Filling in the Blanks at 10 Open Spots
By Paul Myerberg // Dec 9, 2011
Coach-heavy today, and fairly negative at that. But it’s that time of year, folks. There were 13 open jobs as of yesterday afternoon, but the night closed with a flourish: Charlie Weis to Kansas, most notably, but Notre Dame offensive coordinator Charley Molnar also agreed to terms with Massachusetts, which begins transitioning to the F.B.S. in 2012. Earlier today, Illinois hired Toledo’s Tim Beckman, who recently completed his second straight eight-win season. That leaves 10 spots yet to be filled, with some schools clearly zeroing in on a target while others flop around as names quickly drop off the board.
So who’s left, who’s going where? This seems like a good time to get caught up. Here are the programs still with an opening, listed alphabetically with the dearly departed listed in parentheses, along with each program’s logical replacement:
Akron (Rob Ianello) Trent Miles, Indiana State
What Akron needs is a football coach. The Zips need their own Jerry Kill, a coach who won on football’s lower levels before leading Northern Illinois to the top of the MAC en route to Minnesota. And Akron isn’t N.I.U., which may have bottomed out in the year prior to Kill’s arrival but was not that far removed from bowl contention. Akron’s pretty far away: it’ll take a coach well-versed in the rebuilding process to get the program back on track. Cue Miles, who inherited a program on a 1-32 streak entering 2008 but has Indiana State on the verge of back-to-back winning seasons.
Arizona State (Dennis Erickson) Mark Helfrich, Oregon
If there’s a B.C.S. conference program rivaling U.C.L.A. for coaching search buffoonery it’s Arizona State, which was a ballpoint pen away from signing June Jones before a booster club backlash led it to rescind its contract offer. If the Sun Devils don’t want an old coach, perhaps Helfrich, Oregon’s offensive coordinator, would fit the bill. He’s young, he’s a winner and he’s knowledgeable on all things Arizona State, thanks to his stint under Dirk Koetter from 2001-5. Helfrich’s an offense-first coach, which will help, and he should garner the support of fans, alums and boosters alike.
Arkansas State (Hugh Freeze) Randy Fichtner, Steelers
You may not know Fichtner, but Ben Roethlisberger does: the former has been the Steelers’ quarterbacks coach since 2007, and before that spent six seasons coordinating the Memphis offense — this was back when the Tigers were winning football games at a fairly high clip. Before that, Fichtner spent four seasons at Arkansas State as the Red Wolves’ offensive coordinator. There might be a great temptation to hire one of Hugh Freeze’s former assistants in an effort to keep that train rolling along, but A.S.U. won’t strike lightning twice. Fichtner would be a pretty nice hire.
Colorado State (Steve Fairchild) Gary Anderson, Utah State
Listen: Colorado State is a far more appealing job than most people think. The Rams can offer a very satisfying paycheck. The program is part of the Mountain West, so there may be some B.C.S. future involved with the job. And as Sonny Lubick proved, it’s possible to win big in Fort Collins. So don’t sleep on a current F.B.S. coach making what may seem to be a lateral move but really is nothing of the sort: for Gary Anderson, leaving Utah State and the WAC for Colorado State and the Mountain West would be a strong step up the coaching ladder.
Fresno State (Pat Hill) Jim McElwain, Alabama
Perhaps it’s a coincidence. Perhaps it’s not. McElwain and Memphis were hot and heavy over the last week or so, but McElwain removed his name from consideration fairly late in the game. To me, such a move says that McElwain comprehends the magnitude of his future decision: you rarely get a second chance to make a first impression, and flopping at Memphis would lead to a career as an offensive coordinator, not a head coach. Fresno State, on the other hand, is a more prestigious stop than Memphis, presents a better chance at immediate success and, quite simply, is a far better job. The first thought that crossed my mind when the Memphis talks fell through was that McElwain, a former Fresno State coordinator, had something cooking with the Bulldogs.
Hawaii (Greg McMackin) Ivin Jasper, Navy
A few sensible names surfaced over the first 24 hours following McMackin’s retirement: one was Jasper, a former Hawaii quarterback and receiver currently serving as Ken Niumatalolo’s offensive coordinator in Annapolis. Jasper’s hiring might signal the program’s move back to the option, but that’s not guaranteed. Jasper could very well maintain Hawaii’s pass-happy recent past, taking on a C.E.O. role and ceding the offense to his staff of assistants — perhaps he’d retain Nick Rolovich, Hawaii’s current coordinator. Jasper makes the most sense, but he’s not the only candidate. I could see Texas assistant Duane Akina land an interview, as well as Baylor associate head coach Brian Norwood, who has already expressed interest in the job. I think Jasper’s the best fit.
Penn State (Paterno, Bradley) Paul Rhoads, Iowa State
It was announced last night that Bradley will interview within a week, but I can’t see a scenario where Penn State opts for Paterno’s right-hand man rather than going outside the family. The Nittany Lions have swung and missed thus far, most notably in Chris Petersen, who has zero — less than zero, if possible — interest in relocating back East. I think Dan Mullen has some interest in a job like Penn State, but until any perceived mutual interest turns into concrete discussion it’s too early to make him the favorite. The lack of communication has become a theme: Penn State has played things extremely close to the vest, nearly to the point where any guess as to where the program goes next is complete conjecture. My guess? It won’t be Bradley — or any coach with deep ties to the program. How about Rhoads, the third-year Iowa State coach who spent eight seasons at Pittsburgh as the Panthers’ defensive coordinator?
Southern Mississippi (Larry Fedora) Blake Anderson, U.S.M.
I can see the draw of hiring Shane Beamer, the current Virginia Tech assistant — perhaps you’ve heard of his father — who has done wonders for the Hokies on the recruiting trail. Prior to Blacksburg, Beamer worked similar miracles for South Carolina. But if I’m Southern Mississippi, I shy away from someone who would use Hattiesburg as a quick-stop detour towards a major job and hand the reins over to Anderson, Larry Fedora’s offensive coordinator. Retaining Anderson would provide continuity; not a bad idea for a program coming off its best season in decades.
Texas A&M (Mike Sherman) Kevin Sumlin, Houston
There have been rumors tying Mark Richt to A&M, but that’s just a rumor, that’s all. To make such a drastic change, Richt would either need to be fed up with the current Georgia administration — a possibility — or see a truly desirable, once-in-a-lifetime job pop up. Florida State, should it have opened its doors rather than turn the program over to Jimbo Fisher, would have been one of those schools. Texas A&M is not one of those schools. Instead, look for A&M to make Sumlin the official pick, as has been suggested since Mike Sherman was dismissed a week ago.
U.C.L.A. (Rick Neuheisel) Jim Mora, out of coaching
As discussed earlier today, U.C.L.A. athletic director Dan Guerrero has his eyes set on Mora, who’s currently out of football. Mora’s college experience consists of one season as a graduate assistant at Washington 27 years ago, but that doesn’t bother Guerrero: he sees the next Pete Carroll, and the fact that dozens of former N.F.L. coaches have failed miserably clearly hasn’t affected this point of view. The U.C.L.A. fan base sighs in resignation. Or does it scream in frustration?
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Tags: Akron, Arizona State, Arkansas State, Charley Molnar, Colorado State, Fresno State, Gary Anderson, Hugh Freeze, Jim McElwain, Mark Helfrich, Randy Fichtner, Trent Miles
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