A Different Kind Of Shortlist
You have currently viewed 1 story this month.
IlliniBoard now offers two free stories per month, for more please subscribe.
I always say that I never shortlist until the coach is fired because I find it disrespectful. Well, the coach was fired on Sunday, and it's Wednesday, so where's the shortlist? Good question. I should get to that. How about now?
This will be a different kind of shortlist. I'm going to pull spaghetti strands out of the pot one by one and throw them at the cabinet doors above the stovetop. Maybe some of them will stick.
And this isn't really a "who do you want as the next coach, Robert?" list. This is a "I keep seeing the same names, so let me think outside the box" list. Arkansas had a coaching search last year and they landed on someone no one had ever heard of (Sam Pittman?). Colorado had a coaching search after Mel Tucker left for Michigan State, there were a dozen names thrown around, and they landed on.. Dolphins WR coach Karl Dorrell?
So I'm going to try to find some names that I haven't already seen. You've read enough about Lance Leipold. Yes, I like the idea too. I'm a little worried that he'd have the 13th-best recruiting class in the Big Ten the first few years and everyone would give up on the idea, but he would bring something that no other candidate would bring: he was a Graduate Assistant at Wisconsin from 1991 to 1993, so he had a front row seat to watch Barry Alvarez turn Wisconsin from a 3-bowls-in-30-years disaster of a football program into what they are today.
But this list isn't about Lance Leipold or Jeff Monken or Sean Lewis. I'd love to dream about Bob Stoops: The Final Act opening in Champaign. But that's not what I'm doing here. I'm throwing strands of spaghetti at the wall.
Will Healy, Charlotte Head Coach
He's probably famous for one thing:
But if we were to go the "young, energetic coach" route, it feels like Will Healy would be the guy. Here's the background:
He takes over Austin Peay in 2016. At 30, he's one of the youngest coaches in college football. And he's taking on an impossible task. Austin Peay the previous three seasons: 0-12, 1-11, 0-11. Healy's first season they go 0-12. That's four years, one win if you're counting at home.
And they lose the first four games of the next season so they're on a 1-50 streak. And then it turns around. After losing 50 of 51 games, they suddenly win 8 of 10 and Healy pulls in the #1 recruiting class in the FCS. After a 5-6 season in 2018, he gets the Charlotte job, another tough rebuild since they had just made the transition to FBS. Charlotte had only started a football program in 2013 and had never had a winning season, especially not after transitioning from FCS to FBS in 2016. What does Healy do? Goes 7-5 in his first year, taking them to a bowl game (and leading to the celebration above).
This season, they've played six games and are 2-4. Red flag? Probably. That's likely why his name isn't everywhere. But given that Covid has made this season super weird, perhaps Josh Whitman would overlook that if he was trying to find a young, energetic coach to breathe life into Illini football.
Steve Sarkisian, Alabama Offensive Coordinator
When I did the TV spot with WCIA on Sunday night, Bret put me on the spot with "give me a name". The first name that popped into my head: Sark.
He was once the Next Great Thing in college football. QB Coach under Pete Carroll during the USC glory days. When Lane Kiffin got the Raiders coaching job, Sark moved up to offensive coordinator at USC. That led to him getting the Washington head coaching job and, eventually, the USC head coaching job.
But that fizzled very quickly. I could link a bunch of articles and maybe even the "Steve Sarkisian drunk on the mic at a pep rally" video but I'll just cover the main points. He went through a divorce. He started drinking heavily. He was drunk on camera at a pep rally. Then there were rumors he was drunk during a game. When he showed up drunk to practice one day, he was suspended, checked into rehab, and let go.
Now he's put the drinking behind him and is coordinating the #1 offense in college football at Alabama. The Sark Redemption Tour will almost certainly have another head coaching stop. Perhaps it should be at Illinois?
Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio) Head Coach
If Covid hadn't happened, I kinda feel like Chuck Martin would be the #1 guy in the Illinois coaching search right now. Grew up in Illinois (Park Forest, went to Rich East). Played football at Millikin in Decatur. Ended up coaching at Grand Valley State in Michigan where he was a coordinator under Brian Kelly. When Kelly moved on to Central Michigan, Chuck Martin took over as head coach where he won two Division II national titles.
In 2010, when Brian Kelly got the Notre Dame job, Martin moved 100 miles south to South Bend to become the DB coach and recruiting coordinator. He gains a reputation as a recruiter and gets named to a bunch of those top-25 recruiters lists. He eventually moves up to offensive coordinator and then, in 2014, takes the Miami (Ohio) job.
I did some research on the program he took over at Miami: they had gone 4-8 and then 0-12 in the final two seasons for Don Treadwell and when Martin stepped into his office he took over a team that had lost 16 straight. He went 2-10 and then 3-9 and then got to a bowl his third season. Since then.. average results. They basically go 6-2 in the MAC but lose all their non-conference games every year. First two years at Miami he went 4-12 in the MAC. Since then, 24-11 in conference games.
Last year they won the MAC title (beating Central Michigan in the title game). This year... they played exactly 3 games due to Covid, beating Ball State and Akron but losing to Buffalo (hi Lance). Which takes me back to my original point. Say there's no Covid and Miami goes 9-3 this year. They lose to Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo but beat everyone else. Chuck Martin is the #1 name on every single Illini list, right? Former recruiter at Notre Dame, won two Division II national titles, rebuilt Miami from 16 consecutive losses to a MAC Championship, born and raised in Illinois, played college ball just down the road at Millikin.
I mean, maybe they were headed for 3-9 or something (we'll never know), but it just feels like Chuck Martin's name should come up more.
Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech Head Coach
Remember when Louisiana Tech beat us in the Heart Of Dallas Bowl in 2014? Well guess what: that was the first of six consecutive bowl wins. This year they'll go for their 7th consecutive bowl win in the New Orleans Bowl. Holtz has compiled a 61-39 record at La Tech with three conference titles. Total wins during that streak: 9-9-9-7-8-10.
So it's always curious to me why Skip Holtz is still there. I guess it's probably the South Florida thing. He went 16-21 in three years at South Florida and was fired. That was supposed to be his springboard job after rebuilding East Carolina and instead it went the other way. But it's really hard to look at 9-9-9-7-8-10 and not think this is a coach who deserves a shot at a Power Five job.
Philip Montgomery, Tulsa Head Coach
I looked at the College Football top-25 to see if there were any head coaches or coordinators I was missing. The name that jumped out was Montgomery at Tulsa. Louisiana is at #19 and Billy Napier's name is everywhere. Coastal Carolina is #12 and Jamey Chadwell just signed a long extension. Tulsa is at #23 and... Philip Montgomery's name isn't mentioned anywhere.
He was Art Briles' offensive coordinator at Houston and then at Baylor and that led to the Tulsa job. And it's been rough at Tulsa - bowls the first two seasons and 10 wins in 2016 but then three straight losing seasons. This year, though, #23 and playing Cincinnati on Saturday night for the AAC championship. If they were to knock off Cincy (and coaching search golden child Luke Fickell), you might start seeing Montgomery's name everywhere, right?
Chris Petersen, former Washington Head Coach
Urban Meyer retired at Florida after the 2010 season. "Health issues" due to stress was the reason given at the time. There was even that famous video with Urban Meyer's 18 year-old daughter saying "I get my daddy back". 11 months later, he was announced as the head coach at Ohio State.
Chris Petersen retired at Washington after the 2019 season. The stress of the job was the reason given at the time. Specifically, "the pressure and strain grew to the point that some of the excitement and positivity and optimism can kind of be pushed away." He retired and took an advisory role with the Washington athletic department.
At the time, I told a friend that Petersen would absolutely take a job in 2021 somewhere. Yes, coaches burn out, but then after the burnout, they almost always have this "I need another hit" moment. Urban Meyer took the Ohio State job. Bob Stoops decided to go the XFL route. Chris Petersen?
Head Coach, University of Illinois would sound pretty good.