Before the 2016 college football season got underway, I wrote about how important this campaign was to Tommy Tuberville’s status as head coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats. After a disappointing 2015 season, I wrote that more of the same was not going to cut it. However, more of the same (7-6, bowl loss) was the worst outcome I envisioned.
I was wrong.
After three months, 12 games and only 28 touchdowns, UC ended its regular season in November, losing five-straight and seven of its final eight games to finish 4-8 overall, its worst mark since 2010 and only the second losing season in the last decade. Plenty has been written about why this year’s team failed so miserably and Tuberville has received much of the ire. With coaches like Mark Helfrich (Oregon), Charlie Strong (Texas) and Les Miles (LSU) being shown the door this season, Tuberville has somehow survived, despite deteriorating results across his four years with the job.
The reason for that may be purely financial. Tuberville agreed to a two-year extension last spring and signed it on Oct. 1. The agreement was supposed to keep him in place until 2019. As the Cincinnati Enquirer reported, Tuberville would be owed $2.4 million if he were fired during the 2016 season. That number drops by just under $1 million after the season but not until Dec. 7, when UC would pay out $1.5 million to send Tuberville packing.
While it is not a guarantee that UC and Tuberville will go their separate ways, it seems clear that Dec. 7 would be the date to circle if a move is going to be made. Now let’s assume that that does come to pass. Where does UC go from there?
The High Profile Hires
As just listed there are a few big names on the free agent coaching market and UC could go after one of them.
Strong was let go after three years at Texas where he had a baseline of seven losses, earning a bowl bid in his first season but falling short in his next two. However, Strong orchestrated a renaissance for Louisville football from 2010 to 2013, leading the Cardinals to a 37-15 record in those four years, including a Sugar Bowl win in 2012 and a 12-1 finish in 2013. He helped develop Teddy Bridgewater into a NFL draft prospect and won Big East Coach of the Year in 2010 and 2012, showing he has the ability to succeed in the same competitive waters that UC currently swims. A defensive minded coach, Strong doesn’t necessarily fit with the spread it out offensive barrage that has been UC’s profile the last 10 years or so (2016 excluded), but he has a track record and is undoubtedly a good coach, even if things at Texas didn’t work out.
The offensive coordinator behind Chip Kelly at Oregon, Helfrich took over the Ducks when Kelly bolted for the NFL. Neither Kelly or Helfrich is in the same post now, with Kelly now coaching the San Francisco 49ers and Helfrich looking for work after being let go earlier this week.
Helfrich’s philosophy as a coach fits with UC’s usual style, as he is an offensive-heavy guy who kept up the same pace that Kelly had Oregon running at when he was in charge. Oregon ranked second, third, fifth and 19th nationally in total offensive over the last four years, even making the yards pile up during this last 4-8 debacle. However, Helfrich’s offensive system doesn’t exactly line up with UC’s normal pass it at all times strategy, as Oregon generally favored the run over the pass. With young quarterbacks like Hayden Moore and Ross Trail on the roster, Helfrich could help shape them up, but the real benefactors of a Helfrich hire would be Mike Boone and incoming recruits like Jaelen Greene, assuming he remains committed should Tuberville be fired.
Mid-major might be a basketball term, but you get the idea. This is the pool from which UC has pulled before and often has the up and coming guys that just need a shot.
The Western Michigan head coach probably belongs in the first category, but we’ll leave him right here and hope all those power five programs in need of coaches (Oregon, Texas, LSU) forget about him. Fleck has been at WMU since 2013, when the team went 1-11. He has lifted the Broncos from the ashes in the three years since, pushing them to bowl appearances in each of the last two campaigns. In 2016 he has outdone himself. WMU is 12-0, ranked No. 13 in the AP poll, its first time ever in the national rankings, and headed to the Mid-American Conference Championship game.
Fleck fits the mold of the Brian Kelly or Butch Jones hires UC made before Tuberville, as both coached a directional Michigan and came in and helped the Bearcats dominate on offense and in the standings. If you’re curious about Fleck’s pedigree as an offensive mind, just ask Zach Terrell and Corey Davis. Terrell has thrown for 3,086 yards and 30 touchdowns and ONLY ONE INTERCEPTION this season. Obviously Fleck can’t take credit for all of that, but his system clearly puts quarterbacks in a position to succeed. In addition, Davis, who was named MAC Offensive Player of the Year, leads the nation in touchdown receptions (17) and is the only player in FBS history to reach 300 catches, 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns. Imagining what Fleck could do with Moore, Trail, Kahlil Lewis and Devin Gray produces a high that cannot be replicated by modern medicine.
Another coach with offensive chops, Brohm has been leading Western Kentucky since 2014. Before that he was assistant head coach/offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach for the Hilltoppers and he was also a quarterbacks coach at Illinois, FAU and Louisville. His most recent quarterback project was Mike White, a former USF recruit who transferred to WKU in 2015. So far in 2016, White has thrown for 3,606 yards and 31 touchdowns compared to five interceptions. Getting Brohm in to work with Moore and Trail could do wonders for those two guys, who have talent but have not been able to produce much with it.
As for Brohm’s coaching ability for a team overall, WKU has done very well in his three seasons. After going 8-5 in year one, the Hilltoppers ended up ranked No. 24 in the country in 2015 while winning 12 of 14 games, including a 45-34 victory over USF in the Miami Beach Bowl. In 2016, WKU has been great again, finishing with a 9-3 regular season record.
This is a bit more of a long shot, as Bohl doesn’t have much connection to UC and as the head coach of Wyoming, would probably prefer a West Coast location. But who am I to speak for Mr. Bohl, who has a 118-43 all-time record as a head coach and formerly led the FCS juggernaut known as North Dakota State from 2003 to 2013. Its been a slow lift for Bohl with the Cowboys, who are just 14-22 in his three seasons. However, Wyoming showed that improvement is on the way in 2016, going 8-4 in the regular season. Again, Bohl, who has normally been a defensive guy serving as defensive coordinator at Rice, Duke and Nebraska before NDSU, has done some good things on offense that would really help UC. Wyoming is No. 29 nationally in offensive S&P+.
The Pipe Dreams
After roughly a decade of dominating the FBS level, Miles finally hit the end of the road at LSU this fall after a 2-2 start. Before coaching the Tigers, he was at the helm of Oklahoma State. In his career, he is 197-142, with an 8-6 mark in bowl games. He won one national championship with LSU and reached another title game, while coaching in a number of BCS bowls.
Miles never had much luck producing a stellar quarterback (other than JaMarcus Russell), which was a major reason the team stalled out the last few seasons, but his defenses were always stellar and offensive skill players like Leonard Fournette, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. don’t grow on trees.
It would be an incredible image to see the “The Mad Hatter” go from purple and gold to red and black, but it is incredibly unlikely. That said, there’s nothing wrong with hoping.
If you think Miles is a fantasy, then Meyer is a fever dream mashed in between two LSD induced hallucinations, but hear me out. Meyer has won his fair share of national championships, most recently leading his current team Ohio State to the 2014 title. The Buckeyes are poised to compete in the College Football Playoff again this season and could very well add another trophy to Meyer’s case.
While leaving Ohio State makes little to no sense, if he was going to do it maybe he would for his Alma mater, which just happens to be UC. OK, OK. Its nuts. Forget I brought it up.
There are plenty of other options out there, but these are the big names on the market (or seemingly could be) this offseason. If Dec. 7 rolls around and Tuberville gets his walking papers, then expect UC to start making calls to at least a few of these folks. Of course, if a coaching search does begin, keep it locked at Down the Drive for coverage.