As the search for Texas A&M's new football coach heads into the back stretch, it appears three finalists have emerged.
Kevin Sumlin from Houston, Mark Richt from Georgia and Chris Petersen from Boise State appear to be the last men standing. All indications are that a final decision will be made soon.
Each of these three candidates has his strengths and weaknesses. All three could be be the coach to take A&M to the next level or could be failures on a monumental scale. This is the most important coaching hire that A&M has made in quite some time.
Bill Byrne cannot mess this up. He already gave Dennis Franchione and Mike Sherman lucrative extensions before firing them. Frankly, he is lucky that the A&M administration is letting him take part in this search. With his track record when it comes to football hires some would argue he should have been let go along with Sherman.
The Aggies need a home run hire to lead them into a new era in the Southeastern Conference. Let's take a look at the positives and negatives that each candidate brings to the table.
Mark Richt is a proven winner in the toughest conference in America. Richt has won three SEC titles. He is 2-1 in BCS bowl games.
Richt is 106-37 in overall in his 11 seasons at UGA.
Before he became the head coach at Georgia, Richt was the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at Florida State. He coached Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke to Heisman Trophies. He was also part of a staff that won two national titles at FSU.
Richt is an excellent recruiter. He was able to recruit Matthew Stafford out of Dallas. Stafford started for three year in Athens and became the first pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Richt also has a reputation for being one of the better all around guys in college football. In a profession where coaches are being crucified in the media for cheating and immoral behavior, Richt stands out for his solid Christian values.
He led Georgia to a 10-3 record in 2011 with a balanced offense despite losing the top two running backs on the roster before the season started.
Richt has extensive experience in the SEC and should be able to hit the ground running as the head coach of A&M if that is who they choose.
There is a lot to like about Mark Richt, but the bottom line is that it was a given that this was going to be Richt's last season at UGA.
Georgia went 6-7 in 2010 and started the 2011 season 0-2. A 10-game winning streak this season save Richt's job. UGA won the SEC East but then got blown out in the SEC title game.
Why should A&M take a guy that is on the hot seat at Georgia?
For all of his recruiting acumen Richt has never had much of a presence in Texas and will need to quickly connect with the high school coaches in the state.
Richt brought elite talent to Athens in Stafford and A.J. Green yet never won anything of note while they were on campus.
How impressive is a 10-game winning streak when the SEC East was so weak in 2011?
Kevin Sumlin is one of the more brilliant offensive minds in the college game today. Everywhere he has coached he has had an elite offense.
He helped lead Oklahoma to the BCS title game as their offensive coordinator. He was named offensive coordinator at A&M three games into the 2002 season. He inherited an offense averaging 286 yards and 16 points per game. In the nine games after Sumlin took over, the Aggies averaged over 400 yards and 33 points per game.
He has a swagger as an offensive coach. The Aggies could use that kind of leadership on the field.
Sumlin has recruited in Texas for the last 11 years and has established relationships with high school coaches.
Sumlin won a school record 12 games at Houston during the 2011 season. He is 3-1 all time against top 25 teams with his only loss coming to Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA title game.
He has coached at A&M before and knows the potential of the program.
Sumlin has been the head coach at Houston for four years but has never had a good defense.
There is some concern that Sumlin's spread offense would get shut down by the elite defensive lines in the SEC.
Sumlin has not brought any big-name recruits to UH in the four years he has been there. Some are worried that he will struggle to recruit against the elite coaches in the SEC.
Sumlin has never won a conference championship.
He coached under R.C. Slocum at A&M. Some people believe that A&M needs to go in a completely different direction from its past and hire someone without any ties to the school. They believe a fresh approach is needed and Sumlin does not offer that.
Chris Peterson has been the head coach at Boise State for six seasons. His record during that time is 71-6. Peterson has led Boise State to wins in two BCS bowl games.
At a school where it is almost impossible to recruit, Peterson has built a Top-5 program.
Boise State physically beats down opponents and has produced multiple NFL players during Petersen's tenure.
Petersen beat UGA and Mark Richt to start the 2011 season. Even though Boise is regularly criticized for playing a weak schedule, they have had a lot of success against the BCS league teams under Petersen.
Even though he is considered an offensive coach, Boise State has regularly fielded Top 25 defenses under Petersen's watch.
He has consistently taken lesser-known recruits and developed them into teams that beat more well-known programs on the field.
Petersen has had some success in recruiting Texas.
Petersen is easily one of the top five coaches in America.
Boise State plays an elite program the first game of the season and the last game of the season. There is some concern that Petersen cannot win at a high level when faced with elite programs every week.
Boise State has lost to Nevada and TCU the past two years. Both losses probably kept the Broncos out of the national title game.Can Petersen keep a team focused for an entire season with a national title on the line?
Petersen is going to cost A&M at least $4 million per year. He would be the only coach in America getting paid that much who has not won a national title.
Former Boise State coaches like Dan Hawkins and Dirk Koetter struggled to win at high levels after they left Boise.