With Samford out of the way and Tennessee on the horizon, the majority of news surrounding Kentucky football continues to surround the search for a new head football coach. I’ve given my opinion on many of the candidates in posts last week (HERE & HERE) and even broken down the different types of coaches on Kentucky’s radar (HERE), but I’ve yet to give my actual rankings for the different candidates. As you might have guessed, that’s what I’m here to do today. I’ll use the ever popular baseball terminology to give a quick run-down before putting my rankings below.
The Grand Slam
Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden
– These three coaches are always the hottest names available each season, and for good reason. All three are Super Bowl winning head coaches and have been immensely successful in their respective careers. Despite no real history as college coaches, these three guys are highly visible due to their positions as broadcasters for the NFL and have huge personalities that would just about ensure them success at the college level if they were to ever leave the booth. They would all bring instantaneous credibility to ANY college that brought them in and Kentucky should count its lucky stars if they were l lucky enough to get one of these three. Unfortunately for the Cats, these coaches are the hottest commodities in both the pro and college games each offseason and essentially have their pick of any team in the country at any level and are all three extreme unlikely to pick the Wildcats as the program to pull them out from behind the camera. Just like in baseball, a Grand Slam hire would be hard to fathom.
The Home Run
Bobby Petrino, Tommy Tuberville, Kirby Smart
A Grand Slam is tough to get, but a home run isn’t far off. These three coaches are three of the most proven options in the college game. – – Petrino has well documented off-the field character questions that has made him a polarizing option as the team’s head coach, but his ability to win at any college level is hard to overlook and his various connections to the Bluegrass state are hard to overlook. He’s probably not your first choice to be a youth minister or junior high teacher, but he’s a proven coach who has taken an SEC to a BCS bowl.
– Tuberville is a name that’s lost some of his luster in the past week after a blowup with a graduate assistant on the field. Regardless of this overblown (in my opinion) situation, the fact of the matter is that Tubberville’s ability to coach at Auburn has become more appreciated since Gene Chizik replaced him and rode the coattails of Cam Newton to a national championship. Outside of that season though, he has struggled mightily in the SEC and Auburn is one of the worst teams in the league this season. Tubberville’s Texas Tech teams are solid in all phases of the game and what he was able to do at Auburn in 2004 is still remarkable.
– Smart may have never been a BCS head coach, but he has been the man in charge of one of the country’s best defenses since 2007. He has been a lights out recruiter and has made a living out of recruiting and developing first rounders. As with all coordinators, his ability to be successful without the assistance of Nick Saban will inevitably be questioned, but he will eventually get his shot anyway. Smart will likely have his choice of BCS teams to chose from when he finally decides to trek out on his own.
– Any one of these three coaches would have to be considered a home run for Mitch Barnhart and Kentucky fans should feel lucky to have any of them.
Rex Ryan, Butch Jones, Dirk Koetter
The triple coaches are where the chances of these guys actually being hired start becoming more realistic.
– Rex Ryan is a bigger-than-life personality that has had immense success as a defensive coordinator and has connections to Kentucky through his time spent here coaching at Morehead State and EKU, and the fact that his father (Buddy Ryan) currently lives in Shelbyville. His ability to recruit is probably a given due to the star power his name carries, but the flip side of that is that he has a reputation for being abrasive, overconfident, and foul-mouthed. That can obviously be a hindrance in the college game.
– Butch Jones is an intriguing option and (if you listen to our podcasts) the one name that I have consistently heard from the day we found out Joker wouldn’t return next year. He has taken over for Brian Kelly at Central Michigan and then again at Cincinnati and has been very successful at both stops. One of the reasons I consider Jones as a high quality option is due to the fact that he is a FBS-conference head coach that has proven he can win a lot of football games quickly. The only downside to Jones is that he could be viewed as a beneficiary of following Kelly at multiple stops and taking over good situations. On the positive side of things, his recruiting classes usually rank very closely with Kentucky’s, and that’s without the SEC to sell. Jones would be a very solid hire if Kentucky could actually snag him.
– Dirk Koetter has been out of the college game for a while, so many forget that he was the initial architect of Boise State’s football success. He had a good (not great) stay in Arizona State, but in his defense, no one else has had much success success there since John Cooper left in 1987. Koetter went on to the talentless Jaguars as the teams offensive coordinator after leaving ASU and had the Jacksonville offense ranked as high as seventh in the league. Now, Koetter’s Falcons are the NFC’s top team largely behind his offense. He knows football at the pro and college level and would be a great hire for the Wildcats, but if the Falcons have a long playoff run, he may not be available until as late as February.