"You can't give up seventy-six points. I don't care if you're playing the Patriots, you can't give up seventy-six." -- Rece Davis
KU was likely the death-knell of the Callahan era. Where to go from here? Discussion has focused almost exclusively on two names: Turner Gill and Bo Pelini.
Turner or Bo? Bo or Turner? Consider me unconvinced. I'm of the opinion that TO should look far and wide for the best coach possible, not limit himself to the fan favorites. Here I present a number of options I think NU should consider. One group is head coaches for whom NU would be a step up (like Turner). The other contains assistant coaches and coordinators ready to be head coaches (like Bo).
Consider this a fuller slate of candidates for the head coaching position. So who catches your eye? Who could challenge your devotion to Turner or Bo?
Current Head Coaches
This group is headlined by Turner Gill. For a complete discussion of Turner’s strengths and weaknesses, look here.
Paul Johnson – Navy
Pros: Johnson has been successful everywhere he’s gone. He led a high-powered Hawaii offense as an offensive coordinator under Bob Wagner. He won two national championships at Georgia Southern. He’s taken Navy to four bowl games, winning two of them. Johnson has a bit of a cult following among some Nebraska fans.
Cons: If you want Nebraska football to go backward quickly, go back to the pure option. What quarterback on this team could run that offense right now? Moreover, what would happen to all the talent we’ve stockpiled at wide receiver? The last thing we need right now is another culture change requiring four more years of recruiting to get up to speed. Some supporters say Johnson wouldn’t try to run the flex-bone at a higher profile institution. Well, he didn’t get the Boston College job last year ‘cause they wanted him to try some different things offensively and he refused. Johnson’s probably in the right place for him.
Joe Glenn – Wyoming
Pros: Lincoln native. Glenn won two national championships at Northern Colorado and another at Montana. Career winning percentage of 68%. Glenn’s players graduate at levels higher than their Mountain West counterparts, and two were finalists for the Draddy Trophy (the "Academic Heisman").
Cons: Glenn has been good, not great, at Wyoming. His best season was 7-5 in 2004. That team did beat UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl, but that’s been the Cowboys’ only bowl trip so far.
Todd Graham – Tulsa
Pros: Took Rice to a bowl game in 2006. Repeat: took Rice to a bowl game in his first year as a head coach one year after the Owls finished 1-11. That’s one of the best one-year turnarounds in history. Led a stiff Tulsa defense as D-coordinator in 2005. Currently employs the talismanic Gus Malzahn as offensive coordinator. Tulsa runs a no-huddle, misdirection-happy version of the spread offense. You get a small taste of it here.
Cons: Graham bolted Rice after signing a long-term extension following the 2006 season. Kind of flaky, if you ask me. Also, for being a defensive-minded coach, neither Tulsa nor Rice have proven to have strong defenses. More importantly, Tulsa is Graham’s "dream job;" it’s unlikely he’d leave after just one year.
Bobby Hauck – Montana
Pros: Hauck knows the Big 12 from three years as an assistant to Rick Neuheisel at Colorado. He picked up right where Joe Glenn left off in 2003, taking Montana to the national championship game one year and the national semi-finals the next. He’s a fire-and-brimstone kind of coach who favors an aerial attack and physical (if not speedy) defense. He rejected a long-term contract from Montana when he claimed his assistants weren’t being paid enough – a pretty cool thing to do, I think. Someday soon he’s going to be offered a I-A coaching position. Finally, I don’t know if he gets credit for this or not, but Montana’s "Tunnel Run" is way more exciting than our "Tunnel Walk."
Cons: Hauck followed Neuheisel to Washington. This means he was at both schools when they committed NCAA infractions. In this interview, Hauck downplays Neuheisel’s wrong-doing – perhaps an ethical red flag. Many Montana fans feel Hauck has under-achieved given where Glenn left the program (39-6 and a national championship the previous three years).
This next group includes head coaches I think we should consider but whose candidacies are unlikely to gain serious traction for various reasons.
Jim Leavitt – South Florida
Pros: Built USF into a Big East power. Knows the Midwest from his years at Morningside College. Fiery, emotional leader who knows how to recruit Florida.
Cons: He’s got it too good at USF to ever leave. If he keeps them on their current trajectory, USF will someday be playing on Jim Leavitt Field. It would be nearly impossible to pull him out of Florida
Jim Grobe – Wake Forest
Pros: Built Wake Forest into an ACC power. His offense is unique and very difficult to defend. His defense is physical and built to stop the run. Wake also graduates its players at a very respectable rate.
Cons: Like Johnson, he seems to be the right man in the right job. He’s locked in at Wake for the long term. Anyone wanting to hire him will have to pay big time to buy out the contract.
Bronco Mendenhall – BYU
Pros: Upon taking over in Provo, Mendenhall ordered many BYU traditions restored. He also returned the Cougars to the pass-happy offense that made them successful under LaVell Edwards. As D-coordinator at New Mexico, he coached future all-pro Brian Urlacher. Beat the pants off Oregon in last year’s Las Vegas Bowl.
Cons: Is in just his third year as a head coach. A Utah native and a Mormon, Mendenhall seems unlikely to look for greener pastures beyond BYU. Still, given his coaching history, he may be in line for any Pac-10 openings in the near future.
Mike Price – UTEP
Pros: Has now rebuilt both Washington State and UTEP’s programs. Players love playing for Price and he gets the most out of all of them.
Cons: Ethical improprieties will likely follow him wherever he goes, even if the judicial system did exonerate him to a degree. Probably in line to return to the Palouse should Bill Doba continue to flounder.
Art Briles– Houston
Pros: Took Houston to three bowl games in his first four years. Resuscitated local interest in Cougar football. Turned Kevin Kolb into a day one draft-pick. Regularly poaches recruits from other Texas schools.
Cons: Has lost all three bowl games. Has never been a head man anywhere else. Briles came to Houston to recruit and mentor Kolb. How successful he can be with another quarterback running his system is TBD.
Brian Kelly – Cincinnati
Pros: Career coaching record of 138-51-2. Won two national titles at Grand Valley State. Built a Central Michigan program based on a hard-hitting defense and an efficient offense based on misdirection and timing (not unlike Wake Forest). Jumped out to 6-0 in his first year at Cincinnati before losing two of his last three.
Cons: Bolted Central Michigan after telling them he intended to coach through their bowl game - coached in Cincinnati’s bowl game instead. Has yet to recruit and develop an entire class at the I-A level. Just how much of his success can be attributed to D-coordinator Joe Tresey is difficult to say.
Bo Pelini is the golden goose here. For a full discussion of his strengths and weaknesses, go here
Will Muschamp – Auburn, D-Coordinator
Pros: The next Bo Pelini? Has continued Auburn’s tradition of speedy, head-hunting defense. Has defended Florida’s spread-option attack rather successfully the last two years.
Cons: As much as I like it, I’m not sure how well this would go over at NU. Muschamp will likely be considered for the Arkansas job or be in line to take over at Auburn should Tommy Tuberville get fed up with his situation there.
Major Applewhite – Alabama, O-Coordinator
Pros: Is pretty widely considered to be an offensive wunderkind. Offensive philosophy predicated on running the ball on the edge and running multiple receivers into space to force mismatches. Think a more physical version of Leach’s madness. Could legitimately go head-to-head with Mack Brown for the best recruits in Texas.
Cons: Dude’s 29. He’s been a coordinator for two years. He’ll likely be considered for openings at smaller schools (e.g. SMU). Nebraska’s probably not the best place for Major’s first head coaching gig.
Dan Mullen – Florida, O-Coordinator
Pros: TO loves Urban ball. Many point out that this is likely what the Huskers would be running today if Osborne were still in charge. As quarterbacks coach at Utah, he developed Alex Smith into a #1 overall draft pick. Mullen will likely be a hot commodity considered for many lower profile jobs this off-season (e.g. Memphis).
Cons: Meyer assistants have been good, not great, head coaches (see Kyle Whittingham and Mike Sanford). Regarding schematics, there’s a glaring weakness in Florida’s spread option as I see it: the running back is not a rushing threat. I’m sure this is due to personnel issues at Florida right now, but there are precisely zero legitimate rushing threats outside Tim Tebow. This version of the spread option depends on the QB running between the tackles. When that happens too often, you get the nagging injuries like the ones Tebow has suffered the last 2-3 weeks. More importantly, as Auburn and LSU have shown, a smart and speedy defense can throw off the timing that allows this attack to thrive. Lost following the beat-down of Ohio State is the fact that Florida got to that game on the strength of its defense, not its offense. To wit...
Charlie Strong – Florida, D-Coordinator
Pros: Has coached at Texas A&M, South Carolina, Ole Miss, Notre Dame, and I-AA power Southern Illinois. A top-notch recruiter, Strong has been interviewed for several head coaching positions in recent years. Mark Mangino just beat him out for the Kansas job. As a D-Coordinator, his squads are composed of hard hitters (think concussion-farmer Reggie Nelson) and speedy D linemen. I’m also of the opinion that top-notch programs like Nebraska should be leading the way in hiring qualified African-American candidates like Strong (or Turner).
Cons: Ask Florida fans about their defense this year. The secondary has become a serious Achilles heel. They gave up forty-two points to a Georgia offense led by a freshman running-back. If your secondary is mediocre and you can’t stop the run consistently, well that’s just not real good.
Ron English – Michigan, D-Coordinator
Pros: Had the best run defense in the country in 2006. Last year, he sent Leon Hall, Alan Branch, LaMarr Woodley, and David Harris to the NFL as day one draft picks.
Cons: Appalachian State ring a bell? How ‘bout Oregon? How ‘bout Ball State in 2006? Michigan’s defenses under English have struggled against spread attacks with mobile quarterbacks – a scheme increasingly popular in the Big 12.
David Cutcliffe – Tennessee, O-Coordinator
Pros: Both Peyton Manning and Eli Manning are in the NFL because of David Cutcliffe. A legitimate quarterback guru, Cutcliffe posted a 44-29 record as head coach of Ole Miss, including a 2002 Independence Bowl victory over Nebraska. Single-handedly resuscitated the Volunteer offense upon re-joining the staff in 2006.
Cons: Cucliffe is an SEC guy. He may prove impossible to lure from the shadow of Phil Fulmer. Tennessee’s offense has been mediocre thusfar this season despite returning starting quarterback Erik Ainge. Both Alabama and Florida held the Vols under twenty-one points.
Steve Sarkisian – USC, O-Coordinator
Pros: Leads an explosive offensive attack at USC. A top-notch recruiter, Sarkisian’s West Coast attack gets the best out of individual players. He would likely bring USC’s competitive practice philosophy to Nebraska. As QB coach, worked with both Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.
Cons: Turned down the Raiders head coaching gig in the off-season. That job went to former co-Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. USC’s offense has struggled in Pac 10 play this season following Kiffin’s departure. This is Sarkisian’s first position as a coordinator at any level.
Glen Mason – former Minnesota head coach
Pros: A past president of the American Football Coaches Association, Mason is highly respected among his peers. Mason knows the Big 12 - he led KU into the top ten in 1995 before taking over at Minnesota in 1997. At UM, Mason developed a devastating rushing attack that regularly turned out thousand yard runners. Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney shared carries in Mason’s system en route to NFL success. Want to imagine what he could do with Quentin Castille, Marcus Mendoza and Roy Helu?
Cons: Mason’s Minnesota teams were always strong in the run game, but that’s about it. They never finished higher than fourth in the Big 10. Tellingly, Mason is a career .500 coach (123-121-1).
Norm Chow – Tennessee Titans, O-Coordinator
Pros: Few coaches have developed as many successful quarterbacks as Norm Chow. He’s coached Steve Young, Ty Detmer, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, and Matt Leinart at the collegiate level and coached Vince Young during his rookie-of-the-year campaign in 2006. Chow won the Broyles award as the nation’s top assistant coach in 2002. Chow has interviewed for dozens of jobs in recent years, most recently for the Stanford opening that went to Walt Harris in 2005.
Cons: Despite his impressive resume, Chow has never been a head coach. It’s unclear at this point whether Chow has any interest in returning to the college ranks as he is now regularly considered a candidate for NFL openings.
Jason Garrett – Dallas Cowboys, O-Coordinator
There’s no way this would happen, if for no other reason than Nebraska fans wouldn’t tolerate another NFL guy. But Garrett’s going to be a very successful head coach somewhere in the near future. He comes from a coaching family and has the respect of rookies and veterans alike in Dallas. What could he do at the collegiate level? I think it’d be interesting to find out, but it’s pretty unlikely.