With an inauspicious start to his head coaching career, UK Head Coach Mark Stoops’ seat is starting to preheat. As we have discussed, it will take a major meltdown in 2016 in order for Stoops to exit Lexington with his tail between his legs. So, it is not yet hot, or warm for that matter. But, things are certain to heat up quickly if this team doesn’t pull a few surprises this season.
If Stoops and his Troops fail to gain a bowl birth for Big Blue in either of the next two seasons, Stoops will not be Kentucky’s leader anymore. UK is paying him too much to win four-five games each fall. If this marriage is on the rocks and looking like an inevitable divorce, I feel it is prudent to start looking around for possible replacements.
Kentucky will not get the “Big Names” each Power 5 school vastly covets as the coaching carousel commences at the conclusion of each season. They have to find a retread, take a chance an unproven hot-shot coordinator, or swing for the fences for a has-been with baggage. There will be NO perfect candidate based on this job. Having pockets/a willingness to invest in the program along with playing in the SEC are major pros. But due to the fact no coach has left Lexington with a winning record in 55 years, it is a daunting task.
At this point in time, I feel Kentucky will go with a grizzled coaching veteran if someone has to pick up the pieces of Stoops’ rebuilding project, but there are a few coordinators gaining steam. Nevertheless, here are 16 potential candidates to command from the Commonwealth Stadium sidelines in a couple of seasons.
Bo Pelini: Head Coach of Youngstown State
HC Record: 72-33, 4-3 in Bowl Games
Previous Stops: Head Coach at Nebraska, DC at LSU, DC at Oklahoma, DC at Nebraska, NFL Defensive Position Coach with Packers, Patriots, and 49ers
Notable Pros: Ndamukong Suh (Neb), Roy Helu Jr. (Neb), Prince Amukamara (Neb), Ameer Abdullah (Neb), Randy Gregory (Neb), Glenn Dorsey (LSU), Brandon Lafell (LSU)
The Case for Pelini:
Like Mark Stoops, Pelini hails from Youngstown, OH and is considered a defensive specialist. It could be a seamless transition due to their similar blue collar backgrounds and defensive philosophies. Plus, Pelini knows this area of the county well. Pelini was known for being a bit cantankerous and did not have the best relationship with his former bosses at Nebraska. Despite winning at least nine games each season in Lincoln, Pelini was shown the door and ended up coaching back in Northeast Ohio. Traditionally like Stoops, Pelini deploys a 4-3 Defense with emphasis on controlling the line of scrimmage. He allowed current Ohio State co-OC Tim Beck, also a Youngstown product, to command a run-balanced spread attack for the latter portion of his Nebraska tenure. Though that offense called for more mobility at the QB position, it helped produce a couple of pro running backs. Pelini is an incendiary character so he could absolutely spark a fire into a downtrodden fan base like UK’s, but his act could also wear thin on players if instant gratification isn’t granted. With his pedigree, it is presumed he would be the type of coach to allow UK to reach seven or eight wins annually, which is what the fan base wants. They just want to be a part of the conversation within the SEC and have the occasional trip to Nashville, New Orleans, or Tampa. He has shown an ability to acquire good talent and mold them into contenders; so he could get UK to Atlanta in theory. If BBN and, more importantly his players, are willing to put up with his antics, I feel Pelini would fit well in Lexington. After all, he is a big fans of cats.
Gene Chizik: Defensive Coordinator at North Carolina
HC Record: 38-38, 3-0 in Bowl Games, 2010 SEC Champion, 2010 National Champion
Previous Stops: Head Coach at Auburn, Head Coach at Iowa State, DC at Texas, DC at Auburn, DC at UCF, DC and Defensive Positional Coach at Stephen F. Austin, DE Coach at MTSU
Notable Pros: Cam Newton (Aub), Nick Fairly (Aub), Dee Ford (Aub), Cody Parkey (Aub), Tre Mason (Aub), Greg Robinson (Aub)
The Case for Chizik:
Hiring Gene Chizik would come to as close as a Bill Curry hire as they come. He is a streaky coach with a national championship in his back pocket, but he hasn’t shown a knack for winning when the pantry is empty. The opportunistic Chizik made the most of his time at Auburn, but three of his seven seasons as a head coach have resulted in three victories or less. His 2010 championship year will always be tied to Cam Newton with the Heisman winner receiving the bulk of the credit despite Chizik winning a slew of National Coach of the Year honors. After a two-year hiatus from coaching, Chizik was brought onto UNC’s staff as DC last season and saw his defenses clamp down on opposing offenses and jumped from second worst in the nation to 42nd in scoring defense. The Tar Heels finished Runner-Up in the ACC behind Clemson in 2015. Though he has SEC experience, he isn’t known as a energetic presence on the recruiting trails and has not performed well in the underdog role throughout his coaching career. He often has overly relied on the staff and roster around him to advance his accolades. If he was hired, it would be hard for BBN and players to get excited about him being the one that would salvage the sinking ship. But after a year of being DC at Auburn, Will Muschamp was able to snatch the South Carolina gig. Maybe Chizik does something likewise? I still think it would result in a sputtering quartet of 4-8 seasons if hired here. But he may be able to con himself into a job in a few years.
Frank Solich: Head Coach at Ohio
HC Record: 138-80, 3-8 in Bowl Games, 1999 Big 12 Champion
Previous Stops: Head Coach at Nebraska, Assistant Coach at Nebraska
Notable Pros: Kyle Vanden Bosch (Neb), Eric Crouch (Neb), Correll Buckhalter (Neb), Dominic Raiola (Neb), Richie Incognito (Neb), Josh Brown (Neb), Boo Jackson (Ohio)
The Case for Solich:
Frank Solich is probably someone you barely remember or have never heard of. If you are of the age to remember Solich as the Head Coach at Nebraska, you remember a highly successful man who coached the Cornhuskers to three AP Top 10 finishes in six seasons. Solich and his I-Form and option attach produced Nebraska’s last conference championship and most recent Heisman winner Eric Crouch. But due to a poor road record against ranked foes and a offensive scheme becoming more predictable, Tom Osbourne let Solich go in 2003. For the past decade plus, Solich has quietly been maintaining one of the most consistent contenders in the MAC just north of the Commonwealth. After compiling an 80-61 tally at Ohio, Solich might be ready to try one last stab at a Power 5 job. But at the age of 71, it’s apt to question how much longer Solich wants to remain on the sidelines and if he has it in him to breath life into Kentucky’s program. Rich Brooks was 68 when he retired. But this dude could be a lifer.
“Doc” Holliday: Head Coach at Marshall
HC Record: 50-28, 4-0 Bowl Record, 2014 MAC Champion
Previous Stops: Associate HC at West Virginia, Associate HC at Florida, Associate HC at NC St, Offensive Positional Coach at West Virginia
Notable Pros: None at Marshall, Phillip Rivers (NC St), Steven Tulloch (NC St), Mario Williams (NC St), Reggie Nelson (Florida), Tim Tebow (Florida), Aaron Hernandez (Florida), Percy Harvin (Florida), Brandon Spikes (Florida), Joe Hayden (Florida), Mike and Maurkice Pouncey (Florida)
The Case for Holliday:
I am kind of surprised Holliday didn’t get a Power 5 job this past offseason. He is a West Virginia native with most of his coaching experience coming within the Mountaineer State, but is “Doc” highly regarded as a viable head coach candidate at a larger school due to his experience as an associate head coach for notable programs. Marshall is Holliday’s first stop, and he has coached the Thundering Herd to three straight double digit wins. He has yet to produce a prospect that has stuck in the NFL at Marshall but has been crucial part of staffs that has reeled in first round talent. Holliday runs a balanced offense that is known for scoring the majority of its points in the first half. His defenses have been one of the best in the nation in terms of efficiency and yards/play the past few seasons as well. Though on the surface, BBN might feel underwhelmed if Holliday is brought on; but after dwelling on it and looking at his success, I believe they would warm up to him quickly. Though he is coming from the MAC, his schemes could produce wins right away if enough talent remains on his inherited roster. The argument against him is if he covets the WVU job or if he has enough experience to perform well in the SEC. As far as quality of candidate, Holliday would be on my realistic shortlist.
Chris Hatcher: Head Coach at Samford
HC Record: 127-62, 8-5 Division II Tournament Record, 2004 Division II National Champion, 4x Gulf South Conference Champion (DII)
Previous Stops: Head Coach at Murray State, Head Coach at Georgia Southern, Head Coach at Valdosta State, Offensive Positional Coach at Kentucky
Notable Pros: None
The Case for Hatcher:
Hatcher began his coaching career under Hal Mumme and has implemented a version of the Air Raid at each stop. His best success came at his alma mater Valdosta St. He coached them to win the DII Championship in 2004. After shooting up to the FCS ranks, his past two stints have been lukewarm and have yet to result in more than seven wins. Though there was some clamor to make Hatcher Kentucky’s OC, he hasn’t shown ability to put together prolonged success on the big stage. But, Hal Mumme famously made the jump from small time college ball to the SEC and Kentucky fans has been infatuated with that notion ever sense. He puts up big numbers and can win with the less-than-ideal talent. Still, I find Hatcher to be the biggest long shot to be potentially offered the UK job of people on this list.
Jeff Brohm: Head Coach at Western Kentucky
HC Record: 20-7, 2-0 in Bowl Games, 2015 C-USA Champion
Previous Stops: Associate HC and OC at Western Kentucky, OC at UAB, QB Coach at Illinois, QB Coach at FAU, Associate HC, OC, and Passing Game Coordinator at Louisville
Notable Pros: Antonio Andrews (WKU), Brandon Doughty (WKU), Gary Barnidge (UofL), Harry Douglas (UofL), Elvis Dumervil (UofL)
The Case for Brohm:
Yes, the Golden Boy. Jeff Brohm would be the majority of the fan base’s top choice today to follow Stoops. He is a Kentucky Guy, a QB guru, and a major up-and-comer in the coaching ranks. The only issue is Brohm might consider the UK job to be beneath him and view it as a stepping stone to a bigger and better job. Brohm appeared pretty committed to WKU as he turned town coaching interviews until the ‘Topper’s season ended last year. But if he has another eight, nine, ten win season in Bowling Green, he will be many AD’s first choice to be their football coach and will be offered a lot of money to don another university’s colors. His pro scheme has been very prolific and allowed WKU to be one of the most potent offenses in college football the past two seasons. There is no doubt he would create a buzz in the bluegrass on day one, but would he take the time to listen to Mitch Barnhart’s offer?
PJ Fleck: Head Coach at Western Michigan
HC Record: 17-21, 1-1 in Bowl Games
Previous Stops: WR Coach for Tampa Bay Buccaneers, WR Coach at Rutgers, WR Coach at Northern Illinois
Notable Pros: Richard Ash (WMU), Willie Beavers (WMU)
The Case for Fleck:
I know what you’re thinking, “Who TF is…”. Well, let me stop you right there. PJ Fleck is a young, energetic coach who could land at a major school in the next five years. Despite a horrendous 1-11 start to his career, Fleck has steered his WMU squad to consecutive 8-5 campaigns. In two years, he might be ripe for the picking if UK has an opening. A young charismatic coach *with past head coaching success could be the small difference that makes this thing work. Coming into the NFL, he quickly got a reputation for being a chippy and scrappy wide out. That passion and determination has thus far translated in his coaching stops, but this is his first rodeo. Fleck would need to keep up this rate of success of course. Right now, I’m reading the tea leaves on his career. Fleck is only 35 years old. He would look good beside Matthew Mitchel and Coach Cal in those Paul Miller ads, but he might be a little too inexperienced to take on this project. In order for me to buy in on him to be on my shortlist, he needs to lead his team to double-digit winning seasons the next two falls. A MAC Championship wouldn’t hurt either. Keep your eye on this little Fleck.
Joe Moglia: Head Coach at Coastal Carolina
HC Record: 41-13, 4-3 in FCS Playoff Record, 3x Big South Champion (FCS)
Previous Stops: Head Coach of Omaha Nighthawks (UFL), Assistant at Nebraska, DC at Dartmouth, DC at Lafayette
Notable Pros: None
The Case for Moglia:
Joe Moglia is without a doubt the most unique candidate on this list. When you give up being a TD Ameritrade executive for a hobby that requires 80-hour work weeks, you are not normal. But Joe Moglia has quietly become one of college football’s best tales. The former Wall Streeter found immediate success as a head coach in the FCS. His teams use all three facets of the game (offense, defense, AND special teams) in their weekly strategy. Something rather uncommon and a mentality notably shared by former Virginia Tech Head Coach Frank Beamer. His teams run the ball very, very well. I don’t think offering money is an important to Moglia as it is to offer a challenge. The man is acting like he has too much time on his hands and wants to follow his passions. Luckily for him, he is a gifted coach. He style of play could be singular enough for Kentucky to find a niche system to consistently compete in the SEC. But like Hatcher, it will be an immensely risky endeavor promoting a coach from the FCS to a job like UK. Tressel did it from Youngstown St to Ohio St, but I am not sure those results could be matched in this instance. Though it is interesting to play around with, I sincerely doubt Moglia jumps straight from the FCS to a Power 5 school. Plus at this stage, I think he is perfectly happy to keep doing what he’s doing. Only if the coaching carousel gets chaotic do I give him a call.
Dana Holgorsen: Head Coach at West Virginia
HC Record: 36-28, 2-2 in Bowl Games, 2011 Big East Champion
Previous Stops: OC at Oklahoma St, OC at Houston, OC and Inside WR Coach at Texas Tech
Notable Pros: Geno Smith (WVU), Tavon Austin (WVU), Kevin White (WVU), Pat McAfee (WVU), Karl Joseph (WVU), Brandon Weeden (OK St), Justin Blackmon (OK St), Case Keenum (Hou), Michael Crabtree (TT), Wes Welker (TT)
The Case for Holgorsen:
Things in the Mountaineer State have been rocky during Dana’s time in Morgantown. After orchestrating the nation’s top-ranked offense at Oklahoma St, Dana slid into the WVU gig in 2010. The program had dipped a bit and the fan base got a taste of notoriety under Rich Rodriguez so they had a great thirst to return to relevancy. They wanted to put points on the board, and Dana’s offense could do just that. Dana’s first season was his best, the only season when WVU was still in the Big East. Since moving to the Big 12, his teams have only won eight games once in four years. A product of Mike Leach’s Air Raid Coaching Tree and former player for Hal Mumme, Dana’s teams have leaned heavily on their offense to win games. The results have been mixed. He has coached big wins and has gone stale in spurts, but he stands with a respectable record above .500. With him turning down the extension, he is betting on himself this upcoming fall, and that could backfire big time. In the case his team sputters and misses a bowl birth, Dana could be out of work. But with his resume, he would be a worthwhile candidate for Barnhart to consider. His peak might be eight wins, but again that is what BBN is willing to settle for.
Butch Davis: Free Agent
HC Record: 63-43 in College, 24-35 in NFL, 5-2 in Bowl Games, 3x Big East Champion
Previous Stops: Front Office Advisor Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Head Coach at North Carolina, Head Coach of Cleveland Browns, Head Coach of Miami (FL), DC and DL Coach for Dallas Cowboys, DL Coach Miami (FL)
Notable Pros: Ray Lewis (Mia), Ed Reed (Mia), Andre Johnson (Mia), Clinton Portis (Mia), Edgerrin James (Mia), Reggie Wayne (Mia), Hakeem Nicks (UNC), Robert Quinn (UNC)
The Case for Davis:
Davis hasn’t coach since he was fired from UNC as a scapegoat in an academic misconduct scandal in 2010. He has only worked as an advisor since. Coaxing Davis out of the shadows isn’t a likely scenario to unfold in a few years, but he does have the pedigree needed to win in the Bluegrass. He and his staffs have recruited numerous NFL Draftees and won with all types of players. Though his stint with the Cleveland Browns didn’t end well, he is still the only coach to get the modern Browns to the post-season. He is at the point in his life where he can just kick it or decide to roll the dice and get back in the game for one more go at it. Despite the baggage, UK might be willing to take a chance on Tim Coach’s old coach. He has recruited Florida well, an area where Stoops has focused in on along with his native Ohio, and can get electric playmakers in Lexington. Though I doubt Davis will be high on Barnhart’s wishlist, I personally would reach out to gage interest.
June Jones: Free Agent
HC Record: 112-94 in College, 22-36 in NFL, 7-2 in Bowl Games, 2x WAC Champion
Previous Stops: Head Coach at SMU, Head Coach at Hawaii, QB Coach San Diego Chargers, Head Coach of Atlanta Falcons, NFL Offensive Positional Coach for Falcons, Lions, and Oilers
Notable Pros: Emmanuel Sanders (SMU), Margus Hunt (SMU)
The Case for Jones:
June Jones is renown for taking on rebuilding jobs. He and his Run and Shoot offense revitalized Hawaii and allowed SMU to capture its first bowl victory since it received the Death Penalty. Though he is enjoying semi-retirement coaching a high school squad in Hawaii, Rich Brooks wasn’t really occupied when called upon. It might be pretty tough selling Central Kentucky against the Hawaiian Islands for his services, but the draw of the SEC might just lure Jones. His offenses have lead the nation in yardage and has had quarterbacks put up gaudy numbers. BBN would welcome such a hire with open arms, but what he actually could accomplish here would be hard to predict. He would encounter his stiffest competition both on and off the field. He might be able to come right on in at the right time and pilot the Cats to consecutive winnings seasons, but Jones has often relied on system rather than talent to win ball games. That only goes so far the in the brutal SEC. His offense’s past goes against SEC competition have not ended well and mostly have ended in one-sided embarrassments. Though it might make sense in theory, hiring Jones probably would be a disappointment in the end. Regardless, he would be a dark horse candidate if my first dozen offers didn’t materialize.
Art Briles: Free Agent
HC Record: 99-65, 3-6 in Bowls, 2006 C-USA Champion, 2x Big 12 Champion
Previous Stops: Head Coach at Baylor, Head Coach at Houston, RB Coach at Texas Tech, Highly Successful Texas HS Coaching Career
Notable Pros: Robert Griffen III (Bay), Kendall Wright (Bay), Josh Gordon (Bay), Corey Coleman (Bay), Brice Petty (Bay), Terrance Williams (Bay)
The Case for Briles:
After that ugly, ugly scandal at Baylor, it’s fair to question whether Briles will ever coach again let alone bring him in for an interview. But at the end of the day, I believe someone will be willing to give Briles a second chance. Often considered a “Texas Guy” will Briles be willing to depart from the Lone Star State if he indeed feels the need to continue coaching for a living. After being awarded his full buyout from Baylor, he might have enough money and comfortability to stay out of the limelight. His reputation as an innovative offensive mind speaks for itself, but the dark cloud above him might be too much of a burden for the sake of winning a few football games. In a few years, however, all could be forgiven and the stars might just align. If you can win 12-plus games at Baylor, you can do something worthwhile at Kentucky. I think in the end, a good deal of Wildcat fans would applaud hiring Art. Slim to none that Briles ends up in Lexington; big long shot.
Ed Orgeron: Defensive Line Coach at LSU
HC Record: 16-27
Previous Stops: Interim HC and Positional Coach at USC, Associate HC at Tennessee, DL Coach for New Orleans Saints, Head Coach at Ole Miss, Associate HC at USC, DL Coach at Syracuse, LB Coach at Nichols St, DL Coach at Miami (FL)
Notable Pros: Patrick Willis (Ole Miss), Michael Oher (Ole Miss), Jordan Cameron (USC), Jurell Casey (USC), Carson Palmer (USC), Matt Kalil (USC)
The Case for Orgeron:
Orgeron is a fiery motivator, but his brief stint as a head coach doesn’t make him appear to be a sexy option to replace Stoops. But looking beyond the subpar record, Orgeron is well respected within the coaching ranks and is a renown recruiter. His players love him and his staunch cajun accent makes you think you are living out a scene from the “Waterboy”, but it is highly unlikely someone makes the jump from positional coach to the head gig. Orgeron has the credentials to take a DC job with someone, but he might be content coaching the rest of his days for his home state’s flagship program. It is a major stretch that he will end up with a job like this, but meteoric rises do happen.
Brent Venables: Defensive Coordinator at Clemson
HC Record: None
Previous Stops: DC and LB Coach at Oklahoma, LB Coach at Kansas St
Notable Pros: Martavis Bryant (Clem), Andre Ellington (Clem), Sammy Watkins (Clem), Shaq Lawson (Clem), Vic Beasley Jr. (Clem), DeAndre Hopkins (Clem), Adrian Peterson (OK), Trent Williams (OK), Sam Bradford (OK)
The Case for Venables:
UK hasn’t done so well hiring first-time head coaches. Joker and Stoops basically have identical records six years since Papa Brooks retired. But, Venables has been instrumental in Dabo Sweeny’s reign at Clemson. Venables’ name popped up this past offseason as a potential suitor for a number of jobs, but he decided to stay put and be more picky with his first head coaching job. A job like Kentucky might be enticing for Venables. He gets to stay in the South, maintain recruiting ties and pipelines, coach in his third Power 5 conference, and finish what defensive-minded Stoops started. Rookie head coaching candidates are total wildcards due to the fact you have no clue what type of staff and style they want to implement. The right hire at OC or DC could be the difference in failure and success, especially in a job like UK’s where there is a small margin of error. But the rest of the staff or the oil that makes the machine run smoothly. Though they usually don’t get the spotlight, they are the coaches vital for total team development. Too many miscues could result in a staff destined to fail. Venables has been around enough good football to presume he can assemble a quality staff. But like Stoops before him, you need to have a vision in mind or else you could still be searching for an identity entering your fourth year.
Lincoln Riley: Offensive Coordinator at Oklahoma
HC Record: None
Previous Stops: Associate HC and OC at Eastern Carolina, Inside WR Coach at Texas Tech
Notable Pros: Sterling Shepard (OK), Linval Joseph (ECU)
The Case for Riley:
This would be a desperate move, but pass-happy coordinators really draw attention to themselves. Riley has been climbing up the coaching ladder the past few seasons and now currently calls the plays for Stoops’ older brother Bob at Oklahoma. Riley was mentioned as a possible replacement for Neal Brown after he left for Troy, but he ended up going to a contender to boost his resume rather than a rebuilding project. Though a Non-Power 5 job will probably be Riley’s first head coach stop, there is still no guarantee he is itching to be the big cheese. Many coordinators prefer to stay pat and Riley has won a Broyle Award. But after a few season, Riley could be feeling quite ambitious. Barnhart would be gambling pretty hard on a move like this. Looking at past case studies, such a hire doesn’t result in BBN being enthralled despite the potential of flashy routes.
Ed Warinner: Offensive Coordinator at Ohio St
HC Record: None
Previous Stops: Offensive Positional Coach at Ohio St, OC at Kansas, OC and OL Coach at Army, LB Coach at Michigan St, RB Coach at Akron
Notable Pros: Ezekiel Elliot (Ohio St), Braxton Miller (Ohio St), Carlos Hyde (Ohio St), Cardale Jones (Ohio St), Ryan Shazier (Ohio St), Taylor Decker (Ohio St)
The Case for Warinner:
Following Urban Meyer to the Land of the Buckeyes, Warinner has been responsible for the crazily efficient offense coming out of Columbus the last few years. Along with setting numerous school records and molding NFL Draftees, Warinner has helped Meyer win a lot of football games. Meyer’s previous five OC’s have landed head coaching positions, Warinner will be due soon. He is fond of creating a robust running attack as his offensives have been a Top 10 rushing team the last three seasons. Like Stoops, he could help Kentucky maintain and exploit the Ohio pipeline. Plus with a track record of producing NFL talent, he should be able to hit the recruiting trail day one on the job. It is only a matter of time before Warinner joins the likes of Tom Herman and Dan Mullen as former Meyer OC’s who run programs. If he’s still employed at Ohio St in two years, Warinner is a person who would find themselves on my shortlist. Though he has risks like Riley and Venables, I would give more attention towards Warinner due to the quality of his mentor and track record. I would imagine he has just the right amount of ingredients to enthuse BBN as a hire. Ties to Ohio, part of national champion staff, producing pro talent, being a successful play caller, and being seasoned are all great characteristics he has in his favor.
Though there’s a lot of football left to be played, it doesn’t hurt to start looking around if things fail to takeoff. In the end, Mark Stoops controls his own fate. Though it won’t be easy , there is still a decent chance he can make this thing work.
As of Summer 2016, my shortlist for replacement candidates are Jeff Brohm, Bo Pelini, Doc Holiday, Ed Warinner, and Dana Holgorsen. After two misfires going the rookie head coach route, bringing on an experienced coach will be more likely to succeed. Obviously though, the right man has to get the job and the right guys have to commit. UK won’t have the luxury to get the best of the best, but it can still find someone who can consistently win. IT CAN BE DONE!