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)

Thursday, March 25, 2021

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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