While it might be overblown to call the pending Texas Longhorns coaching the greatest or most important in modern history, there's no question that it will rank as one of the most important decisions around college football in the last several season, especially since ir could spark a chain of dominoes with a significant and wide-reaching impact on other jobs around the country.
Also the first coaching search in the digital age for the Horns since outgoing head coach Mack Brown was hired in 1998, the process will surely play out in a public matter in a way that it did not and could not 16 years ago.
Get ready for more leaks, planted leaks, sources, and plenty of rumors. Oh yeah, and plenty of flight tracking. Plenty of flight tracking.
Here's the preliminary list:
Nick Saban, Alabama Crimson Tide: The longtime clubhouse leader as the top target for Texas, Saban has agreed to a contract extension that will keep him in Tuscaloosa indefinitely. However, if there's even the tinniest sliver of hope left, which there almost certainly is not, it would be Saban not actually having signed the contract yet.
Otherwise, Mack Brown's last significant act at Texas before announcing his resignation may have been sabotaging the possibility of Saban ending up in Austin -- the timing of the contract extension agreement being in place came during the Texas football banquet, something that hardly seems like a coincidence.
It may end up being one of the greatest unanswered questions of the modern era for the Horns, right up there with what would have happened if Colt McCoy hadn't been injured in the national championship game against Saban's Crimson Tide -- if Brown had resigned earlier in the week, would Saban have ended up in burnt orange?
Jimbo Fisher, Florida State Seminoles: The former LSU offensive coordinator under Les Miles in Baton Rouge, Fisher has re-built Florida State from the wreckage of the ignominious end to the Bobby Bowden era -- so he's already had success turning around a once-proud program and following in the footsteps of a legend.
An excellent recruiter with a strong eye for talent, Fisher has filled the Seminole roster with NFL draft prospects on both sides of the ball.
Fisher may also have a recent contract extension still on the table waiting for him to sign it, so there could be some agent-related interest shown to Texas in order to boost that extension a little bit if he hasn't signed it. Since it's questionable whether he has or not, there's not much information out there about a possible buyout -- not that it would really impact things from the Longhorns perspective, anyway, most likely.
The biggest factor that will probably keep Fisher in Tallahassee is the opportunity to coach Jameis Winston for at least another season, a chance that doesn't come around often for a head coach. In another year? Texas would probably have an excellent shot, but right now it doesn't look likely to happen.
Florida State playing in the national championship game and Fisher not being available until well into January doesn't work especially well with a timetable for Texas that would likely want to have resolution before then.
Art Briles, Baylor Bears: Another coach who just signed a long-term contract extension, the buyout for Briles has been termed as "significant," though that is hardly the greatest impediment for him coming to Texas. The architect of the unique, high-flying Baylor offense that has resurrected the program, conventional wisdom holds that Briles is happy building the program in Waco with the beautiful waterfront stadium that he essentially built set to open next season.
The folksy Briles not only engenders tremendous confidence in his players, but also has done a tremendous job recruiting on both sides of the ball, finding often overlooked offensive players and turning them into collegiate stars with the help of one of the best strength and conditioning programs in the country.
Too bad it's not going to happen.
David Shaw, Stanford Cardinal: A Stanford graduate, the fact that Shaw is coaching at his alma mater may be the game-changing impediment for him if he's contacted by the Texas administration.
If Shaw does want to make a move, it could be to the NFL after he spent the years of 1997 to 2005 in the league. His offense seems like a strong fit, he's regarded as a coach with an ideal personality for the job, and his defenses have been excellent at stopping the high-powered spread attack of the Oregon Ducks.
The latter element makes him an ideal candidate for the Texas job as well, so Steve Patterson would probably be remiss in his duties if he doesn't end up at least reaching out to Shaw in some capacity to gauge his interest.
The one major negative is that Texas doesn't have the stable of tight ends available that Shaw prefers, so the rebuilding job is going to be a little more difficult for Shaw than it would be for other potential candidates.
Bill O'Brien, Penn State Nittany Lions: Like Fisher, O'Brien has been successful replacing a legendary coach, though his task was made much more difficult by the circumstances surrounding the departure and subsequent death of Joe Paterno -- the job at Penn State was much more difficult with the rightful negative publicity.
Despite it all, O'Brien turned walk on Matt McGloin into an NFL quarterback, is 15-9 in two seasons in State College, and has turned in recruiting classes in 2013 and 2013 that should both rank among the top 30 in the country, no small feat considering what just happened there.
But O'Brien also has an NFL pedigree after working with the Patriots for several years, is receiving NFL interest right now, and reportedly has a $13 million buyout to leave for another college program, a number that's high even for the deep pockets of Texas.
The legitimate possibilities
Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State Cowboys: For all the flack that Gundy receives from Texas fans for his porcupine hairstyle and visors, he's done an extremely impressive job turning the Oklahoma State program into a consistently successful enterprise despite having to sell Stillwater, Oklahoma to recruits, plus he's a man and young enough at to be a long-term solution for Texas.
Sure, he's an alum of his current school like Shaw, but things haven't always gone smoothly between Gundy and the administration and he definitely took a look at the Tennessee and Arkansas jobs last year, neither one of which are as good as the Texas gig.
As Scipio Tex said some weeks ago now, it's time for Texas fans to take a serious look at Gundy and his positive attributes instead of just looking at him as a caricature.
Jim Mora, Jr, UCLA Bruins: Yet another coach with a recent contract extension, Mora has turned around the perception of him as a head coach after his unsuccessful stint in the NFL as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons and then the Seattle Seahawks.
Based on the early returns through his two years at UCLA, it seems that he is a much better fit in college, as he's actually cut into USC dominance instead of just promising it as his predecessor did, signing the nation's No. 7 class in 2012, a group that included do-everything breakout star Myles Jack. A large part of that success has been a result of putting together a group of assistants, so he clearly knows how to assemble a staff.
Gus Malzahn, Auburn Tigers: Texas as the Auburn head coach's "dream job" reeks of a placed leak by an agent and Malzahn is widely viewed as a poor fit personality-wise for the Longhorn Network. And his wife is definitely a little bit crazy.
But there's something special about his Auburn team a year after it cratered under Gene Chizik, he was smart enough not to sink with that particular ship by spending a year at Arkansas State, his offense is both effective and fun to watch.
As much as experience may be a concern, there's plenty to recommend Malzahn for the job.
Gary Andersen, Wisconsin: A dark horse candidate for the job who could receive more consideration if Texas either misses out on top targets or if his name gets thrown to the forefront by the vetting process, Andersen has spent one season at Wisconsin after an extremely successful run at Utah State, a program that had experienced little success before Andersen arrived in 2009 from Utah.
By 2012, Andersen had helped the Aggies produce the school's most successful season in winning 11 games, three of which came on the road against teams that finished with nine of more wins -- this wasn't a run through an incredibly weak schedule. As a result, Utah State made a bowl game for the first time since 1993 as Andersen used his experience as a defensive coordinator to field a stingy defense and helped put together a running game that produced two different 1,500-yard rushers in 2011 and 2012.
Larry Fedora, North Carolina Tar Heels: After spending three years as the offensive coordinator for Oklahoma State, Fedora knows the Big 12 landscape and has experience recruiting in the state of Texas. The recruiting experience in the state probably isn't a necessary qualification, but it is a value add.
There's the obvious connection to Mack Brown since Brown came to Texas from North Carolina, though the obvious difference is that the Longhorns are in a much different spot as a program than they were at that time, thanks to the work of Mack Brown -- the sights may be set a little bit higher than Fedora, who went 6-6 this season with the Tar Heels after going 8-4 last season in his first year on the job there.
And for what it's worth, Bleacher Report's Michael Felder had some thoughts on Fedora, which basically held that Texas could have him if they want. Not exactly a ringing endorsement from one of the most knowledgeable North Carolina fans out there.
James Franklin, Vanderbilt Commodores: One of the rising names in the coaching business after turning around the moribund Vanderbilt program in the rugged SEC, Franklin is young at 41, has done more with less, and has an extremely appealing personality that would play well on the Longhorn Network.
The NFL coaches
Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers: Known as a head coach who does things his own way, Harbaugh is a rising star in the profession, but one without a contract extension after he turned one down last year and his relationship with the front office in San Francisco is hardly a strong one, the two primary reasons why his name has been mentioned in relation to the Texas job.
A ruthless coach on the field who instills toughness and physicality into his football teams, Harbaugh was a successful recruiter in college as well -- in many ways, Harbaugh is a perfect candidate with the exception of the rareness of someone making a move back to college after having success in the NFL.
Unfortunately, following Brown's resignation, reports started to emerge that Harbaugh is not interested in the job and will be staying in the NFL with the 49ers.
Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers: One of the other names out there from the NFL world, Tomlin's Steelers haven't been experiencing a successful season with a 5-8 season, his job security should nonetheless be pretty secure given the stability of the organization and his previous success.
And so while Tomlin does have previous college experience after starting his paid coaching career at Arkansas State from 1997 to 1998, there's already a report out there that he's not interested in the job either.
Jon Gruden, NFL analyst: Just kidding.
While Texas might arguably be the top college football job, there are numerous cautionary tales from recent history -- for every Bill O'Brien and Jimbo Fisher, there's a Lane Kiffin or a Rich Rodriguez or a Dennis Franchione.
The next Longhorns head coach will have to be a fit for the Texas culture that includes helping to manage all the major egos that make up the power structure, understanding the expectations and pressures that surround the program, and fostering strong relationships with high school coaches and players, all things that Mack Brown did well.
Let's get this thing started.