’s difficult to see him turning down such a well-resourced SEC program to remain at a basketball school in the ACC.
Dan Lanning, Oregon
In Year 2, Lanning’s Ducks are 9-1 and ranked in the top 10. He’s 19-4 during his stint in Eugene and has a team capable of advancing to this year’s Pac-12 championship game, which could springboard Oregon into the College Football Playoff. That could impact a potential hire in College Station. Lanning might be coaching through December. Also, the coach has a whopper of a buyout to leave: around $20 million. Lanning is a Kansas City native but has roots in the SEC from his stint at Alabama and lastly Georgia, where he manned one of the country’s best defenses in the Bulldogs’ march to the 2021 national title.
Mike Norvell, Florida State
Would Norvell leave FSU — where he’s returned the Seminoles to glory — for Texas A&M? That’s the first question that needs an answer. The second: Will he too be coaching through December? FSU is 10-0 and on the path toward an ACC championship and an appearance in the College Football Playoff. Norvell’s track record is impressive. He won three division titles and a conference championship in four years at Memphis before resurrecting the Seminoles. FSU won three games in his first year, then five in 2021 before hitting the 10-win mark the last two seasons. Norvell got a contract extension last year with a massive salary bump to $7.3 million that kicks in next year. After a banner 2023 season, he would be expected to see another new deal.
Jeff Traylor, Texas-San Antonio
Traylor has turned UTSA into a consistent winner and a yearly contender for a conference title. The 55-year-old Texan is 37-13 with two C-USA championships. UTSA, 7-3 this year, is in another league title race at 6-0 in the American. Traylor is a Texas guy who rose from the high school ranks in the state and spent time at SMU and Arkansas before arriving in San Antonio in 2020. His buyout is $7 million.