WVU Football: Top Choices To Replace Bill Stewart
Driving home from work Friday evening, I listened to the West Virginia-Connecticut pre-game show.
When Tony Caridi, voice of the Mountaineers, asked coach Bill Stewart how WVU would beat the Huskies that night, the beleaguered coach repeated his same mantra. "We just have to play tough Mountaineer football. If we play Mountaineer football everything else will take care of itself."
What Stewart doesn't seem to comprehend is WVU did play Mountaineer football Friday night in Storrs, Conn. Turnovers, sloppy offensive line play, sketchy offensive play calling and a lack of killer instinct.
All of these qualities are typical of a Stewart team and symptomatic of everything that has been wrong with the Mountaineers since he was hired on an emotional night in early 2008.
With 18 returning starters, a solid solution at quarterback and the Big East's best defense, WVU should not be losing games to Syracuse and Connecticut.
Want to cut them slack and say everyone plays a bad game? OK, I'll give you last week's loss to an improved Syracuse. But after Stewart challenged his team all week to play "Mountaineer Football," this is what we got?
At this point, it appears the best WVU can do now 8-4 (but more likely 7-5).
First-year AD Oliver Luck can't tolerate this. WVU was a top 20 program when Stewart took over. The Mountaineers are now a lower-tier Big East team.
So let's make some suggestions on who Luck could start looking at as Stewart's replacement.
10. Brady Hoke, San Diego State, Head Coach
Hoke has revitalized the Aztecs in just his second season. San Diego State is currently 6-2 overall and 3-1 in the tough Mountain West Conference.
People questioned his move after leading Ball State to a 12-win season, but Hoke has adjusted to the West Coast, and he could quickly reignite the Mountaineers into the top team in the Big East.
He was also a former assistant coach at Michigan when the Wolverines won the 1997 National Championship.
Likelihood he'd take the job: Morgantown is no San Diego, but coaching in a BCS conference would be the right move.
9. Larry Fedora, Southern Miss, Head Coach
Fedora is one of the nation's best recruiters and is also considered an outstanding coach. He also has a great reputation from his days as an assistant at Florida and Oklahoma State.
He's also a feisty motivator, something WVU's players need badly.
He's currently 5-3, which is the same as WVU, but he's still a major upgrade over Bill Stewart. His two-plus years in Hattiesburg, Miss., haven't been an overwhelming success. He currently has a career record of 19-15.
But with Fedora's recruiting ability, he would keep the talent level up and help return WVU to the top.
Likelihood he'd take the job: 100 percent no-doubter.
8. Bud Foster, Virginia Tech, Defensive Coordinator
Personally, I hate Bud Foster and have felt his defensive units at Virginia Tech were highly overrated. WVU has proven that plenty of times.
But he has a great reputation as a defensive coach, and he's paid his dues. It seems like someone should give him a shot and maybe this is exactly what the Mountaineers need—an outsider to reassess what's going on in Morgantown.
At the same time, he understands the history and tradition of WVU and could build on that.
Likelihood he'd take the job: Word is he politicked hard for the opening after Rich Rodriguez resigned. Unless there are some hard feelings, Foster would jump at the chance.
7. Kevin Sumlin, Houston, Head Coach
He has a superior offensive mind and would be a welcome change for Mountaineer fans.
Sumlin was a hot name last year, but it's usually the second year that you usually get the next gig. However, is West Virginia really what he was thinking of as his upgrade?
His name will probably be in the mix at Minnesota and some other places, so he'll have options.
Likelihood he'd take the job: He would be loved in West Virginia if he can get the offense going again, but he he's probably looking a different direction.
6. Paul Petrino, Illinois, Offensive Coordinator
He has the Petrino name, so that doesn't hurt. You just hope he doesn't have the wandering eye of his brother Bobby.
Petrino is in his first season at Illinois and the Fighting Illini have been more consistent on offense. Illinois currently ranks 24th nationally in rushing with 194.4 yards a game. However, the passing game is 111th nationally with 143.1.
But those numbers are similar to what fans were accustomed to under Rodriguez. WVU currently ranks 53rd in rushing (156.8) and 66th passing (212.8).
Likelihood he'd take the job: He's very familiar with the Big East from his time at Louisville, and he would recognize the high stakes of coaching at WVU.
5. Todd Graham, Tulsa, Head Coach
Graham is a Texas guy and he's always coached in the Southwest, but WVU is an upgrade over the Conference USA program.
His first two seasons at Tulsa, Graham went 10-4 and 11-3 before dipping to 5-7 last year. The Golden Hurricane are currently 5-3 this season.
He just led Tulsa to an upset of Notre Dame in South Bend, which isn't quite as big a win as it used to be but is still solid.
However, going to Tulsa for a coach is a scary proposition after the Steve Kragthorpe experiment at Louisville didn't work out so well.
Likelihood he'd take the job: Unless he's just set on being in the Southwest, Graham would have to take the job.
4. Terry Bowden, North Alabama, Head Coach
This is easily the choice I like the least, but the Bowden name still carries some weight in West Virginia and the former Auburn coach has done nothing but win in two years at North Alabama, an NCAA Division II program.
There are also some folks in West Virginia who really think if he gets the job he'll bring brother and former Clemson coach Terry Bowden and possibly even his father, Bobby, who coached at WVU from 1970-75. Problem is he may also ask brother, Jeff, to coach as well.
His career record is 128-56-2.
Likelihood he'd take the job: He'd relocate to Morgantown in a few hours. He wanted the job bad following Rich Rodriguez's departure.
3. Al Golden, Temple, Head Coach
What Golden has accomplished at Temple is almost beyond description. The Owls were a doormat program, even in the Mid-American Conference. Now Golden has Temple among the best in the conference.
There has been a lot of discussion that he's just waiting for a chance to return to his alma mater, Penn State, once Joe Paterno retires. If that's true, then WVU shouldn't waste its time.
However, you can't overlook what he's done and Golden deserves a shot at turning down a chance to coach in Morgantown.
Likelihood he'd take the job: Slim. If he really feels he's going to be the guy at Penn State, he might as well wait. Paterno is close to calling it quits.
2. Gus Malzahn, Auburn, Offensive Coordinator
In his second season as the Tigers offensive coordinator, Malzahn is looking like a genius. Of course, Heisman front-runner Cameron Newton helps a lot.
But WVU has had some special talents and currently has some as well. The Mountaineers also have the speed that Malzahn needs to run his innovative, no-huddle and quick-strike offense.
Malzahn would be an extremely popular choice, as WVU fans have grown tired of watching OC Jeff Mullen's lack of innovation for three seasons.
Likelihood he'd take the job: Tough call. Malzahn could do much worse for his first head coaching job.
1. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State, Head Coach
Is this too far-fetched? Could West Virginia really lure one of the hottest names in coaching from the SEC?
Maybe not. But don't put it past Oliver Luck to make a persuasive argument and also come up with the money needed to sway Mullen.
Naturally, coaching in the SEC is the ultimate. But isn't winning championships more important?
He may have turned Mississippi State around and made the Bulldogs relevant again, but does anyone really think they'll play for an SEC championship any time soon? Not likely.
Come to WVU and Mullen can play for the Big East title every year and be in BCS bowl games almost every year.
Likelihood he'd take the job: Not likely. Even though WVU is a better situation in the long run, Mullen realizes he'll have better opportunities in the near future ... maybe even North Carolina this year.