Houston Nutt has been on the Coaching Carousel for a while but now he's finally off and Ole Miss is wondering what's next?
Let's get this out of the way from the beginning, Gary Patterson and Chris Petersen aren't coming to Oxford. At least that's the theory I'm working with, so keeping that in mind let's take a look at the most likely candidates for the position as well as some more under the radar guys who might be a good fit or have been mentioned in some way for the job:
Kirby Smart- Currently the Defensive Coordinator at Alabama (2007-current). He has also coached at FSU, Georgia, LSU and the NFL's Miami Dolphins. In 2009, he won the Broyles Award for the Nation's top assistant coach.
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Gus Malzahn- Currently the Offensive Coordinator at Auburn (2009-present). Also coached at Arkansas (with Houston Nutt) and Tulsa in the same capacity. In 2010, he won the Broyles Award.
Manny Diaz- Currently the Defensive Coordinator at Texas as they have seen a turnaround this year and sit at 6-2. He coached with Dan Mullen at Mississippi State last year and coached for Middle Tennessee, NC State and FSU prior to that. Was born in Miami (as well as going to school at and being a GA for FSU) so has roots in the Sunshine state for recruiting.
Paul Petrino- Currently the Offensive Coordinator at Illinois. The Illini broke recrods for total points and points per game during his first season in 2010. Is the SEC big enough for two Petrino's in the same division?
Chad Morris- Currently the Offensive Coordinator at Clemson. Prior to that he was OC at Tulsa where his offense ranked among the best in the country. He was a Head Coach at the High School level for 16 years (he earned coach of the year in 11 of those 16 years).
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Mark Stoops- Currently the Defensive Coordinator at FSU. FSU hasn't lived up to lofty expectations this year but the defense is 8th in the Nation in Scoring Defense and Stoops is familiar with the Florida hotbed of recruiting (has also coached at USF and Miami).
Todd Monken- Currently the Offensive Coordinator at Oklahoma State. Monken has jumped in right where Dana Holgersen left off the Cowboys are averaging an eye-popping 50.1 points per game. Monken has NFL coaching experience and also spent several years at LSU so is familiar with the SEC.
Danny Rocco- Currently the Head Coach at Liberty. Has a 47-19 record at Liberty. Is familiar with the area as he coached at Tulsa for a few years as an assistant. Has NFL experience and has won the Big South Coach of the Year three times.
Joey Jones- Currently the Head Coach at South Alabama. Has a record of 23-3 at South Alabama since taking over. Played football at Alabama under Bear Bryant. Built the South Alabama program from scratch.
Mark Hudspeth- Currently Head Coach at Louisiana and has led them to an 8-2 start. He was Head Coach at North Alabama where he went 66-21 from 2002-2008. He was also a part of Dan Mullen's coaching staff from 2009-2010 before taking the job at Louisiana. He was born in Louisville, Mississippi.
Hugh Freeze- Currently the Head Coach at Arkansas State and has led them to a 7-2 season. The last time the Red Wolves won more than six games was 1987 so he's done a fantastic job. He would also be a great story since he's the Coach of the football team that the move "The Blind Side" was based on. He also has connections with Ole Miss as he was hired in 2005 as an assistant AD and then became a coach and even repalced Ed Oregeron as interim Head Coach before the hiring of Houston Nutt.
Kevin Sumlin- Currently the Head Coach at Houston. His team is currently 9-0 and he's 32-16 since taking the gig as Cougars coach. Does not have SEC experience but was an assistant coach at Oklahoma from 2003-2007. He was born in Alabama.
Larry Fedora- Currently the Head Coach at Southern Mississippi. Before landing at Southern Miss he was Offensive Cooridnator at Florida and Oklahoma State. His Southern Miss teams (prior to this year) have struggled with defense.
Mario Cristobal- Currently the Head Coach at FIU. Has gone 21-37 but turned the corner last year by tying for the Sun Belt Championship and winning a bowl game. This year FIU has wins over UCF, Troy and Louisville. Was born in Miami and played for The U. Has coached at Rutgers and Miami previous to FIU. Was named Sun Belt Coach of the Year in 2010. The team was 0-12 in 2006 prior to him taking over. Is a capable recruiter as he has landed an ESPN 150 player. Runs a spread offense.
Steve Adazzio- Currently the Head Coach at Temple. Coached for Florida between 2002 and 2010. Temple is currently 5-4 in the MAC but is 4th in the Nation in scoring defense giving up 12.8 ppg.
Tim Beckman- Currently the Head Coach at Toledo. Beckman led Toledo to a winning record and is poised to do so again this year. Beckman got his masters at Auburn and also started his coaching career there as a GA. He has also coached at Ohio State and Oklahoma State along the way. Toledo's offense is currently 11th in the Nation in points scored.
Out of Work Coaches
Mike Leach- Most recently coached for Texas Tech where he went 84-43 from 2000-2009. In 2008, took Texas Tech to an 11-2 record (7-1 in the Conference). He does have SEC experience as he was OC at Kentucyky from 1997-1998. Winner of the "Big 12 Coach of the Year" award in 2008 and "Woody Hayes" trophy that same year which recognizes the top collegiate coach.
Tommy Bowden- Ole Miss hired a re-tread with Nutt last time so this isn't very likely but Bowden went 72-45 at Clemson. He also has extensive history in the SEC at Bama, Kentucky and Auburn. Also has a household name for recruiting. Has been out of coaching since 2008 so has probably missed his window to get back in the game at this level.
Currently Coaching at AQ School
Al Golden- Currently the Head Coach at Miami. Any chance that Golden wants out of his new gig after Yahoo dropped the landmine on The U? It's possible and Ole Miss would be a decent landing spot for him although Golden could wait to see what happens with Paterno up at Penn State.
Art Briles- Currently the Head Coach at Baylor where he is 20-25. Started out with two losing seasons but is on the verge of putting together back-to-back winning seasons.
Paul Rhoades- Currently the Head Coach at Iowa State and has led them to a 17-17 record since replacing Gene Chizik. Rhoades is from Iowa but did not go to school at Iowa State (although he did coach there from 1995-1999 as an assistant). He has SEC experience as he was the Defensive Coordinator at Auburn in 2008.
Skip Holtz- Currently the Head Coach at USF. Despite beating Notre Dame, USF has struggled this season going 4-4 but 0-4 in the Big East. Holtz obviously has huge name recognition and has coached in the SEC previously (South Carolina).
Some thoughts on who Ole Miss should (and might) choose:
Jay: Man, Hattiesburg would BURN if they lost their coach to Ole Miss. I'm not even sure Ole Miss would "lower themselves" to hiring USM's coach.
Anyway, I guess I'll throw this out....
Based on what I've heard, the dysfunction at Ole Miss extends farther up the ladder than the head coach. I don't think simply switching out Houston Nutt for someone else, no matter how good a coach, no matter how sexy a name, is necessarily the answer. I mean, Nutt had to go, no doubt about it. And if you're going the route of giving a hot coordinator his first head coaching gig, Malzahn and Smart are great choices that no one would argue with. Or if you're inclined to give a highly successful mid-major coach a shot at the big time, there aren't many better options than Kevin Sumlin. But none of those hirings would address the real problems behind the scenes that prevent Ole Miss from being as successful as it could be. There are simply too many cooks in the kitchen in Oxford, so to speak, and quite a few of them aren't "all in" for doing what it takes to compete in the modern SEC (insert your own Auburn joke here). Ole Miss needs to bring in a proven head coach with enough clout to tell everyone associated with the program "get on board with what I'm doing or get shut out" and then do it. Mike Leach seems like an odd fit there, but if he were to be empowered to make over the program to his liking, it would be a better option than simply replacing a cog in the existing, faulty machine.
Kevin: I think Ole Miss will offer the job to Kirby Smart or Gus Malzahn. I'm just not sure that they will accept. Ole Miss is a good coaching gig but it's a lower rung coaching gig in the SEC and is more than an uphill battle considering they are at the bottom of the toughest division in football. Malzahn turned down Vandy last year and I felt that was a better "starter" job than Ole Miss. I would love for Ole Miss to give the ball to Mike Leach and see what he can do in the SEC. I really think Ole Miss would benefit from "thinking outside the box" here. Think about it...when has Ole Miss been truly relevant in the SEC for an extended period of time? Johnny Vaught is the last coach to post a winning percentage higher than 70% and he coached from the 40s to the 70s.
So let's face it Ole Miss, you just don't have the resources right now to keep up with LSU and Bama (and Arkansas and Auburn are no pushovers). If you are Ole Miss you can't just think, let's get the best football coach. You have to think let's get the best football coach who is going to give us a strategic advantage and differentiate ourselves from every other team on the schedule (kind of like what Georgia Tech did with Paul Johnson). Leach would bring an offense to the SEC that the other teams won't see much and it would also help bring in much needed skill position guys and actual QBs who can throw the football (Ole Miss hasn't seen a worthwhile QB since Eli Manning). If you don't want to be "controversial" and go after Leach then go after someone who runs a similar offense and has had a lot of success like Kevin Sumlin.
All that being said, Ole Miss is not going to hire Mike Leach. So if you don't get Smart, Malzahn, Sumlin or Leach then I say go with Paul Rhoades from Iowa State. He knows the SEC and by God he has won actual football games at Iowa State (Gene Chizik went 5-19 there). I really like guys like Mark Hudspeth and Hugh Freeze but I'm not sure they are quite ready for a job like this. Rhoades is used to playing in a very tough league with the odds stacked against him. He gets my vote if the usual suspects say no and Ole Miss doesn't want to throw the ball around.