Gil Brandt is a longtime consultant to universities in the hiring process of head coaches. He was highly involved in LSU's hiring of Nick Saban and TCU's hiring of Gary Patterson, among many others. College Football 24/7 asked Gil who he thought would be the best fits at USC, which fired Lane Kiffin Sunday morning.
Los Angeles is a different place than most college stops. Lane Kiffin understands that now, and the next USC head coach will have to as well.
In other words, athletic director Pat Haden will have to hire a coach who has a squeaky clean image and can appeal to the L.A. populace and USC alums alike. And the new coach will have to be able to recruit a little, too.
There aren't many jobs better than this one, and Haden, being a former Trojan player himself, knows it. Consider:
» The Trojans have won 73 percent of their games since 1888 (I'm including the 14 victories that were vacated because of the Reggie Bush scandal).
» USC has had more players drafted into the NFL than any other school with 480, including 77 first-round picks, which also ranks first. The Trojans had 53 players on NFL training camp rosters this past summer, including eight rookies. Last season, there were 44 USC players on active NFL rosters.
» The Trojans have had seven victories over No. 1-ranked teams; only Notre Dame has more with eight. They've played in 48 bowl games; only Alabama has more with 57.
Haden should have his pick of almost any coach out there. Here are the top candidates to replace Kiffin as I see them:
1. Jack Del Rio, Denver Broncos defensive coordinator: Del Rio, 50, has been a head coach in the NFL and is a former USC player. Perhaps more importantly, he doesn't have any enemies or skeletons in his closet. His firing from Jacksonville might be a difficult sell to alums, but I actually think he overachieved with the Jaguars, who were 68-71 and made two playoff appearances under his watch. Jack's wife, Linda, would be an asset because of her ability to make people feel at ease. She would be great in the living rooms of recruits talking with mothers. Mack Brown's wife is a tremendous asset in this regard at Texas. Del Rio would bring needed stability to the USC program. He's done a tremendous job at Denver. Historically, USC has not been a high-paying job (although lately the price has risen). Del Rio isn't making head-coaching money right now and as a native Californian and former USC player, I think he'd take the Southern Cal discount, and I also think USC would be willing to wait for Del Rio, who said Sunday he's staying with the Broncos through the 2013 season.
2. Steve Sarkisian, University of Washington head coach: Sarkisian, 39, took over a program at Washington that didn't win a game in 2008 (0-12). Counting Saturday's win against Arizona, the Huskies are 30-25 under Sarkisian, including 4-0 this season and ranked 15th in the latest Associated Press poll. Last year, Washington won four games as an underdog, a remarkable feat at any school. He coached at USC from 2001-08 (with a one-year stint as quarterbacks coach with the Oakland Raiders in 2004). Al Davis offered Sarkisian the Raiders' head coaching job before Kiffin, but Sarkisian turned it down. He developed Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at USC. He's from Torrance Calif., about 20 miles south of downtown L.A.
3. Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles head coach: It would not shock me to see Kelly, 49, leave Philadelphia after one season, especially if the Eagles have a down year. Kelly knows better than most the kind of job this is and can be. He has never been in pro football before this season, and to tell you the truth, I'm not sure he's made for it. He reminds me of Steve Spurrier and Bob Stoops; they were destined to be college coaches. Kelly is similar. Being around him a little, I know he's a rah-rah, enthusiastic guy. Guys like that don't cut it for very long in the NFL. What he did at Oregon, transforming an OK program when he got there to what it is today, is nothing short of remarkable. This one could potentially get messy because of the sanctions leveled against Oregon. Kelly received an 18-month show-cause penalty, which would make his re-entry into college football problematic, but not impossible.
4. Kevin Sumlin: Texas A&M head coach: Sumlin, 49, has a dynamic personality and is a born leader. He has a great deal of experience with head-coaching jobs at two different universities (he was the head coach at Houston from 2008-11) and was an assistant at five other schools. He's a disciplinarian, exactly the kind USC needs because of the environment and distractions around Los Angeles. I like the fact that he has a defensive background (played linebacker at Purdue) and became an offensive coach. He's dealt with Johnny Manziel quite well, giving the quarterback some rope, but also assigning someone to make sure Manziel can't get outside the rope. It's an issue most would have trouble managing, but Sumlin has navigated it well. He has a lot of respect from his peers around college football, including Saban, who tried to hire him once.
5. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech head coach: The 33-year-old Kinsbury is more than just a Ryan Gosling doppelganger; he's one of the best young coaches that I can remember coming into college football. He relates to players and has a great system. He's also a very good recruiter. He worked very hard with Manziel last year when he was Sumlin's offensive coordinator, turning him into a Heisman winner. He also deserves credit for developing Case Keenum at the University of Houston. Kingsbury is the second-youngest head coach in college football, but has proven his worth in a short time. I think if USC would interview him, he would force them to offer him the job.