Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell and Kansas head coach Lance Leipold have reportedly emerged as the "three leading candidates on top of Nebraska's wish list" amid its head coaching search.
Bruce Feldman of The Athletic reported Tuesday that trio leads a group of 11 potential targets to replace Scott Frost, who was fired following a Sept. 10 loss to Georgia Southern. The Cornhuskers' list includes one internal option: interim head coach Mickey Joseph.
Here's a look at the other coaches linked to the Huskers, per Feldman:
- Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman
- Washington State head coach Jake Dickert
- Coastal Carolina head coach Jamey Chadwell
- Former Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall
- Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule
- Texas special assistant Gary Patterson
- Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard
Frost seemed like the perfect hire to get Nebraska football back on track. He's a Lincoln native who helped lead the Huskers to a share of a national championship as a quarterback in 1997, the last time they reached the mountaintop of college football.
He arrived after leading UCF to a 13-0 season in 2017, which provided a major boost to his coaching stock, but it simply didn't work out at his alma mater. The Cornhuskers posted a 16-31 record during his four-plus-year tenure with no winning seasons.
It raises uncertainty about what type of coach is needed to turn the tide back in the program's favor, and athletic director Trev Alberts noted after Frost's dismissal that he's going to seek outside guidance from other coaches to answer that question.
"If you hear that Trev Alberts reached out to XYZ coach, it might very well be true. Doesn't mean that I'm trying to hire that coach," Alberts told reporters. "I'd like to get that perspective. I'd like to get a perspective of a coach who isn't here right now about our job, and what the uniqueness is and the needs and those sorts of things."
While there are some marquee names on the candidates list—Campbell has been linked to numerous high-profile jobs in recent years and O'Brien owns success both in college and the NFL—Leipold may be the most intriguing option if the program is willing to have patience.
Kansas' head coach is a builder. He constructed Wisconsin-Whitewater into a Division III powerhouse, helped turn Buffalo into a consistent MAC contender and has already helped the Jayhawks show signs of turning a corner after an extended downturn.
It doesn't necessarily happen overnight, as a 2-10 record during his second year in Buffalo shows, but his ability to steadily lay a foundation has been impressive at every stop.
Leipold wouldn't arrive and land a ton of 5-star, top-10 prospects right away, but he'd bring in players who fit his system to help create that groundwork for future success. It happened in Buffalo, and it's already taking place at Kansas.
That's what Nebraska needs right now. It's no longer realistic to think the Huskers are going to contend for a national title in the immediate future, so hiring a coach who can build a culture that can pay dividends down the line should be the mindset.
So far, Alberts and Co. haven't shown extreme urgency to fill the void, which will give Joseph a chance to impress in the interim role. But it would be a surprise if Leipold, if he's interested, isn't one of the finalists as the list begins to shrink.