Chip Kelly is back, Mike Riley is out and Scott Frost is a wanted man.
College football’s silly season went into overdrive Saturday as UCLA announced it had hired Kelly, the former Oregon coach, and Nebraska fired Riley within about 15 minutes of each other, closing one high-profile search after less than a week and officially opening another.
There figures to be more activity in the next day or so. Texas A&M plays LSU later Saturday, and there has been lots of speculation that Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin could be the fifth SEC coach to be dismissed.
Arkansas became the fourth SEC school with an opening on Friday. Bret Bielema was fired immediately following a loss to Missouri that ended Arkansas’ season with a 4-8 record. Mississippi, Florida and Tennessee are already searching for coaches. The Gators tried to woo Kelly, but he decided to return to college football in the conference where he has already had so much success.
Kelly went 46-7 with three Pac-12 titles in four seasons at Oregon before trying his hand in the NFL. He had three seasons at Philadelphia and one with San Francisco, going 28-35, including 2-14 with the 49ers. He spent this season working for ESPN as an analyst.
With Kelly off the board, one of his former assistants at Oregon becomes the most-sought after coach on the market. Frost is in his second season as UCF coach after leaving the Ducks. He has the 13th-ranked Knights 11-0 and heading to the American Athletic Conference championship game next week against No. 17 Memphis and coach Mike Norvell, who is also expected to draw interest from Power Five schools with openings, such as Ole Miss and Arkansas.
Frost figures to be the next focus for Florida, where athletic director Scott Stricklin said he was looking for a coach who could bring offensive excitement back to Gainesville. UCF is the highest-scoring team in the country.
The Gators will again have competition. Frost is a Nebraska native and former Cornhuskers quarterback who played under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne in the mid-1990s. Nebraska fans are pining for Frost, who has consistently said he would not be discussing any other jobs while UCF is pursuing a major bowl bid.
Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos said the search is already well underway, and “Scott is somebody I’m considering. But I am sensitive to that he is still coaching a team.”
Moos was hired away from Washington State in October, leading to speculation that Cougars coach Mike Leach could follow his former boss, or be a candidate to move to another job. Leach is in his sixth season at Washington State. The 14th-ranked Cougars play No. 15 Washington in the Apple Cup on Saturday. A victory would send Washington State to the Pac-12 championship game.
Florida could also turn to Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, a former Florida assistant under Urban Meyer who worked with Stricklin when the AD was leading the athletic department in Starkville, Mississippi.
Mullen has also been speculated to be a target for Tennessee, along with Leach.
Texas Tech decided to stick with its coach after Kliff Kingsbury led the Red Raiders to a victory at Texas on Friday night that made the team bowl eligible. Athletic director Kirby Hocutt said after the game that Kingsbury, a former Texas Tech quarterback, would be back for a sixth season. He is 30-32 with his alma mater.
Another man who could be coaching for his job is Todd Graham of Arizona State. The Sun Devils (6-5) are already bowl eligible, and a victory better than last season, heading into Saturday’s game against rival Arizona. If Arizona State opens up, it could be a landing spot for Sumlin.
Mississippi was to interview interim coach Matt Luke before digging into outside candidates. Luke, a former Ole Miss offensive lineman who was promoted when Hugh Freeze was fired before the season, gave himself a shot to land the job permanently by finishing 6-6 with a team that is serving a school-imposed bowl ban for NCAA violations.
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