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Tipsheet: Anticipation builds as Mizzou, Arkansas, Ole Miss mull coaching hires

Tipsheet: Anticipation builds as Mizzou, Arkansas, Ole Miss mull coaching hires

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Missouri Florida Football

Missouri coach Barry Odom, left, and Florida coach Jim McElwain meet on the field after their teams played in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, in Gainesville, Fla. Florida won 40-14. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

When Missouri athletics director Jim Sterk cashiered football coach Barry Odom, Tipsheet figured he had short list of targets who would surely take the job.

In fact, it appears Sterk is exploring a fairly lengthy list of candidates, from young up-and-comers like Charlotte coach Will Healy to coaching veterans like Tulane coach Willie Fritz.

There are rebound candidates, like former Florida coach Jim McElwain (now at Central Michigan), and there are head coaches entrenched in comfortable situations like Bryan Harsin (Boise State), Jeff Monken (Army) and Troy Calhoun (Air Force).

Ole Miss complicated the search by unexpectedly firing coach Matt Luke and targeting many of the same candidates that Sterk identified. So it's go time for these ADs, their search firms and the agents representing coaches.

Elsewhere on the coaching carousel:

  • Chris Petersen abruptly quit after six excellent seasons at Washington, to be replaced by defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake. Petersen hasn't ruled out returning to coaching some day, but it sounds like he definitely needed a break.
  • Despite reports to the contrary, it appears Clay Helton may survive at USC. That would have been the highest profile opening and that coaching search could have sent the dominoes flying.
  • Iowa State coach Matt Campbell rebuffed multiple inquiries and decided to re-up in Ames. His contract now runs until 2025. He can afford to wait until a can't-miss opportunity comes his way. Once-mighty Florida State and SEC West also-ran Arkansas do not currently meet that criteria.
  • Speaking of Arkansas, that school has aimed high while seeking the replacement for poor Chad Morris. It talked to Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin and Football Scoop reported that Mike Leach got a Razorback pitch as well.
  • Speaking of Florida State, that program's search is into Week 5. The school warned fans that the hire may not come until the weekend. Memphis coach Mike Norvell is a top target and some insiders wonder if the deal isn't already in place.
  • Greg Schiano went back to the bargaining table and finalized a $32 million deal to return to Rutgers. He compromised on his private jet demands and dropped his demand for an opt-out clause tied to facilities upgrades. It's not like he had lots of other job opportunities.
  • Tom Herman survived at Texas, but he fired defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and receivers coach Drew Mehringer and demoted offensive coordinator Tim Beck. So his seat couldn't be much hotter heading into next season.
  • Baylor coach Matt Rhule has worked in the NFL and he has at least flirted with teams over head-coaching openings. So it's no surprise that his name came up in Charlotte after the Panthers clipped coach Ron Rivera.

Here is what folks are writing about college football's silly season:

Pat Forde, "Joe Moorhead barely survived at Mississippi State, Derek Mason was controversially retained at Vanderbilt and Will Muschamp held onto his job at South Carolina. Moorhead has coached the Bulldogs for two seasons, Muschamp has led the Gamecocks for four, Mason at Vandy for six. So if you’re scoring at home, Luke was whacked after 36 games, Odom got 50 and Morris got 22. Moorhead was nearly let go after 25. Muschamp has made it to 51. Mason has lasted for 74. The latter three will all start 2020 on the hottest of hot seats. These are not easy jobs. They are competing against programs with significant inherent advantages, and major breakthroughs are usually short-lived. (Missouri’s two SEC East titles in 2013–14 and South Carolina’s in 2010 were largely the result of underachieving from the power programs in that division, and all three of them ended in emphatic defeat in the league championship games.) But the expectations are still there, and, if anything, growing bigger all the time. The patience SEC schools exhibited this time last year was a blip, an irregularity. It’s now back to merciless business as usual."

Chris Vannini, The Athletic: "(Ole Miss) is the third SEC job open. Arkansas is a bigger mess from a roster standpoint, but it’s more secure from an administrative perspective. The Razorbacks get their state to themselves. The fights between Ole Miss and Mississippi State, on and off the field, cause a lot of headaches. Missouri is also open. That job has had three consecutive non-losing seasons, and it’s in the easier SEC East. Florida State is still considered the best open job, but it has its own issues, similarly on the administrative side of things. Ole Miss is probably the second or third best job currently open."

Dennis Dodd, "The Tigers' opening is considered (Fritz's) 'dream job,' according to the same source. Fritz, 59, is 22-27 in four seasons with the Green Wave. He led Tulane to a 6-6 record in 2019 after taking it to a Cure Bowl last season, the program's second bowl game in the last 17 years. Known for his flexibility in terms of adopting schemes to fit his talent, Fritz is respected in the coaching community for his ability to succeed at every level. In a 23-year college career, Fritz is 176-96. Overall, he has stops in high school, junior college, Division II, FCS and FBS."

Dan Wolken, USA Today: "There's a long list of reasons why Chris Petersen has been a little bit different from most of his peers in coaching, but let’s start with a few of them.  When he came out of relative obscurity to lead Boise State to one of the most memorable upsets in college football history over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, he didn’t jump at the next big opportunity. In fact, over and over again, Petersen turned down jobs that almost any other coach would have taken — not just middle-of-the-road power conference gigs but some really good ones. And when it was finally time to leave Boise State in 2013, having turned that program into one of the sport’s most identifiable brand names, he went to the place where he was going to feel the most comfortable, not where he would have the best chance of winning a national title or have the most resources at his disposal. So perhaps none of us have been too surprised when Petersen stepped down Monday after his sixth season at Washington with an announcement that seemed to pop up out of nowhere — no leaks, no chatter within the coaching industry, no will-he-or-won’t-he drama." 

Pete Thamel, Yahoo! Sports: "Petersen won the Pac-12 twice and reached the College Football Playoff at Washington, a fantastic run that ushered the program back to the mainstream. Washington slipped to 7-5 this season, an unexpected dip considering the promise of transfer quarterback Jacob Eason. Petersen decided to step away and recharge, likely happy to be away from the ridiculousness of recruiting and mandatory media appearances. To Petersen, culture was much more than a sign on the wall of the facility. And life has always remained much more than the final score. It’s fitting that a coach who was an unconventional thinker and leader would exit this way. There’s a chance Petersen may return to coaching. There’s also a chance he may get captivated by something completely different, and we may never hear from him again."


"It becomes a lot of frustration and anxiety and stress. And some of the excitement and positivity and optimism can be pushed away, and that's never a way to lead your life."

Petersen, on why he's stepping down.

Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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