Millionaire Matchmaker: Filling New Coaching Vacancies

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UCLA, Arizona State, UAB, Memphis, Akron and Kansas all dismissed their head football coaches in the past 72 hours. The holiday season is a cruel time of year for coaches, but for athletic directors and boosters, it mirrors the rest of the nation. Shoppers pack department stores and malls ready to spend like drunken sailors. The coaching market is similar to a crowded shopping mall, with buyers willing to drop serious cash on the right product. BCS conference football has become a high stake, top dollar game and coaches command million-dollar deals.

Athletic directors commission groups to hire the right fit, but with boatloads of money on the line ADs could go to one person well versed in finding perfect matches built around seven-figure incomes: the Millionaire Matchmaker herself, Patti Stenger.

Hopefully you have enjoyed the first Bravo Network reference on this blog, because it’s likely to be the last.

ARIZONA STATE

It’s a wonder how much difference a month makes. At October’s end, Arizona State was the envy of the state’s gridiron at 6-2 while Arizona languished with just one FBS victory and no head coach. But UA’s dismissal of Mike Stoops on Oct. 10 now has Sun Devils seeing green because it gave the Wildcats a month head start on the coaching market and landing a name hire in Rich Rodriguez. The bar is set high for the Sun Devils.

Kevin Sumlin, Houston

PROS: Houston’s unbeaten regular season is the result of Kevin Sumlin’s offensive genius. Sumlin facilitates Case Keenum’s abilities, and there is no doubt his Air Raid Spread would maximize Brock Osweiler’s abilities. But UH’s X-factor comes from balance via the running game. Only this season with the emergence of Cameron Marshall has ASU had offensive balance in recent years and not coincidentally, Sun Devil losses

CONS: Sumlin is a product of the Stoops Family Coaching Tree, and while that would certainly be a fun troll of rival UA, assistants from the tree have had spotty success. Mike Stoops was let go 100 miles down I-10, Chuck Long flamed out at San Diego State, Kevin Wilson’s first season at Indiana was disastrous and Mark Mangino had an ugly split from Kansas. Sumlin has carved a nice head coaching niche for himself in a recruiting hotbed. With UH likely on its way to a BCS conference, why leave what he’s built now?

Mike Leach

PROS: The passing guru has a ready-made offense to take to the top of the Pac-12 South. Osweiler is a big armed well-suited to Mike Leach’s uptempo style. Add a corps of talented wide receivers, and

CONS: A big problem of the Erickson era was ASU’s lack of control on the field. Texas Tech was never known for its on-field shenanigans, but Leach’s antics are well documented. Part of the ASU overhaul will include a change in attitude. Whether Leach is capable of such a rejuvenation is a question sure to arise.

Paul Chryst, Wisconsin Offensive Coordinator

PROS: Wisconsin has undergone an offensive metamorphosis with Paul Chryst guiding it. He found ways to complement Montee Ball’s power running game with Russell Wilson’s quarterbacking and vice versa. Additionally, his time as Oregon State’s offensive coordinator gives Chryst familiarity with the West.

CONS: Chryst has no head coaching experience and every ASU head coaching hire in the last two decades has been the top guy elsewhere. Maybe that’s a good thing, given the Sun Devils have had little sustained success in that time, but this is a program that expects immediate results. A coach finding his identity as a head man and building a program accordingly problem won’t placate the fan base and boosters.

PIE-IN-THE-SKY CANDIDATE: Gary Patterson, TCU

Gary Patterson’s unprecedented success at TCU has made him a popular name in BCS conference coaching searches. The proverbial carrot fan bases’ have believed they could hang before Patterson was AQ status. Well, TCU is no second-tier program. The university is upgrading Amon Carter Stadium and the Frogs are Big 12-bound. It will take a traditional powerhouse with a boatload of cash to lure away Patterson. ASU isn’t that.

WILD CARD: Robin Pflugrad, Montana

The current Montana head coach won the Big Sky Conference championship in his second season as the Grizzlies’ head coach, and he has Pacific Conference ties including at ASU. Pflugrad was a position coach most recently under Bellotti at UO during the Ducks’ offensive evolution, and was on Rose Bowl-reaching staff at Washington State in 2002 and ASU in 1996.

ASU athletic director Lisa Love will surely be after a “name” hire. Well, in Tempe Pflugrad’s a name — aside from his tenure there under Bruce Snyder, his son Aaron is one of the Sun Devils’ top wide receivers.

KANSAS

Sometimes, coaching changes at an individual university follow patterns. Should that hold true, Kansas will hire a coordinator from a successful BCS program rather than mine a non-automatic qualifying conference. After all, MAC alum Turner Gill had a wildly unsuccessful tenure in Lawrence — though was afforded just two years in the rebuilding effort left by former Kansas State coordinator and Stoops Coaching Tree product Mark Mangino.

Gary Barnett

PROS: Gary Barnett was a winner at nearby Colorado, claiming the Big 12 North title four of seven seasons he was in Boulder. He knows the area having spent nearly a decade in the conference, and his time at Northwestern proves he knows how to build a long-suffering program to respectability.

CONS: Barnett left CU under a cloud that has not stopped raining on the Buffaloes. The NCAA put CU on probation after Barnett’s final season there for a lack of institutional control.

In addition, Barnett is 65 years old. While in-state rival Kansas State has excelled with Bill Snyder this season, KU likely needs someone who can build a winner over a decade. Barnett’s staying power is presumably shorter.

Craig Bohl, North Dakota State

PROS: Craig Bohl has built North Dakota State into a Division I power in relatively short order. His NDSU Bison won the Missouri Valley Football Conference this season, one season after they beat these very Kansas Jayhawks in Lawrence. KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger is well acquainted with Bohl’s ability, having come to KU from MVFC member Illinois State.

CONS: Bohl has no FBS experience, and the Big 12 is quite the conference in which to get ones feet wet. This season, the league has arguably been the best from top to…well, near bottom. The Jayhawks have languished in the basement, and the climb upward is a long one. Bohl does have building experience evident in the Bison’s immediate FCS success, but the Big 12 is a different ball game.

PIE-IN-THE-SKY CANDIDATE: Manny Diaz, Texas Defensive Coordinator

Kansas desperately needs a defensive overhaul, surrendering more points than any program in the nation. Manny Diaz has instituted wholesale changes at Texas that turned the Longhorns around 180 degrees from 2010. Diaz has proven his abilities and will be a head coach sooner than later. But will he do so in the same conference as his current mentor, Mack Brown’s team?

WILD CARD: Rick Neuheisel

Just ousted from UCLA today, Rick Neuheisel’s time on the unemployment line could be short if the theory SBNation’s Matt Conner has validity. Neuheisel does have a successful track record despite his recent flameout, and in the Jayhawks’ conference. Neuheisel also has connections throughout the sport to build a staff. KU might be the kind of program Neuheisel could successfully settle into after his whiff in L.A.

UCLA

Rick Neuheisel began his tenure in 2008 with the promise that the gap between UCLA and rival USC was closing. Saturday’s 50-0 Trojan romp suggests the opposite, that the gap has widened at a time the Bruins should have made headway. UCLA is a program with BCS potential: it boasts history, name recognition, close proximity to outstanding recruits. No team needs a home run hire more. This search will also be important for AD Dan Guerrero, who has now released three head coaches in his time (Bob Toledo, Karl Dorrell, Neuheisel).

Mike Bellotti

PROS: His success at Oregon proves Mike Bellotti knows how to kick-start a Pac program back to life. He left the cupboard well-stocked for Chip Kelly’s quick strike offense, and largely with California recruits. The Bruins’ misfires on the recruiting trail against rival USC are a major concern. Bellotti’s familiarity with the area would be a definite boon to the rebuilding project.

CONS: Bellotti’s had a bit of a layoff from the collegiate game: three seasons to be precise. UCLA went the route of successful but sidelined from the college coach in Neuheisel, and it didn’t work out.

Mike Leach

PROS: As FOX Sports’ Lisa Horne pointed out via Twitter, there was a time UCLA was QB-U. But since Drew Olson in the mid-2000s, its been one failed experiment after another. Mike Leach’s ability to unlock a quarterback’s potential would revitalize a facet of the Bruin program long dormant.

CONS: Dan Guerrero and Mike Leach is one of the more odd pairings imaginable in all of college sports. Guerrero’s reputation is that he appeals to the Pinot Noir crowd. Leach is more pirate’s rum.

Chris Petersen, Boise State

PROS: Few coaches have been as successful over the past decade as Chris Petersen. He’s tapped into a type of recruiting few programs can sustain over a long period, finding players under the major program radar and bringing the most of them. While building on such a blueprint, Petersen has also been able to attract the occasional top tier recruit based on the success established by the lower profile signees. This rare blend might be what UCLA needs competing head-to-head with recruiting giant USC.

CONS: Boise State head coaches have not had an easy go out venturing away from the Smurf Turf. Houston Nutt was forced out from Ole Miss just this season. Dirk Koetter didn’t last at UCLA’s Pac-12 counterpart Arizona State. BCS conference football poses different challenges than those BSU face. Furthermore, Petersen’s success at Boise

PIE-IN-THE-SKY CANDIDATE: Gary Patterson


UCLA isn’t a job that should be unattractive, but with the half-hearted introduction of the Pistol and gap between it and USC, the next head coach has a sizable rebuilding project. As mentioned above in reference to the ASU opening, Gary Patterson is on the brink of leading a major program, without having to lead the one he’s built. Surely Patterson’s name will be kicked around in conjunction with the UCLA opening, but a move to Westwood/Pasadena is unlikely.

WILD CARD: Jon Gruden

More likely than not, Jon Gruden is in the role he will go down in history for as Monday Night Football’s expert analyst. His name has been rumored in several coaching searches and always results in Gruden issuing a release declining the position. However, UCLA might be the kind of gig to draw him out of the booth and onto the sidelines.

Gruden’s known as a quarterback guru and could return UCLA to its past glory. He would also remain in the public consciousness coaching in Tinseltown.