Coaching carousel heats up: Oregon waits for WMU's Fleck as more candidates emerge
- While you shouldn't count on Jim McElwain going to Oregon, there are more likely candidates who will get a serious look by the school to replace recently fired head coach Mark Helfrich.
The annual flurry of leaks, rumors, reports, misreports and subterfuge have led to this time of year being known as Silly Season. One minute, Brian Kelly is supposedly on a private plane to Eugene, Ore. The next minute, aggregating websites are scrambling to pull down their "stories" about "reports" of a flight that never existed.
The 2016 version of the coaching carousel has been slower than most recent years, yet perhaps somehow sillier. There's been 13 openings so far this year, with the brief and surprising opening of Indiana on Thursday afternoon the latest. (It quickly filled when the Hoosiers announced Tom Allen as the replacement for Kevin Wilson.) That's less than half of last year, when 29 jobs changed hands. It would be naïve to think that there won't be more significant movement, as there's still Power 5 jobs to fill at Purdue, Baylor and Oregon. Plus, jobs like Illinois and Baylor surprised everyone by opening when they did last year. It's always safe to assume they'll be some surprises before training camp opens in 2017. Here's an attempt to cut through the frivolity and analyze the key remaining open jobs.
1.) Who does Oregon target?
Oregon has significant interest in Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. It's unknown whether Schiano would want to move his family to a third location in three years to take the Ducks job. Schiano's twin boys are juniors in high school in the Columbus area.
Oregon has long been interested in Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck, but no formal communication between the two sides will take place until after the MAC Championship game.
The hot West coast name remains Boise State's Bryan Harsin, but the early feel from this search is that they're not going to be limited to just out West. One name gaining some traction is Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen. The Bulldogs went 5–7 this season on the field, but Dak Prescott's 11–1 rookie season has cemented Mullen's reputation as perhaps the top quarterback guru in the college game.
There's a solid list of second-tier names here. USF's Willie Taggart is getting a big push from Tony Dungy, who had a son play three years at Oregon. Other names Oregon has under consideration are Tulsa's Philip Montgomery and Navy's Ken Niumatalolo, both of whom check the offensive innovation box that the Ducks are looking for.
The name of Florida coach Jim McElwain keeps coming up, but don't believe it. Ultimately, there may be some passing interest because of McElwain's West Coast ties. But Oregon isn't going to wrestle away Florida's coach, especially with the SEC East historically lacking competitiveness. (Plus, can you see a pro-style coach coming to a division where two of the five best pro-style teams in the country reside?)
2.) Purdue tries to revive its search
A search that began with fireworks and big talk has sputtered a bit.
It appears that Purdue is waiting for the conference title games to unfold this weekend. There are three Purdue targets playing Friday and Saturday—Fleck, Louisiana Tech's Skip Holtz and Western Kentucky's Jeff Brohm. All three will likely have busy phones this weekend.
Fleck still has not spoken to Purdue and has no interview scheduled. Brohm has certainly drawn interest from Purdue, but he's also maintained a stance like Fleck that he won't interview with any school until he finishes this season with his team. Both Fleck and Brohm could end up with higher profile options, which makes all this so intriguing. (Cincinnati is expected to open after Tommy Tuberville's buyout goes down on Dec. 7, and Brohm would certainly be a main target there because of his ties to the region).
That's one reason why Holtz has been a name that more and more people are pointing to as a stealth but viable candidate here. The other name to watch is Air Force's Troy Calhoun. Former Boilermaker assistants Brock Spack and Greg Olson also remain in the mix as Purdue seeks more sizzle. (Eliminate Les Miles's name from Purdue, according to a source).
3.) Keep an eye on Baylor
Expect an active weekend in the Bears' search, as they are clearly waiting out this weekend's games as well. A potential big fish would be Colorado's Mike MacIntyre, but he's unlikely to leave Boulder for Baylor. SMU's Chad Morris is off the board, as he agreed to sign a long-term extension at SMU. There's always been a feeling around Larry Fedora that it would be hard to leave the comforts of Chapel Hill for the uncertainty of Waco. Fedora has Texas roots, but waiting to see if Texas A&M pops next year would seem more pragmatic. Cal coach Sonny Dykes feels like the back-up plan here, the safe play as there's long been a feeling that Berkeley is a bad fit. Arkansas State's Blake Anderson plays this weekend and is considered an outside target. Jeff Brohm would be a weird fit geographically, but his offense has been so consistent at Western Kentucky that he could merit a late look here.
4.) Who's next for Houston after Tom Herman's departure?
For a job outside the Power Five, Houston has some boldfaced names. Both the in-house candidates are going to get considerable consideration here. Interim coach Todd Orlando and offensive coordinator Major Applewhite have played key roles in the Cougars going 22–4 and recruiting at a Power 5 level the past two years. Les Miles is an intriguing name that will get at least a look from the Houston brass because of his recruiting ties to that region and his history of winning in the SEC and Big 12.
Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has emerged as a strong candidate. He'd represent a seamless offensive transition if Houston went outside the current staff, as Kiffin has cribbed a lot of things from Tom Herman to use at Alabama. There's a strong case for Oklahoma's Lincoln Riley, who is a strong recruiter in Texas and would bring a style that suits Houston's talent.