5 SEC assistants who could become candidates for the Northwestern vacancy
Honestly, I have no idea.
I have no idea if Northwestern can realistically map out a plan to replace Pat Fitzgerald right now. Why? Well, we know that defensive coordinator David Braun is the interim coach. We don’t know, however, what the future holds for both Northwestern athletic director Derrick Gragg or president Michael Schill. Will they survive this horribly handled scandal? And if they do, what’ll be their mindset for finding Fitzgerald’s replacement?
Those questions will be answered in time.
I’d go all in with former Stanford coach David Shaw. Maybe that’s realistic, maybe it’s not.
What I do think is realistic is that there’ll be plenty of candidates interested, even in the likely event that a rebuild is in store. There should be a coast-to-coast market. Northwestern’s lakeside facility is second-to-none, and while Ryan Field in its current state isn’t exactly anything to write home about, plans for an $800 million stadium upgrade are in the works.
Do I believe any SEC head coaches would leave for that job? Nope. But I do believe there are a handful of assistants who would make sense as candidates, especially if Northwestern waits to make a full-time hire until the end of the 2023 season:
1. Glenn Schumann, Georgia DC
I know, Georgia fans. “Why would Schumann ever leave for a job like that? He doesn’t even have any Midwest ties!”
Hear me out.
Schumann would have an opportunity to become the youngest Power 5 head coach in America. He’d steal that title from Kenny Dillingham, who is a month older than the on-the-rise Georgia defensive coordinator. Power 5 jobs don’t grow on trees. And as Andy Staples pointed out, 2024 begins the first year of the “Power 2,” which Northwestern is a part of.
There’s something else to consider. Fitzgerald was a Northwestern legend who was fired for an alleged hazing scandal. There could be a desire to hire an outsider, and also one who won’t fall victim to “meathead” culture. Schumann is the rare coach who didn’t play college football. He also spent his entire 15-year coaching career working his way up with Nick Saban and Kirby Smart, which will make him an attractive candidate wherever his inevitable next job is.
Don’t sleep on the highly regarded Georgia assistant getting a serious look.
2. Brad White, Kentucky DC
Sooner or later, we’re going to acknowledge that White is one of the SEC’s better assistants. All Kentucky does every year is plug in new defensive pieces and produce one of the top units in the conference. Mark Stoops deserves credit for that, as does White.
Sure, he’s not exactly loaded with Midwest college coaching experience — his 6 years prior to Kentucky were spent with the Indianapolis Colts — but keep in mind that Kentucky recruits the Midwest a ton. White wouldn’t be an outsider on the recruiting trail. Plus, he’s already shown that he can scheme at a high level in a conference where on most Saturdays, he’s working with a talent disadvantage. Anybody who coaches at Northwestern has to check that box. White wouldn’t be a splashy hire by any means, but he could be exactly what the program needs.
3. Matt House, LSU DC
Let’s go from White to his predecessor at Kentucky. House is a highly respected defensive coordinator who should lead one of the top units in the country this year. His résumé isn’t really geographically defined, but he was born and raised in the Midwest, and he got his start at his alma mater, Michigan State. House understands Big Ten football and like White, he should understand recruiting in the Midwest because of how often Kentucky raided that region.
(I realize that for a decent chunk of House’s time at Kentucky, his recruiting area was the state of Georgia. He was instrumental in signing diamonds in the rough like Chris Rodriguez. But he still probably had no shortage of house calls in the state of Ohio.)
House could very well finish the year among the Broyles Award finalists for an LSU team that reaches the Playoff. If that happens, his stock will be soaring right around the time Northwestern is hoping to make a hire.
4. Mike Denbrock, LSU OC
Wait a minute. Why would Northwestern hire a 59-year-old lifetime assistant without any head coaching experience? How is that going to help the program turn the page?
Those are fair questions. What’s also fair to mention is that Denbrock spent most of his career working alongside Brian Kelly at 3 schools, including Notre Dame. There are a lot of similarities with Northwestern and Notre Dame, both in geography and academic profile. I can’t imagine any aspect of that job catching Denbrock by surprise.
Denbrock’s past 2 seasons consisted of running a Cincinnati offense that became the first and only Group of 5 team to reach the Playoff, as well as developing Jayden Daniels to help LSU win the SEC West in Year 1 under Kelly. Like the aforementioned House, Denbrock’s stock could reach new heights if he helps the Tigers to another division title. Perhaps that puts him in serious consideration to finally make the jump to head coach.
5. Tommy Rees, Alabama OC
Among the candidates in the SEC, nobody has a more obvious geographic connection to Northwestern than Rees. He grew up in the Chicago suburbs, he played and coached at Notre Dame (Chicago’s real team), and he got his start as a grad assistant at Northwestern on Fitzgerald’s staff. It’s hard to have more of a “built for Northwestern” résumé than that.
If Rees exceeds the ever-high expectations of running the Alabama offense in Year 1 after leaving his alma mater, yes, there’ll be a market for him to take another step. That’s obviously a huge “if.” There’s also the possibility that Rees is the new scapegoat for an Alabama season that comes up short of expectations, and by November, he could just be hopeful to hold onto the job he has instead of getting a promotion.
Yes, there’s also the fact that Rees is young. Real young. Like, if he got the job, he’d be the youngest Power 5 head coach by 2 full years. That can be seen as a knock, or maybe that’s the type of energy that’ll be needed for the rebuild that awaits.
If there’s a most likely SEC assistant to succeed Fitzgerald, it’s Rees.