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Around the AAC: 2019 Coaching Carousel Begins to Spin

Latest rumors, notes, and thoughts on the 2019 college football coaching searches as they relate to the AAC.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Memphis Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

As Cincinnati and Memphis prepare to play in the AAC Championship Game on Saturday, both head coaches are very trendy and hot topics around college football as teams look to fill their head coaching vacancies.

Luke Fickell

After going 4-8 in his first season in 2017, Cincinnati is 21-4 the last two years. The Bearcats’ performance and their history of head coaches leaving for high profile jobs in the past, is why Fickell’s name is hot. His connections to Ohio State also certainly help his reputation.

Despite the chatter and rumors, all is quiet with Fickell. If he were to leave, he would have to leave for a pretty special job, and right now a “special job” simply does not exist. Perhaps Florida State is special to some, but considering Fickell’s midwest roots, the administrative issues at FSU and the massive rebuild that the job will require, it’s hard to see Fickell leaving for that challenge.

USC was speculated as a potential landing spot due to Fickell’s familiarity with new USC Athletic Director Mike Bohn. But that job has similar issues and questions that Florida State does. Plus, it was announced late Tuesday that Clay Helton will be retained for 2020.

The jobs that would likely interest Fickell are in the midwest. Maybe Michigan State would get his attention, but all signs point to Mark Dantonio returning in 2020, following a disappointing 6-6 season in 2019.

I’ve spent a lot of time writing about why Fickell isn’t going anywhere, and he basically said so himself yesterday.

Mike Norvell

Personally, I am surprised he hasn’t been snatched up already. I thought Arkansas made sense two years ago (and makes sense again two years later).

Word on the street (street = twitter) is that no announcement is expected from Florida State until after the weekend. That would seem to imply that someone coaching this weekend might be involved in this search. when you eliminate the coaches at Clemson, Virginia, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Baylor, Utah, Oregon, LSU, and Georgia, that leaves Fickell, Norvell, Lane Kiffin (FAU), Bill Clark (UAB), and Bryan Harsin (Boise State) as the most likely candidates. Kiffin would obviously be intriguing, but it’s hard not to view Norvell as a potential home run hire.

Current AAC Openings

South Florida

USF pulled the plug on Charlie Strong after three seasons. USF went 10-3 in his first year in 2017 and in 2018 got off to a hot 7-0 start, before ending the year with 6 straight losses. This year was a total disaster from the get go. They lost 49-0 at home to Wisconsin week 1 and went 4-8.

I remember in 2017, being intrigued by the idea of Strong at Cincinnati. He failed at Texas, but was highly successful at Louisville and has Florida ties. Because of all of those Florida ties and that small conference experience (Louisville wasn’t in ACC yet), I thought he would really work out at USF.

Strong replaced Willie Taggart, who left after 2016 to coach Oregon, where he stayed one year before being hired at Florida State. He was fired after just 19 games. Now, Taggart is being mentioned as one of the top candidates for this job.

Other candidates being mentioned include both co-Offensive Coordinators at Clemson - Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott.

Follow our friends The Daily Stampede on twitter, if you want more coverage or information on this search.

They currently have odds on who will be their next head coach.

Potential openings

Tulsa

Nothing happening yet at Tulsa, but Philip Montgomery just completed a 4-8 season and is now 25-37 in four years. Tulsa’s 10 win season in 2016 certainly seems like an aberration as they have won 2, 3, and 4 games in the three seasons since. It sounds like he will be retained for 2020 but no official announcement has been made, and if true, he will certainly be on a short leash.

Tulane

Back-to-back 6 win seasons sounds disappointing to a lot of schools. But that’s an extreme success story at Tulane, a school with very little history.

Last year was just Tulane’s third winning season since 2000 and their first bowl win since 2002. The last time Tulane had back-to-back winning seasons was 1997-1998. They can achieve that feat again with a bowl win.

That’s why 59 year old Willie Fritz is being mentioned as a potential candidate at schools like Arkansas and Missouri.

Fritz has coached Central Missouri and Sam Houston State and had great success at both of those schools. From 2014-2015, he went 17-7 at Georgia Southern, a place where winning football games is not an easy task.

UCF

Josh Heupel just completed his second year on the job. Before getting the head coaching job at UCF in 2018 (following Scott Frost’s departure), he was the Offensive Coordinator at Missouri from 2016-2017. This is relevant, because Missouri just fired Barry Odom and are looking for a new head coach. It’s unknown what direction they would go or if Heupel would even answer the phone, but it’s simply worth noting the connection.