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Whitman’s List: Top Group of 5 Head Coaches

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Lovie is NOT on the “Hot Seat” but a smart AD always has a list of potential replacements.

NCAA Football: American Athletic Conference Championship-Memphis at Central Florida Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve been adamant that Lovie is not on “Hot Seat” going into 2018 and we will continue to be adamant until it becomes evident that Lovie is actually on the “Hot Seat.” Regardless, in any program, even if the head coach is not in danger of losing his job, every smart athletic director has (or should at least have) a list of potential replacements in a secure password protected/encrypted file.

Here are the five Group of 5 Coaches Whitman should have on his list.

Mike Norvell- Memphis

An Offensive Genius that several big programs have shied away from hiring.

Memphis v Tulane Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Norvell is an offensive wizard. He was Todd Graham’s offensive coordinator at Pitt in 2011 and then at Arizona State from 2012-15. Considering how Graham’s tenure in Tempe quickly went downhill after Norvell’s departure, Norvell should get a large amount of the credit for the things that went right for Graham at Arizona State. In 2016, Norvell took the head coaching job at Memphis and picked up right where Justin Fuente left off

Here are the numbers for Norvell’s offenses:

  • Pitt 2011 - No. 75 S&P on Offense
  • Arizona St. 2012 - No. 46 S&P on Offense
  • Arizona St. 2013 - No. 14 S&P on Offense
  • Arizona St. 2014 - No. 24 S&P on Offense
  • Arizona St. 2015 - 26 S&P on Offense
  • Memphis 2016- 37 S&P on Offense (Arizona State Finished No. 56)
  • Memphis 2017- No 4. S&P on Offense

Norvell builds prolific offenses wherever he goes and would certainly put one together in Champaign within a few years of taking over. One question to ask with Norvell is whether he would even consider coming to Champaign. Well, he not have many other suitors.

Several SEC programs (Florida, Arkansas, and Tennessee) had Norvell on their initial short list of candidates during the 2017 hiring cycle. All these programs seemingly dropped Norvell after their initial vetting process. This could mean that some sort of issue slowed down their pursuit. We have no insider information but Norvell not landing an SEC job last offseason, or not being pursued by Arizona State, was strange to say the least. So, after not getting far in the hiring process with more attractive SEC jobs or Arizona State, Norvell might have to look else where to land a Power 5 job. So, Norvell might be willing to come to Champaign.

This does not mean Whitman should throw caution to the wind and ignore whatever issues, if any, exist with Norvell, but Whitman can put certainly put checks and systems in place to ensure Norvell’s behavior stays in line with what is expected of the head coach of a proud institution like Illinois.

Ken Niumatalolo - Navy

The Contrarian Hire.

NCAA Football: Navy at Houston Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Niumatalolo is a Paul Johnson disciple who has perfected the triple option in his 10 years at Navy. His offenses are rare, exotic, mesmerizing, and are a headache for opposing defensive coordinator. Any program looking to go contrarian will take a look at someone like Niumatalolo. In the Big Ten West, a run-based, old-school triple option will certainly be met with skepticism, but it will also throw a wrench in all the defensive schemes that have been designed and been recruited to stop run heavy pro-style offenses. Watching the Illini perfect the triple option could be fun to watch and would stand out.

Neal Brown - Troy

The Air Raid disciple (who is more than a run-of-the mill Air Raid disciple).

NCAA Football: Dollar General Bowl-Ohio vs Troy Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

Neal Brown has a doctorate in the Air Raid. He played for Hall Mumme at Kentucky and cut his teeth as a WR coach under Tony Franklin. Brown then took over as Offensive Coordinator at Troy in 2008. In 2010, Tommy Tuberville had taken over a Texas Tech program that became synonymous with the Air Raid under Mike Leach. So, Tuberville brought Brown over to be his OC and continue running the offense Leach had established. In 2013 , Brown went to Kentucky to be Mark Stoops offensive coordinator. Two years later, in 2015, Brown was the head man at Troy, a program that had fallen on hard times in the 2010s. Year one was a struggle but by 2016, Brown put the nation on notice that he wasn’t just an ordinary Air Raid guy.

In Week 2 of 2016, Brown’s Trojans stayed toe to toe with Clemson, matching the Tigers’ physicality at every point in the game.

Brown then caught everyone’s attention in 2017 after his Troy Trojans upset LSU in Death Valley in late September. They whooped LSU on both lines of Scrimmage and the Trojans were prolific on the ground, something not often seen in air raid offenses. When coupled with the near upset of Clemson in Week 2 of 2016, it becomes apparent that Brown had brought an element of toughness and physicality to Troy that has the Trojans punching above their weight.

Couple this physicality and toughness with an Air Raid offense that is certain to put points on the board and you have combination that could be a thorn in the side of the Big Ten West.

Scott Satterfield - Appalachian State

A great personality fans will love

NCAA Football: Appalachian State at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Satterfield has won two conference titles and has guided App. St. to double-digit win seasons twice since taking over in Boone in 2013. Satterfield got on everyone’s radar when he nearly upset Tennessee on the opening Thursday night of the 2016 season. He is also 3-0 in bowl games, all wins against MAC schools

Satterfield’s Mountaineers were humming by the end of the 2017 season: destroying conference foes Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Louisiana-Lafayatte and Toledo by a combined score of 155-30. Since 2015, he has amassed a record of 30-9.

Another plus is Satterfield’s warm, grounded personality that will endear him to Illini fans and recruits. One issue with Satterfield is that he coaching at his alma mater at Applachian State and in his hometown in Boone, NC. Pulling a coach away from his alma matter is difficult and the reason I kept Boise State’s Bryan Harsin off this list. Nonetheless, I think it would be easier to pull an App St. lifer to Champaign than a Boise St. lifer.

Jason Candle - Toledo

The Mac Coach who will not be in the Mac much longer

Toledo v Miami Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The MAC is known as a minor league for Big Ten coaches. Any coach that demonstrates the ability to build a MAC program will get overtures from Big Ten programs. The Illini jumped into the fray and went this route in both Football and Basketball simultaneously —Tim Beckman from Toledo in Football and John Groce from Ohio in Basketball. Both coaches were epic failures who drastically dropped the profile of Illini Football and Illini Basketball. So, the skepticism around hiring another MAC coach is understandable. Candle, however, could be different and is worth serious consideration.

Candle took over for Matt Campbell in 2016 and is 21-7 in two seasons. He already has a MAC title under his belt. Candle is known for his recruiting prowess, being twice named MAC recruiter of the year in 2010 and 2011 when he was an assistant at Toledo. Candle’s offenses are prolific and his defenses stifling.

He will certainly get looked at by Power 5 programs in the coming years.