Officially, there is no head football coaching vacancy at Texas A&M ... yet.
But we all know that is coming, as soon as the final gun sounds Nov. 23 in College Station. That will mark the final home game for coach Dennis Franchione, opening the door to a long list of potential successors that include Tommy Tuberville, Mike Sherman, Bob Davie, Jeff Tedford, Butch Davis, Steve Spurrier, Rich Rodriguez and others.
All of the above names have been lofted, at least in casual conversations, with parties who have interst in/knowledge of the A&M situation. Once the official search begins, look for athletic director Bill Byrne to close ranks and be tight-lipped as he engages in the search process with the help of Chuck Neinas, a go-between in lots of high-profile coaching searches.
As things stand now, here's how to handicap the field when it comes to viable/unlikely candidates:
-- Expect someone with A&M connections to wind up filling the vacancy. With one huge caveat. If A&M truly is willingto pay $3 million a year to its next coach, as some insiders believe, the Aggies will attract interest from a successful, sitting head coach with no A&M connections -- like Rodriguez, Davis, Tedford or Spurrier -- and may land him. Davis and Rodriguez probably would be the most likely of that quartet to relocate for big money. Spurrier and Tedford, in all likelihood, would only use an A&M offer/dalliance to get conncessions from their existing schools.
But Davis, who used to be a Dallas Cowboys' assistant, knows his way around Texas. He has yet to purchase a house in North Carolina and figures to be on the short list if a coaching vacancy arises, as expected, at Arkansas. A&M would need to strike quickly, in other words, to beat Arkansas to the punch if Davis is deemed "The Man." Rodriguez's head could be turned, perhaps, if the price is right.
-- Now, back to the guys with A&M connections (all of whom are past A&M assistants). Tuberville stands out among that group and, from all indications, would give the Aggies a serious listen. Sherman, the Houston Texans' offensive coordinator, likes the college game and was a good recruiter for A&M during his tenure there. Davie has been an ESPN analyst since leaving Notre Dame. He was a rising star in the industry before he took the ND job and the layoff can't help. But he was wildly successful as A&M's defensive coordinator back in the early "Wrecking Crew" days and he knows the recruiting landscape in Texas. He could succeed at A&M, I believe, despite the extended stint in the TV business.
One wild card: Don't forget about Atlanta Falcons coach Bobby Petrino. He's lived a nightmare, none of it his doing, in his first season in the NFL and some consider him a candidate to be one-year-and-done as a pro coach -- as Lou Holtz did with the NY Jets -- before returning to his comfort zone at the college level. If that is true, A&M would be wise to sound him out before moving strongly in a different direction.
_ Jimmy Burch