Missouri coach Gary Pinkel is resigning due to health reasons effective at the end of the 2015 season. Pinkel was one of the nation’s most underrated coaches during his 15-year run in Columbia. During his tenure with the Tigers, Pinkel went 118-71 and claimed back-to-back SEC East titles in 2013-14. Pinkel also went 73-37-3 at Toledo from 1991-00.
Pinkel was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in May and had treatments during May and June. According to a release from the school, Pinkel is “not doing poorly and that this is a manageable disease.”
There’s no question Pinkel will be missed at Missouri. This job isn’t easy. In a recent expert poll by Athlon Sports, Missouri ranked as the No. 11 job in the SEC. There’s plenty of potential though, as Pinkel went 23-5 overall from 2013-14 and guided the program to three seasons of at least 10 wins from 2007-10. Needless to say, Pinkel set the bar high for the next coach.
Who might be the next coach at Missouri? Here are seven names to watch:
Seven Coaching Candidates to Replace Gary Pinkel at Missouri
Dino Babers, head coach, Bowling Green
Babers was a long-time assistant that finally got his chance to be a head coach in 2012 at Eastern Illinois. Over the last four years, Babers has emerged as one of the nation’s top offensive minds and is a coach poised to make the jump into the Power 5 ranks. After recording a 19-7 mark at Eastern Illinois from 2012-13, Babers has led Bowling Green to a 16-8 record in two seasons. The Falcons won the MAC East in 2014 despite losing star quarterback Matt Johnson to a season-ending hip injury in the opener. And with Johnson back at the controls this year, Bowling Green is a perfect 6-0 in the MAC, defeated Purdue and Maryland in non-conference games and ranks fourth nationally with an average of 45.4 points per game. Babers is a former assistant under Art Briles, which helped to shape his background on offense, as well as stops as an assistant at Texas A&M, UCLA, Arizona and Pittsburgh.
Matt Campbell, head coach, Toledo
Hiring a coach from Toledo worked out well for Missouri when it brought Pinkel to Columbia in 2001. Could the school turn to another Toledo coach in this coaching search? Campbell is 34-14 with the Rockets and is poised for his best season after an 8-1 start in 2015. Toledo also picked up victories against Power 5 opponents in Arkansas and Iowa State this year. The 35-year-old coach also has stops on his resume from stints as an assistant at Bowling Green and Mount Union. Campbell is ready for the chance to run a Power 5 program.
P.J. Fleck, head coach, Western Michigan
Fleck is 15-20 in his third season at Western Michigan, but the former Northern Illinois’ receiver has brought marked improvement to the Kalamazoo program. After a 1-11 mark in Fleck’s first season (2013), the Broncos are 14-9 over the last two years and have a chance to win the MAC’s West Division in 2015. Fleck is also regarded as an excellent recruiter and also has stops on his resume from stints with the Buccaneers and Rutgers. At 34-years-old, Fleck is the nation’s youngest coach.
Justin Fuente, head coach, Memphis
Fuente is expected to generate interest from several schools this offseason. Virginia Tech, South Carolina and Miami are three schools expected to gauge Fuente’s interest and other top 25-30 jobs could open by December. Fuente has transformed Memphis into a top 25 program after inheriting a team that won three games under Larry Porter’s direction from 2010-11. Fuente’s first team showed marked improvement (4-8) in 2012 and finished 3-9 in the program’s debut in the American Athletic Conference. The Tigers took a huge step forward in 2014, finishing 10-3 with a No. 25 rank in the final Associated Press poll. Memphis is 8-2 this season and spent four weeks as a ranked team in the Associated Press poll before losing to Navy in Week 10. Current Missouri defensive coordinator Barry Odom worked for three years under Fuente at Memphis.
Tom Herman, head coach, Houston
Similar to Memphis’ Justin Fuente, Herman will be contacted by several schools this offseason to gauge his interest in an opening at a Power 5 job. Herman is 10-0 in his first season as Houston’s head coach, guiding the Cougars to a No. 13 ranking in the latest Associated Press poll. Prior to taking the top spot in Houston, Herman worked as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator from 2012-14 and held the same position at Iowa State (2009-11), Rice (2007-08) and Texas State (2005-06). Herman also has ties to the program, as he was hired at Houston by current Missouri athletic director Mack Rhoades.
Barry Odom, defensive coordinator, Missouri
Odom is a former Missouri player and rejoined Gary Pinkel’s staff after a three-year stint at Memphis calling the defensive signals for Justin Fuente from 2012-14. The Tigers showed significant improvement on defense under Odom’s direction, limiting opponents to just 4.7 yards per play in 2014. While Missouri is likely to finish 2015 with a losing record, Odom’s defense certainly isn’t the problem. The Tigers rank second in the SEC in scoring defense and are holding opponents to 4.3 yards per play. Odom worked from 2009-11 under Pinkel as an assistant coach and also worked on the staff from 2003-08 as a football operations assistant. Odom does not have any previous head coaching experience.
Matt Rhule, head coach, Temple
Rhule played under Joe Paterno at Penn State from 1994-97 and has spent most of his coaching career on the East Coast. Would the Pennsylvania native be interested in a SEC job or could he hold out for an opening in the Big Ten or ACC? Although Rhule is content at Temple, Power 5 programs will come calling. The Owls are 16-18 under his watch, including an 8-2 mark in 2015. Temple is the frontrunner to win the American Athletic Conference’s East Division and nearly knocked off Notre Dame on Oct. 31 this season. If the Owls win their remaining regular season games (two) and claim the conference championship or a bowl victory, Rhule’s team will surpass the program’s highest win total mark (10 in 1979).