Oklahoma Baylor Football

Baylor coach Dave Aranda, left, and Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley shake hands before their game Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, in Waco, Texas. Baylor defeated Oklahoma 27-14.

In coaching searches, the focus is often on salary, on buyouts and on ties between the school and candidate in question.

One factor often gets overlooked: timing.

Timing is critical. Especially now that college football has an early signing period, which this year starts Dec. 15. Teams sign most of their classes in December now instead of February, maybe three-fourths of their class. So it’s critical that LSU has a coach in place before Dec. 15 so that person can dive in and attempt to salvage as much of a promising signing class as possible. LSU’s class was ranked in the 247Sports.com top 10, but after some decommitments is now No. 12.

LSU can’t afford to wait for a coach whose team is going to be in the College Football Playoff. The CFP semifinals this season are on New Year's Eve in the Cotton and Orange bowls. I don’t know what you believe, but I don’t believe a coach who has worked endless hours and slept on his couch and eaten a lot of strange food on in-home recruiting visits is going to pass up a chance to coach in the CFP, where they currently coach, in favor of the chance to maybe do so one day at LSU.

Speaking of timing, for everyone who thought LSU athletic director Scott Woodward was trigger-happy in announcing Ed Orgeron’s firing Oct. 17, take a look ’round the country. Folks have spent weeks debating whether LSU or Southern California (which fired Clay Helton after two games) has the best job opening. They’re both great, though I think LSU is a little better because it’s the big fish in a small-but-stocked recruiting pond and is more committed to spending what it takes to win big.

But now, there may be a third entry into that conversation. Florida’s season has imploded since the Gators lost 49-42 at LSU. They dropped three straight before barely scraping by FCS Samford 70-52 on Saturday. Immediately, speculation bloomed that coach Dan Mullen won’t survive in Gainesville.

Florida may be a better job than LSU or USC, though Florida shares its home turf with Florida State and Miami, three Power Five fishes in a huge recruiting pond. But even if UF athletic director Scott Stricklin presses the eject button on Mullen, he’d be working from behind Woodward and USC athletic director Mike Bohn to land a new coach.

Stricklin’s timing would be off. Meanwhile, the clock ticks closer to the time LSU may announce its next coach, with the betting money being sometime in the days after the regular-season finale against Texas A&M on Nov. 27.

I continue to believe that Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher remains Woodward’s favorite because of their history together. Both came up professionally in the early 2000s at LSU, and Woodward hired Fisher away from Florida State in 2017 when he was Texas A&M’s athletic director. And contrary to popular belief, Fisher didn’t dismiss the LSU job several weeks ago, he just said he was happy at Texas A&M.

For what it's worth, Fisher again Monday disputed the notion he is interested in leaving A&M, saying: "I want to be at A&M. I plan on being at A&M. I ain't going nowhere. I don't plan on being anywhere else. Is that clear enough?" 

Fisher was happy once upon a time at LSU, too. At least when he wasn’t getting yelled at by Nick Saban.

Another guy who was once happy at LSU: Baylor coach Dave Aranda. Saturday, he picked up the signature win of his young head coaching tenure with a 27-14 upset of then-No. 4 Oklahoma, improving to 8-2 on the season and remaining in the thick of the chase for a Big 12 championship game berth and a New Year’s Six Bowl berth.

Josh Pate, who hosts a college football show on 247Sports.com, attended the game in Waco, Texas, and came away impressed with Aranda and his prospects of being a big-time coaching job candidate.

“I think he’s going to rapidly ascend,” Pate said Sunday. “There’s a cerebral nature about him and there’s a perspective on success and organization that he grasps to be able to instill in a roster that most coaches you’ll hear more about do.”

Maybe there’s some recency bias in play here, but I have to believe Aranda’s stock is rising regarding the LSU job. I also believe Baylor is going to be none too happy with LSU if it poaches Kim Mulkey and Aranda off their campus within a span of 7½ months.

Aranda, LSU’s defensive coordinator from 2016-19, had his team hold the Sooners to 260 yards of total offense, a low point under Lincoln Riley, another prime LSU candidate. Baylor is ranked 20th in the FBS allowing 19.9 points per game, but is also 20th in scoring offense (35.4 points per game), 18th in total offense (453.6 ypg) and fourth in rushing offense (237.5 ypg).

Aranda is only 10-9 as a head coach, so it’s a bit of a gamble. But if stability and familiarity with LSU are big factors with Woodward, he could hardly make a better choice.

As for Riley, his 9-1 Sooners now seem to be out of playoff contention since they came in No. 8 in last week’s CFP rankings. If LSU wants him, and it won’t be easy, he’ll be available at the latest after conference championship weekend, Dec. 3-4.

Again, timing is important.

Here’s an updated look at the big names involved in the LSU coaching search. As always, candidates have been listed in alphabetical order. Odds are my own:

DAVE ARANDA

CURRENT POSITION, SEASON: Baylor head coach, second.

AGE; HOMETOWN: 45 (Born Sept. 29, 1976); Redlands, California.

SALARY: N/A*.

RECORD: 10-9 overall, 8-2 this season, team ranked No. 11 AP.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS? A 27-14 upset of Oklahoma vault’s Aranda’s stock way up in this search, though 19 games as a head coach is a slim bookof work. More like a brochure. Odds: 8-1.

NEXT GAME: Saturday at Kansas State, 4:30 p.m., FS1.

LUKE FICKELL

CURRENT POSITION, SEASON: Cincinnati head coach, fifth.

AGE; HOMETOWN: 48 (Born Aug. 18, 1973); Columbus, Ohio.

SALARY: $3.4 million.

RECORD: 51-21 OVERALL, 45-14 at Cincinnati, 10-0 this season, team ranked No. 3 AP.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS? Bearcats beat USF 45-28 Friday to stay in the CFP hunt. The longer this goes the less I think Fickell is going to be LSU’s man. Odds: 50-1.

NEXT GAME: Saturday vs. SMU, 2:30 p.m., ESPN.

JIMBO FISHER

CURRENT POSITION, SEASON: Texas A&M head coach, fourth.

AGE; HOMETOWN: 56 (Born Oct. 9, 1965); Clarksburg, West Virginia.

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SALARY: $9 million.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 116-36 overall, 33-13 at Texas A&M, 7-3 this season, team ranked No. 16 AP.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS? Saturday’s 29-19 loss at Ole Miss didn’t help Jimbo look more appealing to some LSU fans. Woodward is probably another story. Odds: 6-1.

NEXT GAME: Saturday vs. Prairie View, 11 a.m., SECNetwork+.

JAMES FRANKLIN

CURRENT POSITION, SEASON: Penn State head coach, eighth.

AGE; HOMETOWN: 49 (Born Feb. 2, 1972); Langhorne, Pennsylvania.

SALARY: $5.5 million.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 90-47 overall, 66-32 at Penn State, 6-4 this season, team unranked.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS? ADs aren’t moved by one game, but Saturday’s 21-17 loss to Michigan was Penn State’s third in its last four. With Rutgers and Michigan State left, a 7-5 record would be a tough sell. Odds: 40-1.

NEXT GAME: Saturday vs. Rutgers, 11 a.m., BTN.

LANE KIFFIN

CURRENT POSITION, SEASON: Ole Miss head coach, second.

AGE; HOMETOWN: 46 (Born May 9. 1975); Lincoln, Nebraska.

SALARY: $4.5 million (is due $500,000 retention bonus Dec. 31).

RECORD: 74-41 overall, 13-7 at Ole Miss, 8-2 this season, team ranked No. 10 AP.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS? An impressive record despite some major injuries. One of Kiffin’s best wins. Still don’t think he’s Woodward’s cup of tea, but trending. Odds: 25-1.

NEXT GAME: Saturday vs. Vanderbilt, 6:30 p.m., SEC Network.

BILLY NAPIER

CURRENT POSITION, SEASON: Louisiana head coach, fourth.

AGE; HOMETOWN: 42 (Born July 21, 1979); Chatsworth, Georgia.

SALARY: $2 million.

RECORD: 37-12 overall, 9-1 this season, team ranked No. 22 AP.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS? They have to be improving as Napier just keeps winning. If top Power Five coaches say no, Napier surely will tell Woodward yes. Odds: 20-1.

NEXT GAME: Saturday at Liberty, 3 p.m., ESPNU.

LINCOLN RILEY

CURRENT POSITION, SEASON: Oklahoma head coach, fifth.

AGE; HOMETOWN: 38 (Born Sept. 5, 1983); Muleshoe, Texas.

SALARY: $7.9 million.

RECORD: 54-9 overall, 9-1 this season, team ranked No. 12 AP.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS? The loss at Baylor effectively knocks OU out of the playoffs, but is Riley gettable for LSU in the first place? Odds: 30-1.

NEXT GAME: Saturday vs. Iowa State, 11 a.m., Fox.

MEL TUCKER

CURRENT POSITION, SEASON: Michigan State head coach, second.

AGE; HOMETOWN: 49 (Born Jan. 4, 1972); Cleveland.

SALARY: $5.5 million.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 16-13 overall, 11-6 at Michigan State, 9-1 this season, team ranked No. 7 AP.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS? Got a 40-21 bounce back win over Maryland last week and, reportedly, a contract extension on his desk. As long as it remains unsigned, Tucker remains in play. Odds: 12-1.

NEXT GAME: Saturday at Ohio State, 11 a.m., ABC.

Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com

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