Kliff Kingsbury speculation, Don Brown departure: Football coaching carousel impacts Arizona

Although Arizona Cardinals Kliff Kingsbury hasn’t coached in college since 2018 – he was last at Texas Tech – his named has surfaced as a candidate for the Oklahoma job. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Conference champions have yet to be crowned, but as the college football coaching carousel spins wildly, many with Arizona ties are caught up in the whirlwind.

The biggest news dropped Sunday, when it was announced that Lincoln Riley had agreed to leave Oklahoma to take the head coaching job at USC, one of ASU’s rivals in the Pac-12 South. From there, Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury’s name surfaced as a possible replacement in Norman, and University of Arizona defensive coordinator Don Brown took the head coaching job at UMass.

And familiar names resurfaced. Former ASU assistant Billy Napier moved up in the NCAA coaching ranks, leaving Louisiana for Florida.

It all started with the Riley bombshell. He spent five seasons in Norman, going 55-10. He won four Big 12 titles, qualified for the College Football Playoff three times and coached Heisman winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, the Arizona Cardinals’ quarterback.

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“This was the right time,” Riley said at his introductory press conference. “Everything about it made sense.”

Even though he hasn’t coached at the collegiate level since 2018, Kingsbury’s name was brought up as a possible replacement in Oklahoma.

On Monday at his weekly press conference, Kingsbury brushed aside questions about the speculation, instead saying his focus was on Sunday’s game against Chicago.

“I don’t get into those things. My sole focus the last couple weeks has been the Chicago Bears,” Kingsbury said.

At one point in the press conference, a reporter gave Kingsbury another opportunity to deny the speculation outright. Again, he brushed the question aside.

“We’re in season, we’re 9-2, just not a topic I want to touch on right now.”

Riley wasn’t the only one to leave a stable program this week. After 12 seasons at Notre Dame, Brian Kelly left to take the job at LSU. Kelly went 166-62 (145-62 recognized by the NCAA) and made the CFP twice.

High profile coaches leaving stable, high profile jobs is not unprecedented, but two seismic moves within days have rocked the college football landscape, from upcoming games to future recruiting classes.

Many recruits have already decommitted from both Oklahoma and Notre Dame. Malachi Nelson, ESPN’s No. 3 recruit and No. 2 quarterback for 2023, decommitted from Oklahoma and committed to USC on Tuesday, following Riley.

Is this the new normal in college football? Only time will tell.

Despite the shuffling at the top of the college football landscape, one move that will not be made is at Arizona State.

ASU athletic director Ray Anderson told the team after the Sun Devils’ 38-15 victory over Arizona on Saturday that Herm Edwards will remain ASU’s coach next season, even amid questions about the coach’s job security.

“I’m the coach here. I’m coming back. I’m not going anywhere. I’m a Sun Devil,” Edwards told Pac-12 Network.

In four seasons in Tempe, Edwards is 25-17, including a short four game 2020 season due to the pandemic. In six seasons, Edwards’ predecessor, Todd Graham, finished 46-32.

One of Graham’s former assistants, Napier, left Louisiana for Florida. Napier went 39-12 during four seasons in Lafayette, including three straight 10-win seasons.

Other smaller scale moves have happened. After Brown left Tucson, UCLA defensive line coach Johnny Nansen joined the Arizona staff as defensive coordinator.

There are surely more moves to come.

As crazy as this season has been, it is only fitting that the coaching carousel is spinning wild right at the conclusion of the regular season.

Dylan Wilhelm DIL-lun WIL-helm (he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Dylan Wilhelm expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Wilhelm, who has worked for The State Press, is working for the Phoenix news bureau.