By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
North Carolina is the only ACC school likely to make a coaching change this season. After an off-the-field scandal and a NCAA investigation, Butch Davis was fired as the team’s coach in July. Everett Withers served as the team’s interim coach, leading the Tar Heels to a 7-5 record. Although Withers will have a chance to retain the job on a permanent basis, North Carolina will interview other candidates.
Who will coach at North Carolina in 2012?
Troy Calhoun, head coach, Air Force – Calhoun is one to watch if you are looking for a under-the-radar option in North Carolina’s coaching search. In five seasons at Air Force, he has compiled a 41-23 record and five consecutive bowl appearances (counting 2011). He has served as an assistant at Ohio and Wake Forest, while working in the NFL with the Broncos and Texans. Although Calhoun runs an option offense at Air Force, his background in the NFL suggests he would adapt to whichever offensive style is necessary to win. Calhoun is a solid coach and would be a terrific hire for North Carolina. However, he graduated from Air Force, so it would take a lot to make him leave Colorado Springs for Chapel Hill.
Larry Fedora, head coach, Southern Miss – Just like Houston’s Kevin Sumlin, Fedora is going to have plenty of options on where he can coach next season. In four seasons at Southern Miss, he has recorded a 32-19 record and a Conference USA East title this year. Fedora also has stops as an assistant at Florida and Oklahoma State. There’s no shortage of suitors for Fedora, so North Carolina will have to move quickly if he is at the top of its list.
Bud Foster, defensive coordinator, Virginia Tech – Foster has been one of the top defensive coordinators in college football over the last 10 years. He has interviewed for a few head coaching jobs, but has spent his career as an assistant. Foster would not be a flashy hire and his lack of head coaching experience could work against him. However, there’s no question he deserves a shot to run his own program – if he’s interested in leaving Virginia Tech.
James Franklin, head coach, Vanderbilt – Franklin has only been at Vanderbilt for one season, but he made quite an impression. The Commodores finished the regular season with a 6-6 record and a likely berth in the Liberty Bowl. Franklin has experience coaching in the ACC, working at Maryland from 2000-04 and 2008-10. Although North Carolina may be interested in him, it’s unlikely Franklin would accept the job. Vanderbilt is working on a contract extension, which would keep him in Nashville for the immediate future.
Skip Holtz, head coach, South Florida – With the Big East’s uncertain future, Holtz may be looking to land at a job with more stability. In two years at South Florida, he has compiled a 13-11 record and led the Bulls to a berth in the Meineke Car Care Bowl last season. Before landing in South Florida, Holtz posted a 38-27 record at East Carolina and led the Pirates to two Conference USA titles. He also has the reputation of running a clean program, which has to appeal to North Carolina after the end of the Butch Davis era. Holtz also has an outgoing personality, which would be a hit with the fans and boosters.
Butch Jones, head coach, Cincinnati – After a disappointing 4-8 record last season, Jones has Cincinnati back on the right track. The Bearcats are 8-3 with one game remaining and still have a shot to win the Big East. Before coming to Cincinnati, Jones went 27-13 in three years at Central Michigan. He also has experience as an assistant from 2005-06 at West Virginia. Jones has maintained he is happy at Cincinnati, but his name has popped up in searches at Illinois and UCLA.
Gus Malzahn, offensive coordinator, Auburn – Malzahn is regarded as one of the top offensive coordinators in college football and is ready for his first head coaching gig in college. His only head coaching positions came on the high school level in Arkansas at Hughes and Shiloh Christian. In addition to his current job at Auburn, he worked as the offensive coordinator at Arkansas (2006) and Tulsa (2007-08). Athletic director Bubba Cunningham was at Tulsa during Malzahn’s tenure there, so there is plenty of familiarity between these two. Although he has never been a head coach at the college level, Malzahn is one of the most desired names in coaching searches this offseason. Also, his high-powered offenses would have no trouble attracting talent to Chapel Hill.
Dan Mullen, head coach, Mississippi State – Mullen’s name has been in the rumor mill over the last week, popping up as one of the favorites in the Penn State coaching search. As a Pennsylvania native, he is expected to be high on the list to be the Nittany Lions’ next coach. Could Mullen be interested in North Carolina? Winning at Mississippi State is not easy, especially in a difficult SEC West. In three years in Starkville, he has compiled a 20-17 record. Although Mullen has denied he will depart Mississippi State this year, he might get a call to gauge his interest in the North Carolina position.
Chris Petersen, head coach, Boise State – Petersen’s name always comes up with any BCS opening, so he appears on many coaching lists by default. His name has been mentioned in connection with the UCLA opening, but it’s very unlikely he will leave Boise State. If Petersen ends up at North Carolina, it will be a major surprise.
Kevin Sumlin, head coach, Houston – The Tar Heels are another team in the growing line of suitors for Sumlin. He has been rumored to be in the mix at Kansas, Arizona State, UCLA, Ole Miss and Illinois. It’s no surprise Sumlin is a hot commodity in coaching searches, as he has a 35-16 record in four seasons at Houston. The Cougars are also one win away from playing in a BCS game. Sumlin will have his pick of jobs, which means North Carolina needs to move quick if he is their No. 1 candidate.
Everett Withers, interim head coach, North Carolina – Withers inherited a difficult situation this year, taking over for former coach Butch Davis in late July. The Tar Heels finished with a solid 7-5 record and had close losses to Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Miami. However, Withers probably hurt his chances of getting the job with his comments about NC State in early November and he has no other head coaching experience. Although Withers was a solid replacement for this year, it’s unlikely he will keep the full-time position.