Mississippi State coaching candidates: Butch Jones, Gene Chizik among best options to replace Joe Moorhead
Moorhead was fired by the Bulldogs on Friday after just two seasons in Starkville
Just when you thought that the coaching carousel had stopped, it cranked right back up in a sudden hurry. Mississippi State on Friday after a 14-12 record in two seasons in Starkville, including a 6-7 record in 2019. The combination of offensive regression and off-the-field issues that included a practice fight which knocked quarterback Garrett Shrader out of the Music City Bowl no doubt contributed to the ouster of Moorhead from his position.
So, who's up next in Starkville? Moorhead, who had spent the majority of his coaching career in the northeast, just wasn't a cultural fit at Mississippi State. Given that setback, a coach with established relationships in the southeast will be at the top of athletic director John Cohen's wish list, especially if that coach has prior experience in the SEC.
Let's take a look at some of the top candidates to step in for the Bulldogs.
Butch Jones, Alabama analyst: Jones has spent two seasons on Nick Saban's off-the-field staff, which has become widely known as a springboard for former coaches who have fallen on hard times. Jones is 84-54 overall in stops at Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Tennessee, and was 34-27 in five seasons with the Volunteers from 2013-17. The end of his tenure on Rocky Top included the first 0-8 conference record in program history, but he had them in the mix for the SEC East title in 2015 and 2016.
Gene Chizik, television analyst: Chizik won the BCS National Championship at Auburn in 2010 and posted a 33-19 record in four seasons on the Plains from 2000-12. He was the defensive coordinator at North Carolina from 2015-16, is highly recognizable from his recent television work on ESPN and has recruiting ties throughout the southeast stemming from his time with the Tigers. Could the drama that surrounded Cam Newton's junior college recruitment hinder his chances?
Steve Sarkisian, Alabama offensive coordinator: Sarkisian went back to Alabama after two years with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, and kicked the Crimson Tide offense into overdrive in 2019. Two Alabama wide receivers topped the 1,000-yard mark, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was well on his way to becoming a Heisman Trophy finalist for the second straight season prior to his injury and the Crimson Tide finished fourth in the nation of plays with 20 or more yards with 96. He's 46-35 overall as a head coach at Washington (2009-13) and USC (2014-15), but was fired by the Trojans after off-the-field issues surfaced.
Jeff Monken, Army coach: Mississippi State is likely going to be at a talent disadvantage in the SEC West every year, so it wouldn't be a bad idea to give opponents something different to prepare for in Monken's triple-option flexbone offense. Monken is 40-36 at Army, led the program to double-digit win seasons in 2017 and 2018 and won three straight games over rival Navy from 2016-18 -- breaking a 14-year losing streak in the process. He was 38-16 in four seasons at Georgia Southern from 2010-13, so he would check the box pertaining to relationships within the region.
Willie Fritz, Tulane coach: Fritz took over Georgia Southern in 2014 when it jumped to FBS and immediately went 9-3 overall and 8-0 in the Sun Belt. After an 8-4 season in 2015, he headed to Tulane where he led the program out of the abyss and into consecutive bowl games since 1979-80. His ties to Georgia, Louisiana and Texas from his time at Sam Houston State make him an attractive option for the Bulldogs.
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