Every good athletic director across the country has a list of head coaching candidates for each sport, because you never know when your guy is going to leave.
Frank Haith leaves for Tulsa? The AD should have a list in his desk drawer or his wallet. Several years ago, Oregon State head coach Mike Riley surprisingly left Oregon State to become the new coach at Nebraska. Even more surprisingly, Gary Andersen left Wisconsin after just two seasons to take over Riley’s old job with the Beavers. Did Wisconsin panic? No, they had a plan, and hired their former offensive coordinator, Paul Chryst, away from Pittsburgh. In his third season, Chryst has gone 24-6 overall and 13-4 in the Big 10. AD Barry Alvarez had a list, and it worked.
Missouri’s Jim Sterk is a good athletic director, and it would appear he might have a vacancy in his football head coaching position soon. Things don’t seem to be getting better under Barry Odom. And, because Sterk is good, he most certainly has a list.
Of course, there’s always going to be competition for the best coaches. Brian Kelly at Notre Dame is on the hot seat, as is Riley at Nebraska. In the SEC, Butch Jones at Tennessee, Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M and Bret Bielema at Arkansas could all be in trouble, and Ole Miss already has to replace the fired Hugh Freeze. It would seem UCF’s Scott Frost, a Nebraska alum that played for Tom Osborne, would be a lock there.
As for Sterk, if there’s an opening, his list might look something like this…
Les Miles, former LSU head coach: The former Oklahoma State and LSU coach has a record of 141-65, including 114-34 in Baton Rouge. Yes, he’ll be 64 at the start of next season, but Nick Saban is going to be 66, and I don’t see anyone pushing him out the door at Alabama. Miles is known as a great recruiter, although the collection of players he’s had over the years resulted in ONLY one National Championship. Mizzou would be looking for charisma and fun as they try to get back to winning form and raise money for facility expansion, and Miles would bring plenty of that. In addition to his SEC success, Miles has midwestern roots, having played at Michigan (with Dan Dierdorf) and coached with the Wolverines, too.
Greg Schiano, Ohio State defensive coordinator: The 51-year-old can build a program. Schiano took over a Rutgers outfit that had gone 77-125-5 in its previous 20 years, and went to bowl games six times in his last seven years there. Schiano went 68-67 at Rutgers before an ill-fated stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He’s spent the last two seasons working as Urban Meyer’s defensive coordinator at Ohio State. The combination of relative youth, the history of turning around a program and an education of winning at the highest level…with SEC type players at Ohio State…make Schiano an intriguing candidate.
Mike Norvell, Memphis head coach: Norvell got the head coaching job at Memphis a couple of years ago when Odom turned it down. As the offensive coordinator at Arizona State before moving to Memphis, Norvell consistently had the Sun Devils among the top ten scoring offenses in the country. Norvell turns 36 next month, and is known as a strong recruiter.
Former ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly told the Arizona Republic “He can start a conversation with anybody. He’s very well-rounded with life, with football, with people. He has great people skills and knows how to connect. He’s young and he knows what’s going on in our day and age. He’s very energetic. Guys love that, that’s why he’s an unbelievable recruiter.” There will be strong competition for Norvell, who seems to check all the boxes for what AD’s look for these days.
Jason Candle, Toledo head coach: Mizzou has done well here before, hiring Gary Pinkel away from Toledo. Pinkel was there for ten years, and Candle has only been a head coach for two. Like Pinkel, he’s an Ohio native. Candle replaced Matt Campbell when Campbell moved to Iowa State a couple of years ago, and has put together a 13-5 record so far in his second season. As an offensive coordinator, he consistently had Toledo averaging 33-35 points per game. According to the Rockets web site, in 2010, he was named one of the top recruiters in the nation by Rivals.com. He was one of only nine coaches in the country from non-automatic BCS qualifying conferences to be named to the list and the only coach from the MAC.
Candle also was named the Mid-American Conference “Recruiter of the Year” by Scout.com in both 2011 and 2012. He turns 38 in November. And, he coached up Chiefs rookie running back Kareem Hunt, getting him ready for the NFL in his first year.
Blake Anderson, Arkansas State head coach: The Red Wolves have an excellent history of turning out successful Power Five head coaches. Hugh Freeze (Mississippi), Gus Malzahn (Auburn) and Bryan Harsin (Boise State) all spent a year in Jonesboro before leaving for greener pastures. Anderson has gone 25-17 with appearances in bowl games in each of his three seasons so far. North Carolina’s Larry Fedora is considered one of the most impressive people among coaches in America, and Anderson is a Fedora protégé. His teams always seem to give ranked squads from other conferences all they can handle.
Brent Venables, Clemson defensive coordinator: He makes the list because of his remarkable success as an assistant, but it would be risky for Mizzou to go that direction again. Venables has been a premier DC for eighteen years, and was actually talked about for the Mizzou job when he was 29 and Pinkel got it in 2000. Venables knows the lay of the land. He’s from Kansas, and coached against Mizzou for twenty years while at Kansas State and Oklahoma. Last year, he was named the Frank Broyles Assistant Coach of the Year in college football. He’s worked for Bill Snyder, Bob Stoops and Dabo Swinney. And he’s coached guys like Tommie Harris, Curtis Lofton, Gerald McCoy, Vic Beasley and Shaq Lawson in college. The pedigree is certainly there for Venables. He should get a job soon.
I’m sure there are other names on Sterk’s list. If, you know, something happens and he needs to get a new coach. These guys are all going to be Power Five coaches in the next few years. Sterk would do well to look into them sooner rather than later.