Job security is not what it used to be in today's world of college football, where falling just short of expectations or one bad season can lead to a quick firing.
After a season in which Georgia dismissed Mark Richt after averaging nearly 10 wins per year, the sense of job security is changing across the country.
Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin find themselves on the hot seat just a couple of years removed from huge seasons. LSU's Les Miles was almost on his way out late last year. Penn State's James Franklin and Texas' Charlie Strong both face a crucial 2016 for their futures.
But on the other side, a handful of college football's best coaches can enjoy a strong sense of security heading into the 2016 season. Thanks to consistent success and long contract extensions, there are those who won't have to sweat that much even if their teams dip in quality this fall.
Here are the college football head coaches who have the most job security right now—a "Secure 16." These selections were based on longevity, records and contract lengths with their current schools. Some, such as the ones in the above photograph, are all too obvious, while others are underrated for what they've built at their respective programs.
An early look at Michigan football's 2016 schedule bodes well for the Wolverines' hopes of competing for a national title.
Overall, Jim Harbaugh's team has a manageable slate that begins against a trio of favorable nonconference opponents in Hawaii, UCF and Colorado.
The competition level steadily rises as the year progresses, however. As of now, Michigan's three toughest games come after a bye week on Oct. 15 and are each on the road.
If the Wolverines ultimately reach the College Football Playoff, they'll certainly have earned it following the difficult final five outings of the regular season.
Despite all of the excitement in Champaign that accompanied his hiring, it didn't take long for the elephant in the room to make an appearance during Lovie Smith's introductory press conference as Illinois' new head coach on Monday.
Smith wasn't on Twitter—at least not yet.
And in the college football world in 2016, that's a problem for the Fighting Illini head coach, who now must use publicity—and not his team owner's checkbook—as his primary recruiting tool.
"It's a misnomer that I'm some old guy that doesn't know what's going on," Smith asserted.
While it didn't take long for the 57-year-old to send his first tweet, it wasn't hard to figure out what his message will be.
Recruiting—at least in an official capacity—hasn't been one of Smith's responsibilities since 1995, but his two-decade absence from the college ranks could ultimately work to his advantage. Pitching his career in the NFL, where he spent 11 seasons as a head coach, Smith will attempt to sell his pro football experience as a means to preparing prospects for professional football.
"Lovie is going to be a great recruiter," Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said, referencing Smith's NFL experience. "There’s not a living room in America that’s not going to open up their doors to Lovie Smith and his coaching staff."
It's not a new strategy, and it's one that's already worked well for the likes of Nick Saban, Pete Carroll and Jim Mora. Most recently, Jim Harbaugh has capitalized on his four seasons on the sideline of the San Francisco 49ers by signing the nation's fifth-ranked recruiting class at Michigan.
And while the Illinois program doesn't possess the same pedigree from which Alabama, USC, UCLA or the Wolverines benefit, Smith's success and tenure at the professional level supersedes that of his pro-to-college predecessors. The former Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach's .506 winning percentage was better than both Saban's, Carroll's and Mora's before their returns to the college ranks, and his 11 seasons as a head coach in the NFL nearly tripled Harbaugh's tenure in San Francisco.
Only seven coaches in history have served as the head coach in a Super Bowl before making the move to the college sidelines. Along with Harbaugh, Smith now becomes the second one still active as a head coach to do so.
That's not to say that Smith will win national championships in Champaign as Saban's done at Alabama and Carroll did at USC, or even that he'll put the Fighting Illini on the same trajectory both Michigan and UCLA appear to be on under the direction of their pro-caliber head coaches. But their success in selling NFL experience bodes well for Smith, who claims he won't have to knock off much rust on the recruiting trail.
"I’ve been recruiting and selling every year I’ve been a football coach, selling the way we’re going to win football games, asking free agents to come on board. And recruiting is just that," said Smith. "You go into homes, and people will trust you or they won’t, try to get them to buy into what you believe. And I feel like I can do that."
Smith doesn't have much of an official recruiting track record to fall back on, although in his last season coaching in college, he helped lure star defensive back Gary Berry to Ohio State in what many considered at the time to be the nation's top class. In the NFL, however, Smith did prove to be quite the "recruiter," consistently signing top-level free agents including Julius Peppers, Tim Jennings and Robert Garza during his nine seasons with the Bears and Josh McCown and Michael Johnson in his two-year stint with the Bucs.
In particular, Smith's tenure in Chicago should help bolster his recruiting efforts, as he spent nearly a decade in the spotlight of the city he plans on making Illinois' top recruiting region.
"When you’re in the state, you follow your professional football team in the state," Smith said of his time with the Bears. "I think most of them know who I am, and I think they will feel pretty good about [us] once we get our program in place and what it’ll look like."
Like Harbaugh, Smith should also benefit from a diverse set of potential recruiting pipelines that not only includes the Midwest but his home state of Texas and also Florida, thanks to his two years in Tampa Bay. Even for recruits too young to remember Smith's Super Bowl trip at the end of the 2006 season, his role in the development of first-overall pick Jameis Winston will be just another weapon in what's beginning to look like a war chest of recruiting assets.
With a boost in salary that will pay his assistants the third-highest salary pool in the Big Ten behind Michigan and Ohio State, Smith already appears to be eyeing an NFL-caliber staff, just as Harbaugh did when he arrived in Ann Arbor 14 months ago.
According to The Champaign Room, the new Fighting Illini coach has targeted several NFL assistants for his staff, including former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike Sherman, 49ers assistant Hardy Nickerson and Jacksonville Jaguars assistant Luke Butkus.
As for Twitter, Smith's crossed that off his list off as well, creating an account, following prospects and sending his fist tweet.
He may not display the same personality Harbaugh does in 140 characters or fewer, but the core of their approaches will very much be the same as each tries to sell an NFL background that sets them apart from the rest of the Big Ten.
With that will likely come rumors of Smith one day making a return back to the pros with each annual NFL coaching carousel. Smith, however, has already asserted that this is the start of the "third quarter" in his coaching career, as he attempts to become the Big Ten West's—and perhaps eventually, college football's—premier pros-to-prep head coach.
"I signed a six-year contract," Smith said. "I’m not going anywhere."
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.
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