BOCA RATON – The hiring of Florida Atlantic’s fifth head football coach will show the lessons FAU learned from its fourth coach, Charlie Partridge, who was relieved of his duties on Sunday following a third consecutive 3-9 season.
Partridge came to FAU from the defensive side of the ball and without any previous experience as a head coach or solo coordinator. The Owls are unlikely to make the second mistake again and sources tell OwlAccess.com they intend to steer clear of the first one, too.
Conference USA is an offense-first league and an exciting offense sells tickets. Expect FAU to try to hire someone from the offensive side of the ball.
Who are some early possibilities? Here’s a list that is probably too long of coaches worth watching. The names appear alphabetically within each category, so don’t read into the order in which they appear.
FAU FOOTBALL COACHING SEARCH
THE OHIO ST. FACTOR
FAU athletic director Pat Chun holds deep ties to Ohio St. and will almost certainly contact the folks in Columbus for advice – or perhaps even a candidate. Four people with Buckeye roots could figure prominently in the search.
Stan Drayton (Chicago Bears, RB coach) – Drayton was reportedly one of the finalists when FAU hired Charlie Partridge, though much of the speculation surrounding him then was overblown. He coached running backs at Ohio St. where he was a member of the 2014 national title-winning staff and mentored Ezekiel Elliott. He also has Florida ties. Drayton has no coordinator or head coaching experience, which likely precludes him from consideration, but it could be tempting to match Drayton with Devin Singletary for a few years and watch them go.
Luke Fickell (Ohio St., co-DC) – He’s built a winning defense and is well respected in college football circles, but if the Owls are looking for offense, he’s clearly not the guy. Also, Buckeyes could find themselves playing for a national title. Would he jump that ship early to start the FAU job? He’s already been anointed the front runner for the position. He figures to be this year’s Drayton in that respect. Don’t bet on Fickell.
Greg Schiano (Ohio St. co-DC) – Another defensive guy, so he’s probably not a good fit, but Schiano has head coaching experience at Rutgers – where he won! How many other coaches can say that? – and Tampa Bay of the NFL. A former defensive coordinator at Miami, Schiano is known for his ability to recruit. Of the Ohio St. guys, Schiano is the most intriguing.
Jim Tressel (Youngstown St., president) – The national championship-winning coach at Ohio St. is one of Chun’s mentors, so it’s all but certain a phone call will be placed, but Chun might simply be looking for advice. The show-cause sanction slapped on Tressel by the NCAA because of events while he was coach of the Buckeyes is lifted in December. But does he still want to take the field? “Coaching is not in my future,” Tressel recently told the New York Times.
STAYING IN THE BIG TEN
Coming from Ohio St., Chun is certainly familiar with Big Ten football – and this is a good year to have ties to the Big Ten, which entered this past weekend with four teams in contention for the national title. At least one, and perhaps all three, will receive serious consideration. Betting on the next FAU coaching hire? Put money on one of these guys.
Greg Davis (Iowa, OC) – Yes, Iowa’s offense isn’t exactly the scoreboard changer that FAU is looking for, but cut the man a break. He’s coaching in Iowa. The Hawkeyes were 12-0 during the regular season last year, and beat Michigan and Nebraska this year. Iowa is a power offense, but Davis deserves credit for developing quarterback C.J. Beathard. He’s another guy who could make Motor run.
Garrick McGee (Illinois, OC) – His first tenure as a head coach wasn’t successful, posting a 5-19 record in two years at UAB. But he’s been a successful coordinator at Louisville and, to some extent, Arkansas, and has NFL experience. McGee was rumored to be a finalist for the job when FAU hired Carl Pelini, but the lack of success at UAB and Illinois this season may end his chances.
Joe Moorhead (Penn St., OC) – Who had Penn St. in the national title picture prior to this season? Who knew the Nittany Lions even had an offense? Moorhead brought an up-tempo spread offense to Happy Valley, transforming it into Ecstatic Valley. He also turned around FCS Fordham as a head coach. Is his star rising too fast for FAU to harness?
For years its been considered the best conference in college football. Coaches from the SEC are familiar with the South Florida recruiting landscape. Certainly some coaches with SEC ties will get some consideration.
Mario Cristobal (Alabama, OL) – Wouldn’t this also make for interesting coverage? Cristobal is a former Hurricane who, as head coach, led FIU to its only bowl appearances. He’s been part of a national title-winning staff at Alabama, but how much of an influence does he really have on the Crimson Tide? Could he have grown as a coach under Nick Saban? Certainly. And he’s recruited South Florida. But the hiring might not go over well among an already anxious fan base.
Mike DeBord (Tennessee, OC) – His name isn’t flashy but there’s substance. Tennessee’s offense showed life this season – the first with DeBord as coordinator. He’s also a quarterbacks coach who developed Tom Brady and Brian Griese while at Michigan. Jason Driskel, Daniel Parr and Steven Frank could benefit from a new direction.
Eddie Gran (Kentucky, OC) – Remember this guy? His name seems to pop up in every FAU football coaching search. He’s got Florida ties and his Wildcats outscored a potent Louisville squad on Saturday. He now has offensive coordinator experience at Kentucky and Cincinnati. Is he more attractive now than in year’s past? Yes. Is that enough? Probably not the first candidate on the list.
Les Miles (LSU, former coach) – It’s probably a bit of a stretch to think that FAU could land a coach that owns a national title ring, but the Owls did start the program with Howard Schnellenberger, right? Miles will likely find a job in the first few days of this week, but if not, could FAU land a whale? Rumors surrounding Miles have been oddly sparse. If the grapevine remains quiet, expect FAU to gauge his interest.
Randy Shannon (Florida, Co-DC/LBs) – The former University of Miami head coach can recruit South Florida and his hiring would make a splash. Think of the Shula Bowl fun when it’s Butch Davis vs. Randy Shannon. But Shannon is a defensive guy and, unlike Davis, his tenure at Miami isn’t littered with victories.
Dan Werner (Ole Miss, OC) – Keep the Miami connections coming. Under Werner Ole Miss set the program record and led the SEC in scoring in 2015. Werner is noted for his ability to develop quarterbacks and helped the Hurricanes to three national titles.
POTENTIAL RISING STARS
If successful head coaching experience becomes the main concern, these might be the easiest guys to get. They are currently winning at the FCS level. None of them would be the splashy hire, but they may be the best guys for the job.
Jamey Chadwell (Charleston Southern, HC) – Led the Bucs to an undefeated regular season in 2015 against FCS opponents. They are ranked in the Top 10 again this season. A former college quarterback at East Tennessee St., Chadwell is 53-32 as a collegiate head coach.
John Grass (Jacksonville St., HC) – In his third season as head coach of the Gamecocks, Grass holds a 34-5 record. Jacksonville St. is currently ranked No. 2 in the nation at the FCS level. He’s a former offensive coordinator and Jacksonville St. possesses one of the most potent offenses at any level. That resume checks a lot of boxes.
Mike Houston (James Madison, HC) – He’s only been there one year, but Houston has the Dukes in the FCS Top 10. He’s won previously as a head coach at The Citadel and Lenoir Rhyne. Houston is more of a defensive guy though. The winning could sway FAU to take a look.
K. C. Keeler (Sam Houston St., HC) – His Bearkats are currently ranked No. 1 at the FCS level. He’s twice taken Sam Houston St. to the championship game. He’s 196-86-1 as a head coach, serving at schools like Rowan and Delaware – neither of which featured the kind of high powered offense the Bearkats now showcase. He boasts the most postseason wins of any current FCS coach.
OTHER INTERESTING NAMES
All of the people on this list, save one, have head coaching experience. Some are big names from the college ranks who recently found themselves looking for jobs. The NFL coaches on the list aren’t currently head coaches or coordinators, but they were at some point – and they experienced NCAA success.
Jovan DeWitt (UCF, LB) – Former FAU linebacker coach helped get the Knights back to bowl eligibility. His only Division I coordinator experience came in 2013 when he became FAU’s interim defensive coordinator for the final four games – all wins – following the Carl Pelini fiasco. DeWitt is the UCF special teams coordinator. If the Owls stick with the plan to get an offensive coach, DeWitt won’t be the guy. Would he take the defensive coordinator job again? He brought dramatic improvement to the Owls by simplifying the defense.
Derek Dooley (Dallas Cowboys, WR) – Dooley has Power 5 head coaching credentials, leading Tennessee to a 16-21 record in three seasons. He also is familiar with Conference USA opponents, having been a successful head coach at Louisiana Tech. Didn’t seem to be a player favorite as a Vol.
Jim Leavitt (Colorado, DC) – Another guy from the defensive side of the ball so this is probably unlikely, and the allegations of physical abuse of players while at USF is probably too much to overlook, but his ties to Florida are intriguing. Leavitt founded the program at South Florida and at one point led the Bulls to the No. 2 ranking in the nation. He has experience as an NFL assistant and Colorado surprised the college football world this season.
Doug Marrone (Jacksonville Jaguars, OL) – Some of the names on this list are long shots in either availability or potential interest. Marrone might not be. He turned around Syracuse as the Orange head coach for four seasons, setting offensive records along the way. He lost a power struggle at Buffalo and the offensive line hasn’t been the problem at Jacksonville. Should he want to get back into college football, FAU would be a nice landing spot.
Bill Parcells (Retired, HC) – This is probably unrealistic. Perhaps even silly. Parcells has a home in Palm Beach County, but, at 75, it’s doubtful he’d want to get back into coaching. It would be interesting to see The Tuna involved with the FAU program, though.
Jeff Sims (Garden City CC, HC) – Sims was the first hire of the Carl Pelini era and handled nearly all of the recruiting. After leaving FAU he returned to the JUCO ranks and this year has Garden City in the hunt for the JUCO National Championship. He’s expressed interest in the FAU job. Sims’ biggest strength is his ability to navigate the JUCO business, but FAU has been trying to get away from that aspect of the game.
Tony Sparano (Minnestoa Vikings, OL) – His stint as the Dolphins’ head coach didn’t go too well, but maybe he’d be interested in returning to South Florida. He was also a successful NCAA coach, taking New Haven to the Division II title game. Long shot? Sure. But simply having him in the conversation will make FAU play-by-play announcer Ken LaVicka’s day.
Charlie Strong (Texas, former HC) – Was Strong’s failure at Texas a run of bad luck or something more? He went 12-1in his final season at Louisville before accepting the Texas job. The Longhorns dismissed Strong on Saturday. He has a defensive background, and Strong could certainly make more money as a coordinator somewhere else, but maybe he’ll like the idea of redemption as a head coach.
Brian Wright (Toledo, OC) – Wright won all four of his games as interim FAU coach, but lost out on the permanent job when the Owls hired Charlie Partridge. He remained as the Owls’ offensive coordinator for two seasons before being fired by Partridge for sub-par performance. At Toledo, the Rockets are an offensive machine. He might well end up in Boca Raton – but it’s more likely he will do so as a member of Toledo’s staff for the Boca Raton Bowl.
– Jake Elman contributed to this story.