Dan Mullen Isn't The Answer at "The U," But He's on The Top Ten List
So Jon Gruden is out.
That much we know.
And now it appears the eye of the Hurricane is focused on Mississippi State's Dan Mullen. He has brought the Bulldogs back from the dead, where Sylvester Croom had left them.
But is he the right guy?
I definitely think he's one of the top guys to consider. But he doesn't crack my top two.
Not with so many fantastic coaching candidates out there, just waiting to move on to bigger and better jobs.
If I was in charge at Miami, here's the guys I would be looking most seriously at.
10) Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Coaching record: none
If you really want to open things up at Miami—where their offense is about as stale as the leftover rolls I have from Thanksgiving—then Malzahn is your man.
At every one of his stops (Arkansas, Tulsa and now Auburn), he has transformed a stale offense into a juggernaut.
His latest work, with Auburn's inevitable Heisman winning QB Cam Newton along, has been awe-inspiring.
But Malzahn's craft isn't just devoted to one player. He has turned Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Cam Newton into collegiate superstars.
But he's also improved the level of play for numerous wide receivers, tight ends and offensive linemen.
The one knock on him is that he has no prior collegiate head coaching experience.
He'll inevitably get his first shot somewhere. So why not Miami?
He has been an expert at tailoring his system to whoever he has available to him. I think he could work up something extra special for all of the playmakers that Miami has coming back next year.
But again, it is ultimately his lack of experience (he's only been a D-I coordinator for five seasons!) that will keep him off Miami's radar.
9) George O'Leary, Central Florida
Coaching record: 43-44
O'Leary has toiled for seven seasons now at UCF, trying to escape his jaded past.
Which includes a botched attempt at the head coaching position at Notre Dame, when his resume was found to include some "inaccuracies."
Notre Dame's loss was UCF's gain, as Leary has taken the program to new heights. After his first season, in which the Golden Knights went winless (0-11), he has posted records of 8-5, 4-8, 10-4, 4-8 and 8-5.
This season, the Knights are 9-3 and have wrapped up their second regular-season Conference USA title since O'Leary came to Orlando. Their other title came in 2007.
It's hard to remember that, despite his idiotic decision to lie on his resume, he is still one heck of a coach, easily one of the top mid-major coaches in the country.
All he needs is a second chance.
Miami could be that.
Two things that could hurt him: his uneven track record when it comes to recruiting and his so-so effect on the academic situation at UCF.
Let's just say it isn't nicknamed "U Can't Finish" for no reason.
8) Mario Cristobal, Florida International
Coaching record: 15-44
Seriously, if you can win at FIU, you deserve a shot to try your hand at on a bigger scale.
And while Cristobal's Golden Panthers won't be making an appearance in the top 25 anytime soon—much less a BCS bowl game—the turnaround he has engineered at FIU has been amazing.
Since taking over in 2006, Cristobal has built FIU into a tiny Sun Belt powerhouse, both on the field and in recruiting.
His first year saw the Panthers lose every single game. Although they lost four by a combined six points, including a four-point loss to North Texas in a seven-OT thriller.
The team made progress in 2007. It notched one win, which put an end to FIU's 23-game losing streak.
In 2008, the Panthers won five games, including a victory over non-conference opponent Toledo.
2009 saw the team take a step back finishing 3-9. But this season, Cristobal has had the Panthers performing well beyond expectations.
They are currently 6-5 heading into their season-finale with Middle Tennessee State. And already have their first even Sun Belt title wrapped up.
As a coach, Cristobal is pretty good. As a recruiter, he's even better.
Somehow, he put together the 50th-ranked class in the nation at FIU in 2009. His 2010 class is widely regarded as the best ever at FIU.
His impressive recruiting dates back to his days at the University of Miami, where he was an assistant coach from 2004-06 and a graduate assistant from 1998-2000.
And there lies the greatest endorsement for Cristobal. He was a Hurricane, and since moving on he has decided to stick around the area and make another South Florida program relevant.
He is one of the hardest workers around, as evidenced by his No. 1 ranking in a preseason poll by ESPN the Magazine's Bruce Feldman who found Cristobal to be college football's top "workout warrior" in terms of coaching.
Cristobal is also a major advocate for education. He has drastically improved graduation rates at FIU and would surely have no problem keeping up with the stringent demands of the "U."
7) Troy Calhoun, Air Force
Coaching record: 33-18
Calhoun is by far the most unorthodox name on this list.
He specializes in option football, dating back to the days when he ran it for the Falcons under long-time coach Fisher DeBarry.
And if you're one of those people who think option football has no place in big conferences, just check out how successful Paul Johnson has been at Georgia Tech.
The Yellow Jackets took home the ACC title in 2008 and have yet to finish below Miami in the standings since making the switch to the triple-option. They have also consistently finished in the top 10 in rushing yards per game.
All you have to know about Calhoun to consider him as a serious candidate is that, in the 100-plus year history of the service academies, he is the only coach to lead his team to at least eight wins and a bowl game in each of his first three seasons.
And with his Falcons at 8-4 this year, he's now done it four times.
Calhoun's rushing offense ranks second in the nation this year, at 317 yards per game, behind only Georgia Tech. It has ranked in the top six every year of his career at Air Force.
Miami, on the other hand, has finished 70th, 79th, 66th and 84th the past four seasons. This year, they are ranked 26th with 190 yards per game, about 130 yards behind Air Force.
Not exactly what you expect from the so-called "running-back U."
Coaching at a service academy, Calhoun also understands the education standards, and could do wonders at Miami.
While he may be unorthodox, he could almost certainly produce better results than the previous regime.
6) Chris Petersen, Boise State
Coaching record: 59-5
If you're looking to hire the most successful coach of the past five years, look no further than Boise State's Chris Petersen.
And if you're looking to open things up and install a new offensive system, Petersen is also your guy.
I'd say Miami could use a little bit of both things.
Petersen has been a revelation at Boise, going from one of the nation's top offensive minds to one of it's top head coaches. He's 59-5 in five seasons at Boise State, including a 37-2 mark in conference games.
His teams have never lost more than three games in a season and have only lost back-to-back contests once. He has put together win streaks of 14 games, nine games, 12 games, and his most recent 24-game streak.
He also won two BCS bowl games, compiled three undefeated regular seasons and became the only coach to be named a two-time winner of the Bear Bryant National Coach of the Year Award.
Beyond that, Petersen is a excellent recruiter. He has brought multiple All-Americans to Boise State and has specialized in turning walk-ons and one- and two-star recruits into four- and five-stars by the time they leave campus.
He has helped produce two first-round draft picks.
His offenses have regularly been ranked in the top 10, even dating back to his days as Boise's offensive coordinator. His defenses, especially the most recent squads, have been just as impressive.
Most of all, Petersen is a risk taker. He'll make the calls that other coaches are scared to make, and he'll put it all on the line when it counts.
He would make an excellent choice for Miami. The only obstacle is his love for Boise and Boise State.
5) Randy Edsall, Connecticut
Coaching record: 73-69
There are a few reasons that Edsall's name comes up anytime a big coaching job comes open.
First, he's a winner.
He's won 73 games in 12-years for the Huskies, has guided them to a 3-1 record in bowl games. He has this year's team on the verge of their first ever BCS berth.
Second, he's loyal. He's been with UConn every step of the way since their switch to Division I back in 1998.
Third, he can handle adversity. Dealing with the death of Jasper Howard gave Edsall the image of a guy who you want in charge when tragedy strikes your program.
He's a great guy to have in your fox-hole and is one of the best leaders in college football.
Fourth, he comes from good coaching stock. Edsall played under Tom Coughlin at Syracuse and later coached on his staff.
He's very similar to Coughlin, who was successful at Boston College before making the leap to the pro ranks.
Many see the same future in front of Edsall.
What better launching pad to the NFL is there than the University of Miami?
4) Gary Patterson, TCU
Coaching record: 97-28
If a coach of Patterson's pedigree—and his results—is the fourth-best candidate on this list, you know there's some big names on here.
Still, Patterson very well could be the best bet of them all.
In his time at TCU, he has turned them into a powerhouse. A team that will play anyone, anywhere and most likely beat you.
He has put together back-to-back undefeated seasons and has come within a couple of plays from playing in back-to-back national championship games. He still has an outside shot to get his Horned Frogs into the title game this season.
Patterson has made his name on defense. The Horned Frogs have consistently been ranked in the top 25 in passing, rushing and total defense during his tenure at TCU.
This season, his squad ranks No. 1 overall in points allowed per game. Seven of their 12 opponents have been held to less than eight points.
And while defense is his calling card, he's no slouch on offense, either. TCU's 43.3 points per game rank third in the nation this year, and he has consistently put together a solid team both in running and passing.
And he's managed to do it without any real superstars.
Patterson is just an impressive, all-around coach, and he deserves a shot to really earn his way to a national title every year.
At Miami, he would get that chance. If only Miami would try to pry him away from Fort Worth.
3) Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
Coaching record: 13-11
Mullen has apparently jumped to the front of the line in terms of candidates, and for good reason.
He showed during these past two seasons that he has what it takes to be a head coach and to turn around a struggling program.
He has instilled a new sense of pride in the Mississippi State football program and guided them to their most successful season in quite some time, getting big wins over Florida and Georgia.
His team also gave great performances in close losses to Auburn and Arkansas. And he's 2-0 against Ole Miss.
Before becoming the top guy at MSU, Mullen served for eight seasons as an assistant to Urban Meyer at Bowling Green, Utah and finally Florida. He helped Meyer put together one of the most impressive versions of the spread offense to come along—ever.
You can see the impact that Mullen has had. Not only at Mississippi State, but also at Florida, where the Gators have struggled to produce consistently on offense since Mullen left town.
The rumor has it that the Canes would like the opportunity to do some more research on Mullen before officially offering him the job. But I have a feeling that they'll like what they find.
The only question is will Mullen be loyal to Mississippi State and stick around until they are capable of winning on a consistent basis?
2) Jim Harbaugh, Stanford
Coaching record: 28-21
Don't get me wrong: I think Harbaugh could build something really special if he decided to stick around at Stanford for the next 10-15 years.
But I think he's a true Harbaugh at heart, always looking for the next big gig.
That could very easily be Miami.
Harbaugh has already done wonders at Stanford, a school that hasn't seen a consistent winner since John Elway left town. And he's done so with a variety of offensive systems.
Last year, he rode Toby Gerhart into the ground and churned out eight victories and an appearance in the Sun Bowl. This season, he's ridden the arm of Andrew Luck and has 11 victories already with an impending BCS bowl berth, a first for Stanford.
On the sidelines, Harbaugh is a wild man. He yells, screams and runs around.
None of it can detract from how good of a coach he is and how well he motivates his players. He also endears himself to them; not that he cares.
He is a great recruiter (hey, he got Luck, didn't he?) and knows what it's like to coach at a school that not only appreciates, but demands high academic standards.
To me, there's only one guy who could be a better fit at Miami.
And he is...
1) Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
Coaching record: 51-35
To me, Dantonio has the perfect mix of everything that Miami is looking for.
He's got experience. He's been coaching since 1980, has served as a graduate assistant, as a defensive coordinator under Jim Tressel (twice) and has held the top job at Cincinnati and now Michigan State since 2004.
He's put together a 33-18 record at MSU, and his Mona Lisa has come this season. Michigan State has an 11-1 record and clinched a piece of the Big Ten title (split with Ohio State and Wisconsin) with a big win over Penn State at Happy Valley.
They also dealt co-champ Wisconsin their only loss of the season. Dantonio was rewarded by being named the 2010 Big Ten Coach of the Year.
He's also provided two of the best moments of the season with his fake field goal in OT against Notre Dame, and his fake punt that helped the MSU comeback effort in a win against Northwestern.
And in case you were in hibernation for most of this season, Dantonio also suffered a heart attack, adding even more drama to one of Michigan State's best seasons ever.
Dantonio isn't the best recruiter, but he's getting there. He's in the midst of bringing in a top 25 class for 2011 after bringing in the 32nd ranked class in 2010, the 37th in 2009 and the 56th in 2008.
The pre-Dantonio years for MSU consistently saw their class ranking outside the top-50.
In addition to being a top-notch coach and an up-and-coming recruiter, he's also serious about education. Serious enough to warrant consideration for the top job at Miami.