Why LSU football's hiring quest is different from most coaching searches | Toppmeyer

Blake Toppmeyer

At this stage of a college football coaching search, we usually reside in what I’ll dub Fantasy Land.

Media outlets list a series of potential candidates, some more reasonable than others. Fans flood radio call-in shows with dream scenarios that would result in their school hiring an A-list coach, maybe even from a rival school. Money is never an obstacle in Fantasy Land, and potential candidates will never say no.

When the hire eventually occurs, it rarely meets the expectations of Fantasy Land.

That’s where this LSU coaching search is different, though. Shy of the Tigers hiring Nick Saban or Kirby Smart or Jon Gruden, not much seems unreasonable.

LSU athletics director Scott Woodward can and should land a big name. Woodward’s hiring history suggests he’ll settle for nothing less than a home-run hire, and the quality of this LSU job should be enough to attract plenty of high-rung candidates.

BLAKE TOPPMEYER:After odd timing of Ed Orgeron's ouster, LSU football must make an elite hire

Names listed by reputable media outlets as potential candidates for LSU include Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher, Penn State’s James Franklin, Oregon’s Mario Cristobal, Ole Miss’ Lane Kiffin, Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.

Those first five names are coaching Top 25 programs. Swinney is a two-time national champion with a small exit fee whose college football power has stumbled this year. Stoops is a former national championship coach who, at 61, is young enough to reboot his career.

Hiring a sitting Power Five coach is usually a tall order, even in the SEC.

LSU fans shouldn’t need a reminder of that.

Fisher reportedly turned down LSU in 2016 to remain at Florida State, and the Tigers decided to promote Ed Orgeron from interim coach to the full-time gig, an era that will end with Orgeron’s ouster at the end of this season.

Just three of the last 15 SEC coaching hires featured a Power Five coach from another school:

  • Mississippi State hired Mike Leach from Washington State after the 2019 season.
  • Florida hired Dan Mullen from Mississippi State after the 2017 season.
  • Texas A&M hired Fisher from Florida State after the 2017 season.

Of those hires, Fisher was the most impressive. 

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Woodward, who was then Texas A&M's AD, used a 10-year, $75 million contract to get Fisher to leave a job that ranks among the 20 best in college football, a place at which Fisher had attained double-digit win totals six times in an eight-year span, including a national championship during the 2013 season.

Woodward had an advantage in that Fisher was amid his lone losing season at FSU, and his tenure there had, in some ways, run its course. Nonetheless, Woodward's hire of Fisher ranks as one of the best hires in the SEC in last decade.

The interesting footnote of that hire: Fisher's Texas A&M contract leaves a loophole for him slip out the backdoor, because Fisher would not face a buyout for departure.

Fisher’s salary is set to increase to $9 million in January, but that lack of a buyout better positions LSU to offer him an eyebrow-raising salary, should he become Woodward’s desired choice.

LSU enjoys a hiring advantage it didn’t have in 2016 in that Woodward now runs the athletic department and not Joe Alleva.

Woodward is regarded as one of the nation’s best ADs. Alleva was not in Woodward’s class, and he whiffed in the lone football coaching search he directed at LSU.

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Woodward is no one-hit-wonder when it comes to coaching hires.

Before hiring Fisher at Texas A&M, Woodward hired Chris Petersen at Washington. All Petersen did was guide Washington’s best era since Don James, highlighted by a College Football Playoff appearance.

Then Woodward outdid himself by plucking three-time national champion women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey from Baylor for LSU earlier this year.

So, leave Saban and Smart out of this, but otherwise set the bar as high as you like for this LSU coaching search.

Lofty expectations are no Fantasy Land when you combine one of college football’s best jobs with one of the nation’s best ADs.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.