Before we dive into realistic candidates to replace Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss, these questions must first be answered:
1. What kind of shape is the program going to be in for the new coach? If the NCAA tacks on another postseason ban in 2018, that impacts the list of candidates and perhaps the compensation. And if indeed there is a two-year ban, does NCAA allow current Ole Miss players to transfer without penalty? That would seem to be the fair thing to do.
Then there is the consideration whether Ole Miss' self-imposed 11 scholarships over four years is enough. A two-year bowl ban, essentially free agency for the existing roster and an added scholarship hit would be a worse-case scenario -- but not out of the question.
Yes, the likes of Les Miles would more than happy to take over. And at that point, he might be the best choice -- sort of a bridge to the next coach while Ole Miss wades through the penalties.
2. How much is Ole Miss willing to spend/overpay? Freeze and his lawyers walked away from an estimated $15 million (in salary and buyout) without a peep. Exactly what did those phone records for that to happen? Ostensibly, that's $15 million Ole Miss has sitting around to spend on the next guy. But consider the school is in this situation because it went all in on Freeze.
You better believe the whale boosters who fund Ole Miss football are going to be asking tough questions about how their money is being spent going forward. Freeze created the momentum for an infrastructure boom in Ole Miss athletics. But his conduct may force the administration to be more fiscally conservative on the next guy.
Let's assume the new coach is going to need a six-year contract. The assumption being it will take at least that long to clean up the mess. One problem: State law limits contracts for state employees to four years. The administration can promise a series of rollovers, but does that state law further limit the pool of candidates?
Based on all that, here is one thinking man's guide to Freeze's eventual replacement.
|Matt Luke||Interim coach||Luke is the only guy on this list able to prove himself every day face-to-face to Ole Miss. If he calms the waters during a season when the NCAA sanctions drop (November) and goes 8-4, why not? SB Nation reported -- and CBS Sports was independently told -- that Luke was pursued by Will Muschamp to be South Carolina's new offensive line coach. Ole Miss responded by bumping up Luke's salary for the purpose of keeping him in place as a safety net interim coach if things went south with Freeze. They did. By becoming the interim, Luke already has at least the short-term support of the administration.|
| ||Les Miles||TV analyst||If it's the first week of December and the job is still unfilled, Miles' odds go up significantly. If the sanctions are so bad that this is a two-coach rebuild, Miles would be a great guy with whom to kick things off. He's been telling everybody since late last season that he'd gladly run the spread. So if you're thinking about LSU's ground-and-pound, don't. Les is 63 with the energy of a 43-year old. Say what you will about him, he doesn't have NCAA baggage. Under the right circumstances, this would be an excellent hire.|
|Butch Jones||Head coach||Jones' recent move to super agent Jimmy Sexton reminds us that nothing will happen at Ole Miss until Jimmy says it does. Pure and simple, Sexton controls the SEC coaching market. It's easy to imagine Jones ending up at Ole Miss after a 7-6 season that seals the deal for the locals who weren't satisfied with consecutive nine-win seasons.|
|Frank Wilson||Head coach||One of the country's top recruiters. "I put his ability to win a room up against anybody," said one search firm source. Miles' former right-hand man at LSU went 6-7 in first season of head coaching.|
|Chad Morris||Head coach||You've seen Morris' name on every list. But two years in, he has yet to finish above .500 at SMU. Complicating the issue? If Morris -- Clemson's former offensive coordinator -- goes 9-3, he's getting a better job than Ole Miss.|
|Mike Norvell||Head coach||He'd be higher on this list, but the word on Norvell is that it may take Arkansas to come calling if he's going to leave Memphis. Who knows? Arkansas and Ole Miss may be open at the same time. Norvell is a heck of a play caller who went 8-5 in first year with the Tigers.|
|Troy Calhoun||Head coach||Would be much higher on this list if he was serious about getting out of Colorado Springs. I don't think Calhoun is itching to leave, even if it is an SEC job. Calhoun's name comes up for most major jobs just because he's so good at what he does working within the strictures of the Air Force Academy to produce a consistent winner. The Falcons have won two of the last three and four of the last seven Commander-in-Chief's trophies.|
|Scott Satterfield||Head coach||Only a handful of coaches have won more games the past two years (21). Coming off a Sun Belt title, Satterfield is going to be someplace better soon.|
|Todd Monken||Offensive coordinator||His bosses have included Miles and Mike Gundy. His lifetime achievement is taking Southern Miss from 1-11 to 9-5 in the span of two seasons. Since 2016, he has been calling plays for Jameis Winston. Not a bad resume.|
|Neal Brown||Head coach||He's young at 37. More than that, he looks young, which probably makes him too young. That sort of thing matters when you're trying to emphasize substance over sizzle. Brown is 14-11 at Troy with Power Five experience coaching at Kentucky and Texas Tech.|
|Geoff Collins||Head coach||Could follow the same path as former Owls coach Matt Rhule: Quick turnaround at Temple, ride in on white horse to rescue scandal-ridden program. The difference being Collins has seven years' experience on three different SEC staffs.|
|Sonny Dykes||Offensive analyst||One of the better offensive minds in the country has spent the last seven years split between Louisiana Tech and Cal. Might be seen as a retread or -- like Miles -- the first coach in a two-coach rebuild.|
|Jeremy Pruitt||Defensive coordinator||Being on Nick Saban's staff has proven to be a pretty good springboard to be a head coach in recent years. Pruitt might have to go somewhere else (see: Jim McElwain at Colorado State) before he arrives as an SEC head coach. But Ole Miss might decide Pruitt is the right guy at the right time.|
|Willie Fritz||Head coach||Highly successful Division II and FCS coach who went 4-8 in his first season with the Green Wave. Would probably have to inch above .500 at some point for Ole Miss to hire the Tulane coach.|
|Kevin Sumlin||Head coach||Yes, I know he has a job. I also have been told he needs to win 10 to keep his job. That probably isn't going to happen. That makes available a proven head coach with an innovative offensive mind who has produced a Heisman winner and No. 1 overall draft choice. Still, hard to believe Ole Miss would hire a coach from the SEC West who can't beat Ole Miss (Sumlin is 2-3 at TAMU).|
- Blake Anderson, Arkansas State: A good coach but his similarity to the last guy might hurt. Look what happened to the last Ole Miss coach to cut his coaching teeth in Jonesboro.
- Todd Graham, Arizona State: Might be coming to Ole Miss off consecutive losing seasons. Job-hopping reputation has been mitigated after staying six years at ASU.
- Rich Rodriguez, Arizona: Like Graham, would be damaged goods if he gets fired at Arizona.
- Lane Kiffin, FAU: As one insider put it, "Lane Kiffin is crazy. It's the same reason they don't give guns to monkeys."
- Chip Kelly, TV analyst: Just, no. Stop.