It’s time to start looking at who will be taking the reigns once the inevitable happens at the end of the season. Below I’ve constructed a list of names that have been thrown around in the media, on message boards, and all sorts of conversation I’ve had with various Notre Dame fans. The list was limited to people with head coaching experience because I really don’t believe that we will even consider anyone who has never been a head coach on the college or professional level. That eliminates some of the coordinators who have been on the rise (ex: Charlie Strong)—not that I’ve heard many even mentioned for the job any way.
One final note: this is not my list in order of who I want as coach; it is a list in order of who I think realistically will be hired. As you read along it’ll be clear where I stand on the situation. Feel free to post your candidate/wish lists below.
Without further ado, I present to you a handicapping of the 2009 Coaching Search.
1. BRIAN KELLY, University of Cincinnati
Coaching Record: 51-22 (in D-I) at Central Michigan and Cincinnati
Worth Noting: Won 2 D-II national championships at Grand Valley State
Pros: High octane offense that’s been very successful every where he’s been…Has won everywhere he’s been…His teams have had highly rated special teams units…Has succeeded without highly-rated talent…Former player
Cons: Has never had to recruit on national level…Not a huge “name” guy and wouldn’t make a big splash…Allegedly is a very incriminating picture of him floating around the internet…Hasn’t beaten (or really even faced) elite level competition to date
One Man’s Take: Brian Kelly is this year’s “It” coach and there are plenty of people speculating that he’s going to be the man we approach first for the job. I’m not one of the people riding this bandwagon though. I’m not disputing the fact that Kelly is a good coach; I’m just not close to sold on him being a great fit at Notre Dame. Is he the next Urban Meyer or is he the next Dan Hawkins? Being the head coach of Notre Dame is a totally different animal than the small potatoes he’s dealt with to this point in his career. I don’t know if there’s been any indication that he’s equipped to handle the aspects of the job that come off the field. Can he recruit? Will he be able to handle the pressure of living under the most intense microscope in college sports? Does he “get” Notre Dame? Maybe he can and maybe he would succeed in South Bend, but I think he’s far from the sure thing many make him out to be. If I’m the man in charge I’m passing on him.
2. JON GRUDEN, Monday Night Football Announcer
Coaching Record: 100-88 in the NFL (Oakland, Tampa Bay)
Worth Noting: Won Super Bowl 37…Reportedly almost took the ND job in 2001
Pros: He’s won on the highest level…Ridiculous work ethic is well documented…Would make a big splash and could rejuvenate the fan base…Big name that could salvage the recruiting class…Young and Charismatic…Not coaching now so he could start the job immediately…Former player…Ties to the University (Father was assistant under Devine)
Cons: Never has coached on the college level…Allegedly has a very complex offense… No experience developing talent… Apparently burned bridges in previous stops…May want to return to the pros
One Man’s Take: Jon Gruden is not a sure thing by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s a huge name that has incredible potential. He has the charisma and work ethic to come in and salvage a recruiting class that still has great potential (and maybe talk Jimmy and Golden into returning?). It’s very apparent through statements he’s made in the past that he has great affection for the University and embraces the history and traditions of the school. People say that Weis came from the pros and was a failure so we shouldn’t go “the NFL route” again. I think it’s a totally different situation because Charlie had never been a head coach before. That’s a huge difference between Jon Gruden the candidate and Charlie Weis. I don’t believe Weis’s failure provides any indication of how another NFL coach will do. There have been some pretty successful college coaches that didn’t pan out in the pros—from Pete Carroll to Dan Devine to Lou Holtz. Gruden is definitely a high-risk/high-reward prospect, but I think he’s got the personality, demeanor, and work ethic to a fantastic coach. Considering all the other realistic alternatives we’re faced with I think he’s most worth a roll of the dice.
3. JIM HARBAUGH, Stanford University
Coaching Record: 16-18 (in D-I) at Stanford
Worth Noting: Led a perennial loser (University of San Diego) to a consecutive 11-1 records
Pros: Took over two lifeless programs and totally rejuvenated them…Confident and fiery competitor whose emotion and demeanor rubs off on his teams…Has faced Pete Carroll three times and won twice, including rubbing his nose in a 55-21 beatdown…Offense based on a power running game that opens up the play action…Extremely effective recruiter in a tough academic environment…Former Pro Bowl NFL quarterback
Cons: Can be over the top with his emotions…Allegedly does not like Notre Dame…Michigan Grad…Might have his sights set on the NFL
One Man’s Take: Jim Harbaugh would be the perfect fit if you only look in the pro column. He’s stared down the team that’s bullied us this entire decade (USC) with a far less talented team and not only beat them, but DESTROYED them. He runs a smashmouth offense and has a confidence and swagger that is undeniably infectious. Look at what he did with Stanford, a program that was all but dead in the water when he took over. He’s turned the Cardinal into a legitimate power in spite of incredibly strict academic requirements. I’d take him in a heartbeat…but the cons are pretty big ones. He gets so wound up that he’s borderline unstable at times. His alma mater is one of our fiercest rivals (although he ripped Michigan awhile back) and by all accounts really does not care for Notre Dame. It’s tough to hitch your wagon to someone who has always hated your school. It’s unfortunate because he’d be a PERFECT fit.
4. GARY PATTERSON, TCU
Coaching Record: 83-27 at TCU
Worth Noting: 5-3 in Bowl Games…Led TCU to two Top 10 finishes (’05, ’08)
Pros: One of the best defensive minds in the game today…Has won with very low rated recruits…Develops talent extremely well especially on the defensive side of the ball…Very flexible in getting his best athletes on the field in the ways to best help the team, no matter what position…Has recruiting ties in Texas
Cons: Never recruited nationally (to say the least)…Has competed in a low-level conference…Never dealt with life under the microscope
One Man’s Take: Patterson has done a great job reaching unprecedented heights at a lower conference school—there’s even an outside chance that his Horned Frogs could be the first non-BCS team to ever make it to the BCS Championship game. He fields a ferocious, swarming defense and does a phenomenal job of putting his players in a great position to succeed. The huge catch though is he seems totally unprepared to handle the rigors of a huge job like Notre Dame. His recruiting strategy at TCU is to only go after kids from Texas, something he certainly cannot do in South Bend. This lack of experience on the national recruiting scene is a HUGE red flag, one big enough to almost immediately eliminate him from contention.
5. PAUL JOHNSON, Georgia Tech
Coaching Record: 64-34 (in D-I) at Navy and Georgia Tech
Worth Noting: Snapped ND’s 43-game win streak vs Navy…Runs option offense
Pros: Has been successful wherever he has coached…Runs an opportunistic, ball control offense much like Lou Holtz’s…Extremely confident guy…Teams have been very smart and disciplined…Has shown he can win with less talented athletes
Cons: Would take time to transition from pro-style to option…Would not attract the top level offensive athletes we’ve been getting
One Man’s Take: This would be a huge shift in course by Jack Swarbrick, essentially scrapping what we’ve built on the offensive side of the ball and starting over. I’m a huge sucker for the option and I’d absolutely love to see Notre Dame get back to imposing our will on opponents with the rushing attack, but the timing for Paul Johnson coming to South Bend just isn’t right. We would take a big step backwards before we went forward and we’re really not in a position to do that right now. He would’ve been a much better fit in 2001 (Arnaz and Carlyle to run the option with Julius Jones and Ryan Grant) when we had personnel that would’ve made it a much easier transition.
6. PAT FITZGERALD, Northwestern University
Current Position: Head Coach at Northwestern University
Coaching Record: 26-22 at Northwestern
Worth Noting: Member of the College Football Hall of Fame
Pros: Young and enthusiastic…Been successful at a school that doesn’t have great tradition or support…All-American player in the mid-90’s…Seems to be on the rise
Cons: Has only been a head coach for 3+ seasons…No indication he could handle a major program like Notre Dame…Still very, very young…Took jab at Notre Dame…Northwestern alum that has given no indication he wants to leave
One Man’s Take: Fitzgerald has done a great job after inheriting the head coaching position under tragic circumstances in 2006, but he’s still got a lot to prove before you can comfortably say he’s ready to take over a job like Notre Dame. The most predictable part of every Notre Dame coaching search is throwing out candidate names from schools we’ve poached coaches from before. In ’96 it was Gary Barnett (Northwestern) and Tom Coughlin (Boston College). In ‘01 and ‘04 it was Tom O’Brien (Boston College). I realize that people like to look at the past and say “we got Ara from Evansville so Fitzgerald could be the new Ara,” but that’s just not a realistic expectation. Fitzgerald may a very good coach down the road at a major program, he just doesn't have the experience at this point.
7. CHRIS PETERSEN, Boise State University
Coaching Record: 45-4 at Boise State
Worth Noting: Won ’06 Fiesta Bowl …2 undefeated regular season in 3 years
Pros: Mind-boggling coaching record…Innovative offensive mind…Teams are extremely well-coached, disciplined, and prepared…Outcoached Bob Stoops on national stage…Has won without top level talent
Cons: Most success has come against second tier competition…Has never recruited on a national level…Reportedly his religion is Scientology
One Man’s Take: Brian Kelly is a risky proposition…Chris Petersen is beyond risky. The precedent has been set with Dan Hawkins finding success in Boise and flopping at a major college program. He has no experience with national recruiting and has limited experience facing top level programs. In my opinion Petersen needs to make a stop at a major conference school before he takes an upper echelon job like Notre Dame. Hell, how about Colorado?
8. KIRK FERENTZ, University of Iowa
Coaching Record: 79-53 (in D-I) at Iowa
Worth Noting: Spent six years as an assistant in NFL…3 Top 10 finishes
Pros: Very respected in the coaching community…Been successful in spite of mediocre talent
Cons: Never led a truly elite team at Iowa…Not a particularly effective recruiter… No “wow” factor…Just signed an extension through 2015
One Man’s Take: Kirk Ferentz is one of the most baffling individuals in college football to me. It seems like his name pops up at least once for every job that opens in college or the NFL though I can’t really understand why. He has the highest respect of a lot of people in the business—on both the collegiate and professional levels—but he hasn’t ever assembled or led any particularly great teams in his 11 years at Iowa. His teams are usually hard-nosed and blue collar but they’re never memorable. I suppose the thought is that if he’s at a bigger program he’ll have more resources and better athletes, but it’s not like Iowa is a lower tier school. Maybe I’m missing the boat on Kirk, but I see no reason we’d want to hire him. It seems like he’s a perfect fit in Iowa City which is where we should let him stay.
9. URBAN MEYER, University of Florida
Coaching Record: 93-17 at Bowling Green, Utah, and Florida
Worth Noting: 5-1 in bowl games…Repeatedly has stated ND is his dream job
Pros: Arguably the best coach in college football right now…Would make a HUGE splash and rejuvenate/unite a divided fan base…Great Recruiter…Young and Charismatic…Former player…Ties to the University (former assistant)
Cons: Pretty Unrealistic…How he handled the Spikes incident…Takes advice from Bob Davie
One Man’s Take: We missed our shot with Urban back in 2004. While he’s said Notre Dame is his dream job it’s hard to imagine him leaving a cushy situation like the one at Florida. People can wish for it to be true but I just don’t see it happening.
10. BOB STOOPS, Oklahoma University
Coaching Record: 114-28 at Oklahoma
Worth Noting: Won 2000 National Title…7 BCS Bowl Appearances
Pros: .803 win pct. at a top five program…Won a national championship in 2000…Develops both players and coaches…Would create a HUGE splash…Former player
Cons: Pretty unrealistic…Hasn’t run a squeaky clean program…Never dealt with tough (read: any) academic standards
One Man’s Take: Has there ever been a precedent in college football where a coach at a top level program voluntarily leaves his job to take over another upper echelon program? There have been reports in major newspapers that Stoops would listen if Notre Dame called, but I just really can’t see any scenario where this would become a reality. Roping in “Big Game Bob” would be like dropping a bomb on the college football world…and would make our matchups with the Sooners in 2012 and 2013 even more interesting. I just don't see why he’d do it.