By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
After four seasons, UCLA has announced Rick Neuheisel’s tenure will end after the Pac-12 Championship. Neuheisel came to Los Angeles with a lot of promise, but never got the Bruins into conference title contention. The Bruins were 21-28 under Neuheisel and made just one bowl appearance.
Who will replace Rick Neuheisel at UCLA?
Gary Andersen, head coach, Utah State – If UCLA wants to target an up-and-coming coach, Andersen would be the perfect fit. During his tenure at Utah State, the Aggies have recorded a 14-21 record. While that may not seem impressive, the program has turned a corner this year, earning its first bowl game since 1997 this season. He also has coaching stops at Northern Arizona, Utah and Southern Utah.
Mike Bellotti, former Oregon head coach – Bellotti had a very successful run as Oregon’s head coach from 1995-08, recording a 137-80-2 record. He also led the Ducks to 12 bowl games, including a Fiesta Bowl win over Colorado in 2001. Bellotti is a California native, playing at UC Davis from 1970-72 and working at Chico State from 1984-88. The only downside to Bellotti is his age – he will be 61 when the 2012 season starts. If he wants to get back into coaching, UCLA would be a good fit.
Art Briles, head coach, Baylor – Briles has spent his entire coaching career in Texas, so it would be a surprise to see him leave. However, UCLA is a better job than Baylor and he may be ready for a new challenge after leading the Bears to a 23-25 record over the last four seasons. Before coming to Baylor, Briles compiled a 34-28 record in five seasons at Houston. It’s a longshot that Briles would leave coaching in Texas, but he’s a successful coach and someone UCLA should at least inquire about his interest.
Tom Cable, offensive line coach, Seattle Seahawks – Cable is certainly familiar with UCLA, serving as its offensive coordinator from 2004-05. He also has stops as an assistant at Idaho, UNLV and California. Cable has worked in the NFL since 2006, including a stint as the Oakland Raiders head coach (17-27). While Cable has a solid resume, his four-year run as Idaho’s head coach was awful. The Vandals went 5-6 in his first year and only won five games in the remaining three seasons. Winning at Idaho is no easy task, but Cable's record is cause for concern. It would be a surprise if Cable got the full-time job at UCLA.
Dave Christensen, head coach, Wyoming – While Houston’s Kevin Sumlin and Southern Mississippi’s Larry Fedora have gotten the most attention from the non-BCS ranks, keep a close eye on Christensen. He played at Washington from 1980-82 and served under Don James as the offensive line coach in 1988. Christensen coordinated Missouri’s offense from 1997-08, before taking the head coaching gig at Wyoming. In three seasons, he has recorded a 17-19 record and a bowl appearance in 2009. Christensen has done a good job of getting results with young quarterbacks at Wyoming, and the Bruins need a jumpstart on offense.
Paul Chryst, offensive coordinator, Wisconsin – Chryst would not be a flashy hire, but has a strong resume and is regarded as one of the top assistants in college football. The Badgers have led the Big Ten in scoring offense over the last three seasons and finished among the top two in the conference in rushing over the last five years. Chryst has coaching stops with the San Diego Chargers and as Oregon State’s offensive coordinator, but is a Wisconsin alum, so pulling him away from Madison won’t be easy. The only downside to Chryst is no head coaching experience.
Manny Diaz, defensive coordinator, Texas – Diaz is a rising star in the assistant coaching ranks and is ready for his first head coaching gig. He has made stops at MTSU, NC State, Mississippi State before joining Texas as its defensive coordinator this year. The Longhorns enter the final week of regular season play ranked ninth nationally in total defense and are allowing only 21 points a game. Diaz does not have any ties to the West Coast, but is young, energetic and a good recruiter.
Sonny Dykes, head coach, Louisiana Tech – Dykes has done a good job in just two seasons at Louisiana Tech, leading the Bulldogs to an 8-4 record and WAC title this year. He also has experience coaching in the Pac-12, spending 2007-09 as Mike Stoops’ offensive coordinator at Arizona. Dykes has only two years of head coaching experience, but his resume is solid and has a good background working as an assistant. He is also an offensive guru, something that is needed at UCLA after finishing 10th in the Pac-12 in scoring offense this season.
Butch Jones, head coach, Cincinnati – Jones is a name that has been popping up this season for open jobs, including North Carolina and Illinois. With the Big East facing an uncertain future, Jones could be looking to land a job with more stability. He does not have any experience coaching west of Michigan, but has a 39-24 record in five seasons as a head coach. Although Jones seems like an odd fit at UCLA, his track record as a proven winner has to be attractive for a program that needs to get this hire right.
June Jones, head coach, SMU – Jones has resurrected two programs – Hawaii and SMU. Is it time to consider a BCS job? Jones took a Hawaii team that won five games in three seasons prior to arrival to post 12 victories in the next two. He also led SMU to back-to-back bowl games (2009-10) for the first time since 1983-84. He has NFL experience, working with the Oilers, Lions, Falcons and Chargers. Jones is regarded as one of college football’s top offensive minds and will implement a high-powered passing attack if hired.
Mike Leach, former Texas Tech head coach – There have been mixed signals on whether or not Leach is a candidate at UCLA. However, he is someone the Bruins have to seriously consider. Although there is plenty of baggage from the end of his tenure at Texas Tech, Leach recorded an 84-43 record with 10 bowl appearances. Although most of Leach’s coaching experience has been in the Midwest, he was born in Susanville, Calif.
Chris Petersen, head coach, Boise State – It seems Petersen will be mentioned with every BCS job opening. However, it would take a lot for him to leave Boise – and it’s an extreme longshot he would leave for UCLA.
Kevin Sumlin, head coach, Houston – Arizona State, Kansas, Ole Miss, North Carolina, Illinois and now UCLA. That’s the list of expected suitors for Sumlin this offseason. Needless to say - assuming he wants to leave Houston - Sumlin will have his choice of jobs. During his four seasons with the Cougars, Sumlin has compiled a 35-16 record and has the them in the hunt for an-large spot in the BCS with a win over Southern Miss. He also has a strong resume as an assistant, working under Bob Stoops at Oklahoma and Joe Tiller at Purdue.
Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky – Taggart inherited a difficult situation at Western Kentucky, with the Hilltoppers winning only two games in the two seasons prior to his arrival. After finishing 2-10 in his first year, Western Kentucky finished 2011 with a 7-5 record and is in the mix for its first bowl appearance. He has some experience coaching on the West Coast, working under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford from 2007-09. Taggart is not a big name, but has done a good job at a difficult place to win. And it’s only a matter of time before he gets a shot at a BCS job.
DeWayne Walker, head coach, New Mexico State – Walker is a name most UCLA fans are probably very familiar with. He worked under Karl Dorrell from 2006-08 and served as the interim coach in the Las Vegas Bowl in 2007. Walker took a difficult job at New Mexico State, but the Aggies have made steady progress, posting a 4-8 record with one game remaining this year. He has built a strong resume as an assistant, spending time at Oklahoma State, California, USC and in the NFL with the Patriots, Giants and Redskins. Walker may not be the flashiest of hires, but is a solid coach with familiarity with the program.