Ole Miss made the decision to fire Houston Nutt after his fourth year as head coach, a decision that surprised no one. Nutt was successful early on in is tenure at Ole Miss, but his performance these last two years have been abysmal. He is only 10-20 in SEC play during his four year tenure at Ole Miss, and he is currently riding a 12 game conference losing streak. Combine that with the fact that he has lost his last two meetings with arch rival Mississippi State and you have a situation where he has to be replaced as the Rebel’s head coach. Ole Miss fans are on pins and needles in anticipation, and cannot wait to see who the next football coach for Ole Miss will be. Here are 5 coaching candidates that the Rebels should pursue:
1. Mike Leach
With an overall record of 84-43 in is ten years with Texas Tech, Mike Leach is a no brainer and should be at the top of any Rebel fan’s wish list. He has never had a losing season and has a bowl record of 5-4. Mike Leach’s air raid offense is exciting, and his teams are always able to post huge numbers while out scoring opponents. Add to his already impressive resume a 19-11 record against his top three rivals (Texas, Baylor, and Texas A&M) and you have a coach who is established and ready for the bright lights of SEC football.
2. Rich Rodriguez
While Rich Rod’s last coaching gig did not end particularly well he is still a good coach and a good fit for Ole Miss. In his ten years as head coach of a FBS team (West Virginia and Michigan) Rich Rod has four conference championships, a record of 75-48, and his teams have gone to two BCS bowls with wins over Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl and a win over Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta bowl (although Coach Rodriguez left to coach Michigan before the Fiesta bowl game). He has proven that he can win with his spread offense and should be near the top of anybody’s list of coaches.
3. Gus Malzahn
Malzahn is being touted as the greatest offensive mind in college football today. He has no head coaching experience, but he is being highly sought after because his explosive offense helped lead Auburn to a national title last season. There are two problems with trying to land Malzhan, the first of which is his salary. He makes over $1.3 million as an assistant at Auburn, so he is very comfortable financially and he can wait for the best coaching job to open up. The second problem with landing Malzahn is that he is becoming an extremely hot commodity. His name is already coming up in the North Carolina search, and will continue to come up when the caching carousal begins to turn full speed at the end of the season. However, landing Malzahn will certainly rejuvenate a fan base that needs some excitement after the past two seasons.
4. Hugh Freeze
Coach Freeze is currently leading Arkansas State to their best season ever and is another top notch coach that Ole Miss should try to land. While he does not have the head coaching experience of a Leach or Rodriguez, he has proven that he knows his way around a football field with this year’s Arkansas State team. His quick paced offense is currently 25th in the nation in passing yards and averages more than 30 points per contest. Contrary to Malzahn, Freeze is not as financially well off, and he is in fact the lowest paid football coach in the FB. even though he is a head coach he makes nearly 800K less than Malzahn who is only an assistant coach. Luring Freeze away from Arkansas State should be easy to do for Ole Miss, but he lacks the big name that they need to excite and rejuvenate their fans.
5. Charlie Strong
Charlie Strong has been itching for a chance to be a head coach in the SEC for years now, and Ole Miss would be lucky to land a coach with his defensive prowess. He is currently the head coach at Louisville, where his defense ranks 23rd in total defense and is giving up a mere 18.6 points per game. Coach Strong is very familiar with the SEC having been a defensive coordinator for ten years in the conference, and he knows exactly what it takes to win in the nation’s toughest conference. Also, he has two national titles under his belt from his years at Florida, where his defenses ranked amongst the best in the nation. Perhaps the best attribute that Coach Strong has is the fact that he is African American. The Rebels have always struggled with the public perception involving the university an its race relations. Hiring an African American football coach be a way to move beyond the school’s controversial past.
CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport. Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from different college football games throughout the Mid-South.