Other Replacement Options For WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.VA.–The search for the new West Virginia head football coach moves into its second day.
WVU director of athletic Shane Lyons is reportedly on the road interviewing candidates to replace Dana Holgorsen, who was introduced as the head coach at the University of Houston on Wednesday
Lyons wasn’t caught unaware of Holgorsen’s impending departure, and he apparently had a list of candidates ready to go. Supposedly his top two targets are Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell and Troy head coach Neal Brown, and sources tell BlueGoldNews.com that Lyons is already on the road interviewing each.
Fickell and Brown seemingly are Lyons’ primary candidates, though it’s still unclear if he favors one over the other. For now, call them 1 and 1-A.
West Virginia fans have a stated preference, though, at those who read BlueGoldNews.com have voiced their opinion. Admittedly online polls are far from scientific, but with over 1,300 votes, the poll “Who would you like to see as WVU’s next football coach?” has a large sample size and seems to be a good representation of the pulse of Mountaineer fans. Given choices of Neal Brown, Luke Fickell and current West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, 63 percent favored Brown, 26 percent picked Fickell and 11 percent chose Gibson.
Ultimately, though, this is not a democratic decision. This is a hiring that will be made by two Mountaineer representatives – Lyons with input from WVU president E. Gordon Gee.
And this isn’t just a selection process by West Virginia. The targeted coach also has a say in the matter and must agree to come to WVU, so Lyons and Gee may also have to go through a negotiating process to get the one they really want. That could especially be true for Fickell, who is already making over $2 million per year as the Bearcats’ second-year head coach (21-17) and reportedly is happy in Cincinnati, not only from a coaching perspective but also as home for his wife and six children. Also, Fickell may be content to wait at UC for another year or two in the hopes of landing a Big Ten job in the future, where the Ohio State grad would seemingly be a natural fit.
Meanwhile Brown reportedly would be almost certain to accept an offer from WVU, if one is forthcoming. In his four seasons as the head coach at Troy, he holds a 35-16 record, including three straight years with 10 or more wins. Such success at a mid-major program usually brings job offers from bigger schools, and Brown was one of the lead candidates earlier this year at Kansas State, Louisville and Texas Tech. Ultimately, though, each school hired a different coach. Thus Brown is still available, and while his $850,000 per year salary won’t quality him and his family for government cheese, a Power 5 school like West Virginia, which paid Holgorsen a base salary of $3.6 million this past year, can certainly outbid a Sunbelt Conference program like Troy. WVU’s athletic department budget is nearly $100 million per annually, while Troy’s is less than a third of that.
So, if Fickell and Brown are the Mountaineers’ top two candidates, it is very likely WVU can get one or the other to accept the offer to become West Virginia’s next head football coach.
But if WVU needs to or wants to look at other options, where will it go?
Here are a few possibilities:
Tony Gibson – WVU’s current defensive coordinator may not be the first choice of many Mountaineer fans, but he knows the program as well as anyone, having spent 13 years as an assistant coach at WVU, the last five as D.C. He’s also still under contract for the 2019 season. A West Virginia native, he’s a very popular with his players, on the MAC circuit and with the media. Because of the Mountaineers’ downturn at the end of the 2018 season, most WVU fans would seemingly like to look outside for the team’s next head coach, but Gibson has huge support among the current and former players. If Gibbie doesn’t take over the Mountaineer program, the next head coach would be wise to keep the well-liked assistant as a cornerstone of the new staff.
Butch Jones – The former WVU assistant (2005-06), who went on to become the head coach at Central Michigan (27-13, 200-09), Cincinnati (23-14, 2010-12) and Tennessee (34-27, 2013-17), would have been near the top of West Virginia’s dream list in another time, but his fall from grace with the Volunteers, especially the messy 4-6 end in ‘17, moves him down the Mountaineers’ ladder now. After spending 2018 as a quality control coach at Alabama, Jones appears poised to become an assistant on Mike Locksley’s new staff at Maryland, but Butch reportedly is trying very hard to become a viable candidate for the head coaching job at West Virginia. If Lyons doesn’t land Fickell or Brown, Jones may become one of WVU’s top options, but he appears behind the first two at this time.
Rich Rodriguez – While there is a large percentage of Mountaineer fans who have not forgiven the former WVU coach for the way he left his alma mater in 2007 – and never will – there is also a vocal minority that would like to see RichRod return to West Virginia. Having recently been hired as the offensive coordinator at Ole Miss, Rodriguez could get out of the contract if he so desired for a head coaching job elsewhere, but the odds that Lyons and Gee would make such a divisive hire are extremely long.
Doc Holliday – The Marshall head coach and WVU alum is brought up by fans as a possibly option to return to his alma mater, but the 61-year-old Holliday is older than the coaches Lyons is targeting, who are in their 30s and 40s. Also Holliday has a hurdle in his Marshall contract that calls for him to pay a $3 million buyout if he would leaves the Herd for a job at West Virginia. That’s a big number for a coach currently making $755,000 at MU.
Others –Josh Huepel was 12-1 this past season at Central Florida, his first as head coach, but he has a $10 million buyout if he leaves UCF prior to the end of the 2020 season; Mike Norvell is 26-14 in three seasons at Memphis; Dan Enos was 26-36 in five seasons as the head coach at Central Michigan (2010-14), is now finishing up his first season as quarterback coach at Alabama and is slated to be the Tide’s offensive coordinator next year with the departure of Locksley to Maryland.
You can never say never in the world of coaching searches because curveballs can change the entire picture in an instant. Thus, you can’t completely dismiss one of the options after 1 and 1-A, but it looks very likely that either Brown or Fickell will be West Virginia’s next head football coach.