In a stunning move, new Illini AD Josh Whitman fired head football coach Bill Cubit Saturday morning, announcing that he thinks "it's most important we position our program for long-term success." While the reaction to this news is certainly a mixed bag, one thing is clear: Whitman needs to turn around and make a hire quickly. No messy search firms, no months of waiting. Spring football practices were scheduled to start in just six days. Throughout the 2015 football season, I compiled a list of potential replacement candidates when Cubit still had the interim tag. Now that he's been dismissed, it's time to revisit that list and examine who has the best chance of becoming Illinois' next head football coach.
Current job title: Baltimore Ravens secondary coach
Frazier is a name that's being brought up a lot on Twitter, due to his past Illinois ties:
Have to think Leslie Frazier is on short list. He was on #illini staff when Whitman played. Ties to state of IL + head coaching experience— Matt Maniscalco (@ManiscalcoMatt) March 5, 2016
He's certainly been around a lot of professional football; Frazier was a defensive backs coach with the Eagles, defensive coordinator for the Bengals, assistant coach for the Colts, head coach of the Vikings, defensive coordinator for the Buccaneers, and now secondary coach of the Ravens. Whitman has personal connections to Frazier, and he'd bring an interesting and defensive-orientated scheme to Champaign.
Current job title: Western Michigan head football coach
Fleck was a popular option to replace Tim Beckman last season. His turn-around of the Western Michigan program has been impressive. Last year the Broncos went 8-5 and finished with six conference wins in the MAC, reaching the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl. It was an even more impressive record considering they started the year 0-2. Fleck is young and exuberant, and many Illini backers had brought up his name throughout the 2015 season. He received interest from other schools who had openings this offsesason, but chose to remain in Kalamazoo. Could Whitman lure him to Champaign?
Remember what Whitman said at #Illini his introduction.... "Row the boat".— Craig Choate (@WCIA3Craig) March 5, 2016
Foreshadowing a PJ Fleck hire??
Current job title: Youngstown State head football coach
Pelini would be a fan favorite, having brought a lot of success to Nebraska over his eight years as the head coach in Lincoln. The Huskers let him go because they had higher aspirations and dreams of championship appearances, but for an Illinois program that's just trying to get out of the basement, nine win campaigns would be music to Illini fans' ears:
Funniest possible Illinois football hire? I vote Bo Pelini, who then dunks on FURIOUS Nebraska fans for the next five years.— Matt Brown (@MattSBN) March 5, 2016
He's currently running the Youngstown State program, but if a Big Ten job came calling I'm sure he would give it ample consideration. It would be a big-name hire for Whitman and would have an immediate impact on recruiting.
Current job title: USF head football coach
Taggart currently coaches in Tampa, Florida, but many fans will be hoping he makes the switch to Champaign. He was co-offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky after graduating from WKU in the late 90's before being named to Jim Harbuagh's Stanford staff as running backs coach in 2006. He was then hired back to the Hilltoppers as their head coach for two years, leading them to a bowl appearance in 2012. In his first season at USF the Bulls finished with an ugly 2-10 record but this past year they made the postseason for the first time in five years. Taggart knows the southern recruiting landscape well, with many ties to his home state of Florida, Georgia, and Kentucky as well. Even though he's not a "big name," if Whitman were to hire Taggart it would certainly be a smart and intriguing move:
PLEASE GET WILLIE TAGGART PLEASE GET WILLIE TAGGART PLEASE GET WILLIE TAGGART PLEASE GET WILLIE TAGGART PLEASE GET WILLIE TAGGART PLEASE GET— U-God (@SBN_UGod) March 5, 2016
Current job title: Western Kentucky head football coach
Brohm has been on this candidates list since the day Tim Beckman was fired:
Was also great catching up with WKU coach Jeff Brohm. Have to think Illinois takes a look at him if job opens. Brohm is former Illini ass’t.— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) October 22, 2015
Even though his previous tenure with Illinois didn't end well (Zook and staff were fired after a messy 2011 season), Brohm has lots of previous coaching experience. He worked at Louisville, UAB, and Florida Atlantic as an assistant head coach before taking the head coaching job at WKU. He led the Hilltoppers to a 12-2 record in 2015, finishing first in the C-USA East division and leading his team to a Miami Beach Bowl victory last December. He's a familiar name with Illinois ties, and if Whitman were to hire Brohm it would (hopefully) mean the rekindling of a once-potent Illini offense.
Current job title: Illinois State head football coach
Spack is an underrated name on this list, and not just because he could double for Ron Swanson. Currently the head football coach downstate at ISU, Spack played football at Purdue and has Big Ten ties. He led the Redbirds to a 10-3 record in 2015 and an appearance in the FCS quarterfinals. His overall record in his seven years in Normal is an impressive 27 games over .500, and many Illini fans would like to see Spack named to the head coaching position:
lots of names out there, but i'd love brock spack from ISU.— Sam Sherman (@Sam_Sherman5) March 5, 2016
There are always other names circulating around the college football coaching carousel. Here are some potential candidates that have been mentioned here in the TCR comments and elsewhere online.
- Jim Tressel, Youngstown State president
- Ed Warinner, offensive coordinator at Ohio State
- Lovie Smith, former Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach
- Todd Monken, offensive coordinator of Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Al Golden, former head coach at Miami (FL)
- Troy Calhoun, head football coach at Air Force
- Lane Kiffin, Offensive Coordinator at Alabama
Think we've left anybody off the list? Drop by in the comments below and tell us what you think!