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The 2021 college football season has been one of the most unpredictable seasons in college football history. There have been countless upsets and it is possible that we will have three new teams make the College Football Playoff this year.

What has perhaps been even more surprising is the wild coaching carousel taking place in college football in the past few weeks. There have been several coaching changes involving some of the most notable names in the sport and some of the biggest programs in the country.

One head coaching position that absolutely no one expected to be vacant at this point is the Virginia football head coaching job. After six seasons in Charlottesville, including five in which the Cavaliers were bowl eligible, Bronco Mendenhall shocked everyone and announced his resignation seemingly out of nowhere.

Suddenly, UVA must scramble and find its next head football coach and at this point, it’s anyone’s best guess.

We took a stab at coming up with a list of 10 candidates for the newly vacant position of head football coach at the University of Virginia:

Anthony Poindexter, co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Penn State

This is the name that everyone has been talking about since Mendenhall resigned on Thursday. UVA fans had been pining for Anthony Poindexter to make a return to Charlottesville in some role on the coaching staff for several seasons. Poindexter had a legendary playing career at Virginia. He made the iconic goal-line tackle of Warrick Dunn to hand Florida State its first ever ACC loss in 1995. Poindexter’s No. 3 jersey is retired at Virginia and he will soon be inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame as well as the College Football Hall of Fame. Poindexter also won Super Bowl XXXV as a member of the Baltimore Ravens. He began his coaching career at Virginia in 2003 and spent 11 seasons at UVA in a variety of roles, including running backs coach, special teams coordinator, defensive backs coach, and safeties coach. Since then, he has been the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Connecticut, Purdue, and Penn State, where he has been since February 2021. He is considered an up-and-coming young coordinator in college football and will likely get a head coaching job sometime in the near future, but the question is: should his first head coaching job be at Virginia and will UVA Athletic Director Carla Williams make that offer? The one obvious drawback for Virginia is that Poindexter has no head coaching experience, but his roots with UVA run extremely deep, which might just be exactly what the Cavaliers need right now.

Marques Hagans, wide receivers coach at Virginia

Hagans has been at Virginia since before the Bronco Mendenhall era began. A graduate assistant from 2011-2012, he became the wide receivers coach in 2013 and has held that position through the tenures of both Mike London and Bronco Mendenhall. Hagans has been responsible for the development of some extremely talented wide receivers, including Darius Jennings, Canaan Severin, Olamide Zaccheaus, Joe Reed, Hasise Dubois, Terrell Jana, and Lavel Davis Jr., not to mention the current crop of receivers on the 2021 UVA roster. This season, Virginia has the No. 2 passing offense in the country and there are five Cavaliers with at least 500 receiving yards on the season, including Dontayvion Wicks, who is 12th in the country in receiving with 1,203 yards. While Hagans does not have prior head coaching experience, promoting him from within will allow the program to maintain some sense of continuity and momentum and help smooth over the culture shock from losing Bronco Mendenhall.

Jason Beck, quarterbacks coach at Virginia

Just as Hagans has been praised for his role in developing Virginia’s receivers, Jason Beck ought to be given credit for the development of Virginia’s quarterbacks in recent years. Beck came to Charlottesville with Bronco Mendenhall from BYU, where Beck also played a pivotal role in the progression of Taysom Hill. At UVA, Beck has done a masterful job orchestrating an incredible progression of record-breaking quarterbacks. Before Beck arrived in 2016, Virginia had never had a quarterback pass for over 3,000 yards in a season. Kurt Benkert did it in 2017, Bryce Perkins did it in 2019, and Brennan Armstrong shattered the previous record with 4,449 passing yards this season and he still has one more chance to add to that total in UVA’s bowl game. Benkert, Perkins, and Armstrong each developed into extraordinary quarterbacks and, while a great deal of that should be attributed to their hard work and talent, Beck deserves substantial credit for his work in the past six seasons at Virginia. If not as the head coach, Virginia should try its best to somehow retain both Jason Beck and Marques Hagans on the coaching staff.

Jamey Chadwell, head coach at Coastal Carolina

Jamey Chadwell is certainly at the top of the list for many ADs looking to fill head coaching jobs in college football right now. Chadwell was named the AP College Football Coach of the Year in 2020 after taking Coastal Carolina to an 11-1 record in just his second season and only one year after a 5-7 record in his first season. The Chanticleers finished the regular season with a 10-2 record in 2021. Chadwell has a lot of head coaching experience, including winning seasons at North Greenville, Charleston Southern, and Coastal Carolina. He has not been on the staff of any major college football programs, but there is no doubt that he will be a top name on the coaching market for many Power Five schools. UVA would have to win the bidding war in order to get Chadwell to choose Virginia over other schools as well as convince him to leave a favorable contract and situation he currently has at Coastal Carolina.

Curt Cignetti - head coach at James Madison

Cignetti has been a head coach for 11 seasons. In each of those 11 seasons at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (Division II), Elon, and JMU, he has had a record above .500. At JMU, Cignetti has an overall record of 31-4 in three years, including a 10-1 record this season. Cignetti is an attractive candidate for UVA as he has spent the last three seasons coaching and recruiting in the Commonwealth and has also spent time as a coordinator with an ACC program when he was with NC State from 2000-2006. He would have to make the leap from FCS to FBS, but JMU is already planning on making that transition as a program, moving to the Sun Belt Conference in a transition which will begin after this season.

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Josh Gattis, offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach at Michigan

Gattis has been a high-achieving coordinator at several schools since 2011. He has made stops at Western Michigan, Vanderbilt, Penn State, Alabama, and Michigan, mainly as an offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach. Gattis has held no previous head coaching position, but he has experienced significant success at some of the biggest programs in college football. This season, he has coached the Wolverines into a top-20 offense and they defeated Ohio State 42-27 in the regular season finale. Michigan plays for a Big Ten Championship this weekend, which would also earn the program its first-ever College Football Playoff berth.

Dan Lanning, defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach at Georgia

This one is kind of a no-brainer, considering the unprecedented level of defense being played under Lanning’s direction by the Bulldogs this season. Georgia finished the regular season having given up only 83 total points. If you doubled that total, it would still be less points allowed than the next-best defense in the country. Lanning is young at 35 years old, but he has already had a remarkable career in three years at Georgia. His name will likely be passed around for a lot of notable coaching positions even without any head coaching experience.

Jim Leonard, defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Wisconsin

Leonard has only been coaching since 2016, when he retired from the NFL, but his resume as a defensive-minded coach already speaks for itself. Wisconsin has had one of the nation’s best defenses year in and year out. This season, the Badgers have the No. 2 ranked defense in the country. You will see a lot of defensive coordinators on the rest of this list. A quick glance at Virginia’s defensive numbers from the last two seasons should explain that clearly.

Jim Knowles, defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State

Knowles has been coaching since 1988, including stops at Ole Miss, Duke and Oklahoma State, where he has been the defensive coordinator since 2018. The Cowboys have experienced significant defensive improvements under Knowles’ direction year after year. This season, Oklahoma State has the No. 3 ranked defense in the country and the Cowboys are potentially one victory in the Big 12 title game away from securing a spot in the College Football Playoff. Knowles is familiar with the ACC from his eight seasons at Duke from 2010 t0 2017 and was also a head coach at Cornell from 2004-2009.

Mike Elko, defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Texas A&M

In his coaching career, which began in 1999, Elko has checked several boxes which may seem attractive to Virginia for various reasons. He was a defensive coordinator at Richmond for a couple of seasons, so he is not totally unfamiliar with the coaching/recruiting scene in Virginia. He was on the staff at Wake Forest from 2014 to 2016, so he has experience coaching in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Elko spent one season as defensive coordinator at Notre Dame in 2017, before joining Texas A&M, where has been ever since. In 2020, the Aggies led the SEC in total defense and were second in the conference in passing defense and rushing defense. This would be Elko’s first head coaching job, but over two decades of coaching experience, including several years at major college football programs will have well-prepared Elko to be the head coach at a Power Five school. 

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