Thursday, March 25, 2021

4 potential KU football coaching candidates who are established Group of 5 winners

Toledo head coach Jason Candle during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Miami Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Toledo, Ohio. Miami defeated Toledo 49-24. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Toledo head coach Jason Candle during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Miami Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Toledo, Ohio. Miami defeated Toledo 49-24. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)


If the next athletic director at the University of Kansas wants a head coach who already has proven for several years that he can win at a high level, the AD likely won’t be able to pluck a candidate away from another Power Five program.

Even though the Jayhawks compete in the Big 12, KU has underperformed for more than a decade now, making it a near impossible sell for an already established head coach in the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 or SEC.

It would seem far more likely that if KU ultimately decides to bring in someone completely new — instead of eventually removing the interim tag and choosing Emmett Jones to lead the program on a permanent basis — going with a well known Group of Five head coach would be a logical choice.

Here are four current head coaches at FBS programs outside of the Power Five who are viable potential candidates for KU. Each has at least five years of experience and a winning record to show for it.

Jason Candle, Toledo

FBS head coaching record: 38-21 (.644 in 5 seasons)

The Rockets have finished .500 or better every season that Candle has led the program.

In Toledo’s best season under Candle’s guidance, the Rockets finished 11-3 in 2017 — with one of those losses coming at Miami (the ACC team in Florida; not the team in Ohio that plays in the other division of the MAC) and another loss coming in a bowl game versus Appalachian State.

Toledo won its first outright MAC West division championship since 1998 in 2017, when Candle was named the MAC coach of the year.

In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Toledo finished 4-2 while only playing MAC games, and averaged 35 points and 494 yards per game under Candle.

Why he makes sense for KU: A winning coach from Toledo taking over in the Big 12? That sounds familiar.

It’s a plan that worked out phenomenally well for Iowa State, which hired Matt Campbell away from the MAC program following the 2015 season.

The Cyclones are 35-28 since Campbell, Candle’s former boss, took over in Ames, Iowa. ISU has won seven or more games each of the past four seasons and is coming off of a 9-3 year that finished with the Cyclones ranked No. 9 in the country, following a Fiesta Bowl win over Oregon.

Candle worked as Toledo’s offensive coordinator during the four seasons Campbell was the Rockets’ head coach.

Other past Toledo head coaches who have found success at their next job include Gary Pinkel (118-73 at Missouri) and Nick Saban (34-24 at Michigan State).

Jeff Monken, Army

FBS head coaching record: 49-39 (.557) in 7 seasons

From 1997 to 2013, Army finished a season with a winning record just once. Then Monken took over and the Black Knights turned into a highly respected team.

On the strength of an old school football offense, the triple-option, Monken has directed Army to bowl appearances in four of the past five seasons. The team’s 2020 season concluded with a narrow loss to West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl, making Army 9-3.

That’s the only bowl game Army has lost since Monken took over ahead the 2014 season. In 2016, Army beat North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. In 2017, Army topped San Diego State in the Armed Forces Bowl. And in 2018, back at the Armed Forces Bowl again, Army walloped Houston, 70-14.

Army’s 11-2 2018 season finished with the Black Knights ranked No. 19 in the country and included an overtime loss on the road at Oklahoma, a top-five team.

Why he makes sense for KU: The Jayhawks have routinely been so overwhelmed in Big 12 play for more than a decade that some have argued through the years zagging with an option offense as a have not while all the established programs zig with modern offenses might do the trick.

It would be a drastic measure and involve a complete overhaul of the offense. But if KU wanted to go the misdirection route, with a scheme that opponents aren’t used to seeing, Monken would be the man for the job.

Monken’s triple-option teams have proven effective and he became an expert in the system by working for Paul Johnson, who ran productive option offenses at both Navy and Georgia Tech. Monken was an assistant for Johnson during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, when the Yellow Jackets went a combined 19-7 and played in both the Chick-fil-A Bowl and the Orange Bowl.

Willie Fritz, Tulane

FBS head coaching record: 47-40 (.540) in 7 seasons

After establishing himself as a winning FBS coach at upstart Georgia Southern, Fritz took over a Tulane program that had mostly floundered in recent years.

In the 13 seasons before Fritz took over, Tulane only had one winning season and won four or fewer games 10 times.

Now five years into that rebuilding project, Fritz is 29-33 at Tulane — but the Green Wave have been at .500 or just above in each of the past three seasons, all of which included a bowl berth.

Between his time at Georgia Southern and Tulane, Fritz has a 3-1 record in bowl games.

Why he makes sense for KU: A graduate of nearby Shawnee Mission Northwest High, Fritz grew up in the Sunflower State and even played college football — as well as basketball — at Pittsburg State from 1978-81.

In 1993, Fritz became a head football coach at Blinn College, where he would go on to win back to back NJCAA national titles. From there, Fritz became the longtime head coach at Central Missouri, coaching there 13 years.

Fritz’s ties to the area might make him more interested in the job than other potential candidates.

Lance Leipold, Buffalo

FBS head coaching record: 37-33 (.529) in 6 seasons

Leipold, after six years on the job, has the Bulls rolling. In the past three seasons combined, Buffalo has won 24 games and lost only 10.

The 2020 season, had the schedule not been shortened due to the pandemic, could have added even more wins to Leipold's record. This past year, Buffalo entered the Associated Press’ top 25 for the first time in program history, appearing as high as No. 23 late in the season.

Leipold led Buffalo to a 6-1 record in 2020, as the Bulls cruised to wins in all but one of their MAC games, and then beat Marshall in the Camellia Bowl.

Buffalo averaged 43.4 points and 478.1 yards of offense, while allowing only 21.9 points and 360.4 yards in 2020.

Why he makes sense for KU: In the competitive MAC — a conference that regularly turns out Power Five head coaches — Leipold has reshaped Buffalo into one of the league’s best programs.

From 2017-20, the Bulls have won more games (30) than any other team in the conference. A two-time MAC coach of the year, Leipold has led his team to a perfect record against division opponents in two of the past three seasons.

Buffalo had never won a bowl game in its first 28 seasons playing at the FBS level. Since then, Leipold and the Bulls have gone 2-1 in bowls.

Leipold took over Buffalo after going 109-6 and winning six Division III national titles at Wisconsin-Whitewater, his alma mater, from 2007-14.

The man consistently puts a winning team on the field.

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Dale Rogers 1 year, 6 months ago

Seems to me if we go triple option we end up losing good players who want to play in a more modern offense and we also lose out on good recruits for the same reason. I am not in favor of that move at all. It smells kind of like going the juco route for quick wins and the future be d*.

Brett McCabe 1 year, 6 months ago

Ever heard of Nolan Cromwell?

As I’ve written before, the triple option is the single most beautiful thing in football.

Good recruits? Give me a three-year series of “good recruiting” in Kansas football history.

Everything you say against a triple option is actually a reason to support it.

KU is located in the middle of nowhere. To quote Sam Kinnison “we live in a desert!!!!” There aren’t a lot of “good recruits” in a state of low population. It’s math.

All it takes is courage. and intelligence. In those two regards, KU Athletics has been in a desert for a long time.

Things are as they are. We have hardly any recruits in the state. We have two Big 12 teams in the state. We have a historically powerful program adjacent to us to the south, and about 300 better programs recruiting the state to their south. We have no tradition, no recruits, no fans and no wins in 12 months.

And Bill Snyder, Kevin McHale, Lance Parrish and Larry Bird aren’t walking through that door.

What is smart is to embrace things as they are and find a way to win. Monken is easily the best choice. It’s not even a contest. But any one of these coaches would be far superior to anyone since Mangino. Frankly, I’d be shocked if any of them would take the job.

The key now is to get an AD who can convince someone to put their career on the line for a school that has never supported football.

Bring that triple option and bring it now! And forever.

Joey Meyer 1 year, 6 months ago

Yes, please! I dont know that I've agreed with you on much Brett, but I think you're spot on here.

Steven Haag 1 year, 6 months ago

If we do the triple option, we may win 3 games a year.....forever and ever. Going the other route, we still may only win 3 games a year, but it would at least be more exciting. NO TRIPLE OPTION

Joey Meyer 1 year, 6 months ago

Georgia Tech won a whole lot more than 3 games a year doing the triple option... they averaged over 7 wins a year in a P5 conference...

Brian Wilson 1 year, 6 months ago

That is the point Brett. Would any of them take the job?

KU is better off hiring someone connected to the program and Lawrence or someone from within the program. IMO, Jones is the choice.

Monken would be interesting, but he has built a unique program at Army and the fanfare, cadets, tradition at Army would be hard to leave unless the money overwhelms. I am not sure if he already has a new 2021 contract and if he does it may make things even more difficult. is what I found on his last contract, he was already making close to a million, would KU offer so much more for him to jump?

Monken's 2017 guaranteed pay: $929,521
Total contract pay: $7,207,605
Contract length: 7 years
Expires: 12/31/2020

Layne Pierce 1 year, 6 months ago

I'm scared Brett because for once I actually agree with you. The triple option would also use clock, and reduce defensive snaps and lopsides scores. Also we could recruit talented but somewhat undersized but fast linemen.

I thought you were gonna suggest Nolan, but anyway, great idea.


Randy Bombardier 1 year, 6 months ago

I'm in on Monken. He's a smart enough coach to change it up where needed. I'm always dumb founded that KU fans want someone with a high ceiling. In a sinking ship you want someone who will raise the floor. If we want to break the streak over 10 years without a conference road win, hire Monken. Otherwise be prepared to go another decade.

Karen Mansfield-Stewart 1 year, 6 months ago

I don't have a strong opinion about who would be the best coach but as far as recruiting and fan support goes, I think the style of play matters far less than the points on the board and the wins in the books. If the triple option gets us more wins I'm all for it.

Edward Daub 1 year, 6 months ago

Hire Mike Harrity as A.D. 1st.

Let Mike hire Jeff Monken 2nd.

Thomas Wagner 1 year, 6 months ago

This is 100% correct. We need to bring honor and discipline back to the athletic department.

David Kelley-Wood 1 year, 6 months ago

Emmett Jones deserves his shot. Listen to the latest episode of the Jayhawker Podcast before denying him:

Randy Bombardier 1 year, 6 months ago

I'm more concerned with what KU deserves than any one coach or player.

Steven Haag 1 year, 6 months ago

I remember seeing DOZENS of comments saying Les was “the man” to bring us out of the cellar. If everybody is saying Monken, then that’s my que to say NO

Dirk Medema 1 year, 6 months ago

I’m with Steven. I read once that Les was doing almost everything right!

David Kelley-Wood 1 year, 6 months ago

Another log on the Emmett Jones fire -

"A former starting QB at North Texas, Jason Bean announced Friday his plans to transfer to KU and join the Jayhawks.

In an interview with Jon Kirby of Jayhawk Slant, Bean said he was excited to join KU football and pointed to his interactions with interim head coach Emmett Jones as a primary factor in his decision.

'The way he has handled the situation has been amazing,” Bean said of Jones. “He's up front and told me what it is, and I liked what I heard from him and the staff.'"

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