Let me begin by stating that this is not a post about whether Coach Tedford will/won't or should/shouldn't coach the University of California Golden Bears in 2013. That is a discussion for a different thread entirely. In any case, for the sake of conversation this post assumes Tedford will not coach in Berkeley next season.
So we're 1-3 including an upset loss in our triumphant return to Memorial Stadium and it's time to talk options. I think a significant majority of Cal fans have had at least a few stray thoughts about who they might like to see lead our Golden Bears in the future; the only particular goal of this post is to turn those stray thoughts into a bit of conversation. It also helps that I'm utterly fascinated by the yearly coaching carousel and enjoy guessing at the winners and losers every December.
(All opinions, critiques, and judgments are entirely my own and emphatically [sic]. Caveat lector and all that good stuff.)
First, Where We Stand:
The bad news is that college football is a highly stratified sport, and there's a whole level of deep-pocketed, aristocratic football programs that could easily outbid Cal for the services of the nation's top coaching talent. The good news is only a few of those schools will be on the market this coming offseason. Going down the list of college football's leading lights, you'd be hard-pressed to find more than a few teams that aren't more-or-less all-in on their current head coaches; Florida, FSU, Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Notre Dame, and our various Pac-12 rivals are all for one reason or another in the category of "coaching change unlikely." As far as I can tell, this leaves at worst only a group of three SEC teams with a high probability of competing on the coaching market: Arkansas (seriously John L. Smith might not make it out of Fayetteville alive and I mean that in the literal sense), Auburn (I know Chizik won a championship but Cam Newton is not walking through that door and this is the SEC after all), and Tennessee (where Dooley might either muddle his way to a respectable record or fall short and be granted leniency anyway).
Long story short: It's a buyers' market and Cal, with its impressive recruiting footprint, stable, football-committed AD, and shiny new facilities, could be looked at as a major destination for the upwardly mobile of the coaching set.
So Who Are We Looking At?
For lack of a better term, the usual suspects. The rare successful BCS head coach who isn't quite being paid his full worth, mid major head coaches with lots of upside, BCS coordinators of record-setting offenses and defenses, and the ever-tantalizing but dangerous NFL luminary. The ideal candidate should have an established track record of being able to recruit, coach, discipline, scheme, find effective assistant coaches, and make fantastic in-game decisions and adjustments.
So in short, the ideal candidate does not exist. That's what makes the coaching carousel so fun!
Alright, Let's Get This Over With:
Without further ado, my list of candidates:
BCS Head Coaches:
Charlie Strong - Louisville
For a period of way, way, way too long, the most overlooked coordinator in the country when it came to head coaching vacancies. Finally given his shot at Louisville, he's finally making headway in curing the program of Krag1N1.
Upside: One of the finest defensive minds in college football, an excellent recruiter, and a firey, imposing personality. If nothing else he passes the eye test of the kind of coach you want to see walking the sidelines.
Downside: Strong currently has a base salary of 2.3 million dollars, or in other words about what we're paying for Tedford right now, and would likely require a substantial raise in order to leave SEC country. And another thing: he might just be plumb not interested. Strong has been a candidate for Cal head coach before, and if I am not mistaken was actually offered the job, which he turned down because he didn't want to move to the West Coast.
Conclusion: Worth a shot to say the least, but considering his current contract, the likely intense competition for his services, and his alleged reluctance to relocate out west, this would probably be a long shot.
Dan Mullen - Mississippi State
Small wonder that Florida under Urban Meyer experienced a reversion to the mean after losing two coaches of the caliber of Charlie Strong and Dan Mullen.
Upside: Dude's winning at Mississippi State, which is impressive in and of itself. He was the genius behind Florida's powerful spread-option attack but also seems to have a good eye for defensive coaching talent, like Manny Diaz who he hired from Middle Tennessee State and who now coaches at Texas.
Downside: The bit about having a tough time getting Strong out of SEC country? Applies here as well. Mullen is a New Englander by birth, so he's probably bought into the nomadic aspects a bit more fully than Strong, but again Cal would likely have to outbid some combination of Arkansas, Auburn, and maybe Tennessee.
Conclusion: 17/19 WB but probably out of our reach, though again worth a shot.
Mid Major Head Coaches:
Gary Andersen - Utah State
People who spend inordinate amounts of time on CGB might have noticed I have a little bit of a coaching-crush on this guy. For the last few years Utah State has played with toughness, courage, and swagger against BCS competition and have struck fear into the hearts of venerable college powers such as Oklahoma, Auburn, and Wisconsin while finally getting over the hump and beating big brother Utah earlier this season.
Upside: Generally speaking I like dudes who do a lot with a little, and any coach who can win at Utah State is doing a ton of that. I like his aggressive defense and his ability to play close with teams that have a massive talent advantage on paper as well. Recruited Chuckie Keeton, who is one of my favorite players to watch just for being a kind of weak-armed kinda-athletic-but-not-incredibly-so mid-major Ben Roethlisberger.
Downside: Somehow doesn't have any experience at all coaching at the BCS level, which I find slightly worrisome in that I would like to see any candidate have as smooth a transition as possible. His current team (3-1 with a loss to Wisconsin in which the winning FG went wide right) is also one of the more frequently penalized in the country and seriously I'm tired of that shit.
Willie Taggart - Western Kentucky
The name might sound familiar if you're the type to have a general idea of who's coaching at your rival schools. Taggart was a part of Jim Harbaugh's first Stanfurd staff as a running backs coach, in which function he continued through the 2009 season until departing for his alma mater Western Kentucky, where he's since turned around a program that flubbed the transition from FCS to FBS in catastrophic fashion.
Upside: I'll be honest, I'm was a bit taken in by Stephen Godfrey's in-depth look into the preparations for WKU's recent game at Alabama. It certainly paints quite a picture of a young coach who has both the mentality and acumen needed to succeed on the highest level, and it helps that WKU is 10-2 over their last 12 games with their only losses coming against Alabama (this season) and LSU (last season), not to mention that Taggart has tangible experience coaching in California.
Downside: At 36, Taggart certainly seems like something of a wunderkind, but his relative youth could leave him short on experience that could help him navigate the treacherous waters of coaching on the highest level of college football. Also while I'm inclined to believe that Taggart has the wherewithal to keep WKU's current momentum going, the sample size here is small enough that he could easily be a flash in the pan.
Conclusion: An intriguing prospect who will probably continue paying his dues for a few seasons yet, unless Kentucky (no directional) thinks he might be an immediate answer to curing their football program's Joker Phillips-induced malaise.
Mark Helfrich - OC Oregon Ducks
Chip Kelly's right-hand man in running the unstoppable killing machine that is the Oregon offense. But there's this thing about right hand-men, you never know if a guy like Kelly just needs his right hand to fetch a lot of Red Bull.
Upside: Well, let's see, who were the last three Oregon offensive coordinators to go on to become head coaches? Kelly, of course, and also program patron saint Mike Bellotti, and one more dude... Jeff Tedford? Never heard of him. But seriously: An exciting, scoreboard-immolating offense on paper with an eye for the type of athletes that can make it hum and the connections (like, with high schools. Not the other kind of connections.) to bring them to Berkeley.
Downside: The Belichick thing. You know, the thing. Hire a coordinator whose job is to act as an extension of the master-level head coach, expect pain and suffering. Charlie Weis, Josh McDaniels, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, all of them failed outside the orbit of The Hoodie. I'm not saying that Kelly is Belichick, but that the Oregon offense is his baby and there's no way of knowing to what extent Helfrich is a steady caretaker or an active schemer.
Conclusion: Well, someone's gonna hire him, anyway. Only one way to find out if he brings more to the table than being Chip Kelly's surrogate.
Bob Diaco - DC Notre Dame
Notre Dame has a defense. Notre Dame has a defense? Notre Dame has a defense. A punishing defense at that. Under Charlie Weis and Ty Willingham a defense this good would have been a fever dream.
Upside: Young, seemingly savvy, devastatingly effective so far in his tenure at Notre Dame, could be the next big thing among upwardly mobile coordinators. Diaco was a star under Hayden Fry at Iowa in the mid 90s, and if you're going to pick from any particular coaching tree you could do a lot worse than Hayden Fry.
Downside: The usual caveats: Perhaps too young, too inexperienced, though these days being partially answerable to the festering hate-pit that is the Notre Dame fanbase might have seasoned him a bit. A coach who is probably on the HC track long term, but may not be there just yet.
Conclusion: But cot-damn, that defense. /daydreams
Greg Roman - OC San Francisco 49ers
You know what they say, if you can't beat 'em, hire 'em, and since Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw are probably off the table, why not pick the position coach of the single most dominant unit on some overall-dominant teams, who currently cuts his teeth accomplishing minor miracles like making Alex Smith look like an NFL quarterback?
Upside: I don't know if I really need to spell this out for anyone. His offensive line (at least in 2010) kicked our ass, and if you're a fan of any other Pac-10 school he kicked your ass too. His work in the NFL has been pretty on-point so far as well.
Downside: The words "NFL lifer" come to mind. In a coaching career which began in 1995, Roman has spent exactly two years coaching at the college level. This doesn't make him any less able to coach at the college level, but it does make him a flight risk. My own biases lead me to wanting someone who will be 100% committed to succeeding in the college game, not burnishing a resume for a future job as an NFL jefe.
Conclusion: Hiring Roman would make me quietly grumble, but only quietly because I acknowledge the fact that, cases of spectacular failure involving NFL transplants aside, Roman could be an explosive hire providing significant dividends for Cal football.
Herm Edwards - NY Jets and KC Chiefs
I'm going to be straight up here: I would haaaaaaaaaate this hire. It goes against all my notions of what factors are most predictive of success in college football head coaches: Edwards isn't a proven winner, anywhere and he hasn't coached in college since sometime around the time when I was born, aside from the fact that he hasn't coached anywhere at all since the 2008 season. But this is a Fair Und Balanced completely hypothetical flight of fancy, so I will try my best to shelve my feelings in favor of relatively objective discourse.
Upside: NFL sheen, boundless energy, and a magnetic personality. Sound like any other coaches we've had dealings with in the past? Surrounded with a competent staff to design and implement strategies suited to the college game, Edwards could be a dynamo on the recruiting trail and in the locker room. And everyone loves the story of the return of the prodigal son, even if that prodigal son did end up graduating from San Diego State.
Downsides: Well OK I've pretty much already covered those.
Conclusion: This hire would probably cause me to weep blood and fling excrement at passers-by, but I'm on anti-psychotics for that type of thing anyway so we could just be talking about another day at the office here.
Final Thoughts: Long story short, we got options here. I can think of probably a half a dozen more names to be added to this list, but we're at 2250 words here so enough bandwidth has been spilt already. We could be in for a truly fascinating, program-defining offseason, or a bunch of other things could happen. The future!
So what do you guys think?