With the rumors that Bob Stoops will likely take over for Charlie Weis at Notre Dame flying around, the Oklahoma Sooners might suddenly find themselves without their Heisman quarterback and their national championship-winning coach in the same year.
But this is Boomer Sooner we're talking about; all is never lost. Stoops produced plenty of talented assistants, made powerful friends, and turned the Sooners into perennial Big 12 contenders again.
The Oklahoma job, were it to open, would be, in my mind, better than the Notre Dame job—all the national attention, but without the backbreaking scrutiny and the whiny boosters. And, you know, church.
Here are 10 of the best candidates to replace Stoops if the Oklahoma head coach gets happy feet.
A fixture at Auburn until his untimely firing last year, Tommy Tuberville is an outstanding defensive-minded coach who would find a great fit in Norman.
He has some experience coaching in Texas, acting as defensive coordinator for the A&M Aggies in 1994.
And he's got an appealing, occasional fiery style of coaching—the CEO model, as a B/R friend put it— that would fit in well in the professional format of the Big 12.
It would be a great experiment, however risky, for OU to see how Tuberville's defense-minded approach fared in the bizarro Big 12, where 40 points per game is often the norm.
Tuberville always mentions how he misses football, and there's still a few more years before he'll be entirely out of the coaching carousel conversation. I'd expect to see his name floated around if the search starts to drag on.
It's only been a year, but Paul Rhoads has already worked wonders at Iowa State, leading the Cyclones to their first bowl game since 2005 and putting together a halfway-decent recruiting class for the 'Clones.
Oklahoma might be interested in seizing the up and coming Rhoads, who appeared to be in line for the Auburn job last year but got passed over for Gene Chizik, who failed mightily while with Iowa State.
Rhoads has no pure ties to Oklahoma, but he's another solid defensive candidate who has shown he can coach up a team and field a complete attack, even with a minimum of talent.
Davis' ties to Oklahoma are slimmer than some of these other candidates—his defensive line coach, John Blake, was the guy Oklahoma fired before hiring Stoops–but recruiting waters run deep.
Blake and Davis have been very effective in recruiting the TexArkana region, as well as revitalizing UNC's recruiting in the very difficult Carolina area.
Plus, Davis has the reputation for restoring embattled programs to dominance. He did it for Miami in 2000 before leaving to coach the Cleveland Browns, and he's helping UNC redeem their standing in the ACC and the country.
The Tar Heels took Pat White's West Virginia team to the wire in the Meineke Car Care Bowl last year, and came back from an 0-3 conference start to finish 4-4 and upset Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
Davis doesn't come cheap, but his salary is nothing compared to what OU was paying Stoops.
His slim ties to the university might knock him down a few pegs, but in the event of a drawn-out interview process, Davis might be able to sell the brand of revitalization he's been peddling in college and the pros for the past twenty years.
I'm going out on a limb here, since Muschamp is the current defensive coordinator and the coach-in-waiting for the Longhorns, and it would be high treason in Austin if he departed for the OU job.
But it wouldn't be the first time Oklahoma and Texas have "shared" coaches in their rivalry. After all, Mack Brown was the Sooners' offensive coordinator in 1984, and Darrell Royal played his college ball in Norman.
Muschamp boasts a strong resume: a defensive coordinator at Auburn and LSU, he's coached the Longhorns to back-to-back wins over the Sooners and the doorstep of the national championship, while fielding the third-best defense in the nation.
The vacancy at Oklahoma offers Muschamp an immediate chance at the head job if he wants it, plus all the ties to recruits he's formed via Austin.
It's a longshot, but don't put it past the athletic department at OU to recognize and try to capitalize on Muschamp's enormous talent.
Sumlin is the current head coach of the Houston Cougars. He led Houston to an upset of Oklahoma State, a win over Texas Tech and a national ranking in only his second year, and has his quarterback, Case Keenum, producing Heisman-worthy stats in the Airraid-knockoff offense of OC Dana Holgersen.
He was a special teams and tight ends coach under Stoops from 2003-2005, and was Oklahoma's co-offensive coordinator in 2006 and 2007 before taking the Houston job.
He's shown he can contend with Big 12 programs successfully, and he's on the short list for coaching vacancies around the country.
The one knock on Sumlin is that he doesn't have the defensive pedigree of some of these other candidates. Houston has shown they can outscore opponents, but they've yet to field a decent defensive performance against top-tier talent and their record has suffered because of it.
But just look at that picture: dude rocks the red and white visor.
Oklahoma would be wise to snap up Sumlin while his roots in the Texas area still run deep.
Venables is the current associate head coach, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for the Sooners. His defenses have been perennial top ten caliber, and this year, they've kept the struggling Sooners in games all year, including holding Texas to just 16 points in the Red River Shootout.
The only thing likely preventing Venables from the top job is that he's a Stoops man through and through. Big Game Bob hired Venables out of Kansas State (where they coached together under Bill Snyder) when he took the Oklahoma job, and has served in Norman ever since.
He's not a journeyman coach and has never held a head position, so it's likely he will join Stoops at Notre Dame to ease the sudden transition. If not, he's a very likely candidate and, if he's up for it, the OU admins might be glad to hold on to at least some part of the entrenched staff in the name of recruiting continuity.
Despite becoming the winningest coach in the program's history (with a victory over the Sooners, no less) and bringing the program to its highest ranking ever, Mike Leach and the Texas Tech administration fought a bitter battle over a contract extension that lasted 10 months and countless missed deadlines.
Leach and the Tech athletic department reached an agreement in February, but not before the students had to rally on Leach's behalf.
What better way to gouge an administration that has struggled to appreciate you than by taking the head job with your divisional rival?
Leach has historical ties to the Sooners, coaching under Stoops and splitting offensive coordinator duties with Mark Mangino in 1999. He has deep recruiting ties to the Big 12 area and is a perennial candidate for coaching vacancies at other institutions.
And hell, he's shown he can beat Texas in historical fashion as well as compete for Big 12 championships. He's got solid coordinators on the defensive side of the ball in the event that Brent Venables leaves with Stoops.
Patterson has affirmed his commitment to the Horned Frogs, but that might all turn to coachspeak if taking over at Oklahoma suddenly becomes a possibility.
Patterson has led TCU to the brink of the BCS championship in 2009. He's molded the nation's fifth-best defense out of Texas' also-rans—players that were passed over by the big schools.
And he's no slouch on offense, either. Quarterback Andy Dalton, a middling three-star and not listed as a dual threat, is third in the nation in passing efficiency and has shredded defenses in and out of the Mountain West with his arm and his legs.
Patterson's relationship with Texas high schools would be extremely profitable for the Sooners recruiting machine. Oklahoma always has trouble raiding Texas's coffers because of the nature of the two-state rivalry, but Patterson wouldn't need to worry about looking like a true Texan.
His defensive pedigree is practically unmatched. And he could probably out-church Mack Brown. I'd say he's your top contender for people outside the mainstream.
Aside from the intriguing parallels—Bob Stoops was Florida's defensive coordinator for three years in the mid-90's, including during their national championship win in 1996, before being hired away by the Sooners—Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong is another name brought up for coaching vacancies across the country.
He's put together back-to-back top five defenses at Florida and would be a tremendously attractive pickup for the Sooners were Brent Venables to depart with Stoops to Notre Dame.
The SEC is a crucible for great defensive minds. Muschamp, Bo Pelini, Nick Saban, Jon Chavis of LSU all portend that the SEC is, was, and will be the premier defensive conference in the nation. In the SEC, good defense anywhere is a great defense everywhere else.
Strong can continue that tradition at Oklahoma if the Sooners feel like rolling the dice and poaching the Gators' coaching rolls once again.
If, somehow, all of this rumormongering about Stoops comes true, your candidate next in line for the best head coaching job in the nation has to be Brian Kelly.
Kelly engineered resurrections of Grand Valley State in Division II play and lead Central Michigan to the MAC championship before taking over for Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati, where he won the Big East in 2008 and has the Bearcats undefeated in 2009.
He's a terrific quarterback coach—though probably not good enough to convince Sam Bradford to stay—who has produced prolific passers out of the middling three-stars and "dual-threat" quarterbacks that most coaches won't spend any time evaluating.
What's more, he's compiled a complete coaching outfit and, along with QB coach Greg Forest, has demonstrated continuity and malleability in his method of attack.
He'd probably need a more high-profile defensive coordinator, but Kelly's pass-heavy, run-up-the-score system would almost surely play well in the high-flying Big 12.
Good luck, dad*.