I still think that its likely that Mike Leach is Maryland's next head coach, especially because we haven't heard too much about the search past him. But between the rumors of a job waiting for him at Oklahoma State and the Leach train losing momentum and a few other whispers that Leach isn't a done deal, you have to wonder if Maryland's going to look in a different direction.
Even if they don't, it's the holiday season and I'm not exactly doing a ton else. You probably aren't either. So, if Leach doesn't end in College Park, who might?
First off, remember what the goal of this hire is: taking Maryland to the next level. With Under Armour backing them up, a relatively fertile recruiting base, and a base built for success, Maryland has their eyes set on becoming one of the ACC's elite and challenging for conference titles on a regular basis. This isn't about sustaining six-to-eight win years; it's about challenging for nine- and ten-win seasons regularly.
It's tough to identify the candidates because Maryland is in such a difficult situation; they're short of cash financially, but they can't really go small-time here and justify firing/buying out Ralph Friedgen. There are some big money guys backing Maryland up here (Kevin Plank, anyone?) but no one knows exactly how big Maryland's willing to go financially. For that reason, some of the more extravagant candidates, like Kyle Whittingham - who has UA ties, if you're wondering - are left off this list.
Randy Edsall, HC at UConn
Rundown: Edsall has built UConn from the ground up - literally. They just became a full-time FBS program about a decade ago, and it took Edsall only about five years to turn them into a perennial bowl contender and just this year got them into a BCS bowl. He was one of the earliest realistic names to leak out in the coaching search.
Recruiting Quotient: 6.5. Edsall recruits in the DMV a bit, mostly because New England doesn't have a lot of talent. He's almost surely built up connections in some local schools over the past few years considering he's brought in four or five MD or VA players in the past couple years. Recruiting to UConn is a difficult task, and its rare for them to bring in anyone ranked above a three-star. That's disappointing, but ultimately its tough to expect much more.
Coaching Quotient: 7.5. Very few in the country do more with less than Edsall. Despite having a program made of two- and three-star players, he's led UConn to four straight 8+ win seasons and a BCS bowl this season. Sure, the Big East is terrible, but it's still impressive when he's competing with talent-laden teams like West Virginia, Pitt, and, uh, I guess that's it. Regardless, Edsall does very well as a program CEO and, with good hires, would probably do a lot at Maryland.
Final Word: Edsall isn't a sexy hire. But he's safe and still an upgrade over Ralph Friedgen moving forward, particularly if he makes good hires for coordinators (*cough*Locksley & Brown*cough). They could do better, sure, but they could do a lot worse, too.
Kevin Sumlin, HC at Houston
Rundown: Made his name at Oklahoma, where he was a position coach for several years before coming offensive coordinator. After holding the OC job for two years, he stepped up to become Houston's head coach, where he's had one solid year (8-4), one great year (10-4), and one average year (5-7). Many have said he's "fast-tracked" to become a major program HC.
Recruiting Quotient: 6. No ties to the area, but as far as recruiting in Texas goes, he does it pretty well. He's landed quite a few four star players, including QB Terrence Broadway, and would likely open up Texas to the Terps. He was only average as a recruiter at Oklahoma and would need to make hires that know the DC area, but his recruiting to a mid-major program, albeit in a major city with a huge base, is still pretty impressive.
Coaching Quotient: 7. Offensively, Sumlin is as good as Leach. He runs a spread, not dissimilar to Leach's Air Raid, and runs it very successfully. It has been quite possibly the best passing attack in the country over the past several years. Last season was a bit of a struggle with their starting QB, Case Keenum, out most of the year, but the first two years were great, as were his two seasons at Oklahoma. Defensively, though, he has no involvement. His Ds at Houston have been average at best throughout his three years there. His teams have a tendency to lose games his team should win.
Final Word: Sumlin is exceedingly similar to James Franklin, with similar recruiting hauls and resumes. He's had more coaching success and has succeeded (somewhat) as a HC, but doesn't have Franklin's connections to the area. I'm not sure that's what a lot of fans wanted out of their next HC. Still, he's very well-respected around the country and would bring an exciting offense to College Park.
Gus Malzahn, OC at Auburn
Rundown: If you're looking to become the Oregon of the East, why not find another Chip Kelly? Malzahn is the closest thing to it. He was coaching HS football in Arkansas five years ago - five years before becoming HC of Oregon, Kelly was HC at New Hampshire - and like Kelly is the architect of a very successful, amazingly fun to watch offense. He's one of the hottest names in coaching right now and has his pick of jobs. He already turned down Vanderbilt, but Maryland's a better job and could probably offer comparable money.
Recruiting Quotient: 7. Yet again, no local ties. Other than that, he's solid. He was the one that got Michael Dyer and Cam Newton to Auburn, plus two more four-stars in his first two years. This year, he was the primary recruiter for four-star, top-100 QB Kiehl Frazier. Almost everyone is from the Southeast, which makes sense considering he's a Southeast guy, and that means he needs some locally-connected assistants. Still, it's tough to look past the results, which are pretty good.
Coaching Quotient: 8. As far as coordinators go, he's one of the best in the country. He's been an offensive coordinator at three different schools in the past five years - his worst offense was 29th in the country. He had 3 top 10 offenses, including back-to-back years heading the #1 offense in the country at Tulsa. He's universally hailed as a great offensive mind, one of the best in football regardless of level. Only problem: he's never been a head coach before. It's only a matter of time before he gets that first shot, but whoever takes it will be taking a chance.
Final Word: Malzahn is another UA coach, which would hopefully help Maryland out if they go for him. He'll demand a lot of money - he turned down nearly $3mil at Vandy, and even though Maryland is a better job, is it that much better? Offensively, he's a home run. As a coach, he's a hot name, but not a guarantee.
Ken Niumatalolo, HC at Navy
Rundown: Niu took over for Paul Johnson at Navy and continued the success that Johnson got rolling. Navy's had three straight 8+ win seasons with him at the helm, and that's no accident. He's started to get a few looks at higher programs recently, and Maryland would be a logical leap.
Recruiting Quotient: 3. As the head man of a service academy, recruiting is a nonentity to Niu. He targets a very specific type of player, and it isn't anything close to the type of guy Maryland would target. Whereas Johnson had spent much of his career outside of Navy, Niu has only been outside of Navy for four of his nearly 20 years coaching. No one has any idea how he'd do in recruiting, and I doubt he'd hire a non-triple-option guy as OC, which rules out Locks as OC.
Coaching Quotient: 7. I'm not as impressed with Niu's job at Navy as some others are. He has built upon Johnson's success there, yes, and that deserves some measure of commendation, but he hasn't really expanded upon it. 8 and 9 win seasons were commonplace for PJ, and he hasn't had significantly more success. And there's the whole thing about the triple option being, well, boring to watch. He isn't going to solve the "buzz" problem. That said, Johnson's success at Georgia Tech is an encouraging sign that the triple-option can work at a high level.
Final Word: I know there are some that really like Niu. I personally don't. The recruiting is a gamble and there will be no buzz. Remember, the goal of this hire is to take Marlyand to the next level and instill excitement. Niu doesn't necessarily strike me as someone who will do either.
Brian Billick, former Baltimore Ravens HC
Rundown: Everybody knows Billick by now, right? The former coach of the Baltimore Ravens and current Fox Sports color commentator, Billick has been hovering around every open coaching search for the past two years or so. He has a Super Bowl ring and can claim that he's coached Randy Moss, Ray Lewis, and Ed Reed. Visions of Pete Carroll are dancing in Terrapin fans' heads.
Recruiting Quotient: 8.5. Here's the question: will he want to recruit? If he does, I can't imagine too many HCs can match him. Billick is a salesperson, same as many NFL head coaches, who has been visible on NFL Sundays for two years now. He can flash a Super Bowl ring. He can say that, for example, Cyrus Kouandjio reminds him of Jonathan Ogden...whom he coached. Or that Travis Hughes reminds him of Ray Lewis...whom he coached. He would have more to sell than any other HC in college football. Now: does he want to do it?
Coaching Quotient: 7.5. Let's face it: Billick wasn't a genius. He never really has been. And he hasn't been coaching in college since 1991. But he's also a Super Bowl-winning coach, and you don't luck into that. He did something right, somewhere along the line. He would be the definition of a program CEO: recruit, make big decisions, and hire smart people to take the actual reigns.
Final Word: Again, he's a bit of a longshot. He may or may not want the job - we've heard dozens of varying reports on that. He's a big-time name that would create excitement and has nearly limitless potential. He would probably demand big-time money, though, and he'd have his pick of jobs, considering how many NFL openings there are expected to be.
Paul Chryst, OC at Wisconsin
Rundown: Chryst has quite a few ties to Maryland's administration; he was dominating as Oregon State's OC when Kevin Anderson was there and he's currently the OC at Wisconsin, where the head of the search firm, Pat Richter, used to be AD. He puts up gaudy numbers without much of the baggage of other candidates.
Recruiting Quotient: 5.5. Chryst really isn't a recruiter, and yet again he holds no real connections to the area. As far as recruiting goes, he just kind of picks out the guys he really likes at QB and recruits them, instead of focusing on (and succeeding in) one sole geographic area. Locksley and/or Larry Johnson would be a must.
Coaching Quotient: 8.5. As far as coaching goes, he's one of my favorite candidates on the list, maybe the favorite. The success of Wisconsin's run-heavy offense has been obvious this year, going over 70 three times this season and going over 30 nine times. He's had similar success everywhere he's been, including coaching the first team to ever have a 4000-yard passer, a 1500-yard rusher, and two 1000-yard receivers in the same year while at OSU. He doesn't have head coaching experience, but he's been nearly as successful as Malzahn with generally less talent against better defenses.
Final Word: Chryst isn't a sexy hire. But he's done great as an OC over the past half decade or so, and he's done it without killer talent. He could take the reins of the offense, keep Don Brown around, hire Mike Locksley as OC (in name) and RC, and Maryland would be off and running. Buzz would be slow to build, but he's still an attractive candidate.
Actually, that's not a bad little group. It's also not a particularly exciting group, but there are some decent candidates in there. Which is your favorite? Or do you have other nominees?