Top Texas A&M coaching candidates as search begins to replace Jimbo Fisher

Just when you thought the coaching carousel was moving along relatively slowly this season, Texas A&M went out and injected a shot of adrenaline into it.

Despite having to pay an eye-watering buyout of more than $75 million, the Aggies surprisingly moved on Sunday to dismiss head coach Jimbo Fisher after a six-year run in College Station that featured far more discussion about dollar figures than it did victories.

[Jimbo Fisher fired despite $75 million buyout]

Though he did lead the program to a top-four finish in the pandemic-impacted 2020 season, his overall 44-25 record — including 27-21 in the SEC — was not at all what university leadership envisioned when they thought they had pulled off a coup in hiring away a coach with a national title ring in tow.

With money seemingly no object for the maroon and white after making a change that is likely to run into the nine figures when all is said and done, what direction could Texas A&M go in landing their replacement for Fisher? 

In what is sure to be one of the most discussed job openings of the 2023 carousel, here is a look at potential candidates to take over the Aggies:

Mike Elko, Duke

The former Texas A&M defensive coordinator is well liked by those around College Station and has done exceedingly well in his first crack at the big chair, leading the Blue Devils to nine wins last season with a similar trajectory this year despite the injury to starting QB Riley Leonard. He played a big role in nearly reaching the Playoff back in 2020 and recruited a handful of the defensive stars still on the roster. In addition to the Aggies, Elko is also expected to be in the mix for openings at Northwestern and Michigan State as well.

Jeff Traylor, UTSA

A long-time Texas high school coach, Traylor has quickly found success at the college level as well, going 37-13 with the Roadrunners. In addition to winning back-to-back Conference USA titles up the road in San Antonio, he’s got the program in the thick of the AAC race in his first year in the league, too. He’s coached and recruited at a high level as an assistant at Texas and in the SEC at Arkansas as well. 

Mike Norvell, Florida State

The Texas native is a terrific playcaller and has already shown he can clean up Fisher’s mess and turn it into a College Football Playoff contender in short order. He’s won double-digits at both Memphis and Florida State and would have a lot more resources at his disposal in College Station than anywhere he’s been. 

Dan Lanning, Oregon

A new contract that Lanning signed before the season included a buyout that runs around $20 million — a curious move considering he had only one year under his belt. In hindsight, it could have been quite the proactive move by the Ducks. He has worked for Kirby Smart and Nick Saban in the past, and is already building Oregon into an impressive recruiting powerhouse that is on the verge of a College Football Playoff appearance.

Bo Nix goes off for 412 yards as Oregon beats USC

Bo Nix goes off for 412 yards as Oregon beats USC

Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss

Kiffin was heavily involved in the Auburn coaching search a year ago, so what’s to say he won’t eye another SEC West rival? The sport’s most unique personality has done well to make the Rebels a consistent top-15 program at a place that has not seen much sustained historical success. He’s a play-calling savant and with better access to Texas talent could help make up for Fisher’s offensive shortcomings by giving life to the Aggies offense from the jump.

Kalen DeBoer, Washington

The Huskies’ head coach will be a hot commodity this offseason given the available openings, even if he is quite comfortable in the Pacific Northwest. He has helped author the second-longest current winning streak in the country and has won virtually anywhere — and at any level — he’s gone. Washington just hired a new AD and will be transitioning to the Big Ten, which could be the kind of natural break that allows him to reassess where he wants to be in the football ecosystem.

Does Washington deserve to be a CFP team?

Does Washington deserve to be a CFP team?

Jedd Fisch, Arizona

The Steve Spurrier and Bill Belichick-endorsed coach has done one of the best jobs in the country at turning around the Wildcats, making them progressively better each season to the point where a nine win campaign and top-15 finish is on the table. His NFL background and enthusiasm surrounding recruiting and NIL would mesh well with what the Aggies have in place, too.

Dan Campbell, Detroit Lions

If there’s one dream scenario for the Aggies, it’s that Campbell would listen to the pleas to come home to the job he’s always held in high regard after being a player at A&M back in the 1990’s. His energy would translate well to the job, but it’s still somewhat of a stretch to think the potential frontrunner for NFL Coach of the Year would entertain stepping down to the college ranks at this moment in time.

Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets such as NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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