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College football coaching carousel: Georgia Tech may turn to the NFL to replace Paul Johnson

Georgia Tech could look a whole lot different next season without Paul Johnson running the show. (Annie Rice/Associated Press)

College football’s regular season is essentially over, which means it’s time to warm up this year’s version of the coaching carousel. Here’s the latest on the comings and goings.

WHISENHUNT TO CHAT WITH GEORGIA TECH

Paul Johnson announced Wednesday that he is stepping down as the Yellow Jackets’ coach at the end of his 11th season in Atlanta.

“After 40 years of coaching, it’s time to take a break,” Johnson said in a statement. “My family has sacrificed a lot over the years. I want to watch my daughter perform [as a professional opera singer] and do some things with my wife that we’ve never had a chance to do.

“It’s been a great run for the last 11 years here on The Flats. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished and am looking forward to having the chance to coach this team one last time at our bowl game next month.”

Johnson, 61, won 82 games at Georgia Tech using the option offense he had honed at Georgia Southern and Navy. The Yellow Jackets won the 2009 ACC title and finished first or second in the Coastal Division in seven of his 11 seasons. Johnson ranks fourth among active coaches in career victories (189) and will look to add to that tally in the Yellow Jackets’ upcoming bowl game.

ESPN’s Chris Low reported that Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, who played at Georgia Tech, is expected to be a top candidate to replace Johnson, and ESPN’s Adam Schefter says the school will interview Whisenhunt this weekend. Schefter adds that Georgia Tech is looking for someone who both has NFL experience and a connection to the school. Whisenhunt barely has any college coaching experience, however, spending one year as Vanderbilt’s special teams and tight ends coach in the mid-1990s before beginning his ascent up the NFL coaching ladder.

The school also may target Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, Alabama offensive line coach Brent Key (who also played at Georgia Tech) and Army Coach Jeff Monken (who also runs an option offense).

SNYDER ERA ENDING AT KANSAS STATE?

Bill Snyder is 79 years old. Except for a three-season break between 2006 and 2008, he’s been Kansas State’s coach since 1989. Over 27 seasons, he’s led the Wildcats to 19 bowl games and two Big 12 championships, remarkable accomplishments for a geographically isolated program that once was considered one of college football’s premier laughingstocks.

After a dour 5-7 campaign, however, that all might be ending. Tim Fitzgerald of 247 Sports’ GoPowercat.com reports that Snyder is likely to step down by the end of the week and that Kansas State will pursue North Texas Coach Seth Littrell to replace him.

That last item is important. Snyder’s contract includes a stipulation that Snyder be allowed “appropriate input” in the selection of his replacement, and he’s made it clear that he would like to see the job go to his son, Sean, the Wildcats’ associate head coach and special teams coordinator.

The Wichita Eagle reported Thursday that Kansas State AD Gene Taylor had hoped to meet with Snyder on Wednesday to discuss his future, but the meeting never transpired and was pushed back. It’s unclear when it will take place.

“Can’t promise tomorrow,” Taylor texted the Eagle’s Bo Rader on Thursday.

STRIKE ONE FOR LOUISVILLE

Jeff Brohm announced Wednesday that he will be staying at Purdue and not taking the head coaching job at Louisville, his alma mater, which leaves Appalachian State Coach Scott Satterfield as the apparent front-runner to take over the Cardinals’ program, according to nearly every major college football reporter (Stadium’s Brett McMurphy, Yahoo Sports' Pete Thamel, 247Sports.com’s Jody Demling and ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg).

Satterfield has led the Mountaineers to a 46-16 record in their five seasons as an FBS program, winning at least nine games in four of them and ascending into the AP top 25 for the first time this season (Appalachian State faces Louisiana-Lafayette in the Sun Belt title game on Saturday). Doug Samuels of Football Scoop reported that Louisville Athletic Director Vince Tyra plans to meet with Satterfield soon.

High school cancels classes after threat related to Jeff Brohm turning down Louisville

Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell and Ohio State offensive coordinator Ryan Day also could be on Tyra’s wish list, according to Demling, while WDRB’s Eric Crawford added Memphis Coach Mike Norvell, Troy Coach Neal Brown and North Texas Coach Seth Littrell to the possibilities.

Brown’s candidacy seems like a long shot considering a comment he once made about Louisville while he was an assistant at in-state rival Kentucky.

“Our fan base is one of the best, if not the best in college sports because … there’s no NBA team, there’s no Major League Baseball team, there’s no NFL team,” Brown said in 2014. “So UK Athletics is it. The other team doesn’t want to hear that, but it’s it. We’re the show in town, in the state.”

MALZAHN STAYING PUT?

After a week of somewhat odd stories involving booster plots, contract loopholes and former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, Auburn President Steven Leath finally spoke on the status of Coach Gus Malzahn. In a statement Wednesday, Leath said “there has been no change from what the athletic director and president each said recently,” meaning the school seems to be leaning toward keeping its embattled coach.

Auburn started the season ranked ninth but finished it unranked at 7-5, losing its last two SEC games by a combined 79-31. And while Auburn AD Allen Greene said earlier this month — before those losses to Georgia and Alabama — that Malzahn would be back in 2019, Josh Moon of the Alabama Reporter wrote Monday that “there is a serious movement among high-powered officials at AU to fire him” and that said bigwigs already have begun talks with a “top-level” candidate to take Malzahn’s place. As for the name of that candidate:

Stoops, 58, stepped down as Oklahoma’s coach in June 2017. His hiring would send shock waves through the SEC, though he vehemently denied Moon’s report after he was reached for comment by USA Today’s George Schroeder.

“I didn’t know Auburn had a job open,” he said. “I haven’t talked to anybody from Auburn. I haven’t met with anybody from Auburn nor am I set to talk to anybody. It’s just foolish speculation that just is thrown out there that has no basis to it.”

“Seriously? When are y’all gonna get it?” Stoops continued. “You just listen to things that aren’t true, that’s what it is.”

Stoops wasn’t done.

“This is ridiculous,” he said. “You people are listening to stuff that just isn’t there. That’s just a bunch of people [reporting rumors] that are totally clueless and just make up news. That isn’t true.”

Moon, who normally covers Alabama politics, stood by his reporting, on Monday writing that “there was a meeting between reps for AU and Stoops or his reps” and that there have been continuing conversations in the “two-plus weeks” since the initial contact.

Thanks to a somewhat questionable contract extension given to him last year, Malzahn’s buyout would be eye-popping even in this silly era: around $32.1 million if it happens before Saturday, with half of it due 30 days after his firing. But according to Moon, Auburn’s boosters do not think they will have to pay the entire buyout thanks to a plan to have his contract invalidated via a loophole. It involves Tigers Unlimited, which provides financial support to Auburn’s athletic programs via private donations.

“I dug into it a little more and found that the folks at Tigers Unlimited had alerted university officials to a rather significant problem with the financing of the contract extension: No one had secured the funding from TU,” Moon wrote Monday.

"Apparently, because TU is a private entity, for it to be obligated to cover the majority of Malzahn’s contract — as it currently is — there’s a formal step that has to be taken. I assume this involves a signature and notary stamp, but I’m only guessing.

“That formal step was never executed, according to two people who should know.”

In any case, the fire-Malzahn crown believes it has some leverage here (no matter how legally tenuous it seems) and, according to Auburn Undercover, it’s spurred some action: Phillip Marshall wrote that Malzahn is close to accepting a reduced buyout to keep his job. How much of a reduction remains to be seen.

Malzahn outwardly is projecting optimism on the recruiting trail. On Tuesday, he was in South Carolina visiting Luke Deal, a tight end commitment who plans on enrolling at Auburn early, in January.

“You can see on Twitter, some of those rumors have already been made false,” Deal told AL.com. “He just reassured me that he’s gonna be the coach for this year coming up. So I mean, you know what, I’m not worried a bit.”

LOOKING FOR A NEW COACH

COLORADO

Fired: Mike MacIntyre

Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post says the choice is clear: Jim Leavitt, who was the Buffaloes’ defensive coordinator in 2015 and 2016 and now coaches the defense at Oregon, should be Colorado’s next coach. The Buffaloes’ defense has fallen off a cliff since Leavitt’s departure, and he has head coaching experience at South Florida. According to Football Scoop’s Scott Roussel, Leavitt has discussed the opening with Colorado Athletic Director Rick George, but he’s in no rush because he also wants to talk with Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker after the Bulldogs play Alabama on Saturday in the SEC title game.

Tucker has extensive coaching experience on both the NCAA and NFL levels, the latter being a crucial component of any college coaching candidate these days. He’s been a defensive coordinator at Ohio State and for the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears, and before he went to Georgia he was Nick Saban’s associate head coach and defensive backs coach at Alabama.

SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey and Richard Johnson reported earlier this week that Vanderbilt Coach Derek Mason — who has Pac-12 experience from his time as a Stanford assistant — “is drawing attention at Colorado” along with Leavitt and former Tennessee coach Butch Jones. One has to wonder, however, whether Colorado’s fans would be happy with Mason, who has yet to win more than six games in five seasons with the Commodores (though that’s one of the more difficult Power 5 jobs in the country).

CHARLOTTE

Fired: Brad Lambert

Charlotte called off its pursuit of Mike Houston on Friday, two days after James Madison’s coach admitted that he had had conversations about the 49ers' opening with Athletic Director Mike Hill and one day after his name also surfaced as a candidate for the opening at East Carolina.

“Normally, I would not comment on an ongoing search,” Hill said Friday in a statement. "However, in light of recent public comments, I feel it’s important to update our supporters on the status of our interest in Mike Houston.

“This morning we withdrew a contract offer that had been negotiated in good faith with Coach Houston and his representatives. This was based on the fact that last evening, Coach Houston informed us that he had interest in exploring other head coaching opportunities” while remaining under consideration for the Charlotte job.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Athletic’s Bruce Feldman tweeted that Houston was expected to be named as Lambert’s replacement. But Houston then told the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record later that day that he merely had been offered the job but had not decided whether to accept it.

“I told [Hill] I was interested in the job,” Houston said, per the Daily News-Record. “It doesn’t have anything to do with JMU. I have been blessed to have the opportunity to be the head coach here. I am still the head coach here. I have been fortunate enough to be around some of the best young men that I could ever have the possibility to be around and they have done everything we’ve ever asked of them.

“I have loyal coaches. I have a great administration. I have been honest and straightforward with everyone at any institution I’ve talked to, including this one. I was honest with my team today.”

Houston led JMU to the FCS national title in 2016, his first year as the Dukes' coach, and then led them back to the title game in 2017 (they lost to North Dakota State). This year’s team is 9-3 and plays at Colgate on Saturday in the second round of the FCS playoffs. Houston said he would be coaching in that game.

“It’s just unfortunate,” said Houston, who was born and raised in North Carolina. “But it’s the reality of college football right now with the national signing day being moved up into December. Institutions have obviously sped up their process toward going after different candidates for different reasons.”

On Thursday afternoon, however, Yahoo’s Pete Thamel reported that Charlotte might have some competition for Houston’s services from East Carolina, which fired Scottie Montgomery two days before the 3-8 Pirates' season finale Saturday at North Carolina State (a makeup game of a weather postponement). ECU’s interest in Houston could explain the odd timing of Montgomery’s firing.

ALSO LOOKING FOR NEW COACHES

Maryland (read more about the Terps' search here)

Central Michigan

Massachusetts

East Carolina

Utah State

NEW COACHES IN PLACE

TEXAS TECH

Fired: Kliff Kingsbury

Hired: Matt Wells. The school announced Thursday night that Utah State’s coach will replace Kingsbury in Lubbock.

Wells led the Aggies to a 10-2 record this season, and they were ranked No. 14 before a loss at Boise State to end the regular season. It’s the second 10-win campaign in Wells’s six seasons at Utah State, which is one of the toughest places to coach in the country considering that the state isn’t stocked with football talent and that the school plays third fiddle to Utah and BYU. Texas Tech is somewhat similar in that it’s also geographically isolated in a state where Texas and Texas A&M are the heavy hitters.

Utah State offensive coordinator David Yost and defensive coordinator Keith Patterson will join Wells at Texas Tech. Both were thought to have been on Texas Tech’s backup list had Wells not taken the job. It’s unclear who will coach the Aggies in their bowl game.

NORTH CAROLINA

Fired: Larry Fedora.

Hired: Mack Brown, who led the Tar Heels to arguably their longest sustained success in the 1990s but has been out of coaching since he resigned at Texas in 2013.

UNC is bringing back Mack Brown, 21 years after he left for Texas

KANSAS

Fired: David Beaty

Hired: Les Miles. The Mad Hatter is back in the game and does not seem to have lost a step:

WESTERN KENTUCKY

Fired: Mike Sanford

Hired: Tyson Helton, who spent one season as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach before returning to Western Kentucky, where he was OC/QB coach in 2014 and 2015. Helton, 41, is the younger brother of USC Coach Clay Helton.

TEXAS STATE

Fired: Everett Withers

Hired: Jake Spavital, West Virginia’s offensive coordinator the past two seasons. Spavital has experience in the Lone Star State, having served as Texas A&M’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2013 to 2015. Texas State visits Texas A&M to open the 2019 season.

Bowling Green

Fired: Mike Jinks.

Hired: Scot Loeffler, who has spent the last three years as Boston College’s offensive coordinator.

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