On Sunday, I ran through a list of potential candidates that Kentucky could consider for the head coaching position. I’m back today to give my thoughts on the rest of the candidates not menrioned in the first post.
DAVID CUTCLIFFE – Head Coach @ Duke
Why he fits: Cutcliffe has had a pretty good run at Duke since leaving Tennessee. He’s brought the Blue Devils from the depths of the ACC to a contender of sorts, which is no easy task. His team is currently sitting at 6-4 and has only lost one home game this season, to #9 Clemson. His other three loses have come on the road at the hands of Virginia Tech, Florida State, and Stanford, with all but Virginia Tech being ranked in the top 25. While Duke has not climbed to the level of being able to challenge the top teams in the ACC for the conference title, the Blue Devils have come a long way under Cutcliffe’s watch.
Why he doesn’t fit: For as much as Cucliffe has accomplished, the fact remains that Duke doesn’t really scare anyone. Their wins this season have come over bad North Carolina, Virginia, and Wake Forest teams in addition to victories over Memphis, Florida International, and FCS-level North Carolina Central. Actually, since he too over in 2008, Duke has only beaten Virginia, Navy, Army, Vanderbilt, Maryland, NC State, Boston College, FIU, Tulane and FCS opponents. Cutcliffe’s Duke teams have even lost to FCS-level Richmond twice in his time there. Granted, taking on Duke and trying to bring them to relevance was a tall task in the first place, but a weakened ACC and weak scheduling have made Duke a “smoke and mirrors” team. The six wins that Duke has this year make them bowl eligible, but If the Blue Devils lose to Georgia Tech and Miami (very possible), the team will finish at .500 in Cutcliffe’s fifth consecutive seasons.
The verdict: Cutcliffe has accomplished a lot at Duke, but it just isn’t enough. With the strongest teams in the conference having largely fallen on hard times, Duke still only finds wins over the other weak teams in the ACC. I understand that Mitch Barnhart has a history with the former Tennessee coaches, but I just don’t think bringing Curcliffe in is the right move for this program at this time. His SEC history and experience at a basketball school are helpful but there are just better candidates available.
Chances: Serious option
KIRBY SMART – Defensive coordinator @ Alabama
Why he fits: There is no question that Smart is the highest profile coordinator in the country, and rightfully so. His Alabama defenses are routinely ranked in the top five nationally and he’s churned out one first rounder after another in his time in Tuscaloosa. He’s young (36 years old), fiery, intelligent, and has built a resume that includes stops at Georgia, Florida State, LSU, and even the Miami Dolphins. He also has extensive ties to the south and the recruiting hotbeds located there. Kirby Smart is (and should be) a candidate for any head coaching position at any school in the country.
Why he doesn’t fit: It’s not easy to find a good reason not to hire Smart, but they exist. First, he is the defensive coordinator at Alabama under Nick Saban, which is akin to being the offensive coordinator under Mike Leach. His success could be his own, but it is fair to argue that any DC under Saban could ride his head coach’s coattails for a long time. How much of what the Alabama defense has accomplished is accredited to Saban and how much is accredited to Smart? It’s a tough argument to grasp. The real question may lie in Smart’s ability to find success without Saban and can be said for any coordinator user a top notch head coach. Someone will take a chance on Smart and that is a certainty.
The verdict: You can’t find success at the level he has for as long as he has and not get your shot. If Kentucky doesn’t get him, someone else will…and really, therein lies the problem. Smart is really going to have his pick of any school he wants. If he wants to stay in the SEC, he will likely find Arkansas, Tennessee, and Auburn are all interested. If Texas decides to make a change, expect Smart to get a look. His limitless options make UK a long-shot, but a head coaching gig in the SEC is a head coaching gig in the SEC. Smart would be an excellent hire for UK.
Chances: There’s SOME hope
BUTCH JONES – Head Coach @ Cincinnati
Why he fits: There may not be a less “sexy” name to UK fans than Butch Jones, but he has a proven history of winning. He took over as the he’s coach at Central Michigan when Brian Kelly left for Cincinnati and guided the Chippewas to a 27-13 record over three years. In those three seasons, Jones went 20-3 in the MAC and won the conference in 2007 and 2009. When Kelly left Cincinnati for Notre Dame, the Bearcats hired Jones to replace him. After a tough transitional season in 2010, Jones guided his team to a 10-3 record and a share of the Big East title in year two. This season, Jones has his team sitting pretty at 7-2. This guy can coach, and has ties to Michigan and Ohio, locations that Kentucky has tried to real into recently.
Why he doesn’t fit: Wining in the MAC is one thing, winning in the Big East is another thing. Winning in the SEC is in a completely different stratosphere from both. Jones has had a relatively good run over the past six years, but his success is very recent and he was only a position coach for most of his other previous coaching jobs. Jones is probably getting more due than he really should because his success is coming at a school less than an hour from UK’s campus, and no one is considering his competition to the level that try should either. No matter how good a coach in the Big East might seem, the conference is so bad top to bottom that anyone who finds success needs to have their results taken with a grain of salt.
The verdict: Jones is a good coach that has really come into the spotlight after taking over at Cincinnati and bringing the Bearcats into contention for the Big East crown. However, his success is too recent and at such a low level, that Kentucky would likely have to strike out on several other coaches before he became a real contender for the job. Jones deserves a serious look, but is still proving himself.
Chances: Serious option
DIRK KOETTER – Offensive Coordinator @ Atlanta Falcons
Why he fits: After a string of gigs as an offensive coordinator, Koetter became the head coach at Boise State in 1998 and really laid the ground work for the program that the broncos have become. His first season ended with a 6-5 record, but he followed that up with two 10-win seasons in 1999 and 2000. In six seasons at Arizona State, Koetter had a winning record for four of them and went to a bowl game in each of those four years. He has most recently held the position of Offensive Coordinator at Jacksonville and now at Atlanta, where his team is squarely in first place in the NFC. He has experience building a program, winning with a non-traditional conference heavyweight, NFL experience, and ties to Florida and now Georgia, which could certainly help recruiting.
Why he doesn’t fit: Koetter has never been consistently successful at a college program, and has never coached in the SEC. His ability to recruit is completely unknown as is his ability to manage a college team in today’s game (he’s been in the pros since 2006). Maybe most importantly, Koetter may not be interested in leaving the Falcons or the NFL in general for the college game.
The verdict: I am actually very high on Koetter and think he would be a great hire for Kentucky. He is more qualified than people realize and could bring credibility to the program right away. He is not a well known or sexy name (most UK fans couldn’t pick him out of a lineup), but he could be a very good fit for the position. All that said, I feel like he will be tough to wrangle away from the NFL with the success his team is having right now and his ability to recruit the south is concerning as he has only coached west coast teams in college.
Chances: Serious Candidate
BILL COWHER – NFL broadcaster
Why he fits: Cowher is a Super Bowl winning coach that was able to take over the Steelers and provide a seamless transition from the legendary Chuck Knoll. He’s a huge name, a huge personality, and has supposed ties to John Calipari. He coached Dermontti Dawson as well.
Why he doesn’t fit: “The Chin” has a pretty good gig going as a broadcaster and willingly walked away from coaching. He has been linked to countless jobs in the NFL and college, but has never come bak to coaching. His ability to recruit would also be a huge question mark.
The verdict: I just don’t see Cowher coming to Kentucky. The guy can literally pick any job in the country he wants and he comes to UK? Not likely. While the connections are there to make him a slight possibility, he is probably a pipe-dream for UK fans. However, if he did somehow take the job, it would be the biggest hire in the history of the program.
Chances: Extremely unlikely
REX RYAN – Head Coach @ New York Jets
Why he fits: Ryan is a huge personality that would be an immediate splash in the college football world. He has seen marked success in his time as a coordinator and has taken the Jets as far as the AFC championship game in his time there. His father lives in Kentucky and he has spent time at Morehead State and EKU in his early coaching days.
Why he doesn’t fit: The Jets are having a tough season, but there’s been no indication that Ryan would not be retained at the end of the year. If he were not, Kentucky would be in a bidding war with every major college program and several NFL teams for Ryan’s services, which is a bidding war the the Wildcats are unlikely to win. His ability to recruit however, I would not be concerned with.
The verdict: Ryan is a long-shot at best. If the Jets decide not to retain him, there will be a long line of teams waiting to pick him up. While his connection the state is very compelling, I just don’t see a scenario in which he is the head coach at Kentucky now or in the future. He would be a very good hire though, if it could be pulled off.
Chances: Extremely unlikely
TONY DUNGY – NFL Broadcaster
Why he fits: Dungy is everything you look for in a coach. He has a track record of winning, a huge name, and is the ideal coach off the field. His name alone would bring instant credibility to UK and he would have no problem recruiting on reputation alone.
Why he doesn’t fit: Similar to Cowher, Dungy could have pretty much any job he wants but has remained in broadcasting. He has indicated numerous times that he has no interest in returning to coaching and of all the candidates, Dungy is the least likely to lie about something like this.
The verdict: As much as I would love to get Tony Dungy, this is a dream for UK fans. Dungy is a great guy that has focused on helping others since leaving coaching and doing a fantastic job on the Sunday Night Football team. It’s just not going to happen.
Chances: Extremely unlikely
JON GRUDEN – NFL Broadcaster
Why he fits: Just like Dungy and Cowher, Gruden is an NFL guy with a big name, a big personality, and a big reputation. He is a brilliant offense of mind with a reputation for developing quarterbacks and has been successful with NFL teams.
Why he doesn’t fit: Like all the other NFL candidates, Gruden has no track record of recruiting. He has not coached in the college game since his time at Pittsburgh University in 1991 and his game has really all come in the NFL. On top of it all, Gruden has a great job with the Monday Night Football team and his interest in returning to coaching is uncertain.
The Verdict: This is another guy just don’t see happening. Gruden has his options in the NFL or college, why he would pick Kentucky as his new team and program would be puzzling. Wow he may return to the college ranks to coach again, I highly doubt that it will be with UK.
Chances: Extremely unlikely