Last weekend's loss to Purdue all but officially marked the end of the Tim Beckman Era here at Illinois. Yes, he's still coaching the team, but let's be honest with ourselves. Anything short of a miracle over the rest of the season (and getting enough wins against that slate of teams would qualify as enough of a miracle in the eyes of the church to result in canonization) means Mike Thomas is spending his winter hunting for a new football coach.
There's something just a wee bit important to remember with the next hire though. No football coach at Illinois has left the program with a winning record since 1991. John Mackovic went 30-16-1 from 1988 through 1991 before leaving for Texas. Since then we've had Lou Tepper (25-31-2), Ron Turner (32-49), Ron Zook (34-51), and Tim Beckman (currently 9-21). That's pretty damn horrible.
So what kind of coaching candidate should the Illini be looking at? Successful Illinois high school coaches have been brought up, but no. Illinois cannot reach into the high school ranks for a coach. We're already a laughingstock. That would be too much. Maybe an up and coming MAC coach then?
Dave McClain is the only MAC head coach hired by a Big Ten school since 1970 to have a winning record.— Mark Hasty (@MarkHasty) October 2, 2014
Or maybe not. That's a hell of a lot of years and a hell of a lot of coaches to have joined the conference and all ultimately failed. Dino Babers may turn out to be a great coach at a big school someday, but I'd rather not take that gamble. It's like betting on snake eyes instead of the pass line in craps: a sucker's bet.
A few #AskTCR's ago, I was asked to pick a coordinator or assistant coach from each of the Power 5 conferences that I would like to come be the next head coach. Honestly, that's what I want to see. There is only one smaller program head coach I would even like interviewed right now. Everyone else on the list is a coordinator at a major program that has had sustained success during their tenure. Some of the names are people I thought of, others are from Tom Fornelli and an unnamed former Illini football player. Sources are fun.
Wyoming HC Craig Bohl
We may as well start with the only head coach I'm interested in. Bohl was an assistant and then defensive coordinator at Nebraska before moving up to Fargo in 2003 and turning the North Dakota State Bison into the premier FCS powerhouse. His record at NDSU was 104-32 and the Bison have won the FCS Championship Game three years running. He took the head coaching job at Wyoming this winter and has the Cowboys sitting at a 3-2 record.
You might be thinking "But Mark, if you don't want a MAC coach how could you possibly want an FCS-to-MWC coach?" Easy. Despite being an FCS program, NDSU has more Big 12 wins over the past three years than Kansas. Last season, the Bison came down to Manhattan and beat the Kansas State Wildcats in front of a packed house. If he can do that with FCS recruits, imagine what he'd be able to do at a major state school. He won't be at Wyoming forever and I'd be thrilled to poach him.
Michigan State DC Pat Narduzzi
Narduzzi is my number one choice out of every realistic potential candidate. The Spartans' defense has been a wrecking ball covered in buzzsaws dripping acid for the past five years. He has gone from turning lesser-heralded recruits into human weapons to being able to grab top recruits and mold them into NFL-caliber players. He won the Broyles Award last year as the top assistant coach in all of FBS. He's ready to be given a shot as head coach and knows the Midwest as well as anyone. The Illini would go back to being an incredibly strong defensive team. There's really no negative to hiring him.
Clemson OC Chad Morris
Morris is going to get a head coaching job soon enough. You don't turn in multiple seasons leading a top ten offense into nothing. He's shown a desire to become a head coach, being the runner-up to Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech prior to last season. Morris' offenses have been incredibly powerful yet well-balanced between passing and rushing. He would be a great hire, but not a likely one as he'll end up either somewhere in Texas or in the Southeast.
Texas A&M OC Jake Spavital
Spavital is the youngest candidate of the bunch, as he turns 30 next May. He worked as a GA under Kevin Sumlin at Houston before following Dana Holgorsen to Oklahoma State and then West Virginia. He's now back with Sumlin and has been the OC at Texas A&M for the past 1.5 seasons. All the Aggies have managed to do during his tenure is crank out consecutive top 5 offenses. That they've managed to suffer zero dropoff despite Johnny Manziel going pro is insane. Spavital's mentors are all extreme offensive gurus (he worked quality control under Gus Malzahn as well). He might not be ready to run a program on his own yet, but he's going to get a shot soon enough.
ECU OC Lincoln Riley
Okay, so ECU doesn't technically count as a major program but the Pirates have turned into one of those terrifying smaller conference demons that bigger schools should dread scheduling. They've had a top ten offense over the past year and a half while managing to throttle ACC teams like North Carolina, NC State, and Virginia Tech. He worked under Mike Leach at Texas Tech before moving to ECU, so he's another pass-heavy offensive guy with the pedigree to match. The Pirates have been rewriting their offensive record books under him and just imagine what he could do with guys like Wes Lunt, Mike Dudek, and Josh Ferguson.
Ohio State OC Tom Herman
A large part of the reason getting Herman (and Narduzzi) would be so great is that it also helps weaken a far stronger team in the conference. Before joining Urban Meyer's staff in 2012, Herman was leading the offense at Iowa State where the Cyclones rewrote their record books under his tutelage. The Buckeyes were a top 25 offense his first season in Columbus and have been top ten the past year and a half.
Baylor OC Philip Montgomery
Montgomery has been offensive genius Art Briles' right-hand man for 16 years. While no one outside of Texas (and maybe not anyone instate either) is going to convince Briles to leave Waco, Montgomery may be a different story. I don't need to tell you how good Baylor's offense is. You're reading this right now, which means you understand that their offensive philosophy is "go for the touchdown every damn play". Montgomery has helped groom Bryce Petty, RG III, Case Keenum, and Kevin Kolb into dynamic college quarterbacks and he did so at Baylor and Houston. Yeah, both of those schools are in the great football state of Texas, but neither were exactly great programs before him and Briles rolled in to town.
There will be a lot of job openings this winter, some of which will be at better schools than Illinois. That's just inevitable. But there are so many damn fine candidates out there that Mike Thomas could get. Please don't grab a retread or a MAC guy. Go with something different. Go with something smarter.
*Thanks again to Tom for continuing to help me look so much smarter about college football than I actually am. You're the best.