As the Mike Riley era of football comes to a close in Lincoln we take an in-depth look at some of the coaches around the country who could look to step into his shoes as the next head coach at Nebraska. Moos has stated there’s been no formal job offer and acceptance as of this afternoon so any of these names and others could be in play as the Huskers next head coach.
In his press conference this afternoon, Moos said that he’s looking at about 6 different head coaches and had even had contact with Chip Kelly and his team. If you didn’t know, the former Oregon head coach was announced by UCLA today as their new head football coach.
While no one ever wants to replace their head coach it appears that Moos is taking this quite serious and putting his experience and connections to work as there are a number of BIG names on his list right now.
Here’s a look at as many of those as we can think of.
The front-runner to take over the Husker program is clearly hometown hero Scott Frost who grew up in the shadows of Memorial Stadium in Wood River, NE. Frost is one of the hottest coaches in the country leading an undefeated UCF team to a current 12th place ranking. The Knights have improved from 0-12 the year before Frost and sit at 12-0 after holding off USF on Saturday.
The Husker football program needs a coach who can unify the state and as a former letter winner and national champion, Frost certainly has that leaning in his favor. Frost is also a terrific offensive coach having spent time learning Chip Kelly’s high octane offense from January 2009 all the way through December 2015.
In addition to being a hometown favorite and capable offensive mind Frost has shown he can unite his team and point them in the right direction. He took over a 0-12 team that was mired in turmoil but still talented and built upon it. In his first season, the Knights went 6-7 and struggled everywhere. The offense ranked #112th and in his second season Frost has their offense humming at a high level as they have the 5th ranked offense in the NCAA.
Playing in the AAC Frost has had a few years to figure out what type of head coach he wants to be. The problem with UCF is that even as an undefeated team they won’t likely have the strength of schedule to get into the playoffs and potentially left by the wayside of a New Years Six bowl game on a consistent basis. Nebraska may be one of the best shots he has at resurrecting a program that would be allowed to enter the playoffs.
While Frost did good things in elevating the Northern Iowa defense for two years his defenses as a head coach has been up and down. The offense is clearly the driver in their success so after spending 3 seasons watching mediocre defenses take the field Husker fans are going to want to see improvements there with whoever the next coaching staff is.
Will his offense work in a place such as Nebraska? Frost went on the record in his first year at UCF stating that his offense wouldn’t work at a place like Wisconsin as the players to run it aren’t readily available. With a local population of 5.8 million compared to Nebraska’s 1.9 million I have doubts it could be effective here without a serious investment in recruiting.
“One of the things that drew me to the job is I knew I could run a version of our offense that was practically identical to Oregon’s because we can recruit that type of player here. I don’t think you could run Oregon’s offense at Wisconsin; I don’t know if you would get enough guys that can run well enough to do it. In Orlando, Florida, there are fast guys in high schools in every direction in close proximity that are already running systems in high school that are similar to this and should want to play in it.”
Frost has an impressive commitment list if you look it up on 247’s website. But if you drill down into who he is responsible for you’ll see several notable recruits that have left Oregon or never contributed to the team. You’ll also see two recruiters listed on several top recruits leading to the question of whether or not its really Frost landing those types of high-quality players.
Frost has done a good job in his two recruiting cycles posting a top-3 class in the AAC conference both seasons. The question remains whether or not he would be able to replicate that success at Nebraska. Should Frost be the coach he could retain both Keith and Donte William who are two of the top recruiters in the country plus add a few other big names if he goes after guys like Tosh Lupoi who is at Alabama and would probably like to have full control over a defense.
Can Husker Nation stomach Frost’s offense? While they do run the ball they are a pass-heavy squad that plays at a high tempo and we all know how much Nebraska fans like to turn to the guy sitting next to them and grumble about how they need to get back to “running the damn ball”.
Lastly, this is Frost’s first rodeo as a head coach and with an undefeated squad his timeline may simply not mesh up with Nebraska’s. Nebraska will undoubtedly want their next head coach to start as soon as possible and if Frost wants to coach his team’s bowl game that could be a problem the AD and Frost need to work around.
Frost is a smart and savvy hire for a number of reasons but he will have a lot to prove at Nebraska if he decides to come here. As a young coach, if things don’t work out at Nebraska his trajectory as a coach will have stalled out and would take several years to recover. He may be suited best to pass on leaving UCF and spending another 1-2 years there learning in a place like UCF that doesn’t hold the highest of standards.
There is still a good chance Frost comes to Nebraska but the expectations for the former Cornhusker will be exceedingly high in Lincoln.
Currently the head coach at Virginia Tech, Fuentes spent several years cultivating his skillset as an offensive coordinator at Illinois State University before spending five years helping turn TCU’s offense around, including a Rose Bowl berth in 2011. After helping to develop Cincinnati Bengal’s quarterback Andy Dalton, Fuentes was chosen by Memphis to help turn around a team that had gone 3-21 in its prior two seasons.
In his third year as head coach, it became clear that Fuentes had helped turn Memphis around for good. In his final two seasons as head coach they posted 10 and 9 win seasons and he left the program in terrific hands. Parlaying his success at Memphis Fuentes took over Virginia Tech and has led them to a 10 and 9 win season.
An offensive mind, Fuentes has a clear grasp on how to run an offense. Surprisingly, he seems to have a good handle on the defensive side of the ball as well. His second year VT squad has the13th ranked defense in the NCAA.
An Oklahoma native, Fuentes has roots in the midwest and I believe would consider leaving VT in order to take over a prominent program such as Nebraska. He’s proven in stops at Memphis and VT that he can build programs and keep them nationally relevant. Since his departure, Memphis has continued on its upward trajectory and he’s turned a stagnant VT program back into a contender.
We all know that recruiting isn’t everything and it’s clear that Fuentes doesn’t rely on stars to tell him what he can get out of a player. While that may work when you have a plethora of in-state kids and players within the 500 miles area that won’t be the case at Nebraska. Fuente will need to prove that his recruiting and development can work at Nebraska like it has at Virginia Tech.
Fuente gave up play calling duties in 2005 and while the VT has been good it hasn’t posted a top-30 season yet. Nebraska will need both the offense and defense to be strong as they have a brutal schedule in 2018 and 2019.
Fuente is a lot like Bo Pelini in he’s regularly has double digit win seasons but he has yet to win a conference title at a major program. He’s done it at Memphis, can he do it again at VT or even Nebraska?
The truth is that Fuente would be a coup for AD Bill Moos to steal away from VT. The question hanging over him is why would he trade one P5 school for another and is there serious enough interest to make it happen? Only time will tell on this one.
With newly appointed Athletic Director Bill Moos hiring Mike Leach to resurrect Washington State’s football program is no surprise that Leech makes the list as a name to help Nebraska rebuild. Leech is arguably an offensive genius who helped bring Hal Mumme’s air raid offense to Texas Tech to build up its program and who is now executing it at a high level at Washington State.
There’s no doubt that Leach can build up an elite offense that stretches a defenses to their limits and puts up points. Leach is also a trailblazer who will go down the unbeaten path beating his drum the entire way. If you’ve never heard Leach speak do yourself a favor and check out this video. Leach is super personable and fun to listen to. While he may be a little cooky there’s no doubting what he brings to the table on offense.
Leach isn’t know for his high-level recruiting and has signed only two four-star players in his 6 seasons at Washington State. That in mind, he is terrific at developing players, specifically on the offensive side of the ball. It’s easy to see that Leach does more with less when you look at the makeup of his teams.
In order to achieve results Leach is known to be tough on his players, sometimes too tough. In 2009, Leach was fired by Texas Tech after a player came forward alleging abuse by Leach and his staff after he suffered a conclusion. After refusing to budge and apologize to the player, Leach was terminated by Texas Tech.
Similar allegations followed Leach in his first season at Washington State after star wide receiver Marquess Wilson quit the football team alleging, “physical, emotional and verbal abuse” by the coaching staff.” Those allegations would eventually be dismissed, but its no open secret that Leach can be abrasive towards players, or really anyone, that doesn’t tow the company line.
While Leach is a terrific coach who maximizes his players, one could argue that he is average at best with his recruiting. He relies heavily on local players within the 500 mile radius and that may be a problem should he come to Nebraska.
Leach is known for his offenses so its easy to point to his lack of defense is something that should be a cause for concern for Huskers fans. Having a prolific offense is great but you can’t always have a shootout and walk away with a win. Leach’s best teams have come during years where their defense is playing top notch football.
Unlike most of the others on the list, Leach has had more than his fair shot with P5 programs to build national title contenders and has come up short. In fact, Leach only has a single season with double digit wins in his head coaching career. Is Leach like Pelini in that he’s a perennial 9 win coach? Hopefully Husker fans don’t have to find that out.
Leach is a good coach, but not great. He’s struggled to get over the hump and has a history of rubbing players and others the wrong way. Nebraska needs someone to mend the fences and unite the fan base and while Leach’s offenses would be fun to watch it’s fairly apparent Moos should be looking in a different direction.
Leach may be able to survive in Pullman and Lubbock but the fishbowl in Lincoln wouldn’t be a smart fit for him.
Campbell has had success at every stop in his head coaching career and has brought respect back to Iowa State. He’s knocked off teams like TCU and Oklahoma this season and brings a tough nosed defense to every game. He’s turned around an aging Iowa State and has them sitting at 7-4 this season with four of his losses coming in close games this season.
Campbell is a winner through and through. While most coaches on our list have been terrific offensive coordinators Campbell has his defense playing at an elite level. He also does more with less. His teams have less stars and notoriety but he has them playing well above their paper grades.
Iowa State doesn’t have a prolific offense and relies heavily on the defense to keep them competitive and in games. Fixing the offensive side of the ball will be his next challenge as its clearly what’s held his team back this year. Campbell isn’t known for his offensive mind but its not as big of a weakness as others think.
Like many head coaching candidates the ability to pull everything together will always be what holds the majority of coaches back. Balancing that will continue to be a question mark as Campbell makes his way through a P5 conference for just the second season. Campbell is a good coach but will need to prove that he is consistent and can maintain this level of success.
While money “isn’t an object” for Nebraska Campbell has a pretty big coaching buyout should a school poach him from Iowa State. Is Nebraska willing to dish out the 9 million dollars for a coach who has upset a few teams but lost games they for Campbell?
Weighing the cost of Campbell versus their other options will be the biggest determining factor in his recruitment. If Campbell is landed it could be a real coup for Moos and the AD.
A few other names to consider
Gary Patterson (TCU) – Could Moos pull Patterson from TCU after the Huskers allegedly spurred him when hiring Bo Pelini? Patterson has built a machine at TCU but with his long tenure there it would be a tough pull.
Dino Babers (Syracuse) – On the surface, Babers isn’t a sexy name like Frost and the other. However, he’s had success as a head coach wherever he’s been and while his current team is 4-7 they knocked off a very good Clemson a few weeks ago. Babers runs a pro-style offense as well, meaning the change in offensive systems would be minimal and potentially something he could use to get the program jump started.
Bret Bielema (Arkansas) – Fired yesterday, Bielema is a well known name to Husker fans from his tenure at Wisconsin. Moos could look to Bielema to replicate the success he had at Wisconsin at Nebraska. The question is was his success at Wisconsin due to his coaching or to the program and culture AD Barry Alvarez has created?
Chris Petersen (Washington) – This is probably the biggest pipe dream on the list currently. Petersen has been notoriously steadfast in staying in the PNW area throughout his coaching career. That said, he’s also one of the best coaches int he country and has turned Washington into a true contender ever since he left the blue turf of Boise State. While Moos and Petersen know one another don’t expect this to be the name when the dust settles.
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