Evaluating Potential Coaching Candidates to Replace Butch Jones


Butch Jones is gone and I’ve made peace with that. Now there is little time to look back as Cincinnati now has to replace him with whatever is available in the coaching world. As I mentioned in that piece, the main aspect of Jones’ departure that I found offensive wasn’t the fact that he left but the fact that he dragged it out for almost a week. Furthermore he seemingly did this he was aiming for the Tennessee job all along that wasn’t available to him in the beginning of the week. In the meantime the UC administration was left sitting on its hands. Whit claims he had ideas for candidates dating back to August but he was really unable to contact any of them until he was certain that Butch Jones was leaving.

Such potential candidates might have included some of the hottest names that have risen through the ranks such as Gus Malzahn, Sonny Dykes, and Darrell Hazell. Those coaches are now at Auburn, California, and Purdue respectively. As a result I believe this administration is scrambling more than they are leading us to believe. However it shouldn’t be hard for Whit to find a suitable replacement for Jones. Cincinnati is a very desirable place to be and boasts an excellent history of success regardless of who was managing the football team.

After some brief research, my “short” list of potential candidates after the jump:

Longshots But Worth The Phone Call

Jim Tressel – Akron Vice President of School Engagement, Fmr. Ohio State Head Coach

He’s been knocked down by an NCAA investigation but Jim Tressel is far from out of the game of football. The only penalty he would face if he returned to coaching is that he would have to sit out the first 5 games of his first season, wouldn’t be able to recruit over that time, and wouldn’t be able to coach the bowl game. I know what you’re thinking. Like nothing, right? Well it’s true. Tressel is a low risk, high reward hire and at the top of my list of available candidates.

Given the state of Ohio’s love affair with him and his history of incredible success on a national stage, he would make Cincinnati the media darlings of college football. Bearcats football would see instant national attention and you can bet season tickets, UCats and 1200 Club membership, and donations in general would see a sizeable boost. My issue with Tressel is that if he saw even minor success in his first season at Cincinnati he’d be gone after just one season. But making waves for at least one year would definitely be worth it and, quite honestly, we should be used to that kind of thing by now, right?

Hue Jackson – Cincinnati Bengals Secondary Coordinator

If UC is going for a guy with NFL experience that also knows the city of Cincinnati well, they should hire Hue Jackson. The current Bengals DB coach was a stud at USC running their offense in the late 90’s. Since then he’s bounced around the NFL and eventually was promoted to the head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2011. But he was fired after an 8 – 8 campaign. Personally I think he got a bum rap considering the kind of state that organization is in. He’ll be a head coach someday but will it be with the Bearcats?

The main red flag on him would be that he hasn’t had much head coaching experience at either the collegiate or professional level. The year in Oakland is the only time he’s ever fully managed a football team since working as a graduate assistant at Pacific in 1987. Plus he’s been out of the college game for over a decade now and might be rusty to the nuances of modern recruiting. However, he brings a wealth of coaching knowledge with him and would certainly create buzz around the UC football program.

Probably More In The Ballpark

Pat Narduzzi – Michigan State Defensive Coordinator

The Michigan State defensive coordinator is extremely familiar with Cincinnati having coached here with Mark Dantonio and recruited here at both his current and former school. To the latter point, he would make waves in the UC area especially at Moeller High School which seems to steer players to MSU and especially on defense. Plus he is an extremely solid coach who will wind up as a head coach at some point in the future.

Bob Diaco – Notre Dame Defensive Coordinator

The Notre Dame defensive coordinator is somewhat of a fan favorite considering the success the Irish are experiencing and his history with Cincinnati. While it was just 2009 when he coached the Bearcats defense I wasn’t 100% sold on him because of the way they were completely gashed that season. But that may have been more of the unit adjusting from the 4 – 3 in 2008 to the 3 – 4 in 2009. He has proven to be a very capable leader with head coaching material written all over him.

Willie Taggart – Western Kentucky Head Coach

12.7.2012 Update: Taggart has accepted the vacant South Florida head coaching position.

The Hilltopper head coach has done an exceptional job guiding his alma mater not only into the FBS but also to the top of the Sun Belt Conference. As he continues to build the program it’s clear that Western Kentucky will be contenders for a conference title so long as he is there. But maybe he can continue his winning ways at Cincinnati. The man knows the region and has clearly used superior coaching to overcome talent deficiencies on his roster. Just imagine what he could do with the Bearcats who are rich with talented prospects stocked by Butch Jones. As far as current head coaches go, Taggert is my top choice.

Mike Bajakian – Cincinnati Offensive Coordinator

If the aim is for continuity than Cincinnati can do no better than current offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. I’ve always been pleased with his schemes and there’s a very strong chance he could continue UC’s winning ways simply because the offense wouldn’t have to learn a new system. We’ve seen how painful a dropoff from one coaching staff to another can be (see: 2010) and Bajakian could prevent that. The stats speak for themselves. In 2012, Cincinnati led the Big East in scoring offense, finished 2nd in rushing and total offense, and 4th in passing offense mostly thanks to Bajakian’s schemes.

Tom O’Brien – Fmr. North Carolina State Head Coach

He isn’t my top choice nor in my top five mainly because he’s on the older side and finished up just a terrible campaign with the NC State Wolfpack. He’s trending downward and his best head coaching days are clearly behind him. But why is he on this list you might ask? Well he’s familiar with the city of Cincinnati and probably wouldn’t leave. His head coaching experience would be valuable and he would be able to open up some recruiting doors within the city, namely at Xavier. If it came to the point that O’Brien was the best possible choice available, I would be fine with him.

Matt Campbell – Toledo Head Coach

He’s done an outstanding job keeping Tim Beckman’s offensive juggernaut going up at Toledo. Cincinnati witnessed firsthand just how dangerous his schemes are in a loss to the Rockets this season. My only reservation is that he’s only been at Toledo just one season. Is it a case of Campbell truly keeping the ball rolling or is it Beckman’s players? I’m not sure. I think he would be somewhat of a risk but he might bring the kind of rewards such as an exciting, high flying offense that would not only invigorate the fanbase but win the Bearcats a number of games.

The “Others”

Dan Enos – Central Michigan Head Coach

Just for shits and giggles and because I have an urge to make another fanbase feel worse than ours.

Not Kerry Coombs – Ohio State Secondary Coach

He’s a popular choice among average Cincinnati fans mainly because they know who he is and associate him with a time of unprecedented success (i.e. The Brian Kelly era). Most advocates of Coombs point to his loyalty to the city of Cincinnati and cling to hopes of him never leaving UC. They say he could be successful if he surrounded himself with good coordinators.

I say all of that is hogwash.

Normally striking gold with a head coach is rare. Cincinnati has managed to do it three times in a row. And while this football program is so well off now that they don’t necessarily need a home run hire, they can’t take the risk of a defensive backs coach and hoping he hires two good coordinators. Basically what Coombs supporters are asking the UC athletic department to do is to strike gold two or three times in the same year. That’s insane!

In addition, Coombs has never risen higher than a defensive backs coach in his college career. From 2007 to 2011 his secondaries ranked 99th, 88th, 78th, 57th, and 89th against the pass. This year with Ohio State and all of that Buckeye talent, his secondary is 2nd to last in the Big Ten against the pass and 74th nationally. It’s no wonder he hasn’t been hired by any program to be a head coach or even a defensive coordinator.

Look at it this way. In the business world would you take a financial analyst with no managerial experience and was stuck in the same role for 6 years then promote him to CFO? No, never.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Kerry Coombs as a person and a motivator but as a head coach of the University of Cincinnati he would be an unmitigated disaster.