Any moment now, and certainly during the next week, the yearly ritual will begin at various college campuses across the country.
As football seasons end, embattled head coaches will either bow out gracefully or hold their breath until they're kept or fired, and then the rumors will explode. At the center of that firestorm will be the nation's hottest commodities — the handful of coaches who have enjoyed success in their current (or most recent) jobs and might be willing to take on a bigger challenge.
For several years, that list has included Air Force's Troy Calhoun, and he already has said a polite "no" to big-time suitors (or potential suitors), including the likes of Tennessee, Colorado, Minnesota and even, last year, the Denver Broncos.
It was easy to understand why Calhoun didn't jump at any offers last year. He had the makings of a superior team coming back for 2011, and Air Force would be facing the kind of schedule (TCU, Boise State, Notre Dame, etc.) that could catapult the Falcons into national prominence. That, added to him being so entrenched at his alma mater, and excitement over the Falcons' spacious new indoor practice facility, made Calhoun content staying at the academy.
This time around, though, the circumstances appear much different. And don't be surprised if Calhoun takes a longer look at some of the likely openings.
Here's a sampling of the jobs that might come open, if they haven't already: Arizona State, where Dennis Erickson suddenly is in trouble (and is 64); Washington State, with Paul Wulff on the brink; California, where Jeff Tedford has worn out his welcome; Kansas, quickly tiring of Turner Gill; Illinois, ready to give up on Ron Zook; Mississippi, done with Houston Nutt; UCLA, where Rick Neuheisel is hanging by a thread; Colorado State, unsure about Steve Fairchild; Oregon State, trying to decide about Mike Riley; and, oh yeah, Penn State and Ohio State.
That's a lot of marquee-level jobs, with not enough hot coaches to fill them. We're already seeing some examples of recycling, with Arizona grabbing Rich Rodriguez (formerly of Michigan and West Virginia) earlier this week, New Mexico recently hiring ex-Notre Dame coach Bob Davie, and Mississippi and Arizona State pursuing the likes of Mike Leach, two years removed from Texas Tech. Urban Meyer also might resurface at Ohio State.
You have to wonder if Boise State's Chris Petersen might listen to some of those programs, and the same goes for Baylor's Art Briles or Southern Mississippi's Larry Fedora.
With so much volatility in the Pacific 12 Conference, that's where Calhoun might pay attention. He grew up in Oregon, so he could have different feelings about the Pac-12, especially if Oregon State were to come open. Any of those schools would love to grab someone who has the pristine reputation that Calhoun has built — especially if Air Force can finish its regular season Saturday with a victory at Colorado State. That would put the Falcons in a bowl game for the fifth consecutive year, which never has happened in AFA history.
The irony is that the AFA-CSU game also could move Fairchild one step closer to doom. Yes, he's a former CSU quarterback, and that probably has bought him a longer leash than a stranger would have had in Fort Collins. But the lack of progress, the offensive struggles and the inability to win close games have had their effect, and now the Rams are 3-7, on a six-game losing streak, with home dates remaining against Air Force and arch rival Wyoming. Calhoun hasn't lost to Fairchild, so that's foreboding, but even worse is the fact that Wyoming seems to have leap-frogged CSU in Dave Christensen's three seasons as the Cowboys' head man.
No matter what happens Saturday in Fort Collins, Calhoun's stock will remain high. It just depends on which schools decide to make coaching changes. In particular, keep an eye on Oregon State, which is 3-8 after an upset win last Saturday against Washington, but still a four-touchdown underdog going into its finale this week against rival Oregon.
Even if Riley survives, the Pac-12 likely will have more turnover than any other league. And one of those jobs could offer too much for Troy Calhoun to refuse.
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