The first domino in the college football coaching carousel fell on Sunday, as Joker Phillips was fired at Kentucky. Phillips led the Wildcats to a 6-7 mark in his first season but the program was never able to get back to the postseason. Kentucky was 5-7 last year and is 1-9 through 10 games in 2012. Although the Wildcats had some signs of life on offense in this season, Phillips was never able to show enough progress to save his job.
Although Kentucky is one of college basketball’s top jobs, the football program is one of the toughest in the SEC. In a division with Georgia, South Carolina and Florida, finding success isn’t easy. The Wildcats have not won more than eight games since 1984 but had a streak of four seasons with at least seven wins from 2006-09.
What should Kentucky look for in the next coach? How about youth, energy and a background in offense? The Wildcats need to be creative on offense to fill the stands, as well as to compete in the SEC.
25 Coaching Candidates to Replace Joker Phillips at Kentucky
Neal Brown, offensive coordinator, Texas Tech – Brown fits the profile of what Kentucky should be looking for in its next head coach. The Kentucky native has a background on offense and is only 32 years old, which should bring some much-needed energy to the fanbase. Brown played at Kentucky from 1998-2000 and has been Texas Tech’s offensive coordinator since 2010. The only drawback to Brown is a lack of head coaching experience.
David Cutcliffe, head coach, Duke – Cutcliffe isn’t a flashy or exciting hire, but he has won at Ole Miss and Duke. In seven seasons with the Rebels, he recorded a 44-29 record and went to five bowl appearances. Cutcliffe is 21-37 in five years at Duke but has the Blue Devils poised to make their first postseason game since 1994. Cutcliffe is not regarded as an elite recruiter but is considered one of college football’s top developers of quarterback talent.
Dave Doeren, head coach, Northern Illinois – Doeren is quietly flying under the radar this year but expect his name to get into the mix for BCS coaching jobs after the season. The Kansas native is 20-4 in two years with Northern Illinois and led the Huskies to a MAC title last season. Doeren has experience as an assistant at Montana, Kansas and Wisconsin but has never coached in the SEC. Although his background is on defense, Doeren’s offenses at Northern Illinois have each averaged over 38 points per game.
Sonny Dykes, head coach, Louisiana Tech – Dykes has been on a steady climb through the coaching ranks and is expected to be one of the hottest names in the rumor mill this offseason. He coached at Kentucky in 1997 and 1999 under Hal Mumme and has stops at Texas Tech and Arizona as an offensive coordinator. Dykes was named Louisiana Tech’s head coach in 2010 and has led the Bulldogs to a 21-13 record. Dykes also runs a high-scoring offense, which should be one of the top attributes Kentucky is looking for with this hire. Unless he isn't interested in the job, Dykes should be one of the first phone calls from athletic director Mitch Barnhart.
Phil Fulmer, former Tennessee head coach – Fulmer has been relatively quiet since being forced out at Tennessee in 2008. During his career with the Volunteers, Fulmer recorded a 152-52 record and led Tennessee to 15 bowl games. Although it wouldn’t be a flashy hire, Fulmer would be a similar situation to when Kentucky brought in Rich Brooks. Fulmer is a longshot for the job, but his record and success at Tennessee is hard to ignore.
Darrell Hazell, head coach, Kent State – Hazell has shined in his first head coaching gig and is in position for a quick rise in the coaching ranks. He served as an assistant at Western Michigan, Army, West Virginia, Rutgers and Ohio State from 1986-2010, before jumping at the opportunity to coach Kent State in 2011. Hazell is 13-8 in two years with the Golden Flashes and should lead this program to its first bowl appearance since 1972 in 2012.
Mark Helfrich, offensive coordinator, Oregon – If Kentucky is looking to make a splash and turn the offense into one of the SEC’s best, why not give Helfrich a call? The 39-year-old offensive coordinator is in his fourth season at Oregon and has stops as an assistant at Boise State and Arizona State. Helfrich has no head coaching experience, but his background on offense should be very attractive for Kentucky.
Mark Hudspeth, head coach, Louisiana-Lafayette – Hudspeth is a name familiar in coaching circles in the SEC. The Mississippi native spent time at Mississippi State under Dan Mullen and led North Alabama to a 66-21 mark during his tenure from 2002-08. Hudspeth is 14-7 through two years at Louisiana-Lafayette and should lead the Ragin’ Cajuns to back-to-back bowl appearances.
Kliff Kingsbury, offensive coordinator, Texas A&M – Kingsbury is only 33 years old, but he is one of the rising stars in college football. The former Texas Tech quarterback spent time in the NFL with the Patriots, Saints, Broncos, Jets and Bills, before getting into coaching. Kingsbury started his career at Houston in 2008 and was named co-offensive coordinator in 2010. He left Houston to join Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M in 2011 and has led the Aggies' offense to an average of 559.6 yards per game. The lack of head coaching experience is the only downside in Kingsbury’s resume, as his offense would help Kentucky recruit top quarterbacks and skill players to Lexington.
Dirk Koetter, offensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons – Koetter’s name has generated some early buzz in the rumor mill. He fits the bill as an offensive-minded head coach, but his previous tenures haven’t been particularly impressive. Koetter went 26-10 in two years at Boise State and 40-34 in six seasons at Arizona State. The Idaho native has NFL experience but has never coached in the SEC.
Pete Lembo, head coach, Ball State – Lembo is only 42 years old and has three stops as a head coach. He went 44-14 in five seasons at Lehigh and 35-22 in five years at Elon. Lembo is in his second year with Ball State and has a 12-9 record and should lead the Cardinals to a bowl appearance this season. Lembo doesn’t have experience in the SEC but he is a proven winner and his offense at Ball State is averaging over 470 yards per game. If Kentucky wants to hire an up-and-coming option, Lembo would be a good fit.
Mike MacIntyre, head coach, San Jose State – MacIntyre’s overall record at San Jose State (13-21) may not be impressive, but he has helped to turn the Spartans into a bowl team in a short amount of time. The Spartans went 1-12 in his first year but went 5-7 in 2011 and are off to a 7-2 start this season. MacIntyre played at Vanderbilt for two seasons and has experience as an assistant at Georgia, Temple, Ole Miss and Duke.
Gus Malzahn, head coach, Arkansas State – Malzahn nearly became the Vanderbilt head coach two years ago and is off to a 6-3 start in his first season at Arkansas State. The Texas native was one of the masterminds behind Auburn’s national championship and runs an exciting offense that would help to fill the stands in Lexington each Saturday. Even if Kentucky wants Malzahn, he could be more interested in what happens at Arkansas or Auburn.
Trent Miles, head coach, Indiana State – Miles is an under-the-radar candidate who should get a look for FBS jobs over the next few years. The Indiana native has stops as an assistant at Oklahoma, Northern Illinois, Hawaii, Fresno State, Stanford, Notre Dame and Washington and one year in the NFL with the Packers. Miles inherited an awful situation at Indiana State, as the Sycamores were just 1-32 in the three seasons prior to his arrival. During his five seasons at Indiana State, Miles has a 20-34 record, including three consecutive winning records.
Todd Monken, offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State – Monken has never been a head coach but has filled a solid resume with stops as an assistant at Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Louisiana Tech, Oklahoma State, LSU and in the NFL with the Jaguars. Monken helped to lead Oklahoma State’s offense to rank No. 3 overall nationally in yards per game last season (545.9 ypg) and despite playing three quarterbacks, has kept the Cowboys’ attack going this year. Monken’s lack of head coaching experience is a concern, but his offensive background has to be intriguing to Kentucky.
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson – Morris is another up-and-coming offensive mind in college football. The Texas native has no FBS head coaching experience but has engineered dynamic offenses at Tulsa and Clemson. The Tigers rank seventh nationally in scoring and are averaging 522.4 yards per game. Morris is making $1.3 million as Clemson’s offensive coordinator, so Kentucky will have to pay big to get him to Lexington.
Bobby Petrino, former Arkansas head coach – Before his firing in the spring, Petrino was one of college football’s best coaches. In four years at Louisville, Petrino went 41-9 and was 34-17 at Arkansas. Although he has been very successful and wants to get back into coaching, Petrino could aim higher than Kentucky’s vacancy. The early rumor mill suggests Petrino won’t be in the mix in Lexington, but Wildcats’ athletic director Mitch Barnhart should at least inquire.
Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – Roman is a name starting to generate buzz in coaching circles. The New Jersey native has made stops as an assistant in the NFL with the Panthers, Texans, Ravens and 49ers, while spending two years at Stanford with Jim Harbaugh. Roman’s offensive background is a plus for Kentucky, but he has no experience as a head coach.
Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama – While Kentucky should be looking at offensive coaches, Smart is a candidate if it chooses to go with defense. Although Nick Saban plays a huge role in coordinating Alabama’s defense, Smart deserves a chance to run his own program. He played at Georgia and has experience from stops at Valdosta State, Florida State, LSU and in the NFL with the Dolphins. He also won the 2009 Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant coach.
Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky – Kentucky fans are certainly familiar with Taggart’s success, as Western Kentucky won in Lexington this season. Taggart has turned in the Hilltoppers into a Sun Belt contender and has an overall record of 15-18. While the overall mark isn’t particularly impressive, Taggart inherited a difficult situation and is 13-8 over the last two years. He also spent three seasons working under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. While Taggart would be a home-run hire for Kentucky, he’s a longshot to take the job. Not only is Taggart a Western Kentucky alum, but he can probably reach a little higher on the coaching ladder.
Five Other Names to Watch
Bryan Harsin, offensive coordinator, Texas – Harsin has made a quick rise through the coaching ranks. He worked as Boise State’s offensive coordinator from 2006-10 and jumped to Texas in 2011. The Longhorns’ offense hasn’t been as prolific as some may have expected, but Harsin is due for his chance to run a program in the near future.
June Jones, head coach, SMU – Jones has underachieved at SMU but is still one of college football’s top offensive minds.
Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State – Narduzzi has quickly emerged as one of the Big Ten’s brightest defensive minds. The Connecticut native started his coaching career at Rhode Island and worked as the defensive coordinator at Miami (Ohio) and Cincinnati, before taking the job in East Lansing.
Mark Stoops, defensive coordinator, Florida State – Stoops has returned Florida State’s defense to among college football’s elite group. However, he has no head coaching experience.
Brent Venables, defensive coordinator, Clemson – Venables has spent most of his coaching career in the Midwest and played at Kansas State in the early 1990s. He worked as an assistant with the Wildcats under Bill Snyder and at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops, before leaving to work at Clemson for 2012.
by Steven Lassan
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