UT head coach Charlie Strong celebrates with fans after beating Baylor at McLane Stadium in Waco on Saturday December 5, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

BEVO BEAT Football

If they were gone: The Charlie Strong replacement

Posted May 12th, 2016

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There were a lot of reasons why Miami had Charlie Strong on the mind when the coaching opening occurred last fall. Strong recruited Florida very well when he was the defensive coordinator for the University of Florida and the head coach of Louisville.

The crazy thing was, Strong was under fire, and kind of still is under fire, when the rumors were going on, and it may have made sense for the move.

Texas squashed all these rumors in December. When Texas was pursuing assistant coaches Sterlin Gilbert and Matt Mattox to bulk up the offense, the athletic director and the university president had to strongly back their head football coach to seal the hirings.

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For this reason, it’s highly unlikely Charlie Strong will be leaving on his own admission anytime soon. Still, it’s also fair to say that Strong is much more likely to not be the head coach at Texas in the near future than men’s basketball coach Shaka Smart. Although all signs point to a program that’s on the uptick. Wins over Oklahoma and Baylor last year were momentum builders and Texas’ recruiting period was one of the most successful in the nation.

As recruit Chris Daniels explained:

Still, you never know, especially in college football. Strong could always be another school’s dream candidate and make a bigger commitment to him than Texas. There are a number of schools that could have mutual Strong interest if they became open. One of them is the program Strong will play in Week 1.

The athletics director at Texas needs to be ready to make a hire that will effectively be the most important decision he or she would make in their tenure. We’re talking about Texas, and we’re talking about football. It doesn’t get bigger than those two things in college athletics.

So what if Charlie Strong left? Well, we have a list we’ll keep in the drawer handy and give it to whomever the athletics director is at the time.

Over the next few days, we’ll release our list of the top coaches we’d put on our interview list if Shaka Smart and Charlie Strong left today.

Some factors for our list:

A. These coaches need to be successful in competition as well as recruiting. They go hand-in-hand. Mack Brown and Rick Barnes were some of the best recruiters in the nation during their prime runs at Texas.

B. They need to say “yes.” Texas has learned its lesson during the “Saban” catcalls by fans. It’s embarrassing when a coach tells a program like Texas “no.” And while we’re sure many fan-lists would have Mike Krzyzewski and Bill Self at the top or Urban Meyer and Nick Saban, we’re targeting coaches we believe would go all Stone Cold Steve Austin and give us a big “hell, yeah” then stun his old school’s athletics director and #letsride (wait, can I use this?) to Austin when we offer them the job.  That’s who we want. We want them to join Texas for life so we don’t have to keep this list in the drawer.

C. They need to be someone “NCAA clean.” Texas just went through an investigation and they don’t want to hire a guy with slime. Yes, they’d consider a coach with some dings, but they’d have to get turned down quite a bit to get to that point.

D. Coaching pedigree maters. Texas shouldn’t be looking at unproven coordinators to be the head coach, but if a current head coach has worked for people like Mack Brown, Saban, Meyer, Bob Stoops, Jim Tressel, Pete Carroll or other legends like Bobby Bowden or Steve Spurrier it should matter and it should be considered. They’ve seen how its done first hand.

E. They need to like Matthew McConaughey movies. He’ll be on the sidelines.

Here’s our list of coaches we’d contact if Charlie Strong left today:

Notes:  Stop with the Saban nonsense.

Nick Saban is not going to be the head coach of the Texas Longhorns.

Stop it.

No matter how many stories about how he sold his home in Alabama emerge.

He’s not coming to Austin, forget about the rumors of him wearing burnt orange no matter how many stories are written.

On to the list… no more Saban talk.

See the interactive map

10. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

MADISON, WI - NOVEMBER 21: Northwestern Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald talks to the refs against the Wisconsin Badgers on November 21, 2015 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Tom Lynn/Getty Images)
Northwestern Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald talks to the refs against the Wisconsin Badgers on November 21, 2015 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Tom Lynn/Getty Images)

Fitzgerald is coming off a 10-3 season at Northwestern following two losing ones sandwiched between 10-3 campaigns. The Northwestern legend should be on the back end of every college football program’s short list, no matter how farfetched it is to think he’d leave is alma mater. He’s done a marvelous job since taking over Northwestern following a tragedy. The 2008 College Football Hall of Fame inductee is only 70-56 and just 1-5 in bowl games since 2006, but at Northwestern, a program that before Randy Walker and Pat Fitzgerald arrived was the Big 10 doormat, that record is impressive. He has three seasons of nine or more wins at Northwestern. Only one other coach has done that.

Also, Fitzgerald is young. He’s just 41 years-old and has 10 years of head coaching chops. The offenses he’s ran at Northwestern have been a high-powered spread attacks that could spur recruits to Texas.

He’d be higher on this list if his bowl record wasn’t so bad and if we weren’t about 85 percent sure that he’d say no. Fitzgerald, a two-time Bednarik Award winner for the Wildcats, is going be getting free lunches in Evanston, Ill. for the rest of his life.

9. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

during the game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Gainesville, Florida.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher of the Florida State Seminoles signals to his players during the game against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Gainesville, Florida.

Look, he’d be our top choice if the world was made out of chocolate cake and the moon baby back ribs, but we don’t live in a fantasy universe. Floating Fisher’s name is about as pointless as Saban’s (dammit, we talked about Saban). Fisher’s resume is impressive. He won a national championship two years ago, groomed a Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 draft pick, has hauled in some of the best recruiting classes every year with FSU and sprouted off the (insert Alabama head coach’s name here)’s tree.

Here’s the thing: Fisher isn’t leaving FSU. And Florida State isn’t letting him leave without offering him a major extension, which Texas would probably freely get in a bidding with the Seminoles if it meant landing Jimbo Fisher. Even after all this, Fisher could still look at the landscape and feel Florida State is just a better job than Texas.

Then again, all the off-field stuff with Jimbo Fisher’s players have done, and all the hard work Charlie Strong has done to get rid of off field shenanigans, could eliminate Fisher before contract talks at Florida State even start. If, you know, Texas cares about all that stuff.

8. Bryan Harsin, Boise State

<> at Qualcomm Stadium on December 23, 2015 in San Diego, California.
Head coach Brian Harsin of the Boise State Broncos reacts during the first half of the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl on December 23, 2015 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The Boise State Broncos defeated the Northern Illinois Huskies 55-7

His record at Boise State is 21-6 in two seasons. Overall, he’s 28-11 since leaving Texas, where he was co-offensive coordinator, to become the head coach of Arkansas State. Harsin’s previous ties to Texas could help or hurt the 39-year-old coach’s desire to return to Austin. His tenure here was rocky at best as Mack Brown was fighting off rumors of his eventual demise and the offense never took off. His two seasons in Austin were a train wreck to say the least and his quarterbacks weren’t very good under him and neither was the offense in general.

Still, he got the head coaching job at Arkansas State despite all this. And he’s done extremely well since returning to his alma mater of Boise State, where he was a quarterback from 1995-1999.

Harsin, though, might be intrigued by the thought of returning to Austin and doing things his way. Having worked with Mack Brown and former Boise State coach and current Washington coach Chris Petersen is a strong pedigree. He’s likely made some type of recruiting in-roads in Texas and probably wouldn’t need a dining guide or festival guide when he lands at Austin Bergstrom, so that helps.

He’s not higher on this list because he’s not a for sure “yes” because he knows too much about the inner workings of Texas, the pressure the football coach has and frankly he probably feels like he’s at his dream job. Also, he has only three years of head coaching experience and probably needs to prove he  can sustain the success Boise State had under Petersen before he starts getting pursued by programs like Texas or USC or name any other name-brand college football program.

7. Sonny Dykes, California

<> at Rose Bowl on October 22, 2015 in Pasadena, California.
Head Sonny Dykes of the California Golden Bears looks on during the fourth quarter of a game against the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl on October 22, 2015 in Pasadena, California.

Dykes is an interesting case because we’d be shocked if he didn’t drop everything he was doing at Cal and take the first jet to Austin. Dykes is a Texan. His dad, Spike Dykes, coached football at Texas under Darrell Royal. His grandfather is a legend of Texas high school football coaching, Joe Golding.  He went to Texas Tech. He coached at J.J. Pearce High School, Navarro Junior College and returned to Texas Tech to coach under Mike Leach. He’s worked under Leach, Hal Mumme, Mike Stoops and eventually started his head coaching career at Louisiana Tech.

Dykes also just groomed the No. 1 overall pick of the NFL Draft, Jared Goff. Since 2013, he’s rebuilt the Cal Bears, going from 1-11 in his first year to eight wins in 2015. He has improved the Cal record every year he’s been there.

Can he recruit? The Bears had the 31st ranked class this year.

Dykes isn’t as high for the same reason as Harsin. Despite all the ties to Texas, Dykes may need more seasoning as a head coach before he takes this job. He  hasn’t won enough (36-38), as well, to be a serious candidate at Texas.

6. Les Miles, LSU

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 28: Head coach Les Miles of the LSU Tigers celebrates after defeating the Texas A&M Aggies 19-7 at Tiger Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Head coach Les Miles of the LSU Tigers celebrates after defeating the Texas A&M Aggies 19-7 at Tiger Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Like Fisher and that other guy who used to coach LSU before Les Miles, Texas would likely be all over Miles if they knew he would take the job. For all the criticism that the Mad Hatter gets, LSU has been consistently good and often elite under Miles. He’s struggled the last few years to settle on a quarterback, but he has recruited and coached so many great defensive players at LSU that it often doesn’t matter. Plus he seems to find amazing running backs every other year, and will have the Heisman front-runner on the roster this fall.

Miles is 112-32 at LSU. He’s 139-53 overall and 8-6 in bowl games. He fell off the Bo Schembechler coaching tree, spent time with Bill McCartney in Colorado and coached with the Dallas Cowboys before starting his head coaching career at Oklahoma State in 2001.

Here’s why Miles is unlikely to be the next coach at Texas: he was almost fired, and according to ESPN, was fired but then un-fired, this fall at LSU. A rule of this Texas search is one program’s fired coach is not another program’s hired coach. Texas is not hiring someone who was fired from their last job. Also, Miles would probably tell Texas “no” even after LSU treated him like he wasn’t the most successful coach in 50 years at LSU. Miles’ players carried him off the field in what was supposed to be his last game at Tiger Stadium in 2015. LSU reversed its decision, and Miles went full-steam ahead in the offseason. Plus, history suggests that Miles doesn’t want leave LSU.

Case in point: Michigan has hired three head coaches the last 10 years and none of them were Miles, who is probably a genetically engineered “Michigan Man.” Miles was even born in Ohio, which makes him an even better “Michigan Man” considering most great things associated with the Michigan football program came from Ohio. And people from Ohio will tell you this all the time.

If Michigan can’t lure Miles away, LSU is now backing Miles for the time being and it doesn’t look like the talent is going to run dry in Baton Rouge any time soon, Miles is far from a “yes.”

But he’s sixth on this list because if he wasn’t somebody crazy enough to eat football field grass and come up with ridiculous plays, he’d be sprinting to the Texas border to get away from those LSU people tried to fire him last year.

5. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

of the Michigan State Spartans against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 5, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Head coach Mark Dantonio of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates after beating the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 5, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

If Texas wants to flip the college football world on its head, they’d hire one of the best college football coaches of the last decade, Mark Dantonio. “Coach Dan,” as they call him, took over a program that was OK, but not elite. The previous coach at Michigan State was slapping himself in the face after games. Dantonio has spent the last few years slapping Ohio State in the face.

There’s no Texas tie here, and he’s not an offensive minded guy. What he is is a lot like what Texas currently has in Charlie Strong: a no nonsense and defensive minded coach.

Dantonio’s rise may be the reason Michigan has dipped, and no doubt that the Ohio State and Penn State scandals weakened the Big 10 enough for another program to rise up, but also credit Dantonio for taking the ultimate “little brother” program to a big brother party. So Michigan State got crushed by Alabama and (insert Alabama head coach’s name here) in January. That game was the College Football National Semifinals.

At age 60, Dantonio may not be a longterm coach at Texas (but he’s four years younger than the Alabama coach, and people in Austin don’t care about his age, so does age matter?). The age thing probably matters, because the age of the head coach can impact recruiting. The biggest reason why he’s not No. 1 on this list  is because his age, his comfort level at Michigan State and his “legend” status he’s reaching in East Lansing probably means he’s likely to say “no.”

4. Tom Herman, Houston

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31: Head Coach Tom Herman of the Houston Cougars celebrates after the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl against the Florida State Seminoles at the Georgia Dome on December 31, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Head Coach Tom Herman of the Houston Cougars celebrates after the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl against the Florida State Seminoles at the Georgia Dome on December 31, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Really, Herman shouldn’t be on this list. He’s only been the head coach at Houston for one year and his first true recruiting class came in at No. 40. But he’s on this list because Herman is the hottest coach in college football currently at a mid-major. Herman was the offensive coordinator for the 2014 National Championship Ohio State team. He left for Houston and in 2015 he went 13-1 and beat Florida State in the Peach Bowl.

His Longhorn ties are glaring. He learned from Greg Davis, who was the successful offensive coordinator at Texas until he was, well, not successful anymore (Davis did pretty well at Iowa last season), as a graduate assistant. Herman then coached at Sam Houston State, Texas State and Rice before emerging as an offensive coordinator at Iowa State.

His first year at Houston was one to remember and it’s almost surprising that Herman didn’t jump ship for some other job that’s not in the American Conference. But he didn’t, which means he’s probably going to stay at Houston until the job he wants opens.

Texas would be that job. And Texas would hire him over all the names we’ve already listed because Herman has all the buzz and, oh yeah, is already coaching and recruiting in Texas. Even compared to Les Miles, who shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same sentence as Herman, Texas probably leans to a less expensive option like Herman that has more career momentum right now. Less expensive, at 40-years old a longer shelf life and Herman is an offensive-minded guy who’s worked at Texas? It does make more sense, right?

But would Texas hire a guy with just one year on his resume?

3. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona

PALO ALTO, CA - OCTOBER 06: Head coach Rich Rodriguez of the Arizona Wildcats on the sidelines against the Stanford Cardinal during the third quarter at Stanford Stadium on October 6, 2012 in Palo Alto, California. The Stanford Cardinal defeated the Arizona Wildcats 54-48 in overtime. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
Head coach Rich Rodriguez of the Arizona Wildcats on the sidelines against the Stanford Cardinal during the third quarter at Stanford Stadium on October 6, 2012 in Palo Alto, California. The Stanford Cardinal defeated the Arizona Wildcats 54-48 in overtime. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)

Don’t snicker. Don’t laugh. Don’t click the “X” at the top of your browser. Rich-Rod actually makes a lot of sense as a Texas option.

First, he’d say “yes” despite saying “no” to other programs recently.  Second, he’d be the best offensive-minded coach Texas could hire even if Herman is considered. Rodriguez coaches the spread better than just about any coach in college football. The only reason it didn’t take off in Michigan is because Michigan didn’t have the right personal for Rodriguez to install his offense and didn’t give the coach enough time to flip over the roster. Michigan also didn’t really want to hire him to start with. By the time the roster was reloaded for the spread scheme, Rodriguez was gone, Brady Hoke was hired and the offense went through another scheme change that eventually cost Hoke his job.

Rodriguez has won 33 games at Arizona since 2013, peaking at 10-4 in 2014. Arizona was not great last year and went 7-6, but Rodriguez is 3-1 in bowl games at Arizona, including a bowl win last season.

Would this hire be mocked and seen as a disappointment? Probably. Rodriguez’s time in Ann Arbor almost crippled his head coaching career. If Arizona wasn’t such a dead-end place to coach college football, who knows where Rodriguez would have landed.

But if Charlie Strong left tomorrow and assuming Texas would hire a new coach and not an interim, what could Rodriguez do with this current roster? He could win a lot of games and score a lot of points.

A lot.

Remember how good West Virginia was when he was there? We barely do as well, but he was good enough to land one of the three or four best and most prestigious jobs in college football history.

2. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

STARKVILLE, MS - NOVEMBER 28: Head coach Dan Mullen of the Mississippi State Bulldogs reacts to a play during the fourth quarter of a game against the Mississippi Rebels at Davis Wade Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Starkville, Mississippi. Mississippi won the game 38-27. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Head coach Dan Mullen of the Mississippi State Bulldogs reacts to a play during the fourth quarter of a game against the Mississippi Rebels at Davis Wade Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Starkville, Mississippi. Mississippi won the game 38-27. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

It kind of feels like Mullen has gotten the Bulldogs to the highest level they’ll ever reach. They’ve been in the mix for the college football playoffs the last two  years, have had the SEC’s best quarterback the last two years and Mullen has sustained success since taking over Mississippi State. He’s 55-35 since 2009, hails from the Urban Meyer coaching tree, runs an offense that’s exciting and is 4-2 in bowl games.

Look at this way: Mullen is Tom Herman with more sustained head coaching success and more battle-tested in every way. He’s also just four years older.

Just a hunch, but Mullen would leave Mississippi State tomorrow for Texas, despite what he’s said in the past and checks off a lot of things Texas is looking for. He’s just 44 years old and has won 10 and nine games the last two years. He started super strong in Starkville, survived a  slight dip and started winning big again.

Mississippi State would try to keep him, but wouldn’t be able to compete financially with Texas. Mullen would be a home run hire for Texas in every way.

1. David Shaw, Stanford

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 7: Head coach David Shaw of the Stanford Cardinal calls from the sideline during a game against the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field on November 7, 2015 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Head coach David Shaw of the Stanford Cardinal calls from the sideline during a game against the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field on November 7, 2015 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

What has been the No. 1 problem at Texas since 2009? You can say coaching, defense, administration– whatever. The only correct answer is bad, poor, mediocre, average and frustrating quarterback play.

David Shaw has the coaching chops and pedigree to change that. The Stanford head coach has tutored Andrew Luck and Kevin Hogan over the years and learned from one of the best quarterback coaches, and football coaches in general, in Jim Harbaugh.

It’s not just quarterbacks he’s helped groom. He steered Toby Gerhart and Christian McCaffrey into the Heisman runner-up seasons. He has sustained the success that Harbaugh gave Stanford, and that’s important because every time Stanford has had a successful head coach (like Bill Walsh and Tyrone Willingham), the program collapsed after they left.

Stanford is incredibly tough to recruit at because of the high academics requirement, but Shaw has worked through it.

The only negative thing that could hinder Shaw’s hiring is that the NFL could be his next calling. Shaw has coached with the Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens before settling in the college ranks with Harbaugh.

Shaw has won three PAC-12 titles, is a three-time PAC-12 Coach of the Year and is 3-2 in bowl games with two Rose Bowl victories. He’s won more than 10 games (at Stanford!) four times in his five years at the program.

Would he say yes? It would be a difficult decision given that Shaw is a former Stanford receiver and California kid whose dad coached at Stanford. At the end of the day, though, Texas would make Shaw one of the highest paid coaches in college athletics and allow him to coach the best football prospects in America. Stanford is humming at a higher level than Texas right now, but the ceiling will always be higher on the 40 Acres.

 

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