Coaching Candidates Ole Miss Should Consider to Replace Houston Nutt
Now that the Search Committee at Ole Miss has been formed and is ready to start evaluating candidates for the head coaching position at Ole Miss, it would be good to put forth some realistic names.
Ole Miss has traded off in the last decade between head coaches who were good game day coaches but could not recruit very well (David Cutcliffe, Houston Nutt) and coaches who could recruit but were horrible game day decision makers (Ed Orgeron).
Nobody knows this dilemma better then the Search Committee and members like the legendary Archie Manning. This time Ole Miss needs to get this right. Do they hire an established head coach or pick an up-and-coming coordinator assistant coach?
Most of this list are coordinators because frankly most of the head coaches who are available offer problems. Mike Leach and Rich Rodriguez both come with baggage. Ralph Friedgen is near retirement age. Dan Hawkins did a great job with Boise State, but his tenure with Colorado was a disaster. And of course, Urban Meyer would cost Ole Miss way too much money—not to mention, if Meyer would decide to jump back into coaching, the odds are it would be with say, Ohio State.
So here is a realistic list of candidates for Ole Miss to ponder and consider.
Brent Venables, Oklahoma Defensive Coordinator
Venables has been with the Oklahoma program since 1999 serving first as the co-defensive coordinator since 2004, and was promoted to defensive coordinator and linebacker coach.
He has been a well praised assistant coach, even nominated in 2006 for the Broyles Award for top assistant coach in the country.
Some highlights from his tenure running Oklahoma's defense include being ranked as one of the best in the Big 12. Plus, he was part of the National Championship Oklahoma won in 2001 over Florida State.
Being affiliated with a program like Oklahoma, Venables is used to winning conference titles. Settling for mediocrity isn't going to cut it with him. And that is exactly the kind of moxie the Rebels need if they want to win the SEC West.
But what makes Venables such an attractive candidate for the Ole Miss job is not only that he is an outstanding assistant coach but that he is one of the main reasons Bob Stoops has Top 15 recruiting classes every year. Venables is usually responsible for at least a third of the recruits Oklahoma gets each year.
And with the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri in the SEC next year, Ole Miss and the rest of the SEC will be recruiting Big 12 areas like the state of Texas. It would be great for the Rebels if they had a seasoned recruiter who is used to going up against the likes of Texas A&M, Arkansas and LSU in recruiting wars in the state of Texas.
Venabales should be on Archie's short list for the Ole Miss job, no question.
Jim McElwain, Alabama Offensive Coordinator
While others in Oxford scream for the Air Raid Offense of Mike Leach, Jim McElwain offers up to be the anti-Leach candidate. McElwain runs a traditional SEC offense under Nick Saban. Nothing fancy, no frills, just a balanced offense. Alabama's offense under his direction has won a National Championship and been one of the best productive offensive units in Division I football.
Before working for Saban at Alabama, McElwain worked as the offensive coordinator at Fresno State and before that he was the QB coach for the Oakland Raiders in the NFL. His early start was as wide receiver coach with Louisville and then acting as assistant head coach at Michigan State under John L. Smith.
While some will try and dismiss McElwain because he is at Alabama, the fact is his one-year stint at Fresno State as offensive coordinator made a huge impact. In one year, McElwain took the Bulldogs offense that was averaging only 23 points a game and 338.2 yards of offense the year before he came aboard to averaging 32.9 points a game and 419.5 yards of total offense.
And while at Michigan State, his wide receivers set reception and total yards records under his watch. So McElwain doesn't need to have Saban and the best recruiting classes in the country to be successful.
And as most people know, Saban is a notorious taskmaster, so there is no doubt McElwain will have the work ethic needed to recruit and demand results from his coaching staff if hired by Ole Miss.
Kirby Smart, Alabama Defensive Coordinator
Kirby Smart is not only the highest paid assistant coach on Nick Saban's staff, he is also only 35 years old. Smart has longevity on his side and a perfect candidate for somebody like Ole Miss looking for a coach with drive and youth to build a program.
Before joining Saban's staff at Alabama in 2007, Smart served with Saban at LSU as the Tigers defensive back coach. He served one year as running back coach with Georgia. Then he joined Saban at the Miami Dolphins as his safeties coach.
Smart serves as defensive coordinator for the Alabama program. Since commanding the Crimson Tide defense, Smart has got them as one of the premier defensive units. In 2008, Alabama's defense was No. 3 in total defense and No. 7 in scoring defense. The 2009 National Championship team was No. 2 in scoring defense, rush defense and total defense. Last year, his defensive unit finished No. 3 in scoring defense and No. 5 in total defense.
Smart has been voted by ESPN as one of the best recruiters in the SEC—something important to consider. Ole Miss needs somebody who knows his X and Os on game day as well as how to out-hustle other schools in recruiting.
Other Saban assistants like Will Muschamp and Derek Dooley have transitioned to head coaching positions in the SEC. Could Smart be next? Or is Smart being groomed by Saban to be his successor at Alabama when he retires?
John Shoop, North Carolina Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach
North Carolina had to deal with allegations of breaking NCAA rules which lead to the firing of Butch Davis right before the beginning of the football season in 2011. Defensive coordinator Everett Withers was promoted to head coach.
However, as in most situations like this, at the end of the year, the university will probably do a head coaching search which will mean those on Withers' staff will be concerned as to whether they will have jobs next year.
North Carolina's offensive coordinator John Shoop is worth a look by the Ole Miss Rebels.
Shoop has been the offensive coordinator for five years at Carolina and runs a pro-set offense. His offense has helped develop players like QB T.J. Yates, wide outs like Hakeem Yates and tight ends like Ryan Taylor and Zack Pianalto.
North Carolina under Davis and Shoop made two back-to-back bowl appearances, something the Tar Heels had not done since 1997.
Shoop has an excellent NFL pedigree. Before coming to North Carolina, he was an assistant coach for the Oakland Raiders, served under Jon Gruden as an assistant at Tampa Bay Buccaneers and served as an offensive coordinator with the Chicago Bears and QB coach with Carolina Panthers.
Since he started at the age of 25 working in the NFL, Shoop is only 42 years old which means he still a young man in the college coaching business.
With all his experience in the NFL, one asset Shoop would bring to Ole Miss in recruiting would be the ability to tell recruits what it will take to get to the next level and since his offensive style is NFL friendly, that could be an advantage as well, especially when recruiting QBs, TEs and WRs.
Gus Malzahn, Auburn Offensive Coordinator and QB Coach
Gus Malzahn has been on an incredible ride in the last six years. Just as early as 2005, he was the high school football coach for Springdale HS in Arkansas. Since then, he has been offensive coordinator with Arkansas, Tulsa and now Auburn.
Malzahn is considered an offensive wizard. His one-year stint with Arkansas turned out to be a disaster as his spread offense schemes clashed with Houston Nutt's more smash-mouth running attack.
When Malzahn left to be offensive coordinator at Tulsa, that is when it was shown his style of offense could work on a collegiate level. In 2007, Tulsa's offense was ranked No. 1 in the country, even over Mike Leach's Air Raid Offense. Tulsa became the first program in the history of the NCAA to have in one year a QB with over 5,000 yards passing, a RB with 1,000 yards of rushing and more than three WRs with over 1,000 yards receiving.
So Malzahn doesn't need Cam Newton and SEC caliber recruits to make the offensive sparks fly, even though one has to mention the turnaround of the Auburn offense with Malzahn calling the shots. Last year, the BCS National Champion War Eagles led the SEC in total offense, rushing offense and first downs.
Also important, Malzahn is a good recruiter. ESPN listed him as one of the top recruiters in the SEC.
The only reason Malzahn is not listed as the No. 1 choice is because he is such a hot commodity at the moment. He has already turned down Vanderbilt and is now one of the highest paid assistants in college football. Malzahn is in the comfortable position of cherry picking any job he wants. Malazhn could be waiting to see if Mark Richt survives this year in Georgia or waiting a couple of years to see if the Will Muschamp experiment works down in Florida.
Justin Fuente, TCU Co-Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach
Justin Fuente is one of those names many college fans are not all that familiar with, the exception being TCU fans, of course. But he has been touted and interviewed for the Clemson, LSU and USC offensive coordinator positions in the last couple of years.
Fuente has been with the Horned Frogs since 2007, first serving as the running backs coach until promoted to co-offensive coordinator and QB coach in 2009. Since taking charge of TCU's offense, the Horned Frogs have been quite prolific.
Look at the development of QB Andy Dalton. Last year, the Horned Frogs were fifth in the nation in scoring and in the Top 10 in passing and rushing. In 2008, TCU was ranked 12th in the country in rushing.
As a QB himself, he set freshman records at Oklahoma and then 11 records at Murray State.
Much like Brent Venables, Justin would bring a youthful, go-getter attitude to Oxford.
Likewise, as part of Gary Patterson's staff who have helped turn TCU into a BCS giant killer, Fuente will know what it's like to have to recruit against top tier programs, and in many cases, build a solid team without getting the top five recruiting classes.
Todd Monken, Oklahoma State Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach
Todd Monken is about to know what Gus Malzahn felt like last year. The feeling of being praised as the offensive guru of college football. Oklahoma State is near the end of the best season in the history of their football program. Odds are if they get past arch-rival Oklahoma, they may very well be playing in the BCS National Championship Game.
Monken's telephone is going to be ringing off the hook here soon and Ole Miss might as well throw their hat in the ring to see if Monken is ready to move up from being a coordinator assistant coach to being a head coach.
What makes Monken an attractive candidate for Ole Miss besides his work with the Cowboys offense is that he has SEC experience. For two years in 2005-2006, he was the passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach at LSU. Monken developed both Dwayne Bowe and Buster Davis, two LSU wideouts that would go in the first round of the NFL draft.
Monken, before becoming the offensive coordinator at OSU this year, spent three years in the NFL as an assistant coach with Jacksonville Jaguars.
This year the Cowboys offense is in the Top Five in passing, scoring and total offense. Very impressive considering Monken had to fill some big shoes, replacing Dana Holgorsen as the Cowboys offensive coordinator.
Ole Miss fans who want a high-octane offense, instead of focusing on Mike Leach, should consider Todd Monken. There is a much more realistic chance of the Rebels getting Monken than Leach.
Mike London, Virginia Head Coach
Another name most Ole Miss fans have not thought about. However, others are aware of the talent of Mike London. Penn State just offered London the head coaching job to replace Joe Paterno. London made it clear he was not interested in the job. This probably has more to do with the toxic situation currently at Penn State than the job itself.
London has been coaching mostly defenses since 1988, first with William & Mary, Richmond, Boston College, Virginia and then a short stint with the Houston Texans as the defensive line coach. He was head coach for Richmond for two years before becoming the head coach in 2010 for Virginia.
During his first year at Richmond, the Spiders won the FCS National Championship beating Montana, 24-7. The next year the Spiders made the FCS playoffs but ended up losing in the quarterfinals of the playoffs.
In the one-and-a-half years with Virginia, London already has Virginia bowl eligible this year with seven wins and counting, which is up from the 4-8 season from last year. London has brought in the best recruiting class Virginia has seen since 2002. His football team this year just had the best cumulative grade point average in over 10 years.
London is big on not only building a successful football program but also recruiting players who have class. Here is a video of his "Building a Program."
London may not be interested in leaving Virginia so early, but if the temptation is there for London to consider coaching in the SEC, Ole Miss should give London an interview.
Jeff Casteel, West Virginia Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach
Jeff Casteel is almost the Rodney Dangerfield of Division I coordinators. Fans tend to want to give all the credit to Rich Rodriguez for building West Virginia into the football program they are today. And while Rodriguez deserves a good deal of that praise, there has been a defensive guru working in the background helping the Mountaineers get where they are.
Casteel has been coaching some form of defense at West Virginia since 2001—first he coached the defensive line, then the co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, and finally, he was promoted in 2003 to full defensive coordinator.
Casteel was named the defensive coordinator of the year in 2007 by Rivals.com. Here are some highlights of his career as coordinator. In 2006, WVU had No. 13 rushing defense in the country. In 2007, WVU finished seventh in total defense. In 2008, the Mountaineers were No. 11 in scoring defense and No. 1 in the country in red-zone defense.
Casteel runs a very innovative 3-3-5 defense. Many consider Rodriguez's downfall at Michigan to be due to the fact that he never could find a defensive coordinator as good as Casteel who could run such a defense.
It was rumored Casteel planned on following Rodriguez to Michigan, but when Bill Stewart was promoted from the staff as head coach, Casteel decided to stay. Now that Dana Holgorsen is running things at WVU, Casteel may be open to moving, if for anything, concern that Holgorsen may have somebody in mind he would prefer as defensive coordinator.
Casteel is not a self-promoter so Ole Miss will have to call him. Casteel's lack of a big ego could work to Ole Miss' benefit. He is not the kind of guy to jump ship, so Casteel could stay as long as Ole Miss wants him.