2024 SEC head coaching changes to still look out for, blame the NFL

Could some SEC head coaches make the move to the NFL in the future?
2023 Big 12 Championship - Oklahoma State v Texas
2023 Big 12 Championship - Oklahoma State v Texas / Ron Jenkins/GettyImages

With the end of the NFL season approaching, the coaching carousel at that level is about to begin. While all FBS head coaching positions on the collegiate level are filled at this point as well as most coordinators in place as well, that carousel to the common fan is all but over and resolved.

However, with the NFL’s regular season concluding about a month after FBS, that coaching carousel always starts later. And now is about the time it’ll heat up with teams becoming more decidedly in or out of the playoffs with two weeks left to play as of this Sunday.

And with NFL head coaching vacancies, the coveted “Super Bowl” at the professional level has lured several coaches at the power five level before to the NFL. Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino are two most recently that came out of the SEC specifically. On a national scale, Jim Harbaugh, Matt Rhule, Pete Carroll, Bill O’Brien, Urban Meyer and Chip Kelly are names that have left recently to try to conquer the same feat. And Pete Carroll is the only one to accomplish it. Furthermore, it’s arguable that Carroll and Harbaugh were the only one’s with successful NFL tenures.

So with the odds against successful college coaches succeeding at the professional level, you’d think it would steer away college coaches and keep them in seat. But it is the “Super Bowl,” a bigger paycheck, and the NFL. So the lure will always be there for some inevitably. The question becomes who are these coaches that would jump, who would the NFL teams reach out to, and who would these said NFL teams be?

Without a doubt, there is a handful of NFL head coaching openings each season. Over the last five seasons, there has been an average of seven openings each year.

As this article reads on, you may be thinking more and more if it could be your team and coach that’s effected. And you’re correct; it could be. All of the coaches mentioned beforehand came from power five programs, and two specifically out of the SEC.

I share my list of SEC schools that could be effected at a head coach level by the NFL head coaching carousel and how below:

Could any SEC head coaches make the move to the NFL?

LSU: According to Tiger Rag, LSU head coach Brian Kelly’s marriage was all but final after Kelly filed for divorce “from his wife of 28 years.” Fast forward a few months however, and according to an article by Priyam Hazarika of Sportskeeda that “in the end, the couple decided to stay with each other and work on their marriage.” One could read between the lines here however and if the rumors hold true about Jim Harbaugh’s interest in returning to the NFL, Kelly is a logical fit back in Michigan which is the state Kelly and his wife, Francisca Kelly met during his time as head coach at Grand Valley State University. After Grand Valley State, Kelly coached the University of Central Michigan for three seasons. After that, Kelly remained in the Midwest with stops at the University of Cincinnati for four years, and Notre Dame for the next 12.

Ties to the region, head coaching prolice, university prestige and pay all make sense for Kelly to return to his Midwest roots of Harbaugh bolts to the NFL for a second time.

Ole Miss: This would be a classic cause and effect scenario if Lane Kiffin were to leave Oxford before the start of the 2024 season. But if Kelly leaves for Michigan, LSU could be a landing spot for Kiffin. LSU is a university that could put up more money than Ole Miss and provide more resources and five star recruiting power which Kiffin eluded to earlier this season after the Rebels loss to the Georgia Bulldogs.

Georgia: While I don’t project Kirby Smart leaving his alma mater, the University of Georgia at any point in the near future for an NFL job, it is worth noting since one of the projected NFL head coaching openings is that of the Atlanta Falcons which is only about an hour away from Athens.

Nationally, Smart took a lot of heat this offseason for the speeding violations of players within the Bulldogs program. So if there was a driving force for Smart, this could be it. However, there are many more reasons that supersede this one in my opinion as gone into detail in my article on why Smart will remain in Athens.

Kentucky: Similar to Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin, Kentucky Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops has made similar remarks about not having enough resources in Lexington to take the Wildcats to the next level. During his 11 years at the school, Stoops has compiled two 10-win seasons. Considering that Stoops is the only coach in Kentucky history with two or more 10-win seasons, you’d think at least by way of the administration at the University of Kentucky, Stoops all but has an official contract for life as far as job security goes. The only other coach with a 10-win season in program history came one time in 1950 under legendary Alabama head coach Bear Bryant. So that’s some pretty good company as far as Kentucky standards go.

Stoops was however rumored to be lined up for the job at Texas A&M after the firing of Jimbo Fisher, but that never came to fold. Regardless, it’s clear that Stoops was interested. And that combined with his comments referring to the lack of NIL money and competing at the highest level with five stars earlier this year should be cause for concern that it may not take much for Stoops to leap for the NFL.

Texas: Steve Sarkisian is quite the comeback story in college football. After his early success as a head coach at the Washington University from 2009 to 2013, Sarkisian was let go from the University of Southern California after two seasons as he battled alcohol issues. Sarkisian rebuilt his career at the collegiate level, returning as an offensive analyst under Nick Saban with the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2016, and returning to the Tide as offensive coordinator in 2019 and 2020. After helping lead the Tide to a national championship in 2020, Sarkisian left for the head coaching job in 2021 at the University of Texas where he’s built the Longhorns into a national contender again for the first time since Mack Brown led the program to their last one with quarterback Vince Young back in 2005.

The Longhorns ironically are set for a semifinal playoff matchup against the Washington Huskies where Sarkisian began his FBS coaching career.

With having NFL experience with the Atlanta Falcons, combined with his success at the collegiate level, it is a possibility that Sarkisian is at least called to gauge his interest by NFL teams. The good thing for the Longhorn faithful who’ve been starving for sustained success since the departure of Mack Brown is that with the amount of money they can pay Sarkisian and his success at the school, look for these to be just that- nothing more than phone calls to gauge interest.

Sarkisian has also built quite the recruiting reputation in Austin, and that shouldn’t be overlooked. Names like Quinn Ewers via the transfer portal and coveted high school recruits Arch Manning and Colin Simmons took a lot of work and would be tough to turn away from without seeing the fruit bared from the labor, especially in the cases of Manning and Simmons who have either not touched an FBS field yet, or seen it in a very limited capacity.

While some openings are more likely than others, all are worth at least mentioning in preparation of the inevitable NFL head coaching carousel and its cause and effect on college football. And with the SEC being labeled as the “junior NFL” by many, don’t think NFL owners and general managers don’t notice either, and this would be the case for Sarkisian, Smart or stoops being directly hired. For Kiffin and Kelly, it’s truly more cause and effect to other FBS openings because of other FBS head coaches leaving, regionality, resources, etc. So regardless of the scenario, time will have to tell on this one. Stay tuned.