- By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Arizona is the second school to make a coaching change this year, with coach Mike Stoops getting the ax after a 1-5 start. Stoops went 41-49 in seven seasons, but the slow start this season was the final blow. Stoops inherited a program that was a disaster under John Mackovic, and led the Wildcats to three straight bowl trips from 2008 to 20010. However, Stoops’ sideline antics, an in-your-face demeanor, and the program failing to get any higher than eight wins under his watch was enough for the Arizona administration to make a switch.
The Wildcats will have a new head coach in 2012 and this will be an important hire for a program looking to climb the ladder in the Pac-12 South. With USC’s probation, UCLA struggling and Utah adapting to the Pac-12, the division is wide-open for Arizona to contend with the right pieces in place.
Athletic director Greg Byrne has been on the job for just over a year and was successful during his tenure at Mississippi State. His last football hire was Dan Mullen - a young, energetic coach who could recruit. Will Arizona follow a similar path?
Who could be the next coach at Arizona? Here are 15 names to watch:
Gary Andersen, head coach, Utah State – Andersen has a losing record in his tenure at Utah State, but there’s little doubt the program is headed in the right direction. The Aggies are 2-3, but have lost all three games by a combined eight points. Andersen has head coaching experience at two stops – Southern Utah and Utah State – but has not coached in a BCS league.
Major Applewhite, co-offensive coordinator, Texas – An up-and-coming assistant, who currently serves as Texas’ co-offensive coordinator with Bryan Harsin. Applewhite is only 33 and has never been a head coach. However, he is similar to Byrne’s hire of Mullen – young and a bright offensive mind.
Mike Bellotti, former Oregon coach – Bellotti was very successful during his time at Oregon, posting a 116-55 record. Bellotti resigned as Oregon’s head coach in 2009 and became the school’s athletic director. After a short stint in that position, Bellotti moved to the television booth with ESPN. Byrne was at Oregon during Bellotti’s tenure, so there is some familiarity. Bellotti is 60 years old, but being out of coaching for a few years likely has recharged the batteries.
Art Briles, head coach, Baylor - It would be somewhat of a surprise if Briles left Baylor, but Arizona is a better job. Briles has spent all of his coaching career in Texas, and his recruiting ties would probably allow him to establish a pipeline of recruits to the Pac-12. Briles has done a good job of elevating Baylor's program during his tenure there. However, how high can that program go? With Texas A&M departing, there is a possibility for moving up in the Big 12 pecking order every year. Coaching at Arizona would be an easier path to a conference title.
Troy Calhoun, head coach, Air Force – Calhoun is very happy at Air Force, and the Falcons could be moving to the Big East, which would help the school’s ability to get into the BCS. Calhoun has been successful at Air Force, posting a 37-19 record in five-plus seasons. Although he played at Air Force, could Calhoun be ready for another challenge?
Paul Chryst, offensive coordinator, Wisconsin – Chryst has done an excellent job during his tenure at Wisconsin, currently coordinating the Badgers to a No. 3 national ranking in scoring offense. Chryst has NFL experience, coaching with the Chargers from 1999 to 2001. His experience in college isn’t limited to Wisconsin, as he coached at Oregon State for the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Chryst does not have any head coaching experience, but is regarded as one of the top offensive coordinators in college football.
Manny Diaz, defensive coordinator, Texas – Diaz is definitely on Byrne’s radar, considering the two worked at Mississippi State for a short period of time last season. Diaz did a good job with the Bulldogs’ defense last year, as they allowed only 19.9 points a game. Texas gave up 55 points in Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma, but the defense has not been a problem. Diaz is young and energetic, but does not have any head coaching experience.
Sonny Dykes, head coach, Louisiana Tech – Dykes previously coached at Arizona from 2007 to 2009. However, his tenure at Louisiana Tech has produced only a 7-11 record. Dykes is a longshot, but is a name to watch considering his past experience.
Bryan Harsin, co-offensive coordinator, Texas – Harsin and fellow co-coordinator Major Applewhite definitely fit the mold of Byrne’s last football hire at Mississippi State. Harsin is considered one of the nation’s top offensive minds, serving as Boise State’s coordinator from 2006-2010 and Texas in 2011. Harsin does not have any head coaching experience, but is regarded as one of the top assistants in the nation.
Mike Leach, former Texas Tech coach – There’s no doubt Leach has some baggage from what transpired at Texas Tech. However, his record was 84-43 and his pass-first offense would generate excitement from the Arizona fanbase and likely help boost season-ticket sales. The Wildcats went the defensive route last time, but expect an offensive hire to be the selection his time around. Leach should be near the top of Arizona’s list.
Dan Mullen, head coach, Mississippi State – Mullen is a longshot, but deserves a mention with his familiarity with Byrne. Highly unlikely Mullen would depart for Tucson, but winning at Arizona and competing for a division title is probably easier at Arizona than Mississippi State.
Chris Petersen, head coach, Boise State – Another longshot. Petersen’s name turns up every time a BCS job opens, but he is very happy in Boise. Byrne is supposedly good friends with Petersen, but it’s unlikely that relationship will factor into leaving Boise State.
Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – A sleeper candidate. Roman has 14 years of NFL experience and worked under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. He doesn’t have any head coaching experience, but helped to develop Andrew Luck and was in the mix to get the Vanderbilt job last year.
Kevin Sumlin, head coach, Houston – Sumlin is a Bob Stoops disciple, coaching at Oklahoma from 2003 to 2007. Sumlin has been the head coach at Houston since 2008, leading the Cougars to a 29-16 record. He has hired some top-notch coordinators to run the offenses at Houston, including Dana Holgorsen (head coach at West Virginia) and current co-coordinators Kliff Kingsbury and Jason Phillips. Sumlin is a proven commodity and would bring a high-scoring offense to Tucson. Considering Houston's 6-0 start this year, Sumlin will be a hot name in coaching circles this offseason.
Brent Venables, defensive coordinator, Oklahoma – Stoops came to Arizona as Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator, so it would be a surprise if the school went in the same direction. However, Venables is considered one of the top assistants in college football and Oklahoma’s defense has solid during his watch. If Venables doesn't land this job, it won't be long before he gets his first head-coaching gig.