With Strong heading to Texas, Louisville to shop prime ACC job

Clemson OC Chad Morris (left) is one of many names being thrown around for Louisville. (USATSI)
Clemson OC Chad Morris (left) is one of many names being thrown around for Louisville. (USATSI)

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Four years ago, Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich had the foresight to pursue a defensive coordinator who was struggling to find a head coaching job and make him his elixir to the Steve Kragthorpe era.

Now Jurich begins that process again, only with more to offer his replacement for the Texas-bound Strong. Jurich will couple that foresight with the allure of a program coming off 23 wins the last two seasons, resources galore and a move to the ACC.

Louisville might not be a top-10 job nationally, but it’s not outside of the top 25. The list of candidates will be extensive. There are so many directions in which Jurich could go.

The only potential detractions are Teddy Bridgewater’s departure and Strong getting out at the right time because the ACC schedule will be more difficult than the American Athletic Conference slate. But most coaches would welcome the competition of a new league. Louisville won before Strong got there, so it’s not like the program is searching for an identity. It wins but not enough where the expectations are obnoxious. A coach can have a bad month and still keep his job.

The Cardinals fought for years to escape the crumbling Big East and land in a power conference. That fact can’t be overlooked with this hire. UL will launch this era with an impressive coach, possibly a splashy hire.

Don’t be surprised if both of Strong’s coordinators, Shawn Watson and Vance Bedford, get interviews early in the process. Those would not be splashy candidates, and they probably wouldn’t get the job, but it’s generally a good practice to take a look in-house and Watson had success in tandem with Bridgewater.

Online fodder has pegged Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris as a prime candidate. He’s instant offense -- a skilled play-caller of the Gus Malzahn mold -- and could be primed for a job but is unproven as a head coach. That didn’t stop Jurich from plucking Strong from Florida. He’s unafraid to dip into the coordinator pool. Morris offers a departure from Strong’s defensive-minded group, instead aligning with the no-huddle craze that plays well to fans.  

If Jurich is paying anything close to the $3.7 million Strong was making, perhaps he’ll aim higher.

If Vanderbilt’s James Franklin is still on the board after 1,234 NFL or college interviews, he’s worth the first call. Make him say no.

Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez is worth a call. He’s happy at Arizona and has the Wildcats surging (they just landed the school’s first-ever five-star recruit). Doesn’t mean he wouldn’t at least field a call.

Jurich would be smart to comb the small-conference circuit. Start with Louisiana-Lafayette’s Mark Hudspeth and Ball State’s Pete Lembo, two frequent names on the lists of search firms. They are a combined 52-27 at their current schools. Lembo has bolstered three different programs – Elon, Lehigh, Ball State.

Duke’s David Cutcliffe could be attainable. He’s established and respected but not in the untouchable stratosphere of coaches. He seems committed to Duke, though.

Colorado State’s Jim McElwain is a former UL assistant who just recorded CSU’s first eight-win season in more than a decade. For more Mountain West flavor, Matt Wells was Louisville’s passing game coordinator in 2009 that overachieved at Utah State despite a barrage of injuries. Wells’ link to the Kragthorpe era could be a hard sell.

Fresno State’s Tim DeRuyter doesn’t have UL ties but is coming off a 20-6 campaign in two years with the Bulldogs.

What helps make a job attractive is an athletic director who’s willing to promote and pour resources into the program. Jurich is one of the best at that. Now he’d like to share Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium with a coach who shares his vision.


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