By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
Arizona State was widely considered the favorite to represent the South Division in the first Pac-12 title game. With USC ineligible for the conference championship, the Sun Devils had an open path and got off to a solid 6-2 start. However, the wheels fell off in November. Arizona State finished with four consecutive losses, including disappointing efforts against Washington State and Arizona. The collapse cost Dennis Erickson his job after five seasons in Tempe. Erickson recorded a 31-30 record, and he was never able to capitalize off a 10-3 record in 2007.
Who will replace Dennis Erickson at Arizona State in 2012?
Gary Andersen, head coach, Utah State – Andersen is an under-the-radar name to watch in Arizona State’s coaching search. In three years at Utah State, he has recorded a 14-21 record. The Aggies enter the final week of the regular season with a 6-5 record and have already accepted a bowl bid. Andersen also worked at Utah under Urban Meyer (2004) and Kyle Whittingham from 2005-08. While the overall record is not overly impressive, it's clear Utah State has turned a corner under Andersen.
Mike Bellotti, former Oregon head coach – Although Bellotti seems to be interested in making a return to the sidelines, it may be a longshot to see him in Tempe. After canning Dennis Erickson, Arizona State may be looking to get younger. Bellotti will be 61 when the 2012 season starts and seems unlikely to coach for more than 10 seasons. It's not out of the question Bellotti could end up at Arizona State, but he has a better chance to land the job at UCLA.
Dave Christensen, head coach, Wyoming – Christensen is building a solid resume through three seasons at Wyoming. The Cowboys have a 17-19 record in his tenure, but made a bowl trip in 2009 and will likely do so once again this year. He also has experience as an assistant under Gary Pinkel at Missouri, and is familiar with the Pac-10 (now Pac-12), thanks to playing at Washington under Don James from 1980-82.
Ron English, head coach, Eastern Michigan – While English has cut his teeth as an assistant in the Big Ten and as a defensive coordinator for Lloyd Carr at Michigan, his roots are on the West Coast. He played at California from 1987-90 and coached as an assistant at Northern Arizona, San Diego State and Arizona State. English has an 8-28 record in Ypsilanti, but winning at Eastern Michigan is arguably one of the toughest jobs in college football. He led the Eagles to a 6-6 record this year, which is just their second season of at least six victories since 1988. Considering his familiarity with the program, English has to be near the top of Arizona State’s wish list.
Larry Fedora, head coach, Southern Miss – If Fedora wants to leave Southern Miss, he is going to have plenty of options. His name has already been mentioned at Ole Miss, North Carolina and Illinois. In four seasons at Southern Miss, Fedora has recorded a 32-19 record and one division title (2011). He has a solid resume as an assistant, spending time at Florida and Oklahoma State. Although Fedora will likely take a BCS job this year, he does not have any coaching experience in the Pac-12. It seems more likely Fedora will land at Ole Miss or Illinois, but Arizona State would be a good landing spot for an offense-first head coach.
Mark Helfrich, offensive coordinator, Oregon – Helfrich is an unknown on the national radar, but is someone that is going to get more consideration for head coaching jobs that open on the West Coast. He worked as an assistant at Boise State from 1998-00, Arizona State from 2001-05, Colorado from 2006-08 and at Oregon since 2009. Helfrich is only 37 years old, but would fit with Arizona State’s plan to likely hire a younger coach after parting ways with Dennis Erickson. A downside to Helfrich is that he has no head coaching experience.
June Jones, head coach, SMU – After turning around Hawaii and SMU, Jones could be ready for a challenge at a BCS school. He has a 99-69 record in 13 seasons as a college head coach, while also making stops in the NFL with the Oilers, Lions, Falcons and Chargers. Jones is known for his high-powered offenses, which would fit well with the current personnel in Tempe. However, his salary at SMU is very competitive for a non-BCS school. Jones is a proven winner and would be a great hire for Arizona State. But is he ready to leave SMU?
Mike Leach, former Texas Tech head coach – Just like Kevin Sumlin and Larry Fedora, Leach’s name has popped up for several vacant coaching positions this season. Although his exit from Texas Tech has left him with some baggage, Leach would be a strong hire at Arizona State. Considering the returning offensive personnel next season, his Air Raid offense would be a great fit in Tempe. Most of Leach’s coaching experience has been in the Midwest, but he was born in California and spent one season as an assistant at Cal Poly.
Noel Mazzone, offensive coordinator, Arizona State – The Sun Devils may not have to look far for their next head coach. Mazzone is a well-traveled assistant, spending time at Colorado State, TCU, Minnesota, Ole Miss, Auburn, Oregon State, NC State and in the NFL with the Jets. He became Arizona State’s offensive coordinator in 2010, directing the offense to an average of 33.1 points a game over the last two years. Mazzone does not have any head coaching experience, which could hurt his chances of landing the full-time job in Tempe.
Randy Shannon, former Miami head coach – Shannon was fired after working as Miami’s head coach from 2007-10. During his tenure with the Hurricanes, he recorded a 28-22 record and led the team to three bowl appearances. Although his on-field success at Miami was limited, Shannon was praised for his team’s graduation rates and eliminating off-the-field incidents. While it may seem like an odd fit, reports out of Miami have indicated Shannon would be interested in a coaching position in Arizona. Shannon will likely land another coaching gig this offseason, but it’s a longshot he is coaching on the sidelines in Tempe next year.
Kevin Sumlin, head coach, Houston – With every BCS job that opens, it’s a safe bet Sumlin is going to be mentioned. He has a 35-16 record in four seasons at Houston and a chance to earn a BCS bowl trip with a win over Southern Miss. In addition to his current position, Sumlin made stops as an assistant at Purdue, Minnesota, Texas A&M and Oklahoma. There are few (if any) holes in Sumlin’s resume and he will be one of the most-sought after coaches on the market this offseason. He is believed to be near the top of Arizona State’s wish list, but it will have competition from Kansas, Illinois, North Carolina and Ole Miss.
Justin Wilcox, defensive coordinator, Tennessee – Wilcox has made a quick rise through the coaching ranks over the last 10 years. He worked under Jeff Tedford as California’s linebacker coach from 2003-2005, before jumping to become Boise State’s defensive coordinator from 2006-09. Wilcox left the West Coast to become Derek Dooley’s defensive coordinator at Tennessee before the 2010 season. The Volunteers struggled on defense last year, finishing 69th nationally in total defense. However, Tennessee finished 2011 ranked 28th nationally in total defense and allowed 22.6 points a game. Wilcox played at Oregon, so he is familiar with the Pac-12. He has no head coaching experience, but is due for a shot in the next few seasons.