The turbulent coaching carousel took another spin Monday night as LSU hired Brian Kelly away from Notre Dame. Kelly, who just became the all-time winningest coach in Fighting Irish history this season, leaves Notre Dame with a gaping leadership hole after 12 years at the helm.
Look for Irish defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman to become the interim coach in these turbulent times. Think of it as an audition because the clear No. 1 candidate now has to be Iowa State's Matt Campbell.
Unlike Cincinnati's Luke Fickell, Campbell does not face the complication of the upcoming College Football Playoff. Campbell's season is over, except for a minor bowl game. Campbell has desired the Notre Dame job for a while, according to sources. This is also an ideal time to leave Iowa State considering how hard it is to maintain success there.
Kelly has gone 54-9 at Notre Dame over the last five seasons since overhauling his staff before the 2017 campaign. The next coach will inherit a program that is in the midst of producing its best recruiting class in years. The only question is who that next coach will be.
Let's take a look at the top candidates to replace Kelly at Notre Dame.
Matt Campbell, Iowa State coach: Before the season, it was known Campbell would consider leaving for only two jobs: Ohio State or Notre Dame. Ohio State isn't open. Notre Dame just opened. The question is whether the job falls to him. Freeman is on staff. Fickell doesn't seem like he's leaving. Veteran NFL Bill Polian has been advocating for Campbell. His son, Brian, is currently Notre Dame's special teams coach under Kelly.
Marcus Freeman, Notre Dame defensive coordinator: Maybe the easiest route for the Irish in these desperate times. Fickell would be leaving an undefeated team in the thick of the playoff race. Bob Stoops has a job (Fox analyst, Oklahoma interim coach). Freeman has never been a head coach, but he is Notre Dame's best shot at continuity right now. A word of warning: The last time ND promoted from within its ranks was when Bob Davie who followed Lou Holtz in 1997. Davie lasted five seasons after going 35-25. The last time Notre Dame hired a coach without head coaching experience was Charlie Weis in 2005. Weis lasted five seasons after going 35-27.
Luke Fickell, Cincinnati coach: The likelihood of Fickell leaving the Bearcats for any job has to be minimal right now. Cincinnati is five days away from clinching a playoff spot. Unlike Kelly, it would be far-fetched to believe he would leave Cincinnati in the middle of a playoff race. Fickell does have the pedigree, though, having been an Ohio and Midwest guy for his entire career.
Bob Stoops, Fox analyst and Oklahoma interim coach: When he was coaching, Stoops' name would come up whenever Notre Dame opened. He never took it then, but would he take it now? The biggest obstacle is that he's committed to guide OU through Lincoln Riley's absence. That's the priority. Stoops is 61 but looks 51. Don't know if that would make any difference.
Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern coach: Easily the best coach in Northwestern history, if Fitzgerald is ever considering leaving the Wildcats, Notre Dame presents an interesting opportunity. Given Fitzgerald has succeeded despite the constraints of coaching at a private school with high academic standards, he could walk into the Irish job knowing what it takes to win. It would be tough to pry a Northwestern man from his alma mater given Fitzgerald reportedly spurned NFL interest in the past, but the potential to actually compete for a national championship and lead one of the top teams in college football could be a draw. An important consideration: Fitzgerald just signed a 10-year contract with Northwestern in January.