Coaching searches are unpredictable processes in which schools often don’t land their first, second or even third choice.
That said, there are some basic tenets that are likely to guide LSU’s search to replace Les Miles after his firing Sunday:
1. The right kind of experience
LSU athletic director Joe Alleva is all but certain to want to hire someone who is a head coach or has been one at some point. Luring a sitting head coach to LSU would add cache to the program after making what will be viewed as a controversial firing.
It would follow a longstanding precedent when making such hires. LSU’s past four coaches were sitting head coaches from other programs: Miles (Oklahoma State), Nick Saban (Michigan State), Gerry DiNardo (Vanderbilt) and Curley Hallman (Southern Miss). You have to go back nearly 30 years — to 1987, when LSU elevated defensive coordinator Mike Archer to replace the departing Bill Arnsparger — that LSU didn’t go the head coach route.
It takes someone who has been a head coach, Alleva is likely to reason, to understand what it takes to run a big, high-pressure program like LSU's. It’s not a guarantee, but if LSU’s next coach doesn’t have head coaching experience on his résumé, it’s because the school had to slide far down its wish list.
2. Money is no object
At least it better not be. LSU will owe Miles somewhere north of $8 million to satisfy his buyout — it could be $12.9 million, but this year’s salary is likely to count for part of that figure — and millions more for any assistants the new coach chooses not to retain.
Then there’s the buyout that the next coach is likely to have. Jimbo Fisher, LSU’s top target last season, reportedly would owe $5 million to Florida State if he leaves before December 2016. Bobby Petrino, who was LSU’s second choice when it hired Miles in 2005, would owe Louisville $10 million.
Then there’s the matter of salary. Fisher makes $5.15 million, Petrino $4.35 million (same as Miles) and Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss makes even more at $4.7 million per year. Staggering sums, but LSU would not be making this move without having the money to pay off Miles and the outgoing staff and pay the new coach handsomely. It’s not unthinkable that LSU’s next coach will start off at more than $5 million per year.
And think that, when LSU hired Saban in 1999, it paid him a then-unheard of $1.2 million. Outgoing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was contracted to make that much this season.
3. Making the move
There’s a big question as to whether Fisher, the former LSU offensive coordinator who still has a warm spot in his heart for Baton Rouge, would take LSU’s call after his name was dragged into the debacle to fire/not fire Miles last year.
Petrino has plenty of baggage from his Arkansas days, though for a coach who just smoked Fisher’s Seminoles 63-20 two weeks ago, past transgressions would likely be forgiven. Just don't expect that his courtesy car would be a motorcycle.
The top target is likely to be Herman, but that hardly makes LSU unique. Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, even after beating LSU on Saturday to send Miles packing, is still on the hot seat at 2-2 himself. So is Texas coach Charlie Strong. And now there is growing talk that Southern California coach Clay Helton is in deep trouble after a 1-3 start to his first (only?) season.
Herman is making $3 million a year at Houston and stands to pocket a $5 million bonus if UH is invited to join the Big 12, which appears likely. He’d also probably pick up a nice raise. But the Cougars play in a 40,000-seat stadium. The gulf between the big-time nature of LSU and Houston remains considerable and could be appealing to Herman. (Side note: He played at tiny Cal Lutheran, of all places, with LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.)
Art Briles, the disgraced Baylor coach who was mighty good at scoring points and gaining yards, could gain some traction. But he would be a tough sell to LSU’s administration considering Briles admitted he made mistakes in the handling of sexual assault allegations against some of his players.
Here's a rundown of potential candidates to replace Les Miles at LSU (listed alphabetically):
School, season: Michigan State head coach, ninth
Age; hometown: 60; El Paso, Texas
Salary: $4.3 million
Accomplishments: Won 11 or more games five of past six years; two Big Ten titles; trip to 2015 CFP semifinals
Previous work: Cincinnati, HC (2004-06); Ohio State, DC (2001-03); Michigan State, DB (1995-2000)
Word of Les Miles and Cam Cameron's firing by LSU spread quickly Sunday, sparking reaction a…
School, season: North Carolina head coach, fifth
Age; hometown: 54; College Station, Texas
Salary: $2 million (in 2015)
Accomplishments: Won 12 games in 2011 at Southern Miss and 10 in 2015 at UNC
Previous work: Southern Miss, HC (2008-11); Oklahoma State, OC (2005-07); Florida, OC/RB/WR (2004); Florida, RB/WR (2002-03)
School, season: Florida State head coach, seventh
Age; hometown: 50; Clarksburg, W.Va.
Salary (2015): $5.15 million
Accomplishments: Won last BCS national title (2013) and three ACC titles (2012-14)
Previous work: Florida State, OC (2007-09); LSU, OC (2000-06); Cincinnati, OC/QB (1999); Auburn, QB (1993-98)
School, season: Ole Miss head coach; fifth
Age; hometown: 46; Oxford, Miss.
Salary: $4.7 million
Accomplishments: Has one more win each season than year before at Ole Miss; in January won first Sugar Bowl since 1970
Previous work: Arkansas State, HC (2011); Arkansas State, OC (2010); Lambuth, HC (2008-09); Ole Miss, TE/RC (2006-07)
School, season: Oklahoma State head coach, 12th
Age; hometown: 49; Midwest City, Okla.
Salary: $3.6 million
Accomplishments: Won at least 10 games four of past six years and claimed two division titles
Previous work: Oklahoma State, OC (2001-04); Maryland, QB/WR (1997-00); Baylor, QB (1996)
School, season: Houston head coach; second
Age; hometown: 41; Cincinnati
Salary: $3 million
Accomplishments: Fourth coach in NCAA history with at least 13 wins his first season; 2015 Broyles Award winner as nation’s best assistant coach
Previous work: Ohio State, OC (2012-14); Iowa State, OC (2009-11); Rice, OC (2007-08); Texas State, OC (2005-06); Sam Houston State, WR (2001-04)
School, season: Alabama offensive coordinator, third
Age; hometown: 41; Lincoln, Neb.
Salary: $1.4 million
Accomplishments: Youngest head coach in NFL modern era (31) when hired by Oakland
Previous work: Southern California, HC (2010-13); Tennessee, HC (2009); Oakland Raiders, HC (2007-08); Southern Cal assistant/OC (2001-06); Jacksonville Jaguars defensive quality control (2000); Colorado State OL (1999)
School, season: Mississippi State head coach, eighth
Age; hometown: 44; Drexel Hill, Pa.
Salary: $4 million
Accomplishments: Has qualified State for six straight bowls and won 10 games in 2014
Previous work: Florida, OC/QB (2005-08); Utah, OC (2003-04); Bowling Green (2001-02, QB)
School, season: LSU interim head coach, second
Age; hometown: 55; Larose
Accomplishments: Named national recruiter of the year in 2011 by Scout.com; played himself in the movie “The Blind Side”
Previous work: Southern California, defensive assistant (2010-12, 1998-2004, interim HC (2013); Tennessee, DL (2009); New Orleans Saints, DE (2008); Ole Miss, HC (2005-07); Syracuse, DL (1995-97); Nicholls State, LB (1994)
School, season: Louisville head coach, third (seventh overall)
Age; hometown: 55; Lewistown, Mont.
Salary: $4.35 million
Accomplishments: Three career AP top-10 finishes, with team currently at No. 3; winningest coach ever at Louisville (62-18)
Previous work: Western Kentucky, HC (2013); Arkansas, HC (2008-11); Atlanta Falcons, HC (2007); Louisville, HC (2003-06); Auburn, OC (2002)