As the coaching carousel begins to unfurl and the same names get mentioned for every job, it is becoming increasingly more apparent that this is not a great year to be in search of a new football coach. I may get heat from a lot of people for saying that, but that is just my opinion. With every firing of a football coach in a major conference the same coordinators and head coaches kept being named over and over, and looking at their resumes, I don't think there are a whole lot of good options. Urban Meyer to OSU was as obvious as us playing terribly at Utah, after the supposed "turning the corner win" against ASU. Yes Chris Petersen was in talks with us and by reports, we did present a very compelling offer in terms of money, but refused to promise facilities upgrades.This may be a deal breaker for a lot of coaches and definitely has to be addressed soon by the Morgan Center. I have to assume that most people don't wanna work for Dan Guerrero and that has something to do with coches lack of interest as well. The names frequently mentioned were Leach (now gone to Wazzu), Sumlin (just took a major hit in stock after USM game), and a combination of Malzahn, Smart, and a combination of June Jones and assorted failed NFL coaches (Gruden, Mora, Dungy).
I think that there are still some very good coaches out there, but I think that we have to make them available, and are not so obvious choices. In the college football world, I think that UCLA's place is among the Top 25 for sure, and probably anywhere between the 15-25 range based on our program's history and the great natural advantages we have. UCLA is an incredibly attractive job to most, but obviously yields more significance and prestige to a West Coast guy who grew up watching us win Rose Bowls. I am not saying we should limit ourselves to a West Coast guy, but I think that our job would be more enticing and attractive to one. My personal preference would either be an aggressive, defensive minded coach, or an innovative offensive coach, but at the end of the day all I care about is winning football games. So here are some options right now that I think can be had if we provide the same offer we made to Petersen.I love Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern and has built that program into an upper-half Big 10 team, which is remarkable considering where they were before. Overall record of 40-35 isn't anything to brag about but he has finished .500 or better for 5 straight years now. He is definitely a hard nosed, no nonsense type of coach who is very young and goes up against good teams every week in the Big 10. His defenses are not holding teams under 20 points a game and displaying great defensive scoring numbers, but they have good numbers and do so with inferior talent. A reason for this is he is at one of the best schools in the country in terms of academics and had to face tough admissions standards just like we do. The hardest part here is that Fitzgerald is a Northwestern alum.
I really like Mark Dantonio at Michigan State and think he's doing an incredible job in East Lansing but I think he's a lot more comfortable there. He is 43-21 at Michigan State, tied for the conference title last year, and is playing in the Big 10 championship game for a chance to take on Oregon. However, I think he is much more unattainable and is a Spartan For Life. I would still reach out to him and see what it would take and see if he has any interest, but I don't think its very plausible.
I think Dan Mullen is an incredible offensive mind and seeing how he utilized Harvin and Hernandez at Florida makes me salivate considering the athletes we have like Barr, Fauria, James, and others. He has an overall record of 20-17 but did go 9-4 last year and is highly regarded back East and down South. Recruiting against the SEC at an inferior school historically makes it incredibly tough but is doing a good job and has been connected to the Penn State opening.
As I said earlier, it's not a great year to be looking for a coach because there are a lot of coaches who I think are a year away from breaking out and becoming viable candidates for us. I am not saying Rick should have kept his job at all, but in my perfect world, he would have been good enough to keep it for one more year so that we could wait and see these coaches for another year.
Butch Jones is in his 2nd year at Cincy after taking over for Brian Kelly and led his team to a share of the Big East title. His Cincy team went 8-3 this year and will be playing in a bowl game. His offense ranked 33rd in rushing and got Isiah Pead over the 1000 yard mark and was the 28th scoring offense in the country. He built a reputation at Central Michigan for scoring a lot of points but did so with a dual threat QB showing his ability to adapt to personnel. I am not 100 percent sold on Jones and would love to wait until after next year to really evaluate and determine if he will be a very good head coach or just average.
Charlie Strong is in his 2nd year at Lousiville and came as one of the best defensive coordinators from Florida. His team only went 7-5 this year but finished the year winning 5 of their last 6 and beating expected conference champion, West Virginia. They are in a 3 way tie for the conference title with WVU and Cincy but the team with the highest BCS ranking will be awarded the BCS bid. (WVU is expected to have the highest BCS ranking) Strong is regarded as a great recruiter, and his defense ranked 14th in points against at 19.2. Bringing in a good offensive coordinator would be key for him as their offense was a concern all year.
The last coach who I think has the potential to be a great hire but needs one more year is Art Briles. It has been detailed here how they are not impressed with Sumlin because Art Briles laid the foundation. He has since taken his talents to Baylor (sorry to all the LeBron haters for using the expression but I think it was the one good thing to come from 'The Decision'). Unlike the previous 2 coaches, Briles is in his 4th year already and has been very successful these past 2 years posting 9-3 records in succession. However, he did go 4-8 his first 2 years and I'd like to see him for one more to see if he can either bring in a new defensive coordinator or just improve upon this years horrific numbers. He is a great offensive mind without a doubt, but having the 111th ranked defense doesn't bode well for a move to the Pac-12 when you have to play the likes of Oregon, SC, and the future offenses of Leach and Rich Rod.
I think that there are still very good candidates in Fitzgerald and Mullen after striking out with Petersen. If I had my pick I would have liked to wait a year to see Briles, Strong, and Jones, but keeping Neuheisel was just not a viable option. Would I be pissed at seeing us offer the job to Briles, Strong, or Jones? No, but I wouldn't be particularly ecstatic as I am not yet sold on them. Whoever does take over as our next head coach, I think he deserves a fair shake and the chance to prove himself. Although I hate to mention them, a certain school in South Central got lucky and had a great deal of success with a 4th choice who nobody was happy about at first (Pete Carroll). So it's possible we could get lucky like they did even if all hell breaks loose and we make a hire who in theory makes no sense. But most importantly...Let's Go Bruins!!!