After months of speculation, and several weeks of abysmal football, Vince Tyra was finally forced to remove Bobby Petrino as head coach of the Louisville Cardinals. Similar to the basketball vacancy, there appears to be one true obvious choice. However, there are many factors at play, and nothing is a done deal.
I sat down with fellow TCZ members Mark Blankenbaker and Dave Scull as we discussed our top candidates for the newly open position.
We decided we should tackle this by breaking this up into four different categories:
- The Obvious Choice
- The Backup Plan(s)
- The Longshots
- The Even Less Likely, But Names You Might Hear
The Obvious Choice
LJ: OK fellas, let’s get this out of the way first. We all know it’s Jeff Brohm‘s job to turn down. Brohm started the season 0-3 but has since coached Purdue to 5 wins in the last 7 games, and two of those wins were over ranked team (Ohio State and Iowa). Brohm seems to be the best fit, and the fan base wants Louisville’s favorite family to come back home. My only concerns are that he is building something at Purdue and may not want to leave after only two years on the job. There is also the matter of how things ended for Brohm at Louisville when he was on staff last in 2008. Brohm could opt to stay in his current position and build on an already impressive class.
Mark: It’s Jeff Brohm. The Cards will have to fend off USC and Purdue to get Jeff Brohm back to Louisville. But if UofL produces a market value offer to Jeff, then the Brohms and the rest of a Louisville-centric staff will be returning to Louisville. Jeff checks all the boxes as a proven head coach, a recruiter, a motivator, and as someone who the fans, community & players can rally behind.
Dave: Jeff Brohm checks all the boxes, and then some. He is the “glass slipper”. The perfect fit. We have all heard that Louisville is his dream job, and it feels like he is destined to come back home…but nothing is set in stone. Fortunately, I don’t think UofL will be competing with many top flight college jobs for his services. USC, if it opens, doesn’t feel like a fit. The NFL may come calling, but Louisville has the advantage of being home and a few week head start on the field. To anybody concerned about his .500 record this season, I encourage you to look at how Purdue was struggling in and out of conference play before Jeff took over. He was a shot of adrenaline to the entire program. He is a real culture changer, which is sorely needed on Floyd Street right now. We need immediate buy in from current players, recruits, boosters, and fans. He is the only candidate that immediately accomplishes that.
The Backup Plan(s)
If Jeff Brohm turns down UofL then some interesting options become available for Vince Tyra to consider for UofL’s next football coach.
Ryan Day filled in admirably at Ohio State for a suspended Urban Meyer. Day has NFL experience and has called offense at a high level with Ohio State, Boston College and Temple. Day is 39 years old and figures to be a hot name around the country.
Brent Venables has hounded Louisville for the past 5 years at Clemson. He has the defensive side of the ball locked down and is a proven recruiter. He has a quirky personality and no one knows if he’d like to be a head coach. Currently Venables is the highest paid assistant coach in the country and they love him at Clemson. So it would be interesting to see if Brent would leave that position to be a head coach anywhere. He’s also spent a considerable amount of time at Oklahoma & Kansas State and isn’t someone who bounces from job to job.
Matt Campbell at Iowa State is FUN. His style is exciting, and they love him in Ames. But his buyout may be a little cost prohibitive for UofL who is already paying Bobby Petrino $14M on the way out the door. He’s dug Iowa State out of a huge crater and had a great deal of success at Toledo. Campbell is one of the country’s brightest young head coaches, he has to be on the list.
Mike Norvell is a young coach who is currently having success at Memphis. Memphis runs an exciting brand under Novell and the AAC is sort of a proven track from Group of 5 head coaches to have success in the Power 5. Norvell was at Tulsa, Pitt, and Arizona State previously and has shown the ability to manage a roster with a lot of turnover.
Mike Leach has a low buy out and had an agreement to be the head coach at Tennessee after the Greg Schiano disaster last season. It stands to reason that Leach is likely going somewhere this off-season as he has his team in the Top 25 and was attempting to land a more relevant job at the end of 2016.
Luke Fickell interim’d at Ohio State and currently is the head coach at Cincinnati. Fickell is currently 9-1 at UC and CAN RECRUIT THIS AREA. Not as proven as some of the others, but a hot name right now.
Brent Pry is the current defensive coordinator at Penn State. I’ve admired his defense for quite some time. Penn State isn’t lighting it up this season, but the Penn State defense has been solid throughout his tenure and was also very effective at Vanderbilt as well. Pry could provide some toughness back into the program which is sorely needed and is one of the best non-head coach candidates I could think of.
Dave Aranda is LSU’s Assistant Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator. Aranda has recruited nationally and has a brand of toughness. He’s also highly paid at LSU and has been on the rise for some time.
Dave: There are several good alternatives if Jeff Brohm doesn’t end up at Louisville. Let me start with a few names who I think will be bandied about, but are not realistic options. Ohio State OC Ryan Day is a popular name, and a rising star in the coaching profession. But I think he ends up in a high profile job (college or NFL) in short order, possibly even taking over for a disgruntled Urban Meyer in Columbus this off-season. Brent Venables has been mentioned with every prominent college opening for the last several years. Venables makes $2 million a season to be the DC at Clemson, and has tons of cover in that position. I’m not even sure he wants to be a head coach, but if he does, I think it will be a Kirby Smart situation. He will wait until the perfect top 10-15 type job comes along, and then jump on it. Charlie Strong is not a candidate for reasons I should not have to address in this column.
Now on to the realistic alternatives: Mike Norvell won 8 and 10 games in his first two seasons at the helm in Memphis, and in his third season has the Tigers ranked 6th nationally in both total offense and scoring offense. Clearly a dynamic offensive mind, he would seem to be a good fit for the Louisville brand. His defenses struggle, but with a good DC, I would love to see what Norvell could do with an upgrade in talent.
Chip Long is the current OC at Notre Dame. He spent a few years as a GA under Bobby Petrino at both UofL and Arkansas, and later worked under Mike Norvell at Memphis. He has no head coaching experience and is relatively inexperienced, but could be a bold hire of a rising coach on the cusp. I tend to think it would be a few years early for Long.
Seth Littrell is in his 3rd season as the head coach at North Texas. His teams play an exciting brand of football, high scoring and not averse to taking risks. He is young, and I truly believe he is one of the next guys up. Littrell should be on the short list if Brohm does not come home.
Neal Brown is in his 4th season at Troy’s head coach, after stints as an OC at Troy, Texas Tech, and Kentucky. He’s a Kentucky native, and played for a time under Hal Mumme & Mike Leach at UK. He is known for up-tempo offenses geared toward keeping opposing defenses off balance and scrambling. As a head coach, he has won 8, 10, and 11 games, and is 8-2 so far in 2018. He is poised for a jump to a power 5 school, and Louisville could do much worse than Neal Brown.
Mike Leach is everybody’s favorite coach. He is an oddball, a great interview, and a walking quote machine. He also finds ways to win at non-traditional football powers. I think it’s worth kicking the tires on him, but something feels perfect about Leach in Pullman. Although he did have an agreement in place to leave for Tennessee last season, so who knows?
I should probably like Luke Fickell more than I do. What he has done this season is impressive, but I just don’t trust him yet. Another year or two of seasoning and winning and I would be game.
The last two are similar in my mind, Matt Campbell and Dino Babers. Both are young head coaches that have figured out a way to win at power 5 schools that present unique challenges. Campbell’s overall record may look modest, but Ames is an incredibly hard place to win traditionally, and Campbell has managed to knock off several ranked teams in his three seasons there. Unfortunately, he recently signed an extension with a hefty buyout, so Louisville may be a bit apprehensive to pursue. Babers has done what seemed impossible in recent years: brought a winning team to Syracuse. His high tempo offense gave several teams fits his first few seasons up north, and in 2018 he has managed to pair it with a competent defense. The Cuse only have two losses this season, by 4 to #2 Clemson, and in OT to a pesky Pitt team a week later. I am not sure what Dino’s next step is, but he should be near the top of the list for Vince Tyra.
LJ: There are only two choices in my opinion if the Brohm deal falls through.
1A: Ryan Day, the current offensive coordinator at Ohio State, is going to be an absolute star as a head coach. He has 16 years of coaching experience and took over as head coach for Urban Meyer for the first three games of the season while Meyer served a suspension. Day is a young coach (39 yrs. old) and most argue that Ohio State’s offense looked better when he was the head coach than when Urban was. The only knock on Day is that many consider him to be the next head coach in Columbus. Rumors have swirled that the Urban Meyer tenure could be coming to a end soon.
1B: My other choice is Dino Babers from Syracuse. He has quickly changed the culture at Syracuse and now has a defense to match his fast paced offense. Dino strikes me as the type to get the most out of his players and with all the speed Bobby bragged about it would be nice to see it utilized in his system.
Les Miles was at the top of my list because of his winning record at LSU. Overall, Miles has a 141-55 record as a head coach including a National Championship while at LSU. But I remember Miles struggling offenses while at LSU and he also had Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham on his team and couldn’t win with them. There is also something to be said about no one else picking him up, he has currently been out of coaching since 2016 and is now starring in Dr. Pepper commercials.
Charlie Strong is another but after the Bobby experiment I highly doubt the school will want to keep bringing back coaches who left willingly years ago. Strong would not be the guy for other (off the field) reasons as well.
David Shaw is OUTSTANDING. He’s a long shot because he’s unlikely to leave Stanford. His teams are always tough and well-coached and he routinely has his team in the Top 25 despite a huge recruiting disadvantage due to the high admissions standards in Palo Alto.
Bob Stoops would be interesting because he has won at the highest level but he is also retired. It would be curious to see if he’d like to rival against his little brother Mark Stoops here at UofL, but it’s more likely that he would just go back to Oklahoma after Lincoln Riley leaves OU for the NFL.
Jim McElwain was an offensive coordinator here at UofL and much of his Colorado State and Florida staffs were made up of Florida guys. McElwain will land on his feet somewhere, but the Florida tenure ended in disaster and he’s a long shot due to that. He’ll be back as a head coach somewhere, I’m just not sure it will be Louisville.
Urban Meyer I think it would be worth a shot to just see how unsettled Urban is in Columbus after an off-season of turmoil. It’s clear that Meyer is one of the best coaches in the country and whether or not he would leave Ohio State after everything that has happened OR even if Vince Tyra (and the UofL community) could stomach it.
Dave: There are a few coaches currently working in the NFL that have UofL ties whose names may pop up in the next few weeks. Joe Whitt Jr. has reportedly expressed interest in the UofL opening. He excelled during Petrino’s first stint as the recruiting coordinator & cornerbacks coach, and has since been working for the Packers as a defensive backs coach, and more recently as the defensive passing game coordinator. Whitt has a dynamic personality and an extensive (although not entirely diverse) resume for a 40 year old coach. The timing might be right for him to make the lead into a head coaching position, but I tend to think he needs to cut his teeth on a lower level job before taking over at a power 5 program like Louisville.
Dave Ragone is another interesting name to consider. Ragone was a phenomenal college quarterback at Louisville, played professionally for four years, and has worked for three different NFL organizations as a coach. He is currently the QB coach for the Chicago Bears, mentoring Mitch Trubisky through his early career development. While I think Ragone has a bright future, I am not sure he is geared towards the college game, and similarly to Joe Whitt, could use some seasoning as a head coach, or at least a high level coordinator before getting a shot at a high major college job.
The Even Less Likely, But Names You Might Hear
Bret Bielema is similar to Jim McElwain but Arkansas is a rebuilding job in his absence. I do think he’s a good football coach and meets the physicality requirement and his teams were a lot of fun to watch….. but Bret probably has some proving to do before he gets back as a Power 5 head coach.
Rich Rodriguez was terminated at Arizona for off-the-field issues. I can’t imagine that UofL has the stomach for Rich Rod.
Jay Gruden is the head coach of the Washington Redskins. Lots of pro experience, not a lot at the college level. And it’s doubtful he would leave his NFL job for this one.
Dave Ragone is someone I am including because I think down the line he could be an interesting candidate. He’s currently the QB coach for the Chicago Bears and he’s been grinding as a coach in the NFL for some time. Ragone is probably an NFL lifer like Gruden, but I think he deserves a mention in a piece that ultimately just lands on Jeff Brohm.
Kevin Sumlin & Les Miles are names that people will undoubtedly mention. They’ve had big jobs, they’ve had big success but the University of Louisville ultimately isn’t the place for them.
Dave: If you ask college football fans about Lane Kiffin, odds are they will have a strong reaction one way or the other. He tends to be polarizing (for good reason), but I tend to think he gets another shot at a power 5 job in the near future. I doubt he gets serious consideration at UofL, but he might be a fun hire. Will Healy is a name that will most likely not get heavy consideration, but one that I think will be a superstar down the road. He took over an abysmal Austin Peay team, and after an 0-11 debut season, led them to an 8-4 record (8-1 vs. FCS competition). He immediately changed the culture at Austin Peay and has assembled the #1 ranked recruiting class in all of FCS. In the next few years, somebody is going to take a flyer on Healy and I think will be richly rewarded for it.
You read it here first. ONE OF THESE TWENTY NAMES WILL BE THE NEXT HEAD COACH AT THE UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE!
Look, we realize we’ve cast a wide net. But we feel that if they don’t hit on Brohm, this search quickly goes national. All bets are off. The one thing we all agree on is that Vince Tyra has shown himself to be a capable AD to this point. There is no doubt that better days are ahead.