Possible candidates to become Pitt coach 

December, 16, 2014
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Now that Paul Chryst's return to Wisconsin is official, Pitt is looking for a new football coach. Again.

Sadly for Pitt, the school Chryst is leaving, his 19-19 record in three seasons actually marks progress in terms of stability. Including offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph, who will serve as interim coach in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, Pitt has had seven head coaches since 2010.

And you can add an athletic director to the final tally of those departing Pittsburgh, as the Panthers announced Steve Pederson’s dismissal Wednesday night. The goal of finding a head coach who will stay for a while will fall on someone else's shoulders. Winning in the wide-open ACC Coastal would be nice, too.

That likely eliminates some up-and-comer types. Then again, Chryst seemed like a longer-term fit. Coaching hires sure would be a lot easier with an accurate crystal ball.

So, where will Pitt look this time?

The University of Houston spoke this week with Ohio State co-offensive coordinator Tom Herman, multiple sources with knowledge of the search have told ESPN.com.

They added that the 39-year-old Herman impressed athletic director Mack Rhoades and the school’s administration.

Those familiar with the program say it is looking for someone to again make its offense as explosive as it was when Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Baylor’s Art Briles were at UH.

This season, Ohio State finished behind only Oregon in terms of Power 5 yards-per-play offense (7.04). The Buckeyes overcame a lot at the quarterback position to accomplish that.

Ohio State lost Heisman candidate Braxton Miller to a shoulder injury midway through preseason camp in August, but Herman and OSU’s coaching staff were able to turn backup J.T. Barrett into another Heisman hopeful by November.

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Jason Mowry/Icon SMITom Herman has spoken with Houston about its open head coaching job, according to sources.
Then, when Barrett broke his ankle in the regular-season finale against Michigan, the Buckeyes plugged in Cardale Jones for the team’s 59-0 rout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.

The win propelled OSU into the first College Football Playoff. Jones, the No. 3 quarterback in August, had 257 yards and three touchdowns against the Badgers.

Herman has some familiarity with the Houston area, as well. He was the offensive coordinator at Rice from 2007-08. Rice and Houston’s campuses are separated by a couple miles.

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Considering I’d written last week about Gary Andersen’s frustrations at Wisconsin, his decision Wednesday to leave didn’t come as much of a shock to me as it did to many.

But I never got the impression that Andersen was really on the way out the door -- and especially for Oregon State.

I actually thought Andersen, 19-7 in two seasons in Madison including the 2014 Big Ten West division title, might get in the Nebraska conversation. That search, however, was over in a hurry. And so was Oregon State’s once it knew it could land Andersen, the Utah native who is perhaps more of a regional fit with the Beavers.

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NEW YORK -- Just as Texas did a year ago, the Michigan job has dominated conversations in the halls of the Waldorf Astoria this week during college football’s Hall of Fame events and the Heisman Trophy ceremony lead-up.

The complicating factor with interpreting Michigan’s methods is the mystery man in charge of the search. Interim AD Jim Hackett has a business background, so it’s not as if he regularly has been mingling with the college football bluebloods who descend on Manhattan each holiday season.

That’s why, even with some of the more obvious targets out there -- Jim Harbaugh and Les Miles, among them -- I’m told Hackett could diverge from the perceived plan of “brand-name” college coaches and expand to NFL assistants and off-the-radar college guys.

One such candidate emerged Tuesday afternoon when a report surfaced that Michigan was kicking the tires on Duke coach David Cutcliffe.

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videoNEW YORK -- For the first time in the three years I’ve been attending the Hall of Fame and Heisman week events here, the Big 12 opened its Monday evening reception to the media.

Perhaps that was just coincidence. Or maybe the league was looking for friends after what happened this past weekend.

Being shut out of the initial College Football Playoff was a dominant part of the conversation in the swanky Waldorf-Astoria ballroom, as you’d expect.

Big 12 sources talked about scheduling, naming a champion and the odds they would look to a championship game or expansion.


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It’s Selection Day and the first time in history that college football will have a four-team bracket.

When it comes to the playoff, who would coaches least like to see on the other sideline? I’ve ranked the top six from the playoff contenders. This is a reprise of an exercise from the spring. Alabama’s Nick Saban was No. 1 back in May. Spoiler alert: He’s still No. 1 now. But there is a caveat attached this time. FSU’s Jimbo Fisher was No. 3 in the spring, but he has fallen in the most recent round of polling. TCU’s Gary Patterson is the name on the rise.

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Oregon State was like most everyone else in the country; it, too, had no idea that at the end of the week it would need a new football coach.

Nebraska moved swiftly and intently to hire away Mike Riley, who spent the past dozen seasons at OSU, creating a new Power 5 opening in the process.

After Florida and Nebraska’s moves, Kansas, Michigan and Oregon State are the major openings at the moment.

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Andersen looks to push Wisconsin 

December, 4, 2014
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Gary Andersen does not want out at Wisconsin, but those familiar with the program say the second-year coach is becoming increasingly frustrated by the school’s admissions policies.

Additionally, Wisconsin has been slow to evolve when it comes to paying assistants what has become customary market value elsewhere.

“He’s afraid of losing Dave,” a coach told me, referring to Badgers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who should have been a Broyles Award finalist after the outstanding job he’s done in 2014.

Whichever SEC teams miss out on Will Muschamp -- whether it’s Auburn, Texas A&M or South Carolina -- could wind up pushing for Aranda. Each would likely offer in the $1 million per year range.

Andersen came from Utah State and is making a little more than $2 million a year. If another comparable program came with an offer, he would likely be listening -- if for no other reason than to get the administration’s attention. Then again, it let the last guy walk.

The chasm between the coaches and board’s wishes has been widening the past five or so years, one source said, adding that it’s the biggest reason why Bret Bielema left for Arkansas.

Could Andersen be next, or will Wisconsin change with the times?

Here's a look at some of the other schools and coaches making headlines

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Who should replace Hoke at Michigan? 

December, 2, 2014
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As I wrote over the weekend, because of its fluid athletic director situation, Michigan should aggressively pursue Jim Harbaugh or Les Miles.

They are big enough names that the hiring of a permanent AD in 2015 wouldn’t affect the way they did their jobs; they’re bigger than the AD’s office.

But what if neither Michigan Man is interested? Where would interim AD Jim Hackett and the school’s administration then turn?

Michigan needs a coach who can catch up to the aggressive pace being set in the Big Ten by Urban Meyer and Ohio State. Meyer has moved the league into a new era. As positive as that is for competitive balance across the nation, it has forced discomfort from old-guard, slow-to-adapt Big Ten administrators.

I spoke this week with a Big Ten coach frustrated about his school’s regents and their inability to understand that spending money is necessary to be competitive.

Michigan isn’t that rigid in its thinking, but it needs a big hire to allow the program to catch up with Ohio State. That’s why Harbaugh and Miles are the best fits and should be coveted. The message would be sent that Michigan is serious about regaining its footing in the league.

Also, the new staff, whenever it arrives, has work to do. There were four in-season decommitments, leaving Michigan just seven prospects pledged for the 2015 class. The recent defections caused UM to drop 11 spots to No. 38 in the latest RecruitingNation class rankings.

Who else is out there?

1. Butch Jones, Tennessee head coach

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A Big Ten firing was anticipated Sunday, but Nebraska beat Michigan to an announcement.

Even with an overtime escape Friday at Iowa, athletic director Shawn Eichorst made the decision to fire Bo Pelini after seven seasons of either nine or 10 victories.

A number of people are wondering who could do better than Pelini’s 67-27 record, but consider that his teams were just 3-10 against ranked opponents since entering the Big Ten in 2011.

Nebraska lost 15 games in that span, giving up an average of 42.2 points per game in those defeats. That included three losses to Wisconsin -- now Nebraska’s division rival -- in which the Huskers allowed 59 points per game.

So, yes, someone could do better than that. That, along with Pelini’s surly disposition, is why there’s an opening.

The standard at Nebraska isn’t chasing Tom Osborne’s legacy; it’s finishing better than third in the Big Ten West.

Here are several candidates capable

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- We've learned in recent weeks that Jim Hackett, Michigan's interim AD, is the man who will decide coach Brady Hoke's fate -- and execute the coaching search if Hoke isn't around for the 2015 season.

In all likelihood, though, Hackett's permanent replacement will be in place by the start of the 2015 football season.

What does that mean? Michigan has to hire a coaching Superman. It needs someone bigger and more established than the AD's office. Otherwise, the coach could wind up looking over his shoulder because his new boss did not hire him. The new AD might have a different idea about whom the school would like as a coach.

That requirement narrows Michigan's candidate list to two:

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A year ago this week, Bo Pelini defiantly asserted that his Nebraska program was “heading in a good direction.”

Nebraska lost four games in each of Pelini’s first six seasons. Losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota the past two weeks have perfectly positioned the Huskers for another four-loss season.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsWith Saturday's loss, winning critical games in November continued to be an issue for Bo Pelini.
Nebraska is not heading in any direction at all. It’s on a hamster wheel, and no amount of feline fun and social media snark from @FauxPelini can set it free.

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Head-coaching changes are on the way, certainly at Florida and likely at Michigan, but do not overlook key coordinator moves potentially on the horizon.

Which programs should make a hire, and which are the likeliest to do so?

Virginia Tech fits both. Those close to the program were unsure last month about offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler’s future, but failure to score in four quarters Saturday against Wake Forest is a death knell.

The Hokies lost 6-3 in double overtime to the Deacons, an inexcusable and improbable loss that drops them to 5-6. With only Virginia remaining, the rivalry game will determine whether the program’s streak of 21 consecutive bowl games will extend another year.

You’d think Loeffler would get a pass for the offense’s issues, given the magnitude of injuries and youth Virginia Tech has dealt with this fall. I’m told, however, that head coach Frank Beamer has concerns about the inconsistency of the play-calling and flow. Beamer has become more vocal in recent weeks and implored Loeffler to call more run plays and make the offense more digestible for all the young, inexperienced players forced into action.

In 24 games (13-11 record), Loeffler’s offense has averaged 4.94 yards per play. That’s 109th in the FBS. Last in that span? Wake Forest.

Beamer, embattled at this point, has to make a move for one final run at the ACC.

With a number of returning offensive players, including several returns from injuries, there are reasons for hope in 2015. Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer was serviceable before his injury. With a new offensive plan and consistency, the Hokies could give Beamer that rebound run.

Where would I start? Well, Kurt Roper is on the market, and Florida’s demise had very little to do with him. He might be more spread-oriented than recent machinations, but perhaps that divergent philosophy is what the Hokies need.

Knowing the division from his Duke days, he’d be an asset. Having spent some time around him, I think he’d be a snug cultural fit.

Here are a few other coordinator spots to monitor

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Oklahoma's Stoops should go to Florida 

November, 21, 2014
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Florida is officially open. Is Bob Stoops legitimately listening?

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AP Photo/The Norman Transcript, Kyle PhillipsRelationships with the administration at OU could be the only thing keeping Bob Stoops from moving to Florida.
Even though I wrote last month that there are definitive reasons why the time is right for Stoops to leave Oklahoma, I still doubt that he does. He’s as doggedly stubborn as any coach in America. He’ll want to see the Sooners back to prominence in the league and nationally.

But …

The alternative that makes the most sense for him, Florida, is officially open.

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Re-evaluating the Michigan situation 

November, 19, 2014
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Back in October, Michigan coach Brady Hoke's seat was so hot we looked at potential candidates for the seemingly inevitable job opening. Since then, AD Dave Brandon resigned. Hoke is still in office, but the ice on which he stands is perilously thin.

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AP Photo/Carlos OsorioThings have been looking up for Brady Hoke and Michigan of late. Could the embattled coach be back for the 2015 campaign?
Brandon was replaced by interim AD Jim Hackett, a longtime corporate executive (similar to the man he replaced) who is well-regarded. Those close to the situation say Hackett is in good position to be the point man for the expected coaching search.

“He can handle this,” one industry source told me this week, adding that he expects Hackett, a 1977 grad who played for Bo Schembechler, to remain at Michigan for a year or so.

Hackett was brought on to steady things; he'll need to hire a new AD and make a decision about who will coach the Wolverines moving forward. If that person isn't Hoke, who makes the most sense?


1 and 2. The Harbaughs, NFL
Let’s get these brothers out of the way.

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