Vandy says it wants an offensive mind, so here are the 5 who should get legitimate consideration
Vanderbilt is not your typical opening. It’s just not.
Making a normal list of candidates for a private school that has long been satisfied with not competing like the rest of the SEC in football is a bit complicated. The big names will not come to a place that hasn’t had a major stadium renovation since 1981.
Vandy isn’t expected to shell out $5 million a year to its next head coach. The selling points are unique because unlike most SEC programs, it has a booming city. It also has by far the lowest expectations from its fans and a stadium that’s nearly impossible to fill with home fans. It’ll be sold by some as a sleeping giant while others will deem it a dead end job. There’s not another SEC comp, and there’s probably not even another comp nationally now that Northwestern has that new $260 million facility.
But we’re going to see Vanderbilt go after an offensive mind, which would rule out candidates like Clark Lea and Bill Clark from getting serious consideration.
Candice Lee said she’s looking for a head coach that’s “offensive minded” — either offensive background or someone prominent on staff for offense.
She added that style of play is important.
— Adam Sparks (@AdamSparks) November 30, 2020
Assuming that’s the case, here are the 5 offensive minds who should get serious consideration (with mutual interest):
Jeff Lebby, Ole Miss OC
If Vandy wants to go the young, promising offensive mind route, Lebby has to get serious consideration. His meteoric rise in the coaching ranks was helped by the fact that he’s been at 2 places with dynamic offenses. Both UCF and Ole Miss, where Lebby was the offensive coordinator the last 2 years, do things that a program like Vandy would love to. That is, score points and put people in the seats. Lebby also has recruiting ties in Texas and Florida, which is never a bad thing.
There’s no question that Lebby would be a modern hire. Vandy’s interest in him would stem from what Lebby is doing to SEC defenses with Lane Kiffin this year. Shoot, even Nick Saban struggled to stop the Kiffin-Lebby combination. It’s been a revelation, and not just because Kiffin is Kiffin.
If you’re Lebby, Vandy would definitely make sense. You’d get to bypass the Group of 5 route with a salary that’d be at least 5 times as much as the $700,000 you make at Ole Miss. You’d go to a program that already has an SEC-caliber 1-2 punch at quarterback and running back with Ken Seals and Keyon Henry-Brooks. And unlike at UCF and Ole Miss, you’d have total control over the offense.
Charles Huff, Alabama RBs
Here’s a somewhat off-the-radar candidate who some will say has no chance because he doesn’t have FBS experience as even a coordinator. I’d argue Ed Orgeron and Sam Pittman should’ve demolished that unofficial prerequisite by now, but that’s just me.
Why does Huff make sense? It’s not just that he worked on Nick Saban’s staff, or that he’s coaching arguably the top running back in America in Najee Harris. It’s that Huff was actually on James Franklin’s Vanderbilt staff in his first year. Huff has familiarity with Nashville, and he’s seen the culture it takes to win there. Huff was also the running backs coach for Penn State when a certain Saquon Barkley burst onto the national scene. It was Huff who recruited Barkley and Miles Sanders to come to Penn State.
Speaking of that, who is currently the No. 1 recruiter in the 2021 rankings according to 247sports? Huff. Obviously recruiting at Vandy is lightyears from recruiting at Alabama. There’s no doubt about that. But that seems like a pretty important element to building up a program who lacks SEC depth in a major way.
Huff likely won’t be at the top of any list, but given the coaches he’s worked with, his recruiting exploits and his ties to the area, Vandy could do a whole lot worse than the 37-year-old Alabama assistant.
Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech HC
Sure, let’s get weird.
Why would Fuente (pictured above) leave Virginia Tech for Vandy? How does that make sense in any way?
Hear me out. Timing is everything with these things. His team was just demolished at Pitt and he’s a few weeks removed from an embarrassing home loss to Liberty. On Saturday, Fuente is likely going to watch his team get blown out by Clemson at home for a 4th consecutive loss. That’ll drop his team to 4-6 and it’ll all but clinch a 3rd consecutive finish outside the Top 25 in Year 5. By the way, the inevitable Clemson loss will open the door for Virginia Tech to lose 5 in a row to end the season if it can’t beat in-state Virginia. For a Year 5 coach, that’s usually bad news, especially when you replace a legend.
I’m not saying Fuente is definitely getting fired because that’s still a $12.5 million buyout, but I wouldn’t rule out a “mutual parting of ways.”
Assuming Fuente still aspires to be a head coach, there aren’t a whole lot of Power 5 schools that are going to scoop him up, especially with limited vacancies. It could make sense for him to return to the state where he already built up a program once. Fuente established the culture at Memphis, and he’d be a rare candidate for Vandy with previous head coach experience at the Power 5 level. That could wind up being attractive for all parties, especially if the Commodores are actually willing to pony up $4 million and nearly match his Virginia Tech salary.
I’m just saying. We’ve seen crazier things happen.
Brian Johnson, Florida OC
Some would argue that Johnson isn’t ready to be a head coach. I’d argue that the 33-year-old coordinator is well on his way to becoming that, and soon, he’ll get that opportunity. Dan Mullen certainly believes that.
It’s his first season as Florida’s offensive coordinator, and he doesn’t get primary play-calling duties because he works alongside Mullen, but this is someone who has been an up-and-coming member of Mullen’s staff since Dak Prescott became Dak Prescott. Johnson did spend 1 year working with D’Eriq King as Houston’s offensive coordinator. Go figure that Johnson helped develop King and his Manvel High School (Tex.) backup, Kyle Trask. Johnson is also hitting his stride as a recruiter in the state of Florida (he ranks No. 11 in 247sports recruiter rankings for 2021).
Johnson likely won’t be Vandy’s first choice, but if he were to help Trask win a Heisman Trophy and get Florida to the Playoff, he would start to get more looks as an up-and-coming candidate. Of course, one would expect that Vandy won’t wait another 3 weeks to make a hire.
But if the goal is to hire a young offensive mind who receives glowing reviews from players and coaches he works with, Johnson deserves to be a serious candidate.
Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina HC
I’m not sure that there will be a ton of Group of 5 head coaches on the short list, but Chadwell has to be one of them. He’s not just the guy coaching the team with a bunch of mullets. He’s leading a prolific offense for an unbeaten squad that’s been one of the surprise stories of 2020. Chadwell also has roots in Tennessee having spent 9 years playing and coaching at East Tennessee State.
Chadwell, who is in his early 40s, might try to capitalize on the special year he’s having for a program that is in its 4th year in FBS. Vanderbilt should be able to offer Chadwell more than 10 times what he’s making at Coastal Carolina if it believes he’s the right fit. Chadwell was there to help the Chants make the transition from FCS to FBS, which is sort of like Vanderbilt transitioning from an SEC program that doesn’t invest in football to one that does.
Chadwell doesn’t have any sort of Power 5 experience as a player or a coach, and up until 2020, Coastal Carolina hasn’t had much success. On Saturday, he’ll get another chance for a showcase game against Liberty.
What are the odds that at least one of the coaches on the sideline winds up in the SEC in 2021?