By Chris Dokish
After seeing some ridiculous articles from supposedly informed writers (Teryl Austin? Russ Grimm? Chris Pederson? Greg Gattuso? Frank Cignetti, Jr.?), I decided to write an actual informed list of potential candidates. I touched on this in my article last week, but here is a more focused look.
Head Coaching Experience:
John Fox, Head Coach of the Carolina Panthers- It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that he will be fired after the season. His record in his nine years at Carolina is barely above .500, but he went to three NFC championship games and a Super Bowl. He also coached for both Pitt and the Steelers so he is familiar with the city. On the downside, he is 55 and may not want to go from the NFL at that age to college. Yes, Wannstedt did it, but it was his alma mater. Verdict- The last two coaches that Steve Pederson dealt with- Bill Callahan and Wannstedt- failed. Fox had more head coaching success than either but it's doubtful he would go from being a pretty successful NFL head coach to Pitt. He just doesn't need it.
Marvin Lewis, Head Coach of Cincinnati Bengals- Like Fox his firing seems imminent. Unlike fox his NFL career did not have moments of great success. On top of that, the off the field actions of Bengals players were troubling. At 52, he is a native of McDonald, PA, and was a linebacker coach for both Pitt and the Steelers in the 90s. He will easily find an NFL defensive coordinator job if he wanted it. Verdict- Who knows if he would want to be a head coach in college when he can be a defensive coordinator in the NFL? My guess is, he would rather be in the NFL.
Mike Leach, unemployed- The former Texas Tech head coach is a one man quote machine and managed to somehow make Texas Tech a power in a state where they are no better than the fourth option. Highly exciting offensive system loaded with wide receivers and passing. He currently has a bad reputation because he is suing both Texas Tech and ESPN, and got a lot of flak for putting the son of Craig James in a shed. But the truth is, his players didn't get into trouble, and they graduated. He's desperate to get back into coaching to prove himself. Verdict- He would provide instant excitement and filled houses thanks to his personality and high octane offense. But the perception of him is that of a crass country bumpkin(even though he graduated from the Pepperdine Law School), and Pitt has never been known to take somebody with a questionable reputation.
Al Golden, Head Coach of Temple- Former Penn State graduate and player who turned Temple into a winner. Was the Virginia DC previously and was the youngest DC in major college football when hired. He runs a West Coast offense and a defense that goes all out to stop the run first. Has pulled himself out of the running for many jobs over the years.- Verdict- His style is not one that will bring people into the stadium and he will have his eye on the Penn State job once it's open. If he's successful and would leave, that's bad enough, but leaving for Penn State would be even worse. For that reason, expect Pederson to pass.
Kevin Sumlin, Head Coach of Houston- He would be the first major head coach that Pitt has hired that was an African American. An offensive wiz, Sumlin has worked under Bob Stoops, R.C. Slocum, Mike Price, and Dennis Erickson. He runs a high powered run and shoot offense that turned Case Keenum into a bonafide Heisman Trophy candidate. Was 18-9 in his first two seasons at Houston, including 10-4 in his second year, but went 5-7 this year when Keenum and his backup both were lost for the season in the third game of the year. Signed a new 6 year, 6.8 million dollar contract in January. Verdict- Features a high powered offense and has shown that he can be a good head coach. Serious candidate.
Bronco Mendenhall, Head Coach of Brigham Young- At 44, he is one of the best young coaches in the country. His six year record at Provo is 55-21, including an incredible four year span of 43-9. He ended the regular season this year at 6-6 but some in Utah thinks it was his best coaching performance. He replaced his DC with himself early in the year then followed by winning 5 of his last 7 games, including a one point loss to Utah. Verdict- While he doesn't make huge money now, BYU has deep pockets. If Pederson wants him, it may cost. But he is considered a star and it may be worth it.
Todd Graham, Head Coach of Tulsa- First college job was for Rich Rodriguez, where he coached linebackers in his first season and was co-DC and in his second season. He then became the Tulsa DC under Steve Kragthorpe. Got his first head coaching job at Rice where he took them to a 7-6 record after they finished 1-10 the season before. After signing a contract extension he bolted two days later to become the Tulsa head coach. He received a lot of criticism for the move. At Tulsa, he is currently 35-17 in his fourth season. Has a pretty good salary for a mid-major program. Verdict- Interesting candidate but he claims that he's not interested in moving out of Tulsa where he has three children attending the university. Of course they all say that.
Brady Hoke, Head Coach of San Diego State- This name comes up a lot not only with Pitt fans but with the virtually every program that has an opening. He got his buzz because of turning around both Ball State and San Diego State, and while he turned around Ball State with a 12-1 record, it took until his six season and his record at the school was 34-38. He has done a fine job of turning around San Diego State with an 8-4 record this season. Verdict- His overall record is 46-50 and I doubt that Pederson will be impressed enough.
No Head Coaching Experience:
Dana Holgorsen, Offensive Coordinator at Oklahoma State- One of the hottest coordinators in the country right now. A disciple of Hal Mumme and Mike Leach, but he incorporates more running into his offense then they do. Prior to this season, he was Sumlin's OC at Houston and many think that it was he, and not Sumlin, that was responsible for Houston and Keenum's success. Prior to Houston he spent seven seasons at Texas Tech with Leach (when Pederson was in the conference at Nebraska). This season Oklahoma State entered the season with no proven receivers, a starting running back that missed the end of last season with an injury, and a quarterback that hadn't started a game in nine years
. All Oklahoma State did was lead the country in total offense. Verdict- Need I say any more? he has all the potential to be an excellent head coach.
Paul Chryst, Offensive Coordinator at Wisconsin- If there's one college assistant who appears to be primed to be a successful head coach it's the 45-year old Chryst. Yes, he was born in Madison and went to Wisconsin, but Bret Bielema is just 40 years old and he's not going anywhere soon. Despite operating a run oriented offense, Wisconsin has led the Big Ten in offense for the past two seasons and this year the Badgers have put up ridiculous offensive numbers in the usually conservative Big Ten. As the OC at Oregon State in 2003 the Beavers became the first team in NCAA history to have a 4,000 yard passer, a 1,500 yard rusher, and two 1,000 yard receivers.
Mark Stoops, Defensive Coordinator at Florida State- The Stoops are the college football equivalent of the Staal brothers in the NHL, but that's only because they keep being successful. Stoops, 43-years old and a Youngstown native, is in his first season as a DC for Florida State, and he improved their scoring defense from 94th to 11th this season. Previous stops have included Arizona where he was the DC from 2004-09.
My choices in order:
1. Mike Leach
2. Bronco Mendenhall
3. Dana Holgorsen