Gary Andersen seemed like he had Oregon State going in the right direction late last season, when the Beavers defeated Arizona and their foundering archrival Oregon to finish 4–8. However, the 2017 season has been a complete dud. The Beavers opened up the year by getting blown out by a non–Power 5 opponent in Colorado State, 58–27. Then they barely defeated FCS Portland State and followed it up with four straight losses, with no margin of defeat closer than 28 points. At 1–5, they rank 122nd nationally in defense and 117th in offense. On Monday, Andersen and Oregon State agreed to mutually part ways, leaving the school to sort out some very interesting options.
The most intriguing one would be Nebraska coach Mike Riley returning to Corvallis to coach the Beavers for a third stint. Riley is in serious jeopardy of being forced out of Lincoln after Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst was fired in September, but would he want his old job back, and would the Beavers want to bring the 64-year-old back to take over again? I’m not so sure of the latter.
The feeling here is that the two front-runners for the job are both offensive guys. Let’s start with former Beavers record-setting QB Jonathan Smith, who is doing a nice job as Washington’s offensive coordinator under Chris Petersen. The 38-year-old Smith, a Southern California native, is well-regarded inside the coaching world and especially so by his players. Under Smith, the Huskies led the Pac-12 and ranked eight in the nation in scoring last season.
The other coach I think will get a very long look is Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo. Few coaches elicit as much respect among their peers as Niumatalolo who has spent a decade piling up wins at Navy. The 52-year-old Hawaiian was in the mix for the Cal job last year, and he has strong connections on the West Coast and in the Pacific Islands, which would be pivotal in Corvallis. He is 17–2 in the AAC, a conference that is loaded with up-and-coming coaches, and he has proven repeatedly that he knows how to find ways to win without landing higher-profile recruits. His buyout is also very manageable, at under $2 million.
Another academy head coach that Oregon State is likely to consider is Air Force’s Troy Calhoun. An Oregon native, Calhoun has an expansive offensive background from his time as an NFL offensive coordinator. His team is off to a slow start this year but has won 28 games over the previous three seasons. The 51-year-old is also likely to be in the mix for some other Power 5 vacancies this winter.
Don’t be surprised if the Beavers also consider one of several hot assistant coaches on the West Coast:
• The guy whose stock is rising as fast as anyone’s in the Pac-12 is Washington State defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. A product of D-III powerhouse Mount Union in Ohio, Grinch has worked wonders in Pullman with a very undersized defense that is now keying a top-10 team. Talk to rival Pac-12 coaches, and they’ll tell you Grinch is the most unpredictable defensive playcaller in the conference. The Cougars are No. 11 in the nation in total defense through six weeks; they were No. 99 the year before he arrived. They are also fourth in sacks and six in tackles for loss. Grinch has accomplished all that without a single defensive starter that was ranked as more than a three-star prospect. If he doesn’t end up as a head coach this winter, word is he will be pursued vigorously by other Power 5 programs to take over their defenses.
• UCLA offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch’s stock also is trending upward. The 41-year-old who has learned under Pete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh and Steve Spurrier has put a jolt into the Bruins’ offense since taking over this season, helping quarterback Josh Rosen pilot the country’s No. 1 passing offense. The Bruins also rank sixth nationally in total offense (they were 91st last season) and have improved to 24th in third-down offense after ranking 103rd in 2016.
• Washington co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake is a very polished guy who seems to impress everyone. The former NFL assistant has done outstanding work boosting the Huskies’ secondary and is destined to land a head coaching job sooner than later.
• Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin, the former Eastern Washington coach, is in his first season coaching in the Pac-12, but he went 85–32 as a head coach in Cheney.
• Oregon passing game coordinator Marcus Arroyo, a 37-year-old from Sacramento, is regarded as a top recruiter who has done a very nice job at several coaching stops.
Notes From Week 6
• One of the main reasons for TCU’s resurgence this season has been the improved play of former Texas A&M QB Kenny Hill. To say Hill has come a long way from the Kenny Trill days would be a big understatement. Hill is completing 69% of his passes and has a strong 10–3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Last year, it was 17–13.
TCU offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie said that Hill is much more comfortable now and his confidence has really grown. Cumbie likes how quickly Hill gets the ball out of his hands and that he’s improved throwing the deep ball.
When I talked to Hill this summer, he was pretty up front looking back and admitting how immature he was in his Texas A&M days, where he was like Johnny Manziel’s little brother. Hill cringes at what an “idiot” he was in those days.
TCU coach Gary Patterson held off on Hill coming to Fort Worth straight from A&M—Patterson told me he wanted him to be out of the spotlight for a bit—so Hill went to Tarrant Community College for a semester. Then last season, Patterson wasn’t shy about getting on Hill when he struggled as a first-year starter. “I probably broke his swagger,” Patterson said. “I was too hard on him early.” But Hill has responded, Patterson made him a captain this year, and now he’s the quarterback of an undefeated, top-10 team.
• Is Miami back? No, not yet. As I’ve tried to remind Canes fans for years, you’re not back until you win the national title. That’s what Miami used to be about. Anyway, what has really impressed me in this run has been the play of coordinator Manny Diaz’s defense. Since Diaz and D-line coach Craig Kuligowski have arrived, the Hurricanes have posted 52 sacks in 17 games. That’s only one less sack than they had in the previous two seasons combined.
• Stat of the Week: Rutgers is 13th in the Big Ten in offense through six weeks. The really bitter part of that: two former Rutgers commits who eventually opted to go play elsewhere, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, rank No. 1 and No. 2 in all-purpose yards in the Big Ten, and a third Scarlet Knights de-commit, Baylor freshman John Lovett, ranks No. 10 in rushing in the Big 12.