College football’s coaching carousel took a surprising turn on Wednesday, as Minnesota coach Jerry Kill resigned due to health reasons. Kill went 29-29 in five seasons with the Golden Gophers and guided the program to three consecutive bowl appearances from 2012-14. Prior to taking over in Minneapolis, Kill went 23-16 at Northern Illinois and 55-32 at Southern Illinois.
Kill was regarded as one of the Big Ten’s top coaches and will be tough to replace. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys will serve as the team’s interim coach for the remainder of 2015.
While Minnesota isn’t Ohio State or Michigan, this is a good job with upcoming facility improvements in the easier of the Big Ten’s divisions (West). Who might replace Kill on the Minnesota sidelines in 2016? Here are some names to watch:
10 Coaches to Watch in Minnesota's Search to Replace Jerry Kill
Chris Ash, co-defensive coordinator, Ohio State
Ash does not have head coaching experience, but he’s made an impact at each of his stops an assistant. Additionally, the Iowa native is familiar with what it takes to win in the Big Ten, working from 2010-12 at Wisconsin and spending time as a co-defensive coordinator on Urban Meyer’s staff at Ohio State since 2014. Ash is regarded as an excellent defensive backs coach and is considered one of the rising stars in the assistant ranks.
Dave Aranda, defensive coordinator, Wisconsin
Aranda is a coordinator many Minnesota fans know from his stint at Wisconsin, and the California native is ready for a chance to run a Power 5 program after a successful run as a defensive play-caller for the Badgers. Under Aranda’s direction, Wisconsin has fielded one of the Big Ten’s top defenses. The Badgers finished second in the conference in scoring defense from 2013-14 and are allowing just 11.1 points per game in 2015. Aranda also has stops on his resume from stints at Hawaii, Utah State and Houston. He has never been a head coach at the collegiate level.
Craig Bohl, head coach, Wyoming
This is a bit of a longshot. Bohl would be a tough sell to some in Minneapolis after a 5-15 record at Wyoming. However, his record with the Cowboys is largely due to a complete roster rebuild and injuries. Prior to the last two seasons at Wyoming, Bohl guided North Dakota State to a 104-32 record from 2003-13. During Bohl’s tenure, the Bison won three consecutive FCS national championships and lost only two games from 2011-13. The Nebraska native also spent time as an assistant with the Cornhuskers from 1995-02.
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Troy Calhoun, head coach, Air Force
Calhoun’s name was in the rumor mill for the Minnesota job in 2010. Could Calhoun’s name resurface once again? The former Air Force quarterback has guided the Falcons to a 63-47 record during his stint in Colorado Springs. Calhoun has seven bowl appearances in eight years and is on track to guide the program to another postseason trip in 2015. Needless to say, it would take a lot for Calhoun to leave his alma mater.
Matt Campbell, head coach, Toledo
Campbell is widely regarded as one of college football’s rising stars in the coaching ranks. The 35-year-old coach is 33-13 during his tenure at Toledo and has the Rockets at 7-0 and poised to challenge for the top bowl spot among Group of 5 teams in 2015. Prior to taking over at Toledo after Tim Beckman left for Illinois, Campbell was an assistant at Bowling Green and Mount Union. He also played at Mount Union from 1992-02. It’s only a matter of time before Campbell has the opportunity to run a Power 5 program.
Tracy Claeys, interim coach/defensive coordinator, Minnesota
Claeys will have a live job interview over the next five games as Minnesota’s interim coach. And he’s been in this position before, as Claeys was the head coach for seven of the Golden Gophers’ games in 2013, recording a 4-3 mark while Kill took a leave of absence. Claeys worked under Jerry Kill as an assistant since 1995 and was the defensive coordinator during stops at Emporia State, Southern Illinois, Northern Illinois and with the Golden Gophers. Claeys has no experience as a full-time head coach outside of the seven games in 2013.
D.J. Durkin, defensive coordinator, Michigan
Durkin is another one of college football’s rising stars in the assistant ranks. The Ohio native was hired by Jim Harbaugh at Michigan after a five-year stint at Florida, including the last two seasons as the Gators’ defensive coordinator. Prior to working in Gainesville, Durkin spent 2007-09 at Stanford under Harbaugh and from 2005-06 at Bowling Green. Under Durkin’s direction this season, the Wolverines are limiting opponents to just 9.3 points per game and 3.5 yards per play. While Durkin isn’t a big name, he’s been a successful coordinator and assistant at each job and is highly regarded among other coaches.
P.J. Fleck, head coach, Western Michigan
Fleck is the youngest coach at the FBS level and is 13-19 during his tenure at Western Michigan. The Broncos went 1-11 in Fleck’s debut but are 12-8 over the last two seasons. The former Northern Illinois’ receiver also spent one year on Kill’s staff in DeKalb (2009) as an assistant. Fleck also has stops as an assistant at Rutgers and the Buccaneers on his resume. Fleck is regarded as an outstanding recruiter and isn’t short on energy.
Willie Fritz, head coach, Georgia Southern
Fritz might not register on Minnesota’s radar in this search, but the Georgia Southern coach could pop on the radar for any openings in the Big 12 this offseason. In two years with the Eagles, Fritz has a 14-5 record and guided the program to a 9-3 mark last season in its first on the FBS level. Prior to Georgia Southern, Fritz went 40-15 at Sam Houston State and 97-47 at Central Missouri.
Pete Lembo, head coach, Ball State
Lembo’s stock slightly faded with Ball State’s 7-13 record over the last two years. However, the Cardinals are in rebuild mode, and Lembo has a strong track record of success. Lembo’s overall record at Ball State is 32-26, featuring two bowl appearances from 2012-13. Prior to Ball State, Lembo guided Elon to a 35-22 record in five seasons and Lehigh to a 44-14 mark in five years from 2001-05. Lembo is a sharp coach and would be a good fit in the Big Ten.