Coaching Search 2014: Could elite openings elsewhere be a factor?
When covering a coaching search, it's important to keep in mind the entire college football landscape because what happens one place with one opening can impact what happens at another in a hurry.
That's certainly true at Kansas University and has been during each of the past two searches the Jayhawks had for a head football coach.
I've spent parts of the past couple of days looking back at our coverage of the search in 2011 and it brought back some serious memories, a couple of headaches and a few laughs.
One of the things that stood out the most, though, were the jobs that were open last time and how, at the time, it seemed like some pretty big-time gigs.
Texas A&M, UCLA, Mississippi, Arizona State, Washington State, North Carolina and Illinois all had openings at the time Kansas did, and all of them looked to be pretty heavy hitters with whom KU had to compete. The funny thing about that list is it pales in comparison to the jobs that are open this time around.
Florida, Michigan and Nebraska all are looking for head football coaches right now, and, as if those three don't carry enough weight on their own, a few smaller schools, which might actually be trying to pick from the same candidate pool as Kansas (like it or not) also have openings. These include Tulsa, UNLV, Montana and SMU, which already has filled its opening with Clemson assistant Chad Morris.
Although there was more crossover between candidates at Kansas and other schools the last time around, it seems like jumping on their guy a little faster this time around might be a good move for the Jayhawks. When the dominoes start to fall with the big three, the trickle-down effect could impact KU's search in a big way and create unnecessary headaches for Sheahon Zenger and company.
The good news for KU here is that the top names that appear to be in the hunt for the Kansas job do not appear to be options for the big three. If they were, Kansas would be in trouble and likely would have to look elsewhere anyway.
The reason for KU to try to get its deal done before those schools do is because of the potential fallout from a hire by the big dogs. Let's say Michigan hired Brett Bielema away from Arkansas. (Yes, Bielema was in Lawrence on Wednesday but only to visit with and extend an offer to Lawrence High football standout Amani Bledsoe).
Bielema's departure would leave an opening at Arkansas, which could be filled by someone like Justin Fuente, of Memphis. Even though it seems like Fuente is pretty much out of the mix for the KU job, his departure would leave the Memphis job open and that could be appealing to any number of candidates involved with Kansas.
It's a bit of a paranoid way to look at things, but wouldn't that just be KU's luck to finally identify a guy they feel is a good option only to see him plucked away by someone else for more money or a better chance to win right away?
Last time around, when Tom Keegan and I were ranking the job openings from most appealing to least, it was tough to put KU anywhere other than the bottom. This time around, even though those three big-boy jobs are in a different stratosphere, the Kansas opening at least appears to be a middle-of-the-pack gig relative to what's available.
Anyway, it doesn't seem like timing will be an issue here. I still think this thing wraps up mid-to-late next week. And I still think the names who were on my percentage wheel last night are the most likely names KU will go with.
I made a few more calls today and got a little more input on the situation. Nothing earth-shattering, but enough to move the needle a little bit. The order of today's percentage wheel has not changed much, but the values have.
Here's a look:
1. David Beaty – 35%
2. Clint Bowen – 31%
3. Other – 20%
4. Tim Beck — 9%
5. Ed Warinner — 5%
• As you can see, the gap between Bowen and Beaty has narrowed a little bit (at least in my mind) and I think Bowen is still very much alive in this thing. This may seem obvious, but it really could all come down to how Bowen handles the formal interview, whenever that takes place. Sometime early next week seems likely. It's obvious that Bowen has some pretty good support among KU folks and Zenger has seen what he can do with the team, in the locker room and on the sideline. So those things are all known already. What is not completely known by Zenger and the search committee is the breadth and quality of Bowen's vision for how to rebuild KU — although I do know they've had general talks about this topic during the past few months. Answers to questions about his staff, his recruiting plans and things of that nature could be crucial and Bowen may have to be nearly perfect in there to get his shot. If he is and if he's able to really impress Zenger, it could still be him.
• I went ahead and took Fuente off of the wheel completely because I had heard that whatever interest there may have been between Fuente and Kansas had cooled during the past couple of days and he's working on a new deal at Memphis. Here's what Memphis AD Tom Bowen (no relation) said in a recent statement:
“Our administration has been working proactively with Coach Fuente and his representatives on a new contract for several weeks. He has been very engaged and deeply appreciative throughout the process. We are very close to finalizing an agreement and look forward to making a formal announcement at an appropriate time. (We) are extremely excited about continuing to build the Memphis Football program under Fuente’s leadership."
Fuente also commented on the rumors surrounding his candidacy for various jobs during an interview on The Geoff Calkins Show earlier this week:
“Making absurd, definitive statements, in my opinion, is not the smart way to go,” Fuente said. “If something where there’s mutual interest comes along, then I’ll visit with them and we’ll think about it, measure everything out and make a calculated decision. But the thing I would say is I have a lot of sweat equity invested in this program. I have a lot of pride in what we’ve done. We have a fantastic coaching staff. I think we have a great support system to truly build a football program. So it’d have to be something pretty special for me to even look at it.”
• One thing someone pointed out to me that could be relevant if KU were to hire Beaty is that, although his recruiting ties in Texas would be huge, he would not actually be the guy able to recruit the state as much as his assistants because of the rules for how much head coaches can be on the road. Sure, he would be able to get out there and talk to kids and parents, but I don't think he'd be able to put in the same number of hours and visits as his assistants. Head coaches are allowed just one in-school visit with prospects and college programs are allowed a maximum of six in-person, off-campus visits with each prospect from Dec. 1 to Feb. 1, with the month-long dead period basically running during winter break. Such factors would make the staff Beaty brings to KU even more key. Something to consider with that is how well those guys — whoever they are — would know and/or be able to sell Kansas compared to Bowen and the staff he might put together. That's clearly not a make or break either way, just something I hadn't really thought of.
• More tomorrow as we do our best to stay on top of the situation and reach out to as many sources as we can to try to gain some insight into what direction KU might go with this hire.