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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Coaching Moves

Just Throwing a Few Hats in the Ring

With all due respect to Minnesota and North Texas, the Colorado job is the most appealing opening to hit the market this season — we’ll see if it remains so enticing come December, when Colorado is sure to face stiffer competition. Not that Minnesota’s not appealing in its own way: there’s the Big Ten — and Big Ten money — a proud history and the opportunity to replace a coach the Minnesota athletic director placed on the opposite end from Vince Lombardi on the coaching spectrum. Still, while Minnesota is eying several qualified candidates, Colorado is setting its sights a little higher. So which names might be on Colorado’s hypothetical short list?

Mark Stoops

Florida State’s defensive coordinator left his brother’s shadow at Arizona for this purpose: to show he could run a defense — and run it well — on his own. Stoops has done a fine job with the Seminoles despite working with an extremely young roster, particularly along the defensive line. Because of his group’s youth, Stoops can afford to be choosy; F.S.U. will be even better in 2011, you can be assured, and high-profile jobs will certainly call on Stoops after each of the next handful of seasons. Still, the Colorado job must be appealing.

Pros A solid defensive background. Stoops has also won under both Bob and Mike Stoops, at both Oklahoma and Arizona. The latter stop should have Colorado intrigued: along with his brother, Stoops helped rebuild a downtrodden program into a consistent winner.

Cons He is a Stoops — perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but I’m not sure if the Colorado fan base thinks very highly of the Stoops brothers. Of course, all would be forgiven should Stoops sign on the dotted line.

Gus Malzahn

Like Stoops a leading contender for a head job after several successful seasons as a coordinator, Malzahn will assuredly receive overtures from several open positions at the end of this season — including Minnesota. This is also the right time for Malzahn to take the next step: not that Auburn is necessarily headed for trouble with the N.C.A.A., but Malzahn’s stock will never get higher than it is today.

Pros A proven track record of success on the offensive side of the ball on the B.C.S. conference level. There’s a difference between Malzahn and Dan Hawkins, for instance: Hawkins had success helping run an offense at Boise State, but Malzahn has led successful offenses at Arkansas, Tulsa and Auburn — wildly successful offenses, in fact.

Cons Does Colorado want another offensive-minded coach, particularly one without head coaching experience on the F.B.S. level?

Shawn Watson

Nebraska’s offensive coordinator has Colorado ties: he spent six years as the coordinator under Gary Barnett, helping the Buffaloes to four winning seasons and a B.C.S. berth in 2001. While Watson’s tenure in Lincoln has been maligned for fluctuating levels of success, he has successfully piloted the Cornhuskers from the West Coast offense under Bill Callahan to a more spread-based running attack under Bo Pelini.

Pros His time with the program. More than most of the candidates for the job, Watson understands the culture in Boulder. For a coach coming from the SEC, for instance, the lack of convincing fan support could be an unpleasant surprise.

Cons Colorado can do better. With all due respect to Watson, he’s a coach who needs to have success as a head coach on the non-B.C.S. level before taking on the task he’d face with the Buffaloes.

Dana Holgorsen

Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator is much like Mike Leach, his coaching mentor, if you add a healthy splash of fire and a far more dedicated approach to recruiting. For those Colorado fans begging for Leach, please reconsider: Holgorsen is all Leach is as a play-caller along with those positive qualities listed above. We’ve already seen how rapidly Holgorsen has acclimated the O.S.U. roster to his system; given time, he could build a very solid program in Boulder.

Pros Offensively, Holgorsen would be a better fir than Malzahn. If for nothing else, this is because the Air Raid passing attack could be an immediate hit with the personnel Colorado would bring to the table in 2011.

Cons Is he ready for the daily grind? Holgorsen’s a fabulous offensive mind, but it’s unclear whether he’s ready for the work required to rebuild this program. One could also find fault with Holgorsen’s fiery demeanor, which would be the antithesis of the approach Dan Hawkins took with this team over the past five seasons. Yes, Holgorsen’s a screamer: this isn’t a bad thing.

June Jones

If I’m Colorado, I’m making the call. Need a coach who can win anywhere? Call Jones. Looking for a coach adept at rapid turnarounds? Look for Jones. I know he has a great setup at S.M.U. — a nice paycheck, no interference, a long leash — but Jones would certainly answer the call should Colorado make an inquiry.

Pros A proven track record of success. In addition, his familiarity with the West Coast — having coached at Hawaii and recruited the California high school and JUCO ranks — would be a tremendous asset.

Cons At this stage of his career, with a great thing going at S.M.U., would Jones really be interested in heading to Colorado? Well, he likely would, but does Jones have enough fire left to turn the Buffaloes back into a winner?

Brady Hoke

It took Hoke only two seasons to bring San Diego State back to bowl play: currently 7-2, the Aztecs have a shot at a nine-win regular season. When considering how quickly it occurred, this turnaround rivals the job Hoke did bringing Ball State to the forefront of the MAC. Now that Hoke has proven his coaching acumen at two difficult non-B.C.S. conference stops, it’s time a major school paid attention.

Pros Knowledge of the steps involved in the rebuilding process. Hoke has turned around two schools under far more difficult circumstances than the one he’d face with the Buffaloes. The inroads he’s made in the fertile San Diego recruiting region are another bonus.

Cons Hoke might never take his eyes off another prize: the Michigan job. If he had a successful run at Colorado, the innuendo that he’d leap at a chance to take over in Ann Arbor would be a yearly occurrence.

Mark Richt

Why not ask? After struggling last season and scuffling through most of 2010, Georgia might allow Colorado to make a buyout offer in order to land Richt’s services. If this is a reality, if Georgia would let Richt walk, Colorado needs to quickly take advantage. There’s little chance this would occur — but Colorado needs to ask.

Pros Richt is roughly 60 games over .500 as the head coach at Georgia.

Cons The likelihood of Richt becoming available: slim. In addition, if Richt did come onto the market, Colorado would face stiff competition for his services.

Les Miles

L.S.U. might — might — have been willing to let Miles walk in September, maybe. Now? Colorado will have to pay every penny of L.S.U.’s massive buyout penalty in order to steal Miles away from the Tigers. I can’t say I’m optimistic in Colorado’s ability to pay Miles the requisite yearly salary, let alone pony up the sizable check needed to pry Miles out of the remainder of his current contract. If Colorado can get it done, well, you have to make it happen. I’m very skeptical in this coming to pass.

Pros Experience as an assistant at Colorado from 1982-88 — while not quite Michigan, Colorado does have the draw of serving as a homecoming of sorts for Miles. Lest we forget, Miles also has a national title on his resume.

Cons Let’s be honest: the talent level at L.S.U. trumps what Miles will walk into at Colorado. Without getting into a chicken-or-egg argument, can one say that coaching is to thank for L.S.U.’s recent success — or are the Tigers simply too talented to win less than 75 percent of the time? Regardless of your response, Miles would be a terrific hire for Colorado; he would grant immediate respectability to a program desperately in need of an injection of confidence.

Troy Calhoun

I spoke of Watson’s experience earlier: Calhoun’s ties to Colorado — the region, not the university — are far deeper and more meaningful. Begin as an Air Force quarterback: a three-year starter from 1986-88. Then a period as an Air Force assistant: 1989-94. After a pair of stops on the F.B.S. level — Ohio and Wake Forest — Calhoun passed two seasons with the Denver Broncos, another with the Houston Texans, before returning to his alma mater in 2007. He’s gone 31-18 since, winning at least eight games in each of his first three seasons; with New Mexico and U.N.L.V. to close the regular season, Calhoun’s a lock to make if four straight eight-win seasons.

Pros Youth tinged with experience. Calhoun looks like a long-term answer for Colorado: familiar with the region and hungry for a step up the coaching ladder, he looks like a coach who would grow in the position. A young, talented coach with Calhoun’s potential — what else could a program ask for?

Cons If we’re nitpicking: I’m not sure how Calhoun would match up against some of the power names in the Pac-10 — a Chip Kelly, for instance, or a Jim Harbaugh, Lane Kiffin, what have you. It’s an intangible measurement, but it’s one worth considering.

Bill McCartney

He’s in the mix, though it’s hard to tell just how seriously Colorado takes his candidacy. We’ve all heard the rumbles for month now: McCartney wants back in, if the innuendo is to be believed, and is floating an interesting idea — he takes over for a few seasons, grooming his former running back, Eric Bieniemy, to be his eventual replacement. There’s a reason this thought is enticing. For starters, returning McCartney to the sidelines would placate a disillusioned Colorado fan base. Secondly, Bieniemy is a candidate in his own right: knowing he’ll lead an F.B.S. program at some point, Colorado might be wise to get in on the ground floor.

Pros The history. McCartney was a three-time conference coach of the year; the national coach of the year in 1989; a national title winner in 1990; and went 58-11-4 over his last six seasons in Boulder.

Pros His final six seasons: 1989-94. Has the game passed McCartney by? This isn’t quite like Bill Snyder, who returned to Kansas State after only a three-year absence. McCartney, as great as he was, has been away from the game for nearly a generation — he hasn’t been in the game in any way, in fact, instead devoting his energies to the various charities and organizations to which he donates his time. On the other hand, McCartney is 14 years younger than Joe Paterno; a year younger than Snyder, his would-be conference rival; is only four years older than Frank Solich; and only six years older than Frank Beamer.

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  1. Kernel says:

    Mike Bellotti

    Proven success at Oregon and he wants the job

    Paul: Yeah, Kernel, he’s a good name. I don’t see it, however. Not because he’s not a wonderful coach, I just see him eventually staying happy with the nice gig he currently has going on.

  2. Noefli says:

    Greg Davis?

  3. Duck Fan says:

    Mark helfrich is a major possibility

  4. Burnt Orange says:

    Noefli = genius.

  5. Sam says:

    Bill Snyder will not be on CU’s schedule in 2011 as CU is moving to the PAC-12.

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