In case you missed it, the University of Tennessee hired Butch Jones as their coach. Predictably the fans are a bit riled up about the hire. When your "A – list" consists of names like Gruden it is hard to get up and applaud for a Butch. Plenty of people are ready to vilify the AD for this hire without considering what type of candidate their school can attract. How "great" a head coaching job is at a school can change dramatically over several years. UT hasn’t had a lot of success recently and it almost certainly hurt their ability to entice a top candidate to Knoxville. I’m not saying Butch Jones was the best hire for the school, but he was a realistic hire.
As much as it hurts fans, not every program is a dream destination. Coaches are competitive and want to reach the pinnacle of their profession. Because of this they aren’t going to automatically jump for a job in the SEC, or take a job they perceive as a lateral move. To most coaches that is what the UT job is. Of course there will always be other factors such as a coach not wanting to leave his current school after a single year, money, and a host of other things.
That said, it is clear some fans need a reality check, and here is the best way to set your expectations when your favorite school has to hire a new coach. Everyone can hope for Nick Saban, but we try to avoid putting on the colored glasses in these parts.
Schools break down into a few separate categories. These categories are based on the history of the program, recent success, and how they have treated past coaches. Obviously teams can move in and out of these categories depending on recent results and the current athletic department climate.
Blue Bloods: Texas, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Alabam, Oregon, LSU, University of Southern California, Oklahoma, and Florida.
These are the teams that are either enduring incredible success over the past decade, or have a huge amount of history and resources with some moderate success. With few exceptions, when one of these schools comes calling a coach is going to accept the offer. Money isn’t going to be an issue, and unless the coach is already at his alma matter there aren’t going to be many opportunities that are better.
All of these schools have been in the national title conversation consistently during the past decade, though it has been undeserved at times. All the schools have a silly amount of resources, and also have passionate fanbases who want to win. Coaches with these jobs have reached the plateau of college football. Success guarantees immortality while failure banishes you to the Ron Zook department
The Hopefuls:Penn State, Auburn, Florida State, Texas A&M, Nebraska, Michigan, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Georgia, Stanford.
These are the larger programs that can usually be found in 10-20 range of the rankings. Schools here will a combination of passionate fans, resources, and some recent success. In the past a few of these jobs would be considered Blue Bloods, but over the past decade something has changed to make the jobs lest desirable. The only way a coach voluntarily leaves a job in this category is to take one of the Blue Blood jobs, or to make a switch within this group because he wants a new challenge, gets a ton of money, or has ties to his new school.
The above schools are usually pretty consistent. Occasionally one of these teams will rise up and contend for a national title, but a successful season is going to be 1-2 losses and competing for the conference title all year. Fans often get frustrated because their team will seem to underachieve fairly often, but that is because they need a revolutionary coach to take them to the Promised Land. A lot of fans will be disappointed anytime their school hires a new coach because it isn’t a big sexy name. Depending on the direction of the AD, a school here can often pull a a head coach from a group above, or may take a chance on a coordinator at a big and successful program
Stepping Stone Jobs: Tennessee, Arkansas, Miami, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Wisconsin, WVU
These are good jobs where coaches often make names for themselves. Before this stop coaches are usually coordinators at larger schools, or they have had success at schools without such a football history. The biggest problem with some of these schools is the fan bases believe they should be punching far above their weight. This is where you see hires like Derek Dooley and Dabo Swinney. Four years ago Clemson was in this group, and despite your thoughts about the job Dabo has done, he has been consistent enough to bring Clemson to higher level in terms of job attractiveness.
These teams can all have success, and the past few years have been good to them, but recent events make these jobs slightly less interesting than groups above them. For some of them it is because their success has been limited to a poor conference and an inability to get over the hump, for others their history of success keeps them relevant. If you can skip this level of coaching job then your life is immediately going to be better.
Everyone Else: You really think I'm going to list them all here?
Any team not listed above is here. There is a heriarchy from mid-major conferences up to the BCS conferences, but once you get to the BCS conference’s most of the jobs are similar, it just depends on money and where the coach feels he will fit best. Most coaches you see at the top levels started out way down here, though there are some exceptions. A fantastic season at one of these schools can put a coach on the map a la Urban Meyer.