Heartbreak at Arkansas State, vacancy at Bowling Green

Two more head coaching positions in FBS have opened up this week thanks to coaches leaving for other schools, as Bowling Green’s Dave Clawson accepted the Wake Forest head coaching job and Bryan Harsin bolted for Boise State’s blue field.

The decision for Clawson to leave the Falcons seemed like it was only a matter of time, as the forty-six year old’s four-year stint at Bowling Green served as his third head coaching job, with previous stops at Fordham and Richmond. Clawson’s run with the Falcons saw the team post winning seasons in three of his five seasons and have its first ten-winning season since 2003 this year, which saw Bowling Green go 10-3 and win the MAC with a 47-27 upset of previously unbeaten Northern Illinois.

Clawson now has his eyes set on Winston-Salem (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

Clawson now has his eyes set on Winston-Salem (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

Now that Clawson calls the ACC home, who will be the next Bowling Green head coach? Here are five candidates that the Falcons should pursue:

Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State DC – Recently awarded the Broyles Award as the top assistant in college football, Narduzzi’s hard-nosed Spartans defense, which allowed just 12.7 points per game, has resulted in his name being on the wish list of many athletic directors this Christmas. The problem with Narduzzi’s success is that he can easily sit tight and pick the perfect head coaching job, which leaves Bowling Green’s chances at not very likely; however, that does not mean that the Falcons should not gauge his interest and attempt to lure him in.

Photo by Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press

Photo by Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press

Luke Fickell, Ohio State co-DC – A Buckeyes defensive lineman back in the 90’s, Fickell has head coaching experience going back to his run as Ohio State’s interim head coach following Jim Tressel’s ouster in 2011. Now just forty years old, Fickell is a young, energetic coach that has the makings of a Pat Fitzgerald-type head coach; he just needs the opportunity to prove himself. Will Fickell decide to leave the Ohio State University for a taste of MACtion week in and week out?

Dino Babers, Eastern Illinois HC – Babers has an impressive résumé based on his assistant coaching experience alone, making stops at Arizona, Texas A&M, Pitt, UCLA, and Baylor over the years. Throw in the work he’s done in his time as Panthers head coach (19-6 in two years, including a 12-1 mark in 2013) with a team that had gone 4-18 in the two years prior to his arrival, and it’s clear that Babers knows what he is doing. Although casual college football fans may not recognize it, the Mid-American Conference is highly competitive, and hiring a coach like Babers would ensure that Bowling Green would continue to gather its fair share of wins.

Dino Babers

Everett Withers, Ohio State co-DC – Withers, like Fickell, serves on the Buckeyes coaching staff and has interim head coaching experience, going back to when he went 7-6 at North Carolina in 2011. The Ohio State defense, while lackluster in the Big Ten Championship game against Michigan State, did its job over and over again in 2013, which resulted in the team ranking 21st in the nation in points allowed with 21.3. Withers also has made many stops over the years as an assistant–he was the defensive coordinator at Louisville, Minnesota, then UNC–and although his head coaching experience is very limited, the fact is he stepped up during a tough time at Chapel Hill and helped the Tar Heels go bowling. He may not land this job, but he should be considered a viable head coach in the near future.

Jim Grobe, former Wake Forest HC – Wouldn’t it be something to see this tradeoff happen? Grobe did a remarkable job as Demon Deacons head coach, posting a 77-82 record over thirteen seasons, which included an ACC title back in 2006. Grobe has coaching experience in the MAC dating back to his six-year stint as Ohio Bobcats head coach (went 33-33-1 during that time) and stated that he does not want to retire from coaching, leaving this hire a possibility.

Meanwhile in Jonesboro, Arkansas, it was the same story in a different year with head coach Bryan Harsin leaving to take the Boise State Broncos head coaching position. Harsin, who took the head coaching position last offseason after serving as the Texas offensive coordinator, did a commendable job in his lone season with the Red Wolves, going 7-5 and finishing tied with UL-Lafayette for the Sun Belt championship. Harsin returns to Boise State, where he served as an assistant for ten years, including a five year run as offensive coordinator from 2006 to 2010.

Harsin proved to be another one-year wonder for the Red Wolves (Photo by Danny Johnston)

Harsin proved to be another one-year wonder for the Red Wolves (Photo by Danny Johnston)

Harsin bolting from Arkansas State is understandable considering his history with the Broncos, but it just adds another instance of “win and cash in your chips” with the Red Wolves. Once the 2014 season kicks off, Arkansas State will have had five different head coaches over the last five years: Steve Roberts (fired after a 4-8 year), Hugh Freeze (left for Ole Miss after a 10-3 year), Gus Malzahn (took the Auburn job after going 10-3), and now Harsin. The amount of bigger FBS schools targeting Arkansas State is good in the fact that the Red Wolves have made excellent head coaching hires and have gotten the job done on the field despite all of the changes, but it will be interesting to see if the athletic department goes after another young coordinator who may leave or a grizzled veteran who wants to stick around for a while.

Here’s a look at five coaches I think the Red Wolves should pursue to replace Harsin:

Rhett Lashlee, Auburn OC – A former quarterback at Arkansas from 2002 to 2004, Lashlee is slowly gaining recognition for the play of the Tigers this year, who have bounced back from a 3-9 year and are preparing to play for a national title. Lashlee may not be as highly pursued because of both the consensus that Gus Malzahn is running the offense at Auburn and that Lashlee is still very young (only thirty years old), but it would renew a bit of familiarity with the team since he served as Red Wolves offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2012. Lashlee’s hire would give Arkansas State another promising up-and-coming head coach, and while he may not be there in five years, he probably will leave with a great deal of success.

Photo by Dave Martin/AP

Photo by Dave Martin/AP

Tim Horton, Auburn RB coach – It is never a bad idea to target coaches from a team playing for the coveted crystal football, which explains in part Horton’s candidacy for this job. A graduate from Arkansas back in 1990, Horton has plenty of coaching experience in Arkansas, including a six-year run as Razorbacks running back coach and recruiting coordinator that saw Arkansas sustain an impressive amount of success in the cutthroat SEC West and Razorbacks running back Darren McFadden finish second in the Heisman voting. Auburn running back Tre Mason has snuck into the Heisman conversation thanks to his play this season (1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns), showing once again that Horton is outstanding at getting the most out of his players.

Houston Nutt, former Ole Miss HC – Nutt’s ties to the state of Arkansas are quite clear, as he spent ten seasons at Arkansas, where he went 75-48 with just two losing seasons during that time. Nutt has been out of coaching since Ole Miss canned him following a dismal 2-10 record in 2011, but that does not mean the former Oklahoma State quarterback is done coaching; he has voiced his interest in several jobs since he was dismissed, including the Connecticut job this season. Say what you will about the way Nutt handled Malzahn’s offense during his short stint as Razorbacks offensive coordinator, but Nutt is an established coach that is more likely done coaching at a major FBS college, meaning that the Red Wolves probably would not be putting together another coaching search come December 2014.

Photo by Hawgs Illustrated

Photo by Hawgs Illustrated

Butch Davis, former North Carolina HC – Davis’ name has been tarnished due to the scandal at North Carolina that he had no involvement in (You can read all about it in this great article by Bruce Feldman), which has left him as a consultant with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While ADs may be hesitant to hire Davis due to the “black cloud” they think may follow him, the fact of the matter is that 1) Davis was not responsible for what had happened in Chapel Hill and 2) Davis wins wherever he goes. Butch Davis currently holds a 63-43 record in ten seasons split between Miami and UNC and may be interested in coaching Arkansas State, as many believed he was very interested in taking over for Nutt at Arkansas in 2007. Judging from Feldman’s piece, Davis still has the itch to be a head coach again, and you can rest assured that the team that takes the chance on him is rewarded with many victories.

Manny Diaz, former Texas DC – Diaz’s tenure at Texas was admittedly a dud and ended when Mack Brown fired him following the Longhorns’ 40-21 loss to BYU in the second game of the season, but that does not mean the thirty-nine year old’s coaching career is over. Diaz’s success as the defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee and then Mississippi State drew praise from across the country, leaving many commentators to believe that he is among the best young coaches around; he may have to land another coordinator position and show his worth before he gets a crack at being a head coach, but it still looks like it is just a matter of time before it happens.