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12 Coaching Candidates to Replace Dan Mullen at Mississippi State

Dan Mullen, Mississippi State Bulldogs Football

Dan Mullen, Mississippi State Bulldogs Football

Mississippi State is the latest SEC job with an opening at head coach, as Dan Mullen has reportedly decided to leave Starkville to be the next head coach at Florida. Mullen went 69-46 in Starkville and guided the Bulldogs to eight consecutive bowl games (counting the 2017 bid). Additionally, Mississippi State ranked No. 1 in the first CFB Playoff rankings in 2014 and finished No. 11 that season. Mullen also as a track record of developing quarterbacks and is a sharp mind on offense. While Mullen will finish his tenure with a losing record in SEC play, Mississippi State is the toughest job in the SEC West. Mullen will win at a higher level at a job with more resources and talent base.  

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Who will replace Mullen at Mississippi State? Here are 12 names to watch

12 Coaching Candidates to Replace Dan Mullen at Mississippi State

Blake Anderson, head coach, Arkansas State

Anderson is in his fourth year at Arkansas State, guiding the Red Wolves to a 31-18 record in that span. The Arkansas native has won at least seven games in every season and guided the program to an outright Sun Belt title in 2016 and a share of the conference crown in 2016. Prior to Arkansas State, Anderson worked for two years under Larry Fedora as the offensive coordinator at North Carolina (2012-13) and also had stints at Southern Miss (2008-11), Louisiana (2007) and MTSU (2002-04).

Neal Brown, head coach, Troy

Brown is in his third season at Troy, guiding the program to a 23-13 record since 2015. He had big shoes to fill in replacing Larry Blakeney at Troy but led the Trojans to a 10-win season in 2016 and beat LSU in Baton Rouge this year. The Kentucky native has previous experience in the SEC from a two-year run as Mark Stoops’ offensive coordinator with the Wildcats from 2013-14. Additionally, he called the plays at Texas Tech (2010-12) and Troy (2008-09). Brown is a young, up-and-coming coach who has a strong background on offense.

Bill Clark, head coach, UAB

Before we get into Clark's resume, it's important to note he signed an extension at UAB this offseason and has been instrumental in the program's return to the gridiron in 2017. While Clark is a longshot to take the job, Mississippi State would be wise to inquire about his interest. The Alabama native went 11-4 as Jacksonville State's coach in 2013 and took over at UAB in 2014. He guided the Blazers to a 6-6 mark that year, which was a four-game improvement from the 2013 team. After the program decided to shut down following the 2014 season, Clark helped the Blazers return with improved facilities and a better overall outlook for its long-term success. After not playing for two years and building together a roster with no opportunity to play in 2016, Clark guided UAB to an 8-4 record in 2017. The Blazers are also going to the Bahamas Bowl in mid-December. 

Geoff Collins, head coach, Temple

Collins just finished his first season as Temple's head coach, guiding the Owls to a 6-6 record and a bowl trip. Prior to taking the job at Temple, Collins worked at Florida for two seasons as the program's defensive coordinator. And he has ties to Starkville, working as defensive coordinator under Dan Mullen from 2011-14. Collins also has stints on his resume from stops at FIU, UCF and was an off-field assistant at Alabama in 2007.

Manny Diaz, defensive coordinator, Miami

Diaz is a name familiar to many in Starkville. He has two previous stints at Mississippi State as a defensive coordinator, including 2010 and the 2015 seasons. Outside of his short stints with the Bulldogs, Diaz has spent time as an assistant at NC State, MTSU, Texas and Louisiana Tech. Over the last two years, Diaz has molded Miami's defense into one of the best in college football. The Hurricanes are limiting opponents to just 18.3 points a game in 2017 and rank second in the ACC by holding offenses to 4.7 yards a play.

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Lane Kiffin, head coach, FAU

Kiffin back in the SEC? Why not. He's due for another chance to run a Power 5 program. While a move to Starkville is probably a longshot after just one year at FAU, but he would be a standout hire. After working as the offensive coordinator at Alabama from 2014-16, Kiffin was hired as FAU’s coach prior to the 2017 campaign. Kiffin has made an immediate impact in Boca Raton, as he guided the Owls to a Conference USA East Division title and an 9-3 record prior to the season finale. Kiffin has two previous stints as a head coach: Tennessee in 2009 and USC (2010-13). He went 7-6 with the Volunteers in his only season at the helm and 28-15 in his stint with the Trojans. Kiffin is a polarizing figure, but there’s no doubt he can develop an offense and is a better coach than his record at USC and Tennessee would suggest.

Mike Leach, head coach, Washington State

Leach doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to leave Washington State. However, the athletic director who hired him in Pullman – Bill Moos – left to take on that same role at Nebraska this season. With the change at the top of the athletic department in Pullman, Leach’s name has been mentioned at Arkansas and Nebraska this offseason. Leach is 38-37 since taking over at Washington State in 2012. After a 12-25 start to his tenure in Pullman, Leach has won at least eight games in each of the last three years, recording a 26-12 record in that span. Prior to Washington State, Leach went 84-43 at Texas Tech, guiding the Red Raiders to a winning record every season from 2000-09. Leach is known for his wide-open, pass-first offenses. However, defense isn't an afterthought, as the Cougars rank third in the Pac-12 in scoring defense this year.

Chad Morris, head coach, SMU

Morris is a coach with extensive ties to the state of Texas and figures to be near the top of Texas A&M’s wish list. But if the Aggies hire another coach, could Morris get involved in another SEC search? After spending from 1994-09 in the high school ranks, he was hired to call the plays at Tulsa in 2010. Under Morris’ watch, the Golden Hurricane averaged 41.4 points a game that season. Morris became Clemson’s play-caller in 2011 and remained in Death Valley through 2014. His hire and development of the offense was a big reason why the Tigers won 42 games from 2011-14. Morris inherited a struggling SMU program in 2015 but has brought steady improvement to Dallas. The Mustangs are 14-22 over the last three years but finished 5-7 last season and are 7-5 through 12 games in 2017. One area to watch: Defense. Under Morris, SMU has ranked ninth or worse in the AAC in scoring defense. If he’s hired, Morris will have to hire a top-notch defensive coordinator. With his ability to recruit the state of Texas, along with a strong background on offense, Morris would be a solid replacement for Mullen.

Mike Norvell, head coach, Memphis

Norvell's name is likely to come up in searches at Arkansas and Ole Miss, so the second-year coach is going to be one of the carousel's top names to watch. The Texas native played his collegiate ball at Central Arkansas and started his coaching career there as a graduate assistant. He later joined Tulsa's staff under Todd Graham in 2007 and remained an assistant until 2010 when he left for one season at Pitt (2011). At Arizona State, Norvell's attack ranked in the top five in scoring offense of the Pac-12 in all four seasons (2012-15) of calling plays. Norvell picked up where Justin Fuente left off and has Memphis poised to finish in the top 25 this season. The Tigers went 8-5 in Norvell’s debut and are off to a 9-1 start in 2017. Overall, Memphis is 18-6 under Norvell and claimed the AAC’s West Division this season. Prior to taking over as the head coach at Memphis and play-caller at Arizona State, Norvell worked under Graham as an assistant at Pitt (2011) and Tulsa (2007-10). Norvell is one of college football’s youngest coaches at age 36. And he’s also one of the nation’s top minds on offense. If Norvell does indeed garner interest from Arkansas, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, there could be quite a bidding war for his services for 2018.

Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator, Alabama

Pruitt is another Nick Saban assistant likely to be a head coach in the near future. Making the jump to Mississippi State head coach this year might be too big of a leap, but his name is likely to come up in this search. Pruitt is an Alabama native with extensive ties to the state from his time as a high school coach. Additionally, Pruitt worked at Florida State as defensive coordinator in 2013 during the program's run to the national championship. The Alabama native also spent two years under Mark Richt as defensive coordinator at Georgia from 2014-15.

Charlie Strong, head coach, USF

Strong is no stranger to life in the SEC. He had stints as an assistant at Florida (1988-89, 1991-94 and 2003-09), along with stops at Ole Miss (1990) and South Carolina (1999-02). After working as an assistant for over 20 years, Strong finally landed a head coaching gig in 2010. However, he inherited a Louisville program in need of repair but guided the Cardinals to a 37-15 record from 2010-13. During that span, the Cardinals went to four bowl games and won 23 contests over the final two seasons. Strong was hired at Texas in 2014 and went 16-21 over three years. While Strong was a bad fit in Austin, he’s a proven head coach at Louisville and is 9-1 through 10 games at USF. Strong is regarded as a good recruiter – especially in the state of Florida – and is one of the top defensive minds in college football.

Brent Venables, defensive coordinator, Clemson

Venables is one of college football’s top assistant coaches. Considering he is making over $1.5 million a season, the former Kansas State linebacker isn’t going to be in an hurry to take a head coaching job. After his playing career with the Wildcats, Venables worked in Manhattan as a graduate assistant (1993-95) and linebackers coach (1996-98). He left for Oklahoma in 1999 and worked as a co-defensive coordinator until 2003. Beginning in 2004, Venables assumed the defensive coordinator role after Mike Stoops was hired as Arizona’s head coach and remained in that role until 2011. Venables has coordinated Clemson’s defense since 2012 and is a big reason why this program has emerged as a national title contender on a consistent basis. Venables has been mentioned in the coaching search at Arkansas this offseason, so there could be plenty of suitors for him over the next few weeks.