5 coaches who would make a lot of sense at Ole Miss
Matt Luke is out and somebody else is in.
That’s about all we know as of right now at Ole Miss. We don’t know if the assistants will be retained, or if all of that $17 million buyout for Luke’s staff will be forked over.
For now, we know that Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter is searching for his next head coach. It’s worth remembering, in Mississippi, coaches can only get 4-year contracts. In other words, don’t expect a Jimbo Fisher contract anytime soon.
But for the first time since 2011, Ole Miss will have an open search for its head coach. There are plenty of candidates who would make sense given where they’re at in their careers and what would attract them to Ole Miss.
Let’s dig into that list of (realistic) candidates:
1. Mike Norvell, Memphis
Norvell’s name has been such a mainstay in terms of Power 5 openings that it’s not necessarily a splashy hire, despite the fact that he beat Ole Miss and is a win from a New Year’s 6 Bowl. A program that hasn’t been to a bowl game in 4 years can do a whole lot worse than hire the coach who’s under 40 and is on the brink of that kind of accomplishment. Any Ole Miss fans scoffing at the idea of Norvell are in denial about how good of a job he did building on what Justin Fuente established at Memphis.
The good news about bringing on someone like Norvell is that he obviously has recruiting inroads in the area with Memphis an hour up the road. His teams would have a high-powered offensive identity, though it would be surprising to see him build around a run-first quarterback like John Rhys Plumlee. He has a track record that’s more proven than someone like Chad Morris, who also came from the AAC but never had a season as good as the 4 that Norvell has had.
The issue with Norvell is obvious. He reportedly talked with Arkansas and told them that he was holding out for a bigger job like Florida State. Sorry, Ole Miss fans. While the situation at Ole Miss is more promising than Arkansas, it ain’t Florida State. Norvell was once upon a time an interesting candidate for the Tennessee opening a few years ago, but the Vols wanted to go for a bigger name (we saw what that search became). Is Ole Miss big enough for Norvell?
And what would that price tag have to be to sway him from the low-end Power 5 money that he’s already making? He’s getting a raise no matter where he ends up. The question is who that raise comes from.
2. Lane Kiffin, FAU
Let’s talk about Lane, shall we?
Somewhat quietly, Kiffin is a victory from ending Year 3 at FAU with his 2nd Conference USA title and 2nd season of double-digit wins. That’s pretty impressive. The issue with Kiffin isn’t money. Coaching at multiple traditional Power 5 juggernauts and getting an NFL head coaching gig made that somewhat of a non-factor for the 44-year-old. Kiffin, by all accounts, is happy living in Boca Raton, Fla. Who wouldn’t be?
Kiffin is still young enough where he can pick and choose the right opportunity if he really wanted to. He reportedly had conversations with Arkansas about the opening there, though Ole Miss would make even more sense given the rebuild that’s needed in Fayetteville. He could have a yearly date with Nick Saban, which would be a nice little bonus. Kiffin would be an attractive option for a program that is stockpiled with young offensive weapons.
There would be no bigger realistic splash than Kiffin. That sells tickets. That recruits. That generates national headlines for the right reasons, which has been hard to come by in Oxford the last few years.
Could it happen? I wouldn’t bet the farm on it, but I also wouldn’t rule it out. Kiffin has experienced what it’s like to deal with scrutiny at places like Tennessee, USC and even as a coordinator at Alabama. There’s a chance he might not be holding out for another big-time job. He likes the freedom he has at FAU, which is why he’s not in any hurry to leave. Maybe Carter could give Kiffin all of that and more.
3. Bill Clark, UAB
Splashy? No. Potentially super smart? Absolutely. The guy who will face Kiffin in the Conference USA Championship is going to have Power 5 interest. The job he did at UAB is unlike anything we’ve seen in college football in recent memory. Nobody else that Ole Miss will pursue could say, “I rebuilt a program that was literally shut down.”
And what have the Blazers done since their 2-year hiatus? Oh, just have 3 consecutive seasons of 8-plus wins with a 19-5 record in conference play. They’re a win from their 2nd consecutive season with double-digit wins, which hasn’t happened in Birmingham since … ever. The guy already delivered the best season in program history last year, which earned him the prestigious Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year honor.
Clark’s background fits what Ole Miss needs, too. He spent the better part of 2 decades coaching high school football in Alabama. He understands the grind.
The aforementioned issue standing in his way about not being “splashy” enough could prevent him from getting this gig, as could his specialty on the defensive side of the ball. If Carter could somehow draw up a scenario in which Clark could retain Rich Rodriguez and let him run the offense, I think Ole Miss fans would be plenty pleased with that. That, however, is no guarantee to even be part of the plan.
I’d be stunned if Clark wasn’t on the short list of candidates for Carter.
4. Tom Allen, Indiana
It needs to be mentioned.
He has done plenty since he spent 3 years on Hugh Freeze’s defensive staff at Ole Miss. Allen went to Indiana and delivered the program’s best season in 26 years. The 49-year-old coach is loved at Indiana now more than ever, and he has local ties having coached high school football in the Hoosier State for roughly a decade. In all likelihood, athletic director Fred Glass is going to be willing to give him a healthy raise.
But if you’re Ole Miss, you have to at least knock on Allen’s door to make sure he wouldn’t entertain the idea of returning to the South, where he also spent more than a decade of his coaching career. Allen could go to a place that has a football-first mindset, unlike Indiana, which will always be a basketball-focused school (in 49 states it’s just basketball …). He also has some major recruiting ties in the Tampa area. If he can get recruits to leave South Florida for Bloomington, he can get them to leave for Oxford, too.
Allen made less than $2 million last year, so he’s essentially being paid like a Group of 5 coach. If Ole Miss could throw Allen a deal worth $4 million with plenty of incentives, would it at least make him think about it? Maybe, maybe not. It at least needs to be presented, though.
5. Mike Leach, Washington State
Before you tell me “of course the media just wants Leach because he’d make their job easier,” stop. If anything, the guy who just berated a reporter this past weekend would be a reason I’d argue against him being a fit at anywhere but his current job.
Here are some things about Leach that I find impressive that have absolutely nothing to do with his antics:
- He won 8-plus games 12 times at 2 Power 5 schools
- He did that at Texas Tech and Washington State
- He had 8 consecutive top 10 passing offenses
- He turned Gardner Minshew from potential 3rd-string Alabama QB to No. 5 in Heisman voting
- He had 2 losing seasons in 18 years as a Power 5 head coach
Coaches with those résumés don’t grow on trees. Leach is one of a kind for a variety of reasons. That much, everyone knows.
So why would Ole Miss make sense for him? Had John Currie not been summoned back to Tennessee after meeting with Leach, he could be in Knoxville right now. Leach has reportedly had conversations with Arkansas about that opening. The common denominator is that both happened after Bill Moos, the former Washington State athletic director who talked Leach back into coaching after his 2-year post-Texas Tech hiatus, left for Nebraska.
As we know, Leach has always gone to the beat of his own drum. That’s why many believe he’s never landed a bigger job. Athletic directors are afraid he’ll do or say something that upsets the people who cash those checks. That could scare off Carter.
Or, if Leach is Carter’s top target, he could sell Leach on taking on the challenge of battling Saban on an annual basis. Leach made less than Morris last year, so theoretically money shouldn’t be much of a hurdle, either. This would be about fit and giving Leach the freedom to be himself.
Crazier things have happened.
And about Rich Rodriguez and Mike MacIntyre …
Both are considered candidates. At least they should be. Ole Miss fans know that. Seeing what the Rebels had with them this year was promising. If they weren’t candidates, we would have already heard by now that the staff won’t be retained.
But I’m skeptical about that because it’s pretty rare to see a Power 5 athletic director fire a head coach and try to retain the top assistants. Usually a move like that means you’re willing to part ways with them. If the grand plan was just to promote Rodriguez or MacIntyre, why wait until 3 days after the Egg Bowl to fire Luke and open up the door for one of them? Why not just make the move as soon as Ole Miss became ineligible for the postseason and make one of them the interim head coach?
The timing of Carter shedding his own interim tag just before the Egg Bowl could have played a part in that, but I think he truly wants to open up this search. After all, he didn’t bring MacIntyre and Rodriguez on board. Ex-Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork signed off on that move.
While Rodriguez would have a lot of short-term benefits — you’d keep all of that offensive talent in place, he’s been a head coach at 3 Power 5 programs, etc. — there’s also the elephant of the room. With the way the Freeze scandal went down, is Carter about to make the face of his program another coach who was fired after accusations of sexual misconduct? That might be a tougher sell than Ole Miss fans realize.
And for MacIntyre, as great as that defensive turnaround was, Carter might not be on board with someone who was run out of town after struggling in the favorable Pac-12 South. The SEC West is a different animal, and just because MacIntyre had 1 good year as a head coach and is a proven coordinator doesn’t mean he’d be an obvious favorite for Carter.
How will this play out? I honestly have no idea. Sunday night’s news caught a lot of people by surprise (myself included).
Carter could surprise us again by straying from this list.