FanPost

A More Extensive Breakdown of Nebraska Coaching Candidates

Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

(Introductory note: So, I initially had this written and ready to post last week, but there was a technical glitch with the New Fanpost button which I had to contact SB Nation support about. By the time it got resolved, it was Thursday before the Oklahoma game. Since Nebraska is going into the bye week, I figured I might as well wait until after all the post-game articles before posting this. But here it is as written around September 12, with minor edits.)

Scott Frost has been fired. Trev Alberts now has to embark on the long process of finding his replacement. It’s an exciting time, right? The coaching carousel is always fun. You’re going to hear a lot of names. Everyone has their favorites. Some of these names are crazy, some are not even remotely realistic, and some are legitimate targets.

After Mike Riley was fired in 2017, Bill Moos had one target that lined up with the consensus and all he had to do was get him. That guy was Scott Frost. It’s highly unlikely anyone else was considered. But now, Frost is done, and we have no idea what direction Nebraska’s going to go.

So I’ve compiled an exhaustive list below of virtually every coaching candidate I think Nebraska could pursue. And yeah, I’m ranking these—based on how appealing I think they are, the kind of fit they’d be, and how much energy or excitement their arrival would inject into the program. No doubt you’re going to disagree with some of these. That’s why it’s fun.

For right now I’ve got three basic tiers. The first is the Big Names. These are the head-explode, spit-take hires that the college football world would probably lose its mind over if Nebraska pulled it off. How realistic are they? I try to make the case for each one.

Second tier is "May Generate Excitement." These are the coaches with far more pros than cons, generally speaking, who the majority of fans would probably be on board with, and other than that it’s exactly what it says on the tin—may generate excitement.

The bottom is "Could Be Interesting." These are guys who might be a bit of a longshot fit-wise, or who have some issues, or would take a bit more convincing to get people on board. But similarly I try to look at how each one might work.

At the end of each candidate I include a Closing Comment, which is basically my personal take on what I think of the candidate.

For this list I’m mostly focusing on guys with at least some head coaching experience—many current, some former. There’s a pretty big crop of them right now and Nebraska should definitely exhaust all options there before looking at coordinators who’ve never been a head coach.

Trev Alberts has the rest of 2022 to find the right guy. The timing of Scott Frost’s firing three games in gives him a head start over everyone else in the coaching carousel cycle, and it’s still extremely early. A lot can change over the course of the season. There may be a candidate who emerges who is not on this list, something that’s very likely to happen. So stay tuned. I may do a follow up article as the year goes on.

So without further ado, let’s get into it.

The Big Names

Urban Meyer

You probably have an opinion on this person. You may think Nebraska needs to hire him immediately, or you may think that Nebraska should not touch him with a ten thousand foot pole. But regardless, this is a candidate that needs to be addressed. His record as a head coach is simply too good to ignore.

Why It Might Work: It only took Urban Meyer two seasons to coach Utah to an undefeated season. He then went on to win two national championships at Florida. But his most impressive feat is going an insane 83-9 (54-4 in conference) as Ohio State’s head coach, during which he won 3 Big Ten titles and 1 national championship. After the scandal that forced Jim Tressel to leave Columbus, Meyer moved in and promptly started kicking the entire Big Ten’s ass. He is easily the best head coach on the market, from a purely football perspective. And even with great recruiting operations already established at Ohio State, he somehow managed to take it to another level.

Why It Might Not: Urban Meyer is weird. He retired from both Florida and Ohio State for nebulous reasons. He tried his hand in the NFL with Jacksonville and face-planted so hard—exacerbated by a truly staggering amount of off-the-field drama—that the owner fired him before he could even complete his first season. Meyer also does not appear to be the most ethical coach in the world, and there’s a general sliminess about him that seems to come with the cost of winning. Finally, aside from Bowling Green and Utah, he’s mostly been at places with an advantage for success that’s practically built-in. But as caveats go, that’s fairly small.

Closing Comment: This is who you hire if you want championships. The question is whether Nebraska wants to face the price tag and stomach the baggage. (They probably don’t.)

Zac Taylor

A former Husker quarterback (sound familiar?), he was the Big 12 offensive player of the year in 2006. He also beat Michigan in the Alamo Bowl. I’m sure you’ve heard of him. Taylor is now the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL and brought them all the way to the Super Bowl, before losing to the Rams. Could he be a Husker version of Jim Harbaugh? Poaching him from the NFL would be a similar coup that would grab headlines across the country.

Why It Might Work: He’s a Husker who happens to be an NFL head coach, almost won a Super Bowl, and he’s only 39. He does have some college experience as the Cincinnati Bearcats OC in 2016 (not too long ago), so it wouldn’t be necessarily a huge adjustment for him to come back to college. As an alumnus in the coaching field, he may have the highest possible pedigree, and candidates like this simply don’t grow on trees.

Why It Might Not: Assuming he actually took the job—would he really leave the NFL?—Nebraska might be wary of doing a second take of the "former Husker to save program" thing immediately following the Scott Frost debacle, and the last time Nebraska hired an NFL head coach who had nearly won a Super Bowl, it was Bill Callahan. It also begs the question: how much of Taylor’s recent NFL success is linked to Joe Burrow? Taylor is a young coach who caught fire in one season (sound familiar?), but it’s unclear if he could be great in the long term.

Closing Comment: It’s a huge ‘if’ whether he leaves an NFL coaching gig in his prime when the Bengals have finally achieved liftoff. This isn’t a Harbaugh-and-49ers situation, where the coach and ownership are on rocky terms. Make no mistake: if Nebraska were to pull this off, it would be utterly stunning.

Bob Stoops

Could Nebraska lure the former Oklahoma coach out of retirement (or semi-retirement)? He’s currently "coaching" the Dallas/Arlington Renegades in the XFL, a relatively low-profile job. He also occasionally does TV analyst work for Fox Sports, and he stepped in to coach the Sooners for a bowl game when Lincoln Riley bolted for USC.

Why It Might Work: Stoops had a fantastic record at Oklahoma and set the program up for long term success. He won a national title in 2000 and racked up several conference championships during his tenure. There’s no question he knows how to coach and recruit. He’s been under the big lights of a major college football program, and may be looking for another chance to be on that kind of stage again.

Why It Might Not: Stoops is 61, an Iowa grad, and he sometimes faltered under the pressure of a big game during his time at Oklahoma. He also greatly benefited from Texas falling off and a Big 12 in flux with Missouri, Nebraska, and Texas A&M all leaving for other conferences. He’s generally seen as past his prime, and despite his Midwest (i.e. Iowa) ties and solid coaching, there’s some question as to whether he could handle the style of the Big Ten.

Closing Comment: Only the most butthurt Iowa-hating Husker fans would be against this. Putting aside the obvious fact that Nebraska can do worse (and typically has), Bob Stoops would bring instant credibility to the program despite his age.

Chris Petersen

The former Washington head coach who led the Huskies to their only CFP appearance and who also built Boise State one of the Group of Five’s top level programs, Petersen is currently retired and seems happy to be so. He is still a huge name that will be brought up with every vacancy at a major college football program.

Why It Might Work: Petersen’s record at Boise State was 92-12. He did exceptionally well with very little. His record at Washington is a somewhat less stellar 55-26, but he finished (or tied) first in the Pac-12 north division for three straight years, and won the conference championship twice. His best season was 2016 when he went 12-2 and lost to Georgia in the CFP. There is no doubt in his ability as a head coach. He would be a top candidate at any program.

Why It Might Not: The pressure he felt at Boise was nothing compared to Washington—which is not even one of college football’s biggest blue bloods—and it clearly weighed on him. He retired suddenly after a disappointing 8-5 record in 2019 and hasn’t sought any coaching opportunities since. Nebraska would be an even tougher job. He also lacks significant regional ties and seems more geared for the Pacific Northwest and Utah-Colorado areas.

Closing Comment: It seems like it would take a lot to talk Petersen into coming to Lincoln. He hasn’t interviewed for any vacancies since his retirement. This seems like a long shot, but anything’s possible.

May Generate Excitement

Matt Campbell

This is probably the name every sports writer and your mom is going to mention for Nebraska or any major head coaching vacancy, because Matt Campbell seems to be the up-and-coming head coach du jour.

Why It Might Work: Campbell is 42 with a record of 77-49 as a head coach, as of this writing. His stints at Toledo (where he succeeded Tim Beckman) and Iowa State have been impressive relative to their place in the college football pecking order. He got national attention in 2020 when he led Iowa State to its first division crown, including an upset of Oklahoma in the regular season (although they later lost the rematch in the Big 12 championship). The general thinking is if he can go to a conference championship with practically nothing at Iowa State, imagine what he could do at Nebraska. He has solid Midwest ties and knows how to recruit gems.

Why It Might Not: Did Campbell peak in 2020? Iowa State’s 2021 season, where they started ranked No. 7, quickly became a disappointment and they finished 7-6 with a loss in the bowl game. He is 1-5 in the Cy-Hawk trophy game, leading many to question his ability to handle the defense-heavy Big Ten.

Closing Comment: It’s odd that Campbell didn’t make a jump to a better job after last season. Unless Iowa State suffers a total collapse this year, he’s going to be the top target for most major open head coaching jobs. Could Nebraska win a bidding war?

Luke Fickell

Once considered a paltry candidate after floundering to 6-7 as Ohio State’s interim head coach in 2011, Fickell has since proven to have massive coaching chops by quietly building Cincinnati into one of the G5’s powerhouses and crashing the CFP as the first non-Power Five program to do so. He will have many suitors.

Why It Might Work: It would be something of a coup to nab one of the hottest commodities in coaching right now. Fickell famously turned down Michigan State to stay at Cincinnati, where he has pilfered their best recruit targets over the last half-decade. He has Big Ten bona fides from his days as Ohio State’s DC and would bring serious credibility to a Nebraska program looking to get competitive in the conference. It also worked out pretty well the last time the Huskers hired a Buckeye.

Why It Might Not: Was Fickell’s rejection of MSU a signal he wants to stay put long term, or is he leery of Big Ten competition and high expectations which he knows all too well? Cincinnati is going to the Big 12 soon. He’s an Ohio guy who loves Ohio. He might not have the same passion for Nebraska, and that could affect his performance.

Closing Comment: Like Matt Campbell, Fickell chose not to take any bigger job opportunities. Is he waiting for Ryan Day to leave Ohio State? There are some reports he prefers the job he has now and is settling in. A big paycheck might make him reconsider.

P.J. Fleck

After taking over the sturdy foundation built by Jerry Kill, P.J. Fleck has since elevated Minnesota to a level of competition that no one would have thought possible. The Gophers have no business being this good, and it is still mind-boggling how Fleck fell into their lap.

Why It Might Work: Aside from the serious blow it would deal to a division opponent, Fleck’s prowess as a recruiter and coach are well known by this point. He may be mercurial, but it doesn’t change the fact that the job Fleck did at Western Michigan and with the once-hapless Goofers has been excellent. He regularly punches above his weight and has out-schemed and out-coached Nebraska on multiple occasions. Bringing that energy to Lincoln could make the Huskers a very dangerous program. At 41, Fleck is still a very young head coach, and although his full potential is still somewhat unproven, all the signs are there that this is a guy who could be next-level great.

Why It Might Not: It’s a roller coaster ride with Fleck. As much as his teams have over-performed, they have also under-performed. There is a fair argument that Fleck appears to be mostly flash and light on substance. Recall that he inexplicably lost to a bad Bowling Green team in 2021, in a season when Minnesota finished 9-4. If you’re looking for consistency, this might not be the best choice. There’s high-highs and low-lows. And he’s kind of an oddball.

Closing Comment: Nebraska would certainly tell everyone where they stand in the Big Ten pecking order by poaching the dynamic head coach of a division rival, who also happens to be one of the best recruiters in the conference. The meltdown in Minneapolis would be legendary.

Mark Stoops

He’s the current head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats. While his program has yet to reach the level of Georgia or Alabama, he’s built them to be competitive in the SEC, which is saying a lot, since Kentucky is generally considered a basketball school. And yes, he’s from the Stoops family and is an Iowa alumnus.

Why It Might Work: He’s a phenomenal recruiter and has demonstrated the ability to both scout and develop talent. It took some convincing to get Kentucky’s athletic dept. to get more serious about football, but now that they have, the results are showing. Stoops has produced double-digit win seasons, has his program regularly vying for an upper spot in the SEC East, and has sent multiple players to the NFL draft’s early rounds. His recruiting ties to the Midwest (Ohio) make him a good fit for the Big Ten.

Why It Might Not: Kentucky demonstrated tremendous patience through his early years developing the program, when his record was 12-24 (4-20 in conference) after 3 seasons. He’s probably not going to win immediately, and how many more struggling seasons can Husker fans take? Kentucky had no expectations when they hired him. That would not be the case at Nebraska. Also, reportedly, he has a bit of a temper.

Closing Comment: Mark Stoops would be a solid hire. Anytime you nab a successful head coach from the SEC, it’s going to create buzz. Husker fans might be wary because Stoops appears to be a blend of Mike Riley and Bo Pelini, but somehow he’s made it work in Lexington. And don’t forget, he’s built a program from scratch. If fans could get over the personality hang-ups, this might be the answer.

Matt Rhule

Known for building Temple and Baylor into double-digit win teams despite difficult circumstances, Rhule is now trying to do it in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers. Barring a stunning breakthrough this season, he’s just about reached the end of his rope and is likely to return to the field of college coaching.

Why It Might Work: The jobs he did at Temple and Baylor were nothing short of spectacular. The former was a perennial bottom feeder which he transformed into a conference champion, and the latter was reeling from the Art Briles scandal. In both cases, he made them successful by his third season. He’s a Penn State grad with strong Midwest recruiting ties, and was considered for the job in State College. A solid resume for a Big Ten coaching candidate.

Why It Might Not: It remains to be seen how he’ll finish in Carolina, but if he were to wind up in Lincoln, there may be the sense that this is a low-bar retread hire. How much support would he get? And how motivated would he be? It’s hard to say if he’d consider Nebraska a destination.

Closing Comment: A perhaps-soon-to-be-former NFL coach who’s done very well in college seems like a good choice on paper. Rhule also seems like a fine Big Ten fit. A competent athletic dept. would be inclined to hire him. If you look deeper than his 47-42 record, you see a program builder. And he’s still young at 47.

Pat Narduzzi

The head coach of the Pittsburgh Panthers won the ACC in 2021 and has his team rolling toward a bright future. There’s some question as to whether he’d leave as he’s turned down previous job offers from better college programs.

Why It Might Work: Narduzzi seems tailor-made for the Big Ten. He’s a Youngstown State grad and famously served as Mark Dantonio’s aggressive DC at Michigan State. He recruits well and has proven himself as a head coach at a Power 5 program. Needless to say, from top to bottom, he’d be a massive upgrade over Scott Frost, and has a better resume than either Mike Riley or Bo Pelini when they were each hired.

Why It Might Not: Lincoln might be outside his comfort zone. This is another Ohio guy who likes being close to that area. He’s never worked west of Illinois, and he’d be asked to live west of Iowa in the Great Plains. It’s not for everybody. In addition, while his teams have done well overall, there are times when his ability as a play-caller has been costly.

Closing Comment: Given the state of Pittsburgh’s and Nebraska’s programs, some might consider this a lateral move. Narduzzi seems comfortable where he is and it would take a hefty offer to make him pack his bags for Lincoln.

Mickey Joseph

You know who he is. He’s a Husker and currently serving as interim coach. Scott Frost pulled him from LSU to coach wide receivers and almost everyone in the fan base loves him.

Why It Might Work: Joseph loves Nebraska, so he’s got that going for him, right? He also appears to be one of the better assistant coaches in Lincoln. We’ve seen him be an aggressive recruiter and there’s no reason to think that would not continue if he were the head coach.

Why It Might Not: Despite the love for Mickey Joseph, which is understandable, he’s light on head coaching experience—he led Langston University, an HBCU, for two seasons from 2011-2012, with a record of 13-7. So putting him in that position as the full-time Nebraska head coach, barring an Ed Orgeron-like interim season, would be a total crapshoot. It would all but confirm that Nebraska is interested primarily in giving the reins to former Huskers. Even if there are some benefits, the hire would reek of nepotism.

Closing Comment: Mickey Joseph would no doubt excite some Husker fans, and while I do get the argument for his upside, he’s now 54 without a major head coaching gig. At most this would feel like a bridge coach. Maybe he could pull it off and be great, but that’s a tall order. All eyes will be on his performance as the interim coach.

Gus Malzahn

The former Auburn head coach known for taking them to the last ever BCS championship game, Malzahn got run out of town after a few mediocre seasons by their standards and is now at UCF. He’s known as an offensive mastermind and stands among college football’s brainiest schemers.

Why It Might Work: It’s not easy to beat Nick Saban, but Malzahn is one of the few people to do it—multiple times. He orchestrated Cam Newton’s Heisman season when serving as Auburn’s OC in 2010. His head coaching record is an impressive 87-42, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy championship-hungry Auburn boosters. The fact that he was scooped up almost immediately by UCF shows that he was and will continue to be a hot commodity.

Why It Might Not: Setting aside the baggage that Malzahn allegedly would bring with a reportedly outspoken wife who creates drama, this guy seems entrenched in the deep South. It would be a jarring cultural change for him to come to Big Ten country. How would he fit?

Closing Comment: This is a classic swing-for-the-fences, boom-or-bust type. Malzahn’s record is proven but he’s far from perfect. Auburn is not an easy place to win but Malzahn might be itching to get back into the SEC like Lane Kiffin before him. He’d demand a hefty price and it seems highly unlikely that this marriage would happen.

Jon Gruden

Ah, yes. The most obligatory of all candidates to be discussed. Gruden hasn’t even sniffed, let alone showed interest, in a college head coaching job in his entire career, but that won’t stop people from pounding the table for him. The former Raiders and Bucs head coach is one of the sport’s biggest characters, and also one of the most controversial. Is he worth hiring?

Why It Might Work: It’s Jon Gruden. How could it not? Okay, okay, in all seriousness, Gruden’s name gets floated only because he’s so damn fun to watch. He is obsessed with winning and is known for relentless coaching, sometimes to unhealthy levels. You can’t find a more aggressive, out-of-his-mind competitor beyond him other than possibly Jim Harbaugh. He’s a household name and he’s crazy. A program looking for energy could really benefit from that. He knows exactly the caliber of players the NFL wants, and flashing a Super Bowl ring might be enticing to recruits, too.

Why It Might Not: It’s Jon Gruden. He’s nuts. He flamed out of the NFL—twice. He’s never even interviewed for a head coaching job in college. Could he follow NCAA rules? Hiring him would have the obvious potential of failing spectacularly. Plus he got axed from the Raiders on his second stint because of controversial emails sent a decade ago. Does Nebraska really want to take a chance on someone with that kind of baggage?

Closing Comment: You can’t deny that you’d be at least a little excited by this. Assuming everyone could get past the controversy, it would be utterly fascinating to see Gruden coach on the sidelines in the Big Ten west. But let’s be honest, Gruden was really overrated. It took the Raiders committing $100 million to lure him away from Monday Night Football. That kind of price tag in hindsight is laughable.

Bill O’Brien

The former head coach of Penn State and the Houston Texans is now enrolled in Nick Saban’s rehabilitation program as an assistant coach for the Crimson Tide. He’ll soon be looking for another chance to lead a program. You may also remember him as the former OC of the New England Patriots once upon a time.

Why It Might Work: O’Brien’s two years at Penn State were really good given the circumstances that he walked into. The program was plagued by the scandal involving Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky, most big-time recruits and players jumped ship, and O’Brien took the job with no previous head coaching experience and under the auspices of a two-year bowl ban. Instead he kept the team competitive when it could have easily imploded. He modernized Penn State’s offense and recruited at a high level despite limitations. To no one’s surprise, he’s doing well as Alabama OC and can now boast having coached a Heisman-trophy winner.

Why It Might Not: O’Brien bolted for the NFL at the earliest opportunity. How committed would he be to staying at Nebraska long term if things started to work out? And to be fair, though there is potential, his head coaching tenures with both the Nittany Lions and the Texans were not exactly spectacular. He also has a fiery disposition like a certain former coach and Husker fans find that generally off-putting.

Closing Comment: I could get on board with this, if not be super excited, and honestly, it’d be an excellent hire. O’Brien’s experience coaching quarterbacks both in college and the pros make him very appealing as a developer of talent. At the very least, like Jon Gruden, he knows the kind of player that the NFL prefers. That would give him a serious advantage in recruits’ living rooms, if he can also win games.

Dan Mullen

He’s the former head coach of the Florida Gators and, before that, the Mississippi State Bulldogs. So why isn’t he coaching in Gainesville? Like many coaches of SEC blue bloods, he got run out of town when the results started to taper off.

Why It Might Work: Mullen was the toast of college football after what he did in Starkville, Mississippi. As one of the SEC’s historical have-nots, the Bulldogs were a bottom feeder who Mullen steadily transformed into a team that came close to beating Alabama. He produced Dak Prescott for the Dallas Cowboys and his first three seasons at Florida were very good.

Why It Might Not: Everything went south in the second half of the 2021 season and Mullen got the ol’ ax from the Florida boosters. The decline in his fourth season was truly stunning. Although Mullen may have gotten fired in a profession with brutal expectations, there may have been problems underneath the surface. For many, the shine has certainly worn off.

Closing Comment: Mullen isn’t coaching anywhere right now, so he’d be available. He was reportedly Michigan’s second choice if they didn’t land Harbaugh in 2014. He’s certainly a good coach, but is he elite? Aside from 2021, he’s had an impressive coaching career and Nebraska should definitely consider him.

Joe Moorhead

You may know him as the former OC who helped Penn State to their Big Ten championship in 2016. He also has head coaching experience from FCS Fordham and Mississippi State. He’s currently in his first year coaching at Akron.

Why It Might Work: Moorhead was an outstanding offensive mind at Penn State and the job he did there was the key in elevating the Nittany Lions to the next level. He’s also been a successful OC at Oregon from 2020-2021. His record at Mississippi State, while not enough to impress its athletic director, was far from terrible and showed signs of progress, especially in the SEC West.

Why It Might Not: Moorhead might be wary of leading a big-time college football program after what happened at Mississippi State. He severely clashed with the athletic department and school officials, who were apparently looking for a reason to get rid of him. Now he doesn’t seem to have the ambition to go after a big job with big expectations. Nebraska would certainly expect more from him than what he did in Starkville. Would he be up to it?

Closing Comment: So I’m skeptical about this. First, Moorhead probably isn’t leaving Akron after one year. Second, I’m bugged by the Mississippi State thing. Yes, the SEC is cutthroat, but you’d think a guy with Moorhead’s acumen would be able to weather it. He certainly would be a good hire on paper, but you’d be right to wonder if it would work out.

Les Miles

Who? Less what? No, we need more. Oh, wait, you mean... yeah, okay. We know who he is. Fine, let’s talk about it.

Why It Might Work: He’s got a lot of energy for someone in his late sixties. He’s got a national championship ring as a head coach. He knows how to recruit. He knows how to coach up players, and most importantly, he knows how to run the damn ball, damn it. Come on. It could be fun. Just imagine the press conferences.

Why It Might Not: Well, for starters, he’s in his late sixties. He fell behind at LSU and seemed to coast on his championship laurels. He struggled (to put it mildly) to develop a quarterback. Then he went to Kansas and did the same as every coach who went to Kansas after Mark Mangino. He lost—a lot. Then he got booted for off-the-field allegations from his time at LSU. He’s probably done coaching and no one is really looking at him.

Closing Comment: Les Miles may have been interesting as a replacement to Mike Riley or Bo Pelini, but that window has long since closed. He’d be an obvious bridge coach who would have to do a lot to win over the skeptics. Admittedly there would be some excitement, but now with the controversy that’s attached to him, it’s probably just not worth it.

Could Be Interesting

Jeff Monken

Monken is the current head coach at Army, a notoriously difficult place to recruit D-1 competitive athletes. He’s dug them out of the doldrums and turned them into a solid program that has produced multiple seasons of double-digit wins. The Black Knights haven’t been this good since the 1940s.

Why It Might Work: Monken’s teams practice great fundamentals and rarely if ever beat themselves, which would be a welcome change from the Scott Frost era. Thanks to his time as an assistant at Navy and Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech, he is also one of the most well-versed coaches in the triple-option—one of the toughest schemes to prepare for. He went 11-2 at Army in 2018. That’s insanely good.

Why It Might Not: It would be a serious gamble. Monken has no Big Ten or Nebraska ties. What would he do with the offensive players recruited to a drastically different system? How quickly can they learn his style and become competitive? Some might find this hire head-scratching since these days the option is only run by service academies. There’s a reason it isn’t in vogue anymore.

Closing Comment: Okay, full disclosure: Jeff Monken is my favorite of this whole bunch. Being a true triple-option team in the Big Ten would be fascinating. It would appease all Husker fans who want to go back to that style from the Osborne days, and there’s no better choice for that than Monken. But more important than nostalgia is how disciplined his teams are. I’d be over the moon if Nebraska hired him.

Dave Doeren

NC State’s current head coach was formerly Wisconsin’s DC and crashed the BCS party in his second year as a head coach at Northern Illinois in 2012, when they went 12-2. He has a respectable head coaching record overall at 87-53.

Why It Might Work: Doeren runs the ball Big Ten style at NC State, and they’re very good at it. If you wanted to replicate Wisconsin at Nebraska, you couldn’t do much better than this guy. He knows the Midwest and the Big Ten well. He has steadily turned NC State, one of the ACC’s most lowly also-rans, into an ascending program. While his teams aren’t on Clemson’s level in terms of talent, they are always competitive. Doeren might be the most underrated coach in the Power 5.

Why It Might Not: NC State still hasn’t had the type of special season you would expect from someone who could be a great head coach. Doeren’s time in Raleigh has been good but not great, and he hasn’t lived up to the hype that came when he arrived after shocking everyone by going 12-2 at NIU. He may have reached his ceiling. Oh, and his current OC is Tim Beck. Make of that what you will.

Closing Comment: This seems like the safest pick. He’s got a history in the Big Ten, which he matches in terms of style. He’s done a decent head coaching job at two different programs with limited resources, and he’s turning 51 in December.

Bronco Mendenhall

He was BYU's head coach from 2005 to 2015, going 99-43, and so it was a surprise when he left that job for a flailing Virginia program, which he promptly turned around and had them going to bowl games. After six years with the Cavaliers he unexpectedly resigned (or retired) in a similarly head-scratching departure.

Why It Might Work: Mendenhall quietly did an amazing job at BYU when they transitioned to an FBS Independent, but how he managed to find success in the salvage project he undertook at Virginia—which had only 3 winning seasons in 10 years before he arrived—is even more impressive. His teams at both places have generally shown well against Big Ten opponents. He is .500 in bowl games and has an overall record of 135-81, marking a solid resume for any head coach. He could be one of college football's most unsung program builders.

Why It Might Not: Fit and longevity. Some argue that he left BYU for Virginia to prove he could coach and win outside the Mormon comfort of Provo, but even at the time it felt odd. The break from Virginia was equally confusing, and Mendenhall gave the now-typical "spend time with family" line as the reason. And yet he says he's not done coaching. What gives? Assuming he agreed to come to Lincoln, how would he get on? And would he stick around, even if things go well?

Closing Comment: Mendenhall is a really good candidate on paper. There would be cultural nuances that would take some adjusting to from both sides, but that would quickly fall by the wayside if he started winning. Both BYU and Virginia had overall low expectations relative to Nebraska's, but at the same time he'd be taking over the program when those expectations are at their lowest in nearly half a century.

Troy Calhoun

An Air Force grad who is coaching Air Force, Calhoun is in his 16th season there and has a record of 111-75 after 15 of them. He’s quietly leading one of the most competitive programs in the country, causing a ton of trouble for their opponents in the Mountain West. Plus he’s another triple-option coach.

Why It Might Work: Like Jeff Monken, Calhoun is 55 and is an established head coach well-versed in the triple-option—which, again, is the most difficult scheme to prepare for. He’s considerably more experienced than Monken and has a longer record. Despite some down years, he’s done exceptionally well at Air Force and they have no desire to see him leave. The state of Colorado isn’t that far from Nebraska. Regionally, it’d be a good fit.

Why It Might Not: Air Force is his alma mater and that’s a big hurdle when he’s doing well there. Because Air Force is not exactly a headline-grabber in college football, some may find hiring Calhoun to be underwhelming and head-scratching. Is this a championship-caliber coach? After 15 seasons, Calhoun has yet to win the Mountain West.

Closing Comment: It’s a think-outside-the-box hire like Monken if it happens. Air Force has been up and down but they’re generally solid. If I’m being honest I can’t see Calhoun leaving his alma mater, but if Nebraska wants to do something different and go for a triple-option head coach, he’s the next best choice after Jeff Monken.

Craig Bohl

A former Husker (who you’ve probably heard of), Bohl was the head coach at FCS powerhouse North Dakota State from 2003 to 2013. Some argue that he was the one who built that program into what it is today—winning 3 FCS national championships while he was there, and posting a record of 104-32. He’s now at Wyoming, where his record is more mediocre.

Why It Might Work: There’s no doubt in Bohl’s ability to coach and win. His heyday at North Dakota State is tough to overlook, and his ties to Nebraska are very appealing. Plus, he discovered Josh Allen. If you’re looking for a Husker with head coaching experience who is likely to take the job and do at least moderately well, this is it.

Why It Might Not: At 64, Bohl is definitely on the tail end of his coaching career, and it might be asking a lot for the guy to completely rebuild his alma mater into something respectable. FCS champion coaches haven’t always done great with the jump to FBS, and Bohl’s time at Wyoming isn’t anything to write home about (other than a certain quarterback). There are many who would see this hire as a bit of a desperate move.

Closing Comment: He looks like a great choice for a bridge coach, which, considering where Nerbaska is right now, might be a strong strategy for the future. Bring him in, allow him to restore some semblance of competitiveness, and then when he retires (in 5 to 7 years), go after the elite guy. As a former Husker, he should receive the slack Mike Riley wasn’t given. But that kind of long term thinking and recalibration of expectations seems very unlikely in today’s trigger-happy arms race of college football.

Dave Aranda

He was the DC at Wisconsin and LSU and is now coaching the Baylor Bears. Aranda’s second season as a head coach was a surprise breakout, where the Bears won 12 games and upset Oklahoma State in the conference championship. He’s now being talked about for bigger jobs, but was he a one-hit wonder?

Why It Might Work: Aranda’s Bears came out of nowhere to win the Big 12 in 2021 and beat Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl. So it seems like he’s got the head coaching chops, and his coordinator experience at LSU and Wisconsin make him very familiar with how big programs operate. The Wisconsin stint in particular gives him Big Ten cred.

Why It Might Not: A longtime coordinator who turned heads with a special season in year two as a head coach, including a Sugar Bowl win over an SEC opponent? He might be the defensive version of Scott Frost. And unlike Frost, he has no Nebraska ties to save him if he starts losing early.

Closing Comment: Yes, his second year as a head coach was unexpectedly good, so the comparisons to Frost are there. But they also end there. Aranda probably won’t be coming into the Big Ten with the same level of naive arrogance, shooting off his mouth about how the conference should adjust to him. He already knows the Big Ten and will likely be more prepared on what to expect given his time at Wisconsin. A longer track record of head coaching success would make him a slam dunk. With little more than a single impressive season, there are reasons for skepticism. Also, could Nebraska convince him to leave Baylor? He might not want to take the risk himself.

Lance Leipold

The current head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks, Leipold had a stellar record at Wisconsin-Whitewater and built the Buffalo Bulls into a contender in the MAC.

Why It Might Work: Leipold is certainly a good coach. One need look no further than his performance at WI-Whitewater, where he went an astounding 109-6 in FCS Division III, including six national championships. He proved capable beyond that when he made the University of Buffalo more than just a scrappy program. And even though he’s now saddled with one of college football’s toughest projects at Kansas, many believe he has the Jayhawks headed in the right direction.

Why It Might Not: Nebraska would be a bigger job than anywhere he’s been. FCS coaches, even the ones with championships, are always a gamble. Kansas was willing to take a chance, and it very much felt like throwing anything at a wall to see what sticks. If Trev Alberts were to poach him from Lawrence, Leipold would suddenly be under a lot more pressure. And it begs the question, why has no one given him a serious look before now?

Closing Comment: I’ve heard his name mentioned a bunch, but I just don’t see him leaving Kansas two years in, barring a stunning breakthrough. And if that were to happen, Nebraska wouldn’t be the only program interested.

Tom Herman

Yeah, remember him? The guy everyone wanted once upon a time? He was Ohio State’s stellar OC on their national championship team in 2014. Then he became Houston’s head coach and kicked butt in year one. Texas snatched him up two years later, hoping for a return to greatness. It didn’t happen. After going 32-18, way below the Longhorns’ standards, he got the boot. Herman quietly served as an analyst for the Chicago Bears last year and is now looking for a job.

Why It Might Work: He’s still young at 47, and it’s not like his career has been a complete failure. Quite the opposite, actually. A 54-22 record is solidly in the plus category, and he went 5-0 in bowl games as a head coach. His time at Ohio State gives him an edge in recruiting knowledge, and at Texas he had no problem pulling in top classes. Obviously he wasn’t ready for the big job in Austin, but maybe Nebraska might be a better fit.

Why It Might Not: There’s no question that the shine has worn off of Tom Herman. He wasn’t exactly a total fraud, but he was given every opportunity to succeed at Texas, a place with numerous built-in advantages and benefits, and really underachieved. Is he more cut out to be a coordinator? His final year at Texas saw a massive recruiting drop, including reports that his own players were actively sabotaging visits. That’s an untenable situation for any head coach. A similar implosion if he were to come to Lincoln can’t be ruled out.

Closing Comment: As far as fall-back options go, this isn’t bad. He would have to go a long way to earn the trust of the players, fans, and boosters. But as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. A couple years removed from college football may be enough to make everyone forget about the struggles in Austin. Herman could be primed for a redemption.

Jamey Chadwell

Coastal Carolina's head coach captured the nation's attention when he came out of nowhere to go 11-1 and win the Sun Belt in 2020, given then-undefeated BYU its only loss. Chadwell followed it up by posting another 11-win season in 2021. His record going into 2022 was 90-54, having coached at a couple spots at the FCS level.

Why It Might Work: He's got an impressive record, and to have the country talking about Coastal Carolina when most people have never even heard of them is quite an accomplishment. Chadwell racked up numerous Coach of the Year Honors for the job he's done recently. He's 45 and very much seems primed for a jump.

Why It Might Not: His stops at East Tennessee State, Delta State (Mississippi), and the Charleston-Greenville schools put him firmly in a region of the country far from Nebraska, so he lacks regional ties. This seems like a Southern-oriented guy. How would he jive culturally? Would he succeed in a Midwest spot? And if he does, would he stick around?

Closing Comment: Despite some Husker fans pounding the table for Chadwell, I think he more than likely ends up in the SEC or ACC. North Carolina or South Carolina (or even Clemson?) could be open soon, and in my opinion Chadwell would probably prefer to wait for one of those to come calling than any Big Ten offer.

Jeff Traylor

Another guy who had a surprising breakout 12-win season in year two as a head coach, Traylor and UTSA had a magical year in 2021. It’s interesting that he got that job, given his previous spot was as Arkansas’s RB coach, when they went 4-20 in the Chad Morris era.

Why It Might Work: Absolutely no one expected UTSA to go 12-2, but the fact that the Roadrunners did has to count for something. Traylor’s offense was among the best in the country in 2021 and they steamrolled through most of their schedule, stumbling in the regular season only to North Texas. It could be possible for him to employ a similar turnaround at Nebraska.

Why It Might Not: No Nebraska or Big Ten ties. Seems entrenched in Texas. He might be all flash. The guy who led his offense, Barry Lunney, left to be the OC at Illinois. It would be a huge step up in expectations if Traylor came to Lincoln.

Closing Comment: The appeal of hiring a coach with the achievement of his second season aside, this doesn’t seem like a great fit on the surface. It would all be judged on his staff.

Kevin Wilson

The former head coach at Indiana, he’s now Ohio State’s offensive coordinator, and doing an excellent job there. Previously he was a coordinator at Oklahoma, where he also did well.

Why It Might Work: He has head coaching experience from his time at Indiana and is at least familiar with the challenges of running a Big Ten program. When he was there, he managed to recruit some NFL talent—not easy to do, given the football program’s history and Indiana’s reputation as a basketball school. He has also seen what it takes to win, thanks to being inside Ohio State’s program. He could bring that recipe to Nebraska, which would afford him the necessary resources.

Why It Might Not: Wilson’s stint at Indiana was a failure, perhaps unsurprisingly because it’s Indiana, but also in large part because of the ineptness of his defenses. That changed when he brought in Tom Allen, who took over after Wilson was ousted—partly from clashing with the community, among other things. There is some question whether he has the temperament to lead a program.

Closing Comment: He seems due for a second stint as a head coach, and he’s as good as any top coordinator candidate. Mike Locksley, Lane Kiffin, and Luke Fickell all got another chance after doing some "rehab" at a successful program. Wilson’s biggest knock might be his personality. If he were to hire a competent DC and win, the rest may be worth overlooking.

Brady Hoke

Another former Big Ten head coach, Hoke ran Michigan with mixed results. He had an outstanding first season, going 11-2 with a BCS bowl victory. A steady decline in play resulted in losses piling up and he got the boot. Before being Michigan’s head coach, he was the head coach at Ball State and San Diego State, where he turned around both programs. He’s now back at San Diego State for a second stint.

Why It Might Work: Hoke knows the Big Ten and the Midwest very well. His recruiting classes at Michigan were all very good, and he completely transformed the Wolverines’ defense, which had become a joke under Rich Rodriguez. His two turnarounds at Ball State and San Diego State (in his first stint) were impressive, considering what they were before he arrived. His return to San Diego State has seen the program maintain its play at a high level in the Mountain West. The resume is admittedly solid.

Why It Might Not: Hoke’s failure at Michigan was widely publicized, and though he generally seemed to run a tight ship, there’s been a fair amount of off-the-field controversy, which he is also dealing with now at San Diego State. He’s very much an old-school style coach and appears more stubborn than most. At 63 with not much upside he is unlikely to be in high demand. He also refuses to wear red.

Closing Comment: It would be interesting to see Hoke roam the sidelines in Lincoln, and he would almost certainly do a better job than Scott Frost, but there isn’t much he can provide in the long term. A program at the level of Nebraska seems above his competency, and at his age he’d be seen as nothing more than a bridge coach. Plus does he really want to leave the comfort of San Diego for a Big Ten job, again?

Matt Entz

The current steward of North Dakota State’s juggernaut program in the FCS, Entz has an unsurprisingly great record of 37-4 going into the 2022 season.

Why It Might Work: A lot of people attribute Tom Osborne’s success to his degrees in educational psychology. Well, it may surprise you to learn that Matt Entz has a Master’s Degree in Education from Wayne State College in Nebraska. Could that be the recipe? He has decent ties to the state and the Midwest which make him familiar with the local recruiting grounds. Don’t sleep on his football knowledge, either. He has shepherded locker rooms accustomed to winning championships each season. At the very least, he understands a winning culture.

Why It Might Not: But didn’t Scott Frost supposedly understand a winning culture too? Frost studied under coaching legends, knew the Nebraska program inside and out, had two years of head coaching experience, and still failed. Entz could be riding on the coattails of North Dakota State, which finds it rare to not win the FCS national title. Other FBS programs have gone after FCS champion coaches and the hit rate is usually low.

Closing Comment: It’s a risk. When you hire an FCS coach, even one of the league’s best, you’re rolling the dice. Everyone hopes to nab someone who creates the success of Jim Tressel. It typically doesn’t go that way, but Entz’s ties to the state of Nebraska, if nothing else, make him mildly interesting.

Chuck Martin

He’s Miami of Ohio’s head coach, where he’s been since 2014. Before that he was Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator, and before that he was the head coach at Grand Valley State and won multiple Division II national championships, posting a record of 74-7.

Why It Might Work: Surprisingly Martin is only 54 and has stayed at the same spot for going on eight years. He seems like a guy who prefers to build a program rather than jump to a better job at the earliest chance. The Redhawks were a complete tire fire when he took over, and he’s made them relatively competitive in the MAC, which always seems like auditioning grounds for Big Ten jobs.

Why It Might Not: On the flip side, maybe he’s stayed at the same place for eight years because his phone isn’t exactly ringing off the hook. How would the fan base react? This seems like a name fairly low on the totem pole and would likely signal desperation.

Closing Comment: The most impressive part of his resume is his time at GVSU, but how much of that can translate to Nebraska? Overall the body work from Martin appears only slightly above average. He seems like a solid head coach, but it’s hard to project him being either wildly successful or a disappointing failure. Could it be interesting? Sure, but I feel like it would take a lot of rejection for Trev Alberts to dial his number.

Jason Candle

Toledo’s head coach, he took over when Matt Campbell left for Iowa State. Candle’s Rockets have seen no drop off and remain one of the MAC’s better teams every year.

Why It Might Work: He’s 42 and is clearly seen as one of college football up-and-comers, as Campbell was before him. He’s been doing well at Toledo for seven years. If Nebraska missed on Matt Campbell but wanted a similar type of coach, Candle is as close as you can get without the turnaround job at Iowa State. It might be worth going after him before another program can.

Why It Might Not: There’s not a lot to knock, but there’s not a lot to get excited about, either. After seven years, Candle hasn’t taken over the MAC or done the things you would typically like to see from a young head coach ready for a big opportunity. Almost all of his coaching career has been in the state of Ohio. Nebraska would be a decidedly new horizon.

Closing Comment: Jason Candle’s not a big name and maybe feels content flying under the radar in college football. Taking on the Nebraska job would place him squarely in the limelight. He appears more ready for a jump to a mid-major. If Nebraska were to target him, the thinking would be that they want to get a guy before he breaks out.

Chris Creighton

The head coach of Eastern Michigan has a long tenure of getting the most out of teams and programs with very little. From Ottawa (KS) to Wabash (IN) to Drake (IA) and now EMU, Creighton has literally been around the Midwest.

Why It Might Work: At every stop, Creighton has left the place better than he’s found it. His turnaround of Eastern Michigan in particular was stunning, but that might be more attributable to the consistent failures of their previous hires. If you’re going for the veteran guy that no one else is looking at, this is a low-key option that has the potential of working out big time. Creighton is 53. This could be the best time in his career to go after him.

Why It Might Not: It looks a lot like Mike Riley, doesn’t it? An understated, under-the-radar coach who seems to do more with less? He’s not wowing you unless you live in Ypsilanti. A steady program builder with no flash means that he’d be a complete unknown when it comes to recruiting. Would he be able to get the talent needed to win at a high level? How would he handle expectations in a much tougher environment?

Closing Comment: All the places he’s led seem to have unbreakable, hard ceilings and are traditionally basement dwellers. Creighton has taken his programs as far as they realistically could go, so he could be worth a look. He might be just the thing for a program weary of misses and failed press conferences. But isn’t that what Nebraska tried with Mike Riley? Creighton’s a lot younger but it might be tough to shake off the similarities.

Will Muschamp

Georgia’s current defensive coordinator has been a head coach at two different SEC teams, Florida and South Carolina. At both places he was ultimately a disappointment. Maybe he’s learned a lot and would want to take a crack at it again, in the Big Ten?

Why It Might Work: Muschamp, now 51, was once one of the most sought-after coaching candidates, briefly considered the head-coach-in-waiting to Mack Brown at Texas before he took the Florida job to replace Urban Meyer. He’s defensive minded and knows college football’s most fertile recruiting grounds. While he wasn’t spectacular in the SEC, he might find an easier time in the Big Ten. And, surprisingly, even after two head coaching jobs, it still feels to some like his potential remains untapped.

Why It Might Not: It felt incestuous when Muschamp fell into the job at South Carolina, but such things are common in the SEC. He had an up-and-down career that’s been mostly down, at least at the head coaching level. And he’s bred for the South. His connections in SEC land make him very unlikely to stay at a program like Nebraska, even if he somehow found success. He might be better served as a coordinator.

Closing Comment: This would be a bizarre marriage if it happened. It would be like bringing in a far less successful Dabo Swinney. Coaches have gone to different regions and have done well—Nick Saban was a consummate Midwest guy before LSU—but I have a hard time seeing Muschamp and Nebraska finding their way to each other. It would be fascinating, though.

Charlie Strong

He was very successful as Louisville’s head coach, having discovered Teddy Bridgewater. But his two jobs at Texas and South Florida were massive failures. Now he’s Miami of Florida’s DC.

Why It Might Work: Strong was a top candidate at Texas for a reason. He was a tough, hard-nosed coach who got his teams at Louisville to punch well above their weight and made them think they could be champions. He was a bad fit in Austin, but his messaging was sound and seems like the perfect thing Big Ten programs would want.

Why It Might Not: The USF flop is a huge concern. Strong was quickly given a chance to redeem himself after Texas, and it could not have gone worse. At this point his work at Louisville may be seen as the outlier. Strong would have to go a long way to prove that he’s viable as head-coaching material for a big program.

Closing Comment: I was big on Charlie Strong and thought he’d kick butt at Texas. He didn’t, but a lot of that was because he didn’t have internal support. He got all that and then some at USF, and good lord, what a disaster. He did the obligatory rehab-at-Alabama thing. Maybe he could be worth considering, but rest assured there would be a lot of skeptics.

Rich Rodriguez

Mostly known in Big Ten country for his three years at Michigan, Rich Rodriguez has actually been a head coach for a really long time and has a, shall we say, eclectic list of stops. He was doing well at Arizona until off-the-field allegations made them show him the door. He’s now the head coach at Jacksonville State in Alabama.

Why It Might Work: Rodriguez created the quintessential Cinderella program at West Virginia, where he would probably still be coaching today had he not taken Michigan’s offer and left so controversially. Many believe he was one of the original architects of the spread offense. He took a lowly Arizona program to the Pac-12 championship before losing to Oregon, proving he’s capable of making a run in the right circumstance. He also would not be completely new to the Big Ten and might be more prepared in his second go-round.

Why It Might Not: There are so many reasons. Let’s start with why he flopped at Michigan—his defense and special teams. His time in Ann Arbor was one catastrophe after another, and the mistakes he made set the program back significantly. His time at Arizona wasn’t perfect either. Rodriguez is notoriously stubborn and has been in the business long enough that there’s a fair amount of baggage coming with him, which is why a small program like JSU was the only option he had as a head coach.

Closing Comment: Bringing Rich Rod back to the Big Ten would certainly create serious buzz. The headlines would be juicy. All eyes across the country would be tuning in to watch how he does with the Huskers—and it could work. There are some in Ann Arbor who still feel he didn’t get a fair shake, but his career following has borne out that Michigan probably made the correct decision. I hear his wife makes a mean plate of nachos.

Chris Klieman

Oh, look, another former North Dakota State head coach. Klieman went 69-6 with the Bison and was hired by Kansas State in Dec 2018. He’s now in his fourth year, and the Wildcats are firmly looking like a bowl team, which they’ve been in at least two of Klieman’s seasons thus far.

Why It Might Work: I think people are more excited by the work he’s done at Kansas State, which is to essentially make the program feel like moving on from Bill Snyder is possible. Going 8-5 at KSU is apparently the equivalent of going 11-1 to some, and the record from NDSU predictably makes people salivate. If nothing else, Klieman’s teams have been solid and that would be a huge upgrade to the shoddy job Scott Frost has done.

Why It Might Not: Obligatory NDSU caveats. KSU hasn’t had a breakthrough season yet. Klieman appears to lack key knowledge of the Big Ten, and the Big 12 isn’t great to prepare you for that.

Closing Comment: I didn’t even want to include him on this list because he seems set at Kansas State, but the frequency of his name being mentioned forced the issue. Some people are pounding the table for this guy, but to me, this is a fairly un-sexy pick. On the other hand, there’s a case to be made that maybe Nebraska should go that way.

Willie Taggart

Florida Atlantic’s head coach has seen an up-and-down career where he was once considered one of the hottest commodities in college football. He built USF into a serious challenger despite its perennial underdog status. Then he spent a season at Oregon before bolting for the "Dream Job" at Florida State, where he barely lasted two years.

Why It Might Work: Taggart did well at a place with low expectations. He brought Western Kentucky out of the basement and did the same at USF. Even his one year at Oregon looked promising. He’s still fairly young at 46. He may have bitten off more than he could chew with the FSU job, but he was also succeeding Jimbo Fisher, one of the program’s most successful coaches. Not every place is going to be set up like that. He might be better suited for a rebuild situation where he has time to work out the kinks.

Why It Might Not: Taggart was presumably given every help and benefit at Florida State and his failure there was not just the result of impatient boosters. There were a number of missteps, including a radical change in offensive philosophy and a lack of attention to the offensive line, which fell apart in a hurry. His departure from Oregon also doesn’t sit well and he seems to prefer the Florida region of the country.

Closing Comment: This would be intriguing but Taggart’s status and resume isn’t as hot as it was seven years ago. I do like the potential if he were to bring his Florida recruiting cache and mix in his Stanford-Harbaugh style from his early coaching career. But at this point he seems set on staying in Florida. It would raise eyebrows if he came to the Big Ten.

Matt Canada

He served as Maryland’s interim coach after they fired DJ Durkin. You may also remember him as Wisconsin’s OC in 2012, when they put up 70 points on the Huskers in the Big Ten Championship game. He’s had other stops including LSU and is now the OC for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Why It Might Work: Canada did a remarkable job as Maryland’s interim HC. He went an unexpected 5-7, including 3 conference wins, and nearly beat Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes in overtime. That’s impressive for a guy with no guarantee of longevity beyond a single season. He was one of the Big Ten’s most underrated offensive coordinators, running a unique pro-style system that confused defenses with several motions. He certainly proved capable as head-coaching material, in the right situation.

Why It Might Not: Canada clashed a bit with Ed Orgeron at LSU, leading some to believe that he was holding the offense back. His unique motion-heavy style is sometimes difficult for quarterbacks to grasp, and there were times, as with all OCs, where the play-calling was suspect. He hasn’t pursued head coaching gigs very much and might be more comfortable as an assistant.

Closing Comment: There’s a lot to like with Matt Canada when you look under the surface. It’s odd that he’s never been a head coach beyond the interim run with Maryland, which makes me think he’s not really interested in it. If Nebraska is facing rejection from experienced candidates—which itself would be alarming—this is a solid emergency option, assuming he takes the call.

Jay Johnson

This guy has been around. He’s coached as an assistant at Louisville, Minnesota, Georgia, Colorado, and is now Michigan State’s OC, where he’s done well. He’s never been a head coach but Johnson’s acumen as an assistant makes him someone likely to get an offer soon.

Why It Might Work: Johnson has quietly built up an impressive resume as a coordinator. He was a part of the Minnesota breakthrough in 2016 that set the runway for P.J. Fleck, and he’s one of the reasons Mel Tucker has found success at Colorado and MSU. His Big Ten familiarity is also a plus. Candidates who do this well for this long—and who don’t have a record to count as a negative—usually get a chance to make it as a head coach. It might be time to take a swing.

Why It Might Not: The Huskers have had mixed results with first time head coaches who needed to learn the job on the fly. Does Nebrsaka really want to try that again? Johnson’s lack of experience in that area means every aspect of how he’d run the program would be unknown until we see it. Trev Alberts would probably prefer someone who knows what he’s doing.

Closing Comment: Given all the candidates out there with head coaching experience, even the flawed retreads, it would almost seem disappointing to pick an unproven coordinator instead. Yes, fresh faces do seem to be chosen often over known entities, but given the state of Nebraska’s program, they would probably be better suited to pursue at least a former head coach.

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