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The Texas Head Coaching Hire: The Candidates For 2014

A Lucky 13.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Let's do it.

The Pipe Dreams

Fueled by opium as much as optimism...

Jim Harbaugh

Dream hire. He'd absolutely murder it here, our opponents would despise us in a really enjoyable way, and we'd have a blast while winning lots of football games. Harbaugh views the NFL as the top of the heap and he's in a great situation with the 49ers, but anyone who thinks they have perfect insight into Harbaugh's motivations is delusional. Our best hope is an early playoff exit and a blow up with 49ers management. Hail Mary candidate.

Nick Saban

I don't need to sell you on The Process Dwarf. He's a short term solution, but he'd elevate the program.

My Dark Horses (Who Might Be Secretariat)

Gary Andersen

If you're someone who believes that the 50 best football coaches in America are perfectly matched to the 30 head coaching jobs in the NFL and the top 20 jobs in college football, then I'm sure you're mystified that I continue to pump someone who came up the hard way from Utah State and has only one indeterminate year at Wisconsin.

Let me humbly suggest to you that coaching jobs and coaching ability do not cohere into a perfectly rational market.

My evidence? WATCHING ALL FOOTBALL EVER.  Here's the lowdown on Andersen.

Mark Dantonio

(Well, he was a dark horse when I started the article last night)

He's motivating, sharp and substantial. He's a terrific football coach (63-29 at Michigan State, a badass DC at Ohio State who won Tressel his MNC) and I like what he's done at a middle class Big 10 program. The Spartans were 38-45 in the seven years before Dantonio's arrival.

The downside to Dantonio is physical - he's had a mild heart attack, a blood clot, and he's 57 years old.

He'd probably kill it here. Or here would kill him.

It Makes Perfect Sense But Something Feels Slightly Off That We Can't Explain

Mike Gundy

I made my case for him. Get past the Golf Prick image (which I may have helped create ) and his record is strong. This is typically where someone mentions that he doesn't beat OU. Because apparently if he were coaching at Texas with his pick of recruits and limitless resources he'd have to play OU every year with Oklahoma State's team.  

Art Briles

He's a good pure coach and I'm as sold on his eye for talent and personnel development as his Xs and Os. Soooo...elephant in the room. There are mutterings about Briles when he was at Stephenville.  Absent hard data and knowing that rival Texas high school coaches are often jealous rumormongers when opponents are kicking their asses, I'm not sure what to think about those old ghosts.  He's also 58 years old.

Wait...Why Is He Coming Here Again?

David Shaw

He's tied deeply to Stanford, genuinely wants to affect the lives of young men at a special place, and is already making millions of dollars a year at a successful program with minimal pressure. Another few million dollars a year means what exactly? Some men can't be bought. Viewing all outcomes through dollar maximization isn't a universal standard shared by all. Maybe the decline of Texas football should remind us of that fact.

Jimbo Fisher

The most overrated aspect of Fisher is his offensive acumen, which I think is more solidly NFL conventional than spectacular and innovative. The most underrated aspect of Fisher is his eye for talent, developmental regime, and a tireless approach to recruiting. He certainly saw what complacency looked like during the Bowden decline - I'm sure cleaning up Texas would feel like familiar territory.

FSU is a top 10 job. It's rare that coaches move within the Top 10 - at least without an Urban Meyer fleeing after realizing he'd recruited a roster of thugs "retirement" or a failed Nick Saban style NFL journey in-betwixt. What's his motivation? And if the deal is that that he wears on people and can't get along in Tallahassee, why would he do any better here? I'm fairly ambivalent on Fisher for reasons I can't fully rationalize. I think it's that I don't want a coach named Jimbo.  

Bill O'Brien

He'll be coaching in Texas, but not in Austin.

The Ceiling Is High, But The Valley Is Low

Want to go really fast with a chance of crashing into the wall? This category is for you.

Gus Malzahn

An extraordinary offensive mind. I'm in awe of him. Truly. Imagine what that offense looks like in Year 4 with players of his choosing. Can he build out a staff, delegate authority, limit the drama that seems to characterize his career, and rein in his wife's so-goddamn-crazy? He's an enticingly weird mix of the total unknown and absolute certainty. Fill me with enough peach wine coolers and a few huffs of paint thinner and I'll roll the dice on this bad boy.  I can promise you the results will be exciting.  In any possible definition of the word.

Charlie Strong

Strong is a good defensive football coach and an utterly unpolished country boy. Flawlessly conducted press conferences would be a thing of the past. I don't particularly mind as I don't have the emotional need for my head football coach to serve as my confidante, small town mayor, and British House of Commons wit, but it would be a fascinating redefinition of program culture.  I think he's a good man and coach whose rough edges may not cut light well under a brighter spotlight. Can we deal with that? Can he?

Jim Mora

He's at exactly the right job. Great recruiter, has embraced the college environment, good player relations, and has restored pride to the Bruins in a medium-expectation environment. Sky high expectations, relentless pressure, and the constant criticism at Texas might reveal the NFL Jim Mora of Atlanta and Seattle who was an embarrassingly petulant weenie. I'm happy for the guy.  I hope he has the good sense to stay in a sweet spot.

James Franklin

I shot some holes in his candidacy a while back and I'll be totally candid here. While I have no doubt that his ceiling could be extraordinary - a possible 20 year hire coaching legend - in my estimation, there is no candidate with a greater chance for self-implosion.  

Franklin has an enormous amount of self-confidence combined with mediocre offensive acumen and a tendency towards extreme micromanagement. That combo is a red flag at Texas.  If he can't sublimate some of the attributes that serve him so well as the pesky underdog, he'll undermine the natural advantages of the program. An inability to delegate to elite assistants, hubris, and a stubborn refusal to adapt his offense past the "let's hope the opponent makes a mistake" Vanderbilt formula might mean a very ugly stay in Austin.  If that doesn't happen, my guess is that he'd probably be a home run.


Outside of my delusional love of Harbaugh, there is no perfect candidate.  But in a job where the ceiling is naturally high if you're simply competent, my instincts are to avoid some of the most beguiling incomplete resume candidates - even if their upside is extraordinary. If the next coach doesn't succeed here, I'd wager it's more likely from personal self-implosion than anything else.  I'd reckon that one of Steve Patterson's hiring goals would be to minimize that potential.

While a Mark Dantonio or Gary Andersen might underwhelm the hoopleheads, an unexciting hire might be just what we need.