All of these coaches actively led a program within the last five years and are not assumed to be in retirement. That’s subjective, sure, but stay with us. For transparency, some of these “unemployed” coaches are serving in offensive or defensive analyst positions this season, but none hold an assistant or head-coaching role.
Any of the included names could eventually get back to leading a program. A few of the coaches considered but not listed were Pat Fitzgerald, Scott Frost, Justin Fuente and Herm Edwards.
Here are the former head coaches which could make a return to the college game:
Head coaching record: 96-54 (Stanford)
Last coached: 2022 (Stanford)
The Shaw file: Stanford was one of college football’s premiere programs under David Shaw after Jim Harbaugh left for the NFL and the Cardinal registered six top-20 finishes over a seven-year stretch (2011-17). From there, the success deteriorated. Shaw did not get the same level of talent he was accustomed to signing and Stanford went in the wrong different in the win-loss column. His name routinely surfaces in recent searches.
Head coaching record: 132-74 (Cincinnati and Michigan State)
Last coached: Michigan State (2019)
The Dantonio file: Over 13 seasons with the Spartans, Mark Dantonio managed seven top-25 finishes, including four top 10s. He won the Big Ten Championship three times, had a couple major bowl wins and finished 30 games over .500 in conference play. Michigan State was never a super recruiter under his watch, but he seemed to get the most out of his talent and that speaks volumes to the level of coach he was on gamedays. He resigned in February 2020 amid allegations of NCAA violations.
Head coaching record: 181-79 (TCU)
Last coached: TCU (2021)
The Patterson file: Many questioned TCU’s move in 2021 to “part ways” with Gary Patterson after an otherwise brilliant two-decade tenure in Fort Worth, but the Horned Frogs reached the College Football Playoff in their first year without him under Sonny Dykes the following campaign. Maybe it worked out for the program? Patterson made the Horned Frogs nationally-relevant with several memorable seasons, highlighted by seven top 10 finishes. TCU went 13-0 under his watch in 2010, but did not play in the BCS National Championship Game. The Horned Frogs finished No. 2 that year behind Auburn in the final poll. Patterson has an open invitation from Texas to serve as analyst this fall after doing so last season.
Head coaching record: 135-81 (BYU and Virginia)
Last coached: 2021 (Virginia)
The Mendenhall file: Bronco Mendenhall won 99 games over 11 seasons at BYU before trying his hand in the Power Five ranks at Virginia. That’s a difficult place to win, but he did managed three trips to bowl season over six years prior to resigning before the 2022 campaign. He’s held several speaking engagement in his first full year away from the game and has popped up in a few recent Power Five searches, including Northwestern. Mendenhall said last year he plans on coaching again and needed a “reset” before doing so.
Head coaching record: 85-36 (Arkansas State, Boise State and Auburn)
Last coached: Auburn (2022)
The Harsin file: Can Bryan Harsin win — furthermore, recruit — at the Power Five level? That’s a question he has to answer during his next job interview after a failed brief stint at Auburn that followed notable success at Boise State. In seven seasons with the Broncos, Harsin won at least 10 games five different years, but didn’t appear to be given enough time on the Plains. That tends to happen in the SEC if forward progression is not shown early.
Head coaching record: 67-26 (Pittsburgh and Wisconsin)
Last coached: Wisconsin (2022)
The Chryst file: Currently serving in an analyst role under Steve Sarkisian at Texas, Paul Chryst spoiled Badgers fans over his first three seasons at the helm (2015-17), going 34-7 with two trips to the Big Ten title game and a pair of top 10 finishes. He managed that once more over the next 4.5 years before Wisconsin fired him five games into the 2022 season. Chryst’s teams were hard-nosed and run-game focused, testing the strength of the opposition in the trenches.
Head coaching record: 147-38 (Boise State and Washington)
Last coached: Washington (2019)
The Petersen file: Chris Petersen coached 14 seasons at the college level and has never had a losing season. Petersen said after he stepped down at Washington he never had a “great gameplan for life”, but since learned “self-recovery skills” and is happy where he’s at. He quit coaching in his prime and would certainly have his pick of interviews at major vacancies if he entertains a return to the coaching ranks.
Head coaching record: 67-47 (Ole Miss, USC and LSU)
Last coached: LSU (2021)
The Orgeron file: Surfing social media every day during football season, it’s obvious Coach O enjoys the unemployed, buyout-rich life without the daily stress of being a head coach at a pressure-cooker job, but he’s a football guy after all. And he’s one of only a few non-active coaches with a national championship under his belt. Ed Orgeron went 11-11 at LSU over two seasons following his unbeaten run to a title in 2019.
Head coaching record: 103-61 (Mississippi State and Florida)
Last coached: 2021 (Florida)
The Mullen file: Dan Mullen felt like a natural fit at Florida when he arrived ahead of the 2018 season with the Gators. He coached in Gainesville under Urban Meyer and helped lead Tim Tebow to a Heisman before going on a notable run as a head coach at Mississippi State. So what happened after Mullen won 29 games over his first three years — including an appearance in the SEC Championship Game — before the wheels came off in 2021? The program’s recruiting was beginning to tank and boosters turned on him quickly. Still, at two SEC programs, Mullen exceeded (or at least met) expectations as a head coach.
Head coaching record: 191-48 (Oklahoma)
Last coached: Oklahoma (2021; guest HC for Alamo Bowl)
The Stoops file: Admittedly, we’re bending the “five years out” rule for this one a bit. Bob Stoops went 11-2 at Oklahoma in 2016 before stepping down the following summer, shocking everyone. Considering he is only 62 and continued to coach in various football leagues since he walked away from the Sooners, there is always a chance Stoops returns to the college game if NIL regulations are made. He won a national championship and 10 conference titles at Oklahoma and enjoyed 11 finishes inside the top 10.
Head coaching record: 187-32 (Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State)
Last coached: Ohio State (2018)
The Meyer file: Programs know what they’re in for with Urban Meyer, who has three national championships to his credit but his rocky endings from each of his past three jobs begs for questions. He retired at Ohio State in 2018 after being placed on administrative leave prior to the season and was fired by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2021 before the end of his only campaign. Meyer’s spread offenses have been record-setting and he’s able to acquire recruiting talent with some of the all-time greats, but his coaching career is a bit checkered to say the least.