Where things stand with the KU football coaching search now that KU AD Travis Goff is off and running
First-year KU Athletic Director Travis Goff on Thursday informed KU’s donors that he was beginning a national search to find KU’s next head football coach.
In an email sent out Thursday afternoon, Goff expressed his appreciation for the job interim head coach Emmett Jones and his staff have done to this point and he also thanked the KU players for their role in pushing through spring practices with uncertainty surrounding the program.
Jones, Goff noted, will be a candidate for the job, but KU’s new AD also promised to do “a thorough national search” to find the “ideal fit to lead this program into the future.”
The email did not specify any kind of timeline for a hire to be made, noting instead that Goff and his staff will take the necessary time to find the right head coach for KU.
That could mean weeks. It could mean months. And it almost certainly will cover a wide range of factors, from coast to coast, names big and small and current head coaches and up-and-comers.
Now that Goff has taken the time to ask questions, receive input and make a few phone calls, the fun can really begin.
It stands to help a great deal that this is not brand-new territory for him. Sure, he’s a first-time AD. And, no, he’s never hired a coach to lead a Power 5 football program before. But, as a KU grad and Jayhawk fan, he stepped into the process at least somewhat aware of what’s gone wrong as well as informed about the few things that have gone right during the past decade.
Adding to that knowledge with feedback and information from those who have lived it can only bolster his understanding of what the program needs.
Expect KU to form some kind of internal search committee to aid Goff and don't be surprised if powerhouse search firm TurnkeyZRG, which helped with KU's search to find Goff, gets involved in the process, as well.
As of Friday morning, there was nothing about the KU job on Turnkey's website, but that's worth watching in the days and weeks ahead.
Don't forget that the current financial challenges KU is facing, both because of COVID and the recent settlements paid to former AD Jeff Long (~$1.4 million) and former KU football coach Les Miles (~$2 million), also could play a role in who KU pursues and/or attracts.
With that in mind, here’s an updated look at where things appear to stand at the outset of KU’s coaching search. It’s worth noting (even if it should be obvious) that the names listed below are nowhere near the only ones that may be involved with the search. Instead, they’re the names I’ve heard the most about to this point.
The Hot Names
You can speculate all you want about who’s involved, who wants the job, who might be the best fit and so on. And doing that might create a fairly lengthy list. But there’s little doubt that there are at least three current head coaches who are very interested in talking with Kansas about the position. They’re on everyone’s list and you should expect all three to be involved deep into the process.
• Army head coach Jeff Monken (54) – Whether you’ve fallen in love with the triple option idea or would prefer Monken bring a more modern offense to town with him (which is sounds like he would do), the fact remains that the man is a proven football coach who consistently coaches some of the toughest teams in college football and prides himself on discipline and execution.
• Buffalo head coach Lance Leipold (56) – Stop with the nonsense about Turner Gill coming from Buffalo. There is absolutely no connection between the two coaches, and no one should be scared off by Leipold’s current position. What should matter is the fact that he’s actually won there at a much better rate than Gill did before he became a hot name and the fact that he believes he can win at Kansas, too.
• Tulane head coach Willie Fritz (61) – Yes, Fritz is a Kansas native who has been interested in the job before. No, Goff and Fritz were not at Tulane at the same time. Beyond that, Fritz has done well at Tulane and is very well respected in the coaching profession.
Other Names Worth Watching
There almost certainly will be other coaches involved in KU’s search than the three listed above, and while that opens the door to a whole bunch of other names, there are a few who stand out in that sort of second tier above the rest.
• Nevada head coach Jay Norvell (58) – Norvell is one of the most popular “other names” I keep hearing, and his recent success at Nevada (25-22 since 2017 with 3 bowl appearances) and past history in the Big 12 Conference make him worth a look. He’s also on the right end of the pay scale, making less than a million per year to coach the Wolfpack.
• NC State head coach Dave Doeren (49) – Doeren’s been up for the job before, and there’s enough reason to believe he’d still be interested if KU came calling this time around. But the biggest obstacle this time around is likely money. In addition to recently signing and extension that will pay him $3.5 million per year starting in 2021 and running through 2025, Doeren’s buyout at NC State is more than $6 million. Beyond that, Doeren has it rolling at NC State and receives a ton of support for the program from the administration.
• Eastern Michigan head coach Chris Creighton (52) – The former Ottawa University football coach (1997-2000) has done his share of rebuilding, both at EMU via three bowl appearances in a four-year span (2016, 2018 & 2019) and at Drake, Wabash and Ottawa before that.
• Texas A&M OC Darrell Dickey (61) - Former K-Stater who played for the Wildcats from 1979-82, Dickey has been a key part of Jimbo Fisher's success at A&M since 2018. Known as a time-of-possession type of coach, Dickey's offenses have valued ball control and physicality. Has experience as an OC at several programs (Memphis, Utah State, New Mexico and SMU) and also was the head coach at North Texas from 1998-2006.
If KU Goes A Different Direction
Remember, the man doing the hiring on this one is a 41-year-old, first-time AD who just saw the powers that be at KU take a chance on him. Could he be looking to do the same by going with a less-heralded, first-time head coach? I wouldn’t bet on it. But if it starts to move that way, here are a few names to watch.
• Wisconsin DC Jim Leonhard (38) – On staff at his alma mater since 2016, and the Badgers’ DC since 2017, the longtime NFL safety has started to make a name for himself in college coaching. Is close with current Baylor coach Dave Aranda and has been honored as one of the top assistants in college football for his unique approach, natural charisma and confidence.
• Tennessee OC Alex Golesh (36) – Armed with vast experience in a variety of positions and places in college football coaching since 2004, Golesh is another outside-the-box thinker who has made a name for himself in the college game with his innovative approach to both offense and recruiting. Before joining Josh Heupel at Central Florida in 2020 (and now at Tennessee), Golesh was the tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator for Matt Campbell at Iowa State.
• Kansas Interim HC Emmett Jones (45) - Goff noted in his email to donors on Thursday that Jones would be a candidate for the job, and the high-energy interim coach that has led the Jayhawks through spring practice is a wildly popular choice among players currently on the roster. In addition to that, Jones, who served as the wide receivers coach at Texas Tech under Kliff Kingsbury prior to coming to Kansas, has been one of the most successful recruiters in the Big 12 during the past several seasons because of his strong ties to the Dallas area and the state of Texas in general.
• Illinois Associate HC Kevin Kane (37) – The former KU player and assistant coach who is now the associate head coach at Illinois, Kane has been one of the most popular coaches with direct KU ties to come up during talk of the search. In addition to landing at Illinois for the upcoming season, the Rockhurst High grad who starred at KU from 2002-05 has been on staffs at Wisconsin, Northern Illinois and SMU and appears destined to become a head coach at some point.
Don’t Waste Your Time
Believe it or not, I’ve actually seen a few of these names kicked around. We won’t go into them a whole lot because that would contradict the title of this section. But I figured it was worth mentioning them so you did not waste another minute hoping, wishing or wondering about their candidacy at KU.
• Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald – Goff and Fitzgerald have a great relationship and Fitz is a great coach. But he’s not leaving his alma mater for Kansas.
• Former KU HC Mark Mangino – We’ve probably reached the point where this does not even need to be said, but in case there are still a few of you dreamers out there, Mangino’s not coming back. He should be — and possibly has been — involved in the search as a de facto consultant, but nothing more than that.
• Former Texas and Houston HC Tom Herman – There’s a lot to like about Herman on the surface, both in the sense of his recent familiarity with the conference and the fact that he could be extra motivated after getting fired by Texas. But I’ve heard that he may not be quite ready to jump back into the business of running a program and may elect to be more patient as he waits for his next opportunity.