Vanderbilt fired Derek Mason on Sunday after seven seasons leading the Commodores, which probably eliminates a high-profile defensive coordinator from taking the job. That's exactly what Mason was when he came to Nashville from Stanford in 2014. Mason, though, could never get the offense humming.
The profile of the new coach should address those offensive struggles, but will it? The breaking point for Vanderbilt was a moribund 41-0 loss Saturday at Missouri. The Commodores have to be open to all options whether coordinators, current head coaches, unemployed coaches or Group of Five coaches. That said, Vandy has hired just one sitting head coach once in the last 34 years (Bobby Johnson).
Most importantly, a coach who takes this job will be accepting a risk. He must be able to afford a failure. The Vanderbilt job has been a bottomless pit recently. Who can take the gig, potentially get fired in a few years, and still retain the stature he currently possesses in the industry?
All these candidates fit at least some of these qualities. In no particular order ...
Jay Norvell, Nevada coach: For seven years, Norvell was one of Bob Stoops' most valued assistants at Oklahoma as a co-offensive coordinator. Before that, he was OC at UCLA and Nebraska. Norvell also has six years' experience in the NFL. At age 57, he has Nevada off to its best start (5-1) in 11 years. He would bring the kind of offensive excitement Vandy needs right away. Nevada sophomore quarterback Carson Strong currently leads the Mountain West's most powerful passing attack.
Clark Lea, Notre Dame defensive coordinator: Lea's name will be attached to this opening until he shoots it down. A former Vanderbilt fullback, Lea has built an elite defense at Notre Dame this season. The unit is 10th nationally in total defense. The Fighting Irish haven't been that good on defense since 2012. While that does not solve Vanderbilt's offensive issues, his candidacy should not be questioned.
Curt Cignetti, James Madison coach: Highly successful (81-28 record with the Dukes) at lower divisions, Cignetti fits the description. He was a quarterbacks coach at five schools before Nick Saban hired him on his first staff as receivers coach and recruiting coordinator. With him, Saban won his first national championship at Alabama. Cignetti coached Julio Jones and recruited Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. As a head coach, he has kept James Madison a national power in FCS.
Sean Lewis, Kent State coach: Looking for a splash? Lewis -- the youngest coach in the FBS at age 34 -- is somewhat of an offensive wonder in his third season with the Golden Flashes. They lead the nation in total offense (606.5 yards per game) and are second in scoring offense (49.8 points). The Flashes are coming off their first bowl win in school history. Lewis is a former tight end and quarterback under Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin.
Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina coach: Already on the short list of candidates at South Carolina, Chadwell should be in the mix at Vandy. The Chanticleers are ranked for the first time having already clinched a spot in the Sun Belt Championship Game. Coastal is tied for the best record in the country at 9-0.
Lance Leipold, Buffalo coach: In eight seasons at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater, Leipold only lost six games. That's the same number of national championships he won. At Buffalo, he is 35-32 including a MAC title in 2018. The Bison (4-0) look to be the MAC's best team again this season after a 70-41 win over Kent State. In that game, running back Jaret Patterson ran for 409 yards, the second most in FBS history, and matched an FBS record with eight touchdowns. Yes, you have might figured out Leipold has been an offensive coach throughout his career.