By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
The Houston Nutt era at Ole Miss is over. Through three-plus seasons in Oxford, Nutt has a 24-23 record, but never managed to raise the profile of the program. During his time at Arkansas, Nutt did a good job of exceeding expectations, but that was never the case at Ole Miss. The Rebels appeared in back-to-back Cotton Bowls during Nutt’s tenure, but took a step back with a 4-8 record in 2010 and is a disappointing 2-7 this year. Losing 12 consecutive games in SEC play also weighed heavily in Ole Miss’ decision, especially after blowout defeats to Vanderbilt and Kentucky this year.
This coaching search is shaping up to be an interesting one, especially with the Rebels looking for a new athletic director. In addition to the decision to make a coaching change on Monday, current athletic director Pete Boone also announced his intention to resign by the end of 2012.
With Boone out, Archie Manning and FedEx executive vice president Mike Glenn are in charge of finding the next Ole Miss coach. However, chancellor Dan Jones will have the final decision.
Here is a statistical look at Nutt's tenure and how the potential candidates fit
Mario Cristobal, head coach, Florida International – Cristobal inherited a disaster at Florida International, and has slowly transformed the Golden Panthers into a Sun Belt contender. The program made its first bowl appearance last season, winning 34-32 over Toledo in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Cristobal is 21-36 in four-plus seasons at FIU, but the seven victories posted last year were the most in program history. He does not have much experience outside of Florida, with a short stint at Rutgers (2001-03), serving as his only coaching job outside of the Sunshine State. Cristobal has shown he can turn around a program with a little time. Also, he is regarded as a good recruiter, and his pipelines into Florida could pay dividends for Ole Miss.
Larry Fedora, head coach, Southern Miss – Fedora has the Golden Eagles off to an 8-1 start and a spot in the Associated Press Top 25. Southern Miss hasn’t faced the most difficult schedule, but it is in position to play for the Conference USA title for the first time since 2006. Fedora has plenty of experience at high-profile schools, serving under Ron Zook at Florida from 2002-04 and Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State from 2005-07. And he’s regarded as one of the top offensive minds in college football, coordinating Southern Miss’ offense to an average of 37.6 points a game this year. Fedora’s record is a solid 29-18 in four years at Southern Miss, which includes a 3-5 record against BCS opponents.
Hugh Freeze, head coach, Arkansas State – Ole Miss is certainly very familiar with Freeze and he is probably near the top of its wishlist. Freeze worked in Oxford from 2005-07 under Ed Orgeron, and helped develop offensive tackle Michael Oher at Briarcrest High School. He spent two years as the head coach at Lambuth, posting a 20-5 record. In one year at Arkansas State, Freeze has led the Red Wolves to a 6-2 record, and Arkansas State is the only undefeated team in Sun Belt play. Freeze is a gamble considering his lack of overall head coaching experience on the FBS level, but his results at all stops have been impressive. He is also regarded as a great recruiter and would have no trouble winning the press conference.
Skip Holtz, head coach, South Florida – Holtz’s profile was at its peak early in the season, as South Florida got off to a 4-0 start. However, the Bulls have lost their last four games and are in danger of missing out on the bowl season. Despite the struggles this year, Holtz would be a solid hire for Ole Miss. He has an 84-58 overall record in 12 years as a head coach. Holtz has an outgoing personality, which would be a hit on the recruiting trail and at Ole Miss. Considering the uncertainty surrounding the Big East, Holtz may be looking to make another move.
Mark Hudspeth, head coach, UL Lafayette – Hudspeth has been at UL Lafayette only one season, but has made an immediate impact. The Ragin’ Cajuns are 8-2 and in position to win the Sun Belt title. Hudspeth has injected some much-needed energy into the program and even after one year on the FBS level, appears ready for a jump to a high-profile job. Before coming to Louisiana-Lafayette, Hudspeth recorded a 66-21 record at North Alabama and coached receivers at Mississippi State from 2009-10.
Mike Leach, former Texas Tech head coach – Considering what transpired at Texas Tech, Leach certainly has some baggage. However, he wants to go back into coaching, and for a school that is paying a buyout (Nutt), Leach may come a little cheaper than anticipated. During his tenure in Lubbock, the Red Raiders were 84-43 and made 10 bowl appearances. Leach’s pass-first offense would bring some excitement to Oxford, and he has SEC coaching experience, working at Kentucky from 1997-98. There’s no question Leach is an effective coach and is hungry to get back to work. However, would Ole Miss make a risky hire after firing its last three coaches?
Gus Malzahn, offensive coordinator, Auburn – Malzahn was close to accepting the Vanderbilt position last year, so he definitely has interest in becoming a head coach. Malzahn’s only head coaching experience came at three Arkansas high schools – Hughes, Shiloh Christian and Springdale, but has worked under two successful head coaches – Todd Graham and Gene Chizik – during his time at the FBS level. Malzahn and current Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt have some history, as the two worked together at Arkansas in 2006. There’s some risk considering Malzahn has not been a head coach, but his offenses have been dynamic and would help fill the stands at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson – Morris has had quite a rise in the coaching ranks. As recently as 2009, Morris was the head coach at Lake Travis High School in Texas, before spending one season as the offensive coordinator at Tulsa. Under his direction, the Golden Hurricane averaged 41.4 points a game and ranked fifth nationally in total offense. Morris has made an immediate impact at Clemson, as the Tigers rank 14th nationally in scoring offense. There’s some risk involved with Morris, especially since he has no FBS head coaching experience. However, his offensive background is certainly appealing for a program that needs a jolt of energy.
Rich Rodriguez, CBS Sports analyst – Rodriguez has been mentioned as a possible candidate at Tulane, but there’s no doubt he can get a BCS job again. He was fired after a 15-22 record at Michigan, but the team made showed progress each year during his tenure, and the players he recruited are 7-2 under Brady Hoke this season. Before coming to Michigan, Rodriguez was 60-26 at West Virginia, leading the Mountaineers to two BCS games. He doesn’t have any SEC coaching experience, but Rodriguez is a much better coach than his short tenure at Michigan indicated.
Kevin Sumlin, head coach, Houston – There’s little doubt Sumlin’s name is going to be at the top of BCS coaching jobs that come open this year. Under his direction, Houston is 32-16 over three-plus seasons and is ranked No. 11 in the latest release of the BCS standings. Sumlin worked under Bob Stoops from 2003-07 and has previous stops at Wyoming, Minnesota, Purdue and Texas A&M. He would bring a high-powered passing attack to Oxford and is regarded as a good recruiter. With Arizona expected to show interest in Sumlin, Ole Miss will have to move fast if this is the coach it wants.
Kent Austin, head coach, Cornell – Austin is an alum and was a popular coach during his short tenure as Ole Miss’ offensive coordinator from 2008-10. However, his record at Cornell is just 5-13.
Shane Beamer, associated head coach, Virginia Tech – Beamer is a long shot, but certainly a name to watch in coaching searches. He has plenty of experience coaching in the SEC, working as a graduate assistant at Tennessee, and then stops as a defensive assistant at Misssissippi State and South Carolina. This is Beamer’s first season in Virginia Tech, where he works under his father Frank Beamer.
Gunter Brewer, wide receivers coach, Ole Miss – In addition to his current job as the receivers coach, Brewer is well-known in Oxford, as his father served as the school’s head coach from 1983-93. Gunter has worked as an assistant at North Carolina, Oklahoma State and Marshall, but does not have any FBS head coaching experience. Although Brewer has ties to the school, Ole Miss may want to look outside of the Houston Nutt circle for a new head coach.
Manny Diaz, defensive coordinator, Texas – Diaz has steadily worked his way up the coaching ladder and appears ready for his first head coaching job. In addition to his current home (Texas), he has stops at Florida State, NC State, MTSU and Mississippi State. Diaz isn’t short on enthusiasm, which is something Ole Miss desperately needs after the losing record.
Jim McElwain, offensive coordinator, Alabama – McElwain wouldn’t be a flashy hire, but has a solid resume. The veteran coach has stops at Louisville, Michigan State, Fresno State and in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders. McElwain has done a good job developing sophomore quarterback AJ McCarron this year, and was Alabama’s offensive coordinator on the 2009 national title team.
Garrick McGee, offensive coordinator, Arkansas – McGee came close to landing the Tulsa head coaching position last offseason, but decided to return to Arkansas. He has worked with Bobby Petrino for the last four years, including serving as the offensive coordinator in the last two seasons. It seems like only a matter of time before McGee lands a head coaching job. However, he may be more likely to land somewhere outside of the BCS, before jumping into a premier job.
Todd Monken, offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State – Monken returned to Oklahoma State last offseason after coaching with the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2007-10. He also has stops at LSU, Louisiana Tech and Eastern Michigan on his resume. Although Monken is a highly-regarded offensive mind, he does not have any experience as a head coach.
Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama – Nick Saban assistants are always popular in the coaching rumor mill, and Smart could become the third Saban disciple (Will Muschamp and Derek Dooley) to be a head coach in the SEC. Smart has coached at Alabama since 2007, but has stops at LSU, Georgia and in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins. He is a Georgia alum, so he could be more interested in waiting for that position, rather than jump to Ole Miss.
Mark Stoops, defensive coordinator, Florida State – Stoops has done a good job in his two years at Florida State and appears to be ready to take his first head coach position. The Seminoles ranked 108th in total defense in 2009, but Stoops took over in 2010 and brought immediate improvement. Florida State finished 42nd nationally in total defense last season and ranks seventh in scoring defense after nine games this year.
Charlie Strong, head coach, Louisville – Strong is going to be mentioned for a lot of BCS vacancies, but it’s hard to see him leaving Louisville. Strong recently signed a contract extension, which is designed to keep him with the Cardinals until 2018.
Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky – Taggart is a rising star in the coaching ranks. The Hilltoppers won only two games from 2008-09, but since his arrival, they are 7-14 and in the mix for the 2011 Sun Belt title. Taggart also served under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford from 2007-09 and is college football’s youngest coach at age 35. Taggart may not be ready for this job, but he’s going to be generating a lot of consideration for BCS jobs in the near future.