1. Gary Patterson, TCU — Patterson, if he’s willing to leave (and he should be, one would think), is probably the top candidate. He’s coming off a year where he was the AP Coach of the Year and took TCU to a major bowl game. Only problem is, he won’t be a “splash” (like Kiffin was last season) because of his relative lack of success at the upper levels of college coaching, even if a 53-18 record since replacing Dennis Franchione speaks for itself.
2. Skip Holtz, ECU — Holtz comes immediately to mind because he’s being mentioned as a possible candidate to replace Jim Leavitt at South Florida. Whether he would count, like Patterson, as a splash remains to be seen too. But regardless of what you want to say about Conference USA football (and there’s plenty), Holtz has balled it up down there and made ECU a force in the state.
3. Troy Calhoun, Air Force — Calhoun’s record is pretty darn impressive, considering he’s only been at Air Force for three years and has yet to finish lower than fourth in the Mountain West, amassing a 25-14 record overall, with 16-8 in conference. Plus, as my man Clay Travis wrote in his last book, if Kiffin hadn’t been summoned to Knoxville, Calhoun probably would have been hired.
4. Jon Gruden, ESPN — You can’t have a coaching search these days without mentioning Gruden, arguably the best combo of talent/name value/unemployement out there right now — if UTK can pull off getting Gruden it would an absolutely monster hire and surely put Mike Hamilton in the good graces of fans and alumni. It seems like a relatively long shot, of course, but if there was any spot that could challenge Gruden enough to bring him back into coaching a year earlier than planned, it’s a high profile program in the SEC.
5. Chris Peterson, Boise St — As a commenter notes below (sorry — was jumping back and forth between this and uploading the video, plus monitoring the verbal taunts to Kiffin on Twitter), Peterson certainly deserves mention. Most folks believed before the Kiffin move, though, that Peterson would have to be insane to leave the security of Boise, coupled with the likely top-10 ranking next year and national championship hope of returning a big class, for the insecurity of Tennessee. It would seem — as crazy as it sounds — that the same sort of thing applies for Peterson to Tennessee. But he’s certainly on the list.