Campus Corner

Examining candidates to replace Gary Pinkel as football coach at Missouri

Justin Fuente, 39, is among the hottest names for most job openings. He’s turned Memphis into a budding national power, including a win against Mississippi this season. Two of Fuente’s former assistants, defensive coordinator Barry Odom and safeties coach Ryan Walters, defected to Missouri this year.
Justin Fuente, 39, is among the hottest names for most job openings. He’s turned Memphis into a budding national power, including a win against Mississippi this season. Two of Fuente’s former assistants, defensive coordinator Barry Odom and safeties coach Ryan Walters, defected to Missouri this year. The Associated Press

There are some major vacancies in the Football Bowl Subdivision ranks at the moment.

Missouri is an attractive job, one of the most alluring for prospective coaches.

Need proof? Look no further than the five division titles in the Big 12 or SEC since 2007, two top-five national finishes (2007, 2013) and back-to-back SEC Championship Game berths (2013-14).

First-year athletic director Mack Rhoades touted MU’s recruiting base, position within the bountiful and respected SEC and the continuing drive for facility improvements as strong plusses for the job.

“I really believe you can win a national championship at the University of Missouri,” he said. “And what head coach wouldn’t want to do that?”

Still, the Tigers probably are not the most attractive opening and the wild 2015 coaching carousel continues spinning.

At the moment, Southern California is generally regarded as the top destination among programs in the market for a head coach.

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National perception also ranks the vacancies at Virginia Tech and South Carolina above Missouri in the pecking order.

Miami (Fla.) also must replace Al Golden, though it’s not a given that’s a better program than MU with an eye toward the future. Different coaches might view those jobs very differently.

There are rumors that Georgia’s Mark Richt and LSU’s Les Miles could be on the hot seat.

If either pillar of the SEC coaching community becomes available, both would make interesting candidates to replace Gary Pinkel, who announced Friday that he would resign after the season.

Of course, both openings also would bump Missouri further down the list of attractive landing spots for the top coaching commodities.

Here are some candidates to become MU’s next football coach:

THE BIG THREE

Barry Odom, Missouri defensive coordinator

Why he makes sense?: Odom, 38, is a 1999 Missouri graduate with strong ties to the community, a pristine reputation as a recruiter and a strong grasp of the “Mizzou Made” player development program that has become the program’s foundation.

Odom worked on Pinkel’s staff in various capacities from 2003-11 before serving as Memphis’ defensive coordinator three seasons. He returned as MU’s defensive coordinator this season and is the architect of one of the nation’s best defenses. If Missouri doesn’t hire him, somebody else will within a few seasons, perhaps even Memphis this year if Justin Fuente is hired away as is widely expected.

New Missouri defensive coordinator Barry Odom talks about expectations for the Tigers' final scrimmage and what he's liked from the defense so far in camp.

Certainly, Odom fits well at Missouri and Rhoades said that’s his most important criteria in making the hire.

Why it might not work?: Odom doesn’t have any head coaching experience and Missouri might be eager to make a bigger splash, considering how difficult recruiting in the SEC can be against the conference’s traditional powers. Rhoades also said he wants a CEO type for the job, so is Odom that guy?

Justin Fuente, Memphis head coach

Why he makes sense?: Fuente, 39, is among the hottest names for most job openings. He’s turned Memphis into a budding national power, including a win against Mississippi this season. Two of Fuente’s former assistants, Odom and safeties coach Ryan Walters, defected to Missouri this year.

MU also hired Wren Baker away from Memphis as deputy athletic director. He’s first-year Missouri athletic director Mack Rhoades’ right-hand man and intimately familiar with Fuente, who is 25-22 in four seasons and 18-5 in the last two with the other Tigers.

The Tulsa native played quarterback at Oklahoma and Murray State. He’s also served as offensive coordinator at Illinois State and TCU, where he groomed Andy Dalton. Fuente, who also has turned Paxton Lynch into a potential top-10 NFL Draft pick, might do wonders with Missouri freshman quarterback Drew Lock. He made $1.4 million this year.

Why it might not work?: Recruiting in the SEC is different than recruiting in the American Athletic Conference and he might have a tough time keeping Missouri’s staff together.

Tom Herman, Houston head coach

Why he makes sense?: Herman, 40, is arguably the hottest name on the coaching carousel. He helped Ohio State win the 2014 national title as offensive coordinator and is 10-0 in his first season as a head coach with Cougars. New Missouri athletic director Mack Rhoades hired Herman at Houston before leaving for Columbia, so that existing relationship provides an obvious bridge.

Herman, who made $1.45 million this season, is another coach with an excellent reputation for grooming quarterbacks. With the importance of the position and a young, stud quarterback already on campus in Drew Lock, it’s an obvious fit in many respects.

Why it might not work?: Herman has a $2.25 buyout, according the Houston Chronicle, and may not consider Missouri a long-term destination. If Charlie Strong left Texas or Urban Meyer left Ohio State, he’d probably be a candidate for those openings and might bolt Columbia.

Rhoades said he won’t worry about that sort of long-term complication, but perhaps it would be a tiebreaker. Also, Herman also is believed to be the leading candidate at South Carolina and has a head start on the search process.

OTHER INTERESTING NAMES

Dino Babers, Bowling Green head coach

Why he makes sense?: Babers, 54, is 35-16 in two seasons as head coach at FCS Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green of the Mid-American Athletic Conference. Obviously, neither is the SEC. A native of Hawaii, Babers has served in prominent roles at Arizona, Texas A&M, UCLA and Baylor.

The Hawks are 8-3 this season and repeated as MAC East champions on the heels of an 8-6 campaign last season. Babers’ offense at Bowling Green ranks second in passing and fifth in scoring and total offense among all FBS schools this season, something that has to be attractive for Missouri. He’s turned Matt Johnson into a fringe Heisman Trophy candidate.

The last time the Tigers hired a football coach, pulling the best and brightest from the MAC worked out well. Babers made $413,000 last season, so he might come at a discount compared to other coaches being discussed.

Why it might not work?: Can Babers coach and recruit against the big boys in the SEC? That’s the $4 million question Rhoades would have to ask himself before pulling the trigger on such a hire.

Matt Campbell, Toledo head coach

Why he makes sense?: Hey, if pillaging Toledo worked in 2001, why not go to that well once again? Pinkel turned out to be a home run hire, leaving the Rockets to become the all-time leader in career wins at Missouri with 118 (and counting).

Campbell, 35, who pulled in a shade less than $500,000 this season, probably wouldn’t cost $4 million either. He is the third-youngest FBS coach, but already is in his fourth season at Toledo and has led his squad to nine wins in three of those seasons.

The Rockets are 9-1 this season, including wins at then-No. 18 Arkansas and versus Iowa State in September. Campbell, a native of Massillon, Ohio, also spent time at his alma mater Mount Union and at Bowling Green.

Why it might not work?: Campbell has no Power Five experience, so the learning curve might be pretty steep stepping into the SEC. The same recruiting questions that will dog many candidates also apply to Campbell.

Larry Fedora, North Carolina head coach

Why he makes sense?: Fedora, 53, is 30-18 in four seasons at North Carolina, including a 9-1 record this season. He joined the Tar Heels from Southern Mississippi, where he was 34-19 and led the Golden Eagles to a bowl in all four seasons. In fact, the only season Fedora failed to make a bowl as head coach was 2012 when UNC was ineligible (through no fault of Fedora’s) in his first season at the helm.

The College Station, Texas, native coached at Florida from 2002-04, so he’s familiar with the SEC. Fedora also spent time as an assistant at Baylor and Air Force as well at Middle Tennessee as offensive coordinator before going to Gainesville. He was Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator from 2005-07 before becoming a head coach.

Fedora made $1.93 million this season, according to the USA Today coaching salary database. Missouri certainly can afford to sweeten that offer, which might be enough to entice him away from North Carolina. He’s put together top-30 national recruiting classes the last two seasons.

Why it might not work?: He’s one year removed from a 6-7 season in a lackluster ACC. He’d only won more than eight games once in seven seasons prior to this season and finished ranked only once as well. The 2013 Belk Bowl is the most prominent bowl he’s ever led a team to before this season.

Matt Rhule, Temple head coach

Why he makes sense?: Rhule, 40, made Temple relevant again this season. They are 8-2 and lead the American Athletic Conference East division. The Owls knocked off Penn State for the first time since 1941 and nearly upset Notre Dame.

He makes $648,633 this season, according to USA Today’s database, so Missouri probably wouldn’t have to break the bank. The State College, Pa., native and former Nittany Lions linebacker also coached one season at UCLA and one season with the NFL’s New York Giants.

Why it might not work?: He has no ties to Missouri and is only 16-18 in three seasons at Temple. The Owls’ 2014 recruiting class (No. 59, Rivals) and 2015 class (No. 73) leave room for improvement.

THE WILD CARDS

Mark Richt, Georgia head coach

Why he makes sense?: Richt, 55, might remain as the Bulldogs’ coach, but there have been rumblings for a few years of donor unrest. Georgia’s last SEC championship was a decade ago.

He’s 143-51 as a head coach, including an 83-37 record in SEC play. The Omaha native — who graduated from high school in Boca Raton, Fla., and went on to back up Jim Kelly at Miami (Fla.) — was considered for the Missouri job in 2001 but went to Georgia instead and Pinkel was ultimately hired.

Richt was groomed by Bobby Bowden as an assistant at Florida State for most of two decades before carving out his own niche with the Bulldogs. He’s got an impeccable recruiting track record, knows the SEC well, would be motivated to prove something if Georgia let him go and is a consistent winner.

Why it might not work?: Georgia could wise up and keep him. Richt might not want to relocate. He might want to take some time off after 15 seasons.

Andy Hill, Missouri associate head coach/quarterbacks coach

Why he makes sense?: Hill, 52, is in his 20th season on Missouri’s staff, making him the longest-tenured coach. Only two coaches have had a longer tenure with the Tigers than Hill, a former MU wide receiver. He primarily coached quarterbacks at Missouri until taking over the quarterbacks before the 2013 season.

A native of Trenton, Mo., his True Son status is unimpeachable and many MU football alumni would cheer the hire, especially those from his generation. He’s also proven to be an adept recruiter in Kansas City.

Why it might not work?: Promoting the long-time and beloved assistant coach doesn’t often work out well for major college football programs. Plus, recruiting on a national scale rather than regionally presents a different challenge for Hill, who has never been a full-time coordinator at the FBS level.

It could create a strange dynamic within the existing staff and might not make a big enough splash. After the struggles basketball faced last season in Kim Anderson’s first season, it would be a terrifically risky gambit for Rhoades, especially when Odom is widely viewed as the better head coaching candidate already on staff.

Les Miles, LSU head coach

Why he makes sense?: Miles, 62, is one of the nation’s best coaches. He’s 137-52 at Oklahoma State and LSU, including a 110-31 record in the last 11 seasons on the Bayou. That also includes a BCS national title in 2007 and a BCS title game appearance in 2011. Miles has won 10 or more games seven times.

Miles, an Elyria, Ohio, native and former Michigan offensive lineman, also spent time as an assistant with the Wolverines, Colorado and the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. He was the consensus national coach of the year in 2011.

Why it might not work?: Miles is under contract through 2019 at LSU, which would be borderline crazy to send him packing, in my opinion. To be clear, I don’t think he’s going anywhere, but Missouri would certainly give him a look if I’m wrong. Besides, at age 62 and already a multimillionaire, he may be fine riding into the sunset.

Missouri Head Football Coach Gary Pinkel stopped by The Kansas City Star and talked about football with college sports writer, Blair Kerkhoff about the start of the 2013 football season the the possibility of continuing the Kansas vs. Missouri foo

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