Ole Miss' next hire will be tougher, more complicated than any Power 5 job in recent memory
On the surface, it might seem simple to some people.
Ole Miss can surely get a bevy of candidates willing to sign on the dotted line for a job that pays $4-5 million per year to coach in what many believe is the toughest division in college football. The Rebels’ next coach will get new facilities to work with, not to mention one of the better recruiting states in the country.
Sure, he could face some bowl sanctions and lose some scholarships. That didn’t stop Bill O’Brien from taking the Penn State job, nor did it prevent Urban Meyer from going to Ohio State. Why should it stop the next coach at Ole Miss?
Well, it’s complicated.
Inevitably, all of those will be selling points for Ole Miss if and when the position hits the open market (unless interim coach Matt Luke is the guy). But in the wake of the Hugh Freeze fallout and the Houston Nutt lawsuit, there are plenty of other reasons that should prevent eager candidates from hustling down to Oxford.
You already know the obvious ones. Ole Miss ain’t Ohio State or Penn State. It’s a middle-of-the-pack SEC program that now has a potent stench associated with it. It’s a long-term rebuild that’s going to take more time and energy than some have the patience for in the humbling SEC West.
But there are even more factors at play that make Ole Miss a tougher sell than what the money and resources might suggest.
Maybe the only benefit that came from the Freeze departure was that Ole Miss wasn’t on the hook for a buyout or any future compensation. That might make it seem like the Rebels have no financial limitations on their next coach.
Here’s the kicker. State employees in Mississippi can’t agree to contracts that are longer than four years. Ten years ago, that might not have been a big issue. In today’s world of college football, it creates a problem.
Whoever steps into that job will be on a four-year contract. In all likelihood, that roster is going to need a complete overhaul. Recruiting is already going to be a major battle as NCAA sanctions loom. Coaching contracts are obviously huge in this era of recruiting, and a four-year deal isn’t very huge.
Can Ole Miss continue to add extensions on to whatever deal its next head coach agrees to? Of course. That’s what it did with Freeze. That’s what Mississippi State did with Dan Mullen. Because he’s been to seven straight bowl games and was 36 when he was hired, that’s easy to justify.
What happens if Ole Miss wins three games in 2018? The program will have no choice but to extend its first-year head coach, right? If it doesn’t, that negative recruiting argument against Ole Miss gets even more ammo.
That’s the other thing. The margin for error in recruiting is minuscule in the SEC West. In addition to having to explain inevitable NCAA sanctions to every kid that gets an Ole Miss offer, the Rebels have something else to prove.
They can recruit without cheating.
Easier said than done, right? Whoever takes over will know that the NCAA will be like a drug dog at the airport when it comes to recruiting. Anyone with a shady background in that regard won’t even be considered for the job.
So who will be on the short list? By now, you’ve probably looked at a billion different lists of Ole Miss candidates, many of whom don’t make sense for the aforementioned reasons. There a few big names I’ve seen thrown around that seem unlikely to have mutual interest in each other.
- Lane Kiffin
- Les Miles
- Butch Jones
- Kevin Sumlin
- Chip Kelly
If one of those guys even interviews for the Ole Miss job, feel free to holler at @ColdTakesExposed and redirect them to this column.
Speaking of Jones and Sumlin, that’s another thing working against Ole Miss here. For all we know, Tennessee and Texas A&M have openings and by season’s end, and Ole Miss is the third-most attractive opening in the SEC. And I use the word “attractive” loosely.
For a Power 5 coach, inheriting the mess at Ole Miss isn’t attractive. Even if you do clean it up (a task that could take several years), how much upside is there with Alabama, Auburn and LSU in the division? For those who have already experienced the meat grinder that is the SEC schedule with premium resources (Jones, Kiffin, Miles, Sumlin), Ole Miss can’t look very attractive.
This position screams “fiery Group of 5 candidate.”
The Rebels need someone who can sell ice to an Eskimo. After all, they won’t be able to sell the product on the field to recruits and fans. Ole Miss needs someone who understands the bigger picture and isn’t oblivious to the challenges that lie ahead. This is a check-your-ego-at-the-door kind of job. Perhaps more than anything, the Rebels need someone who has turned around a program before.
Unfortunately for Ole Miss, guys like P.J. Fleck don’t grow on trees.
But there are candidates that would check a lot of boxes. Memphis’ Mike Norvell could be a nice fit, as could Appalachian State’s Scott Satterfield or Troy’s Neal Brown. All of them are popular coaches on the rise who could have their pick of the litter by season’s end.
Who knows? Maybe we’re all wasting time by discussing the challenges associated with Ole Miss’ next coach because Luke ends up being the ideal candidate. The cupboard isn’t bare for him to potentially win six games and surpass basement expectations. Perhaps if Luke is hired, the thinking could be that he’ll convince former 5-star recruits such as Shea Patterson and Greg Little to stick around for one more year.
There is, of course, no guarantee that happens. No incoming coach can assume he’ll have the 2017 roster to work with.
What we do know is that Ole Miss would prefer to lose as little 5-star talent as possible considering it currently has the 90th-ranked recruiting class for 2018, according to 247sports. A severe NCAA punishment could be an even bigger dagger to the Rebels’ plummeting recruiting.
Ole Miss is in a different spot than Baylor, Penn State or any SEC team in recent memory. Looming NCAA sanctions, an odd contract dynamic and a fresh public scandal are all things most on-the-rise coaching candidates wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole.
It was interesting seeing the comments that Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork made about the hiring process on Tuesday. He explained to Ben Garrett on the “Talk of Champions” podcast that confidentiality is going to be key. Bjork said he doesn’t want it to be leaked that he talked to this guy or that guy.
What does that suggest? He doesn’t want public opinion to dictate his decision. As hard as that will be, it can’t. Throwing $5 million per year at a guy that 95 percent of college football fans haven’t heard of might be unpopular, but it could be Bjork’s only choice.
Nobody knows exactly what’s next for Ole Miss. If the past month was any indication, things in Oxford aren’t getting simpler anytime soon.