An already crazy coaching search season got even more volatile this morning, as Minnesota announced that head coach Jerry Kill would be retiring, effective immediately, due to health concerns. This makes Minnesota the third Big Ten position open, joining Illinois and Maryland, and the eight to open nationally, which is pretty crazy seeing as it isn't even November yet. It isn't a stretch to think that at least 20 FBS head coaching positions could turn over before National Signing Day, depending on what happens with the NFL, and Minnesota, Maryland and Illinois might not be the only Big Ten teams looking for new coaches.
Minnesota probably wishes they weren't competing for a new coach in such a crowded market, as this gig doesn't seem to have the raw upside of a UCF, the booster potential of a Maryland or the sheer money of a South Carolina. The university paid Kill $2.5 million which is good for seventh among listed Big Ten coaches, just ahead of Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, and just behind Nebraska's Mike Riley. That's not bad money, but it also probably means Minnesota is going to back up the proverbial money truck to bring in a big name. Also, Minnesota spent a little over $2.3 million on their assistant pool, paced by $600,000 for (now interim head coach) Tracy Claeys and $550,000 for Matt Limegrover. Again, not big money, but not out of line for the middle of the Big Ten.
The Gophers play in the easier side of the Big Ten, play in a new stadium, and can claim palpable program momentum and real fan support, which isn't something that all of their Big Ten peers can say. The program also isn't wanting for facilities, with a solid football complex, and of course, a Big Ten TV contract. There's a lot to like about this job, and would make it attractive for coaching candidates.
But of course, it isn't without its downsides. The biggest is probably recruiting, as Minnesota isn't a very talent-rich state for prep talent, and whoever the Gophers bring in is going to need to do some traveling to find prospects. Even with many of their divisional peers facing similar geographic struggles, it is likely that Minnesota is going to be at a raw talent disadvantage to Wisconsin and Nebraska -- and some years, Illinois and Northwestern as well. Minnesota hasn't won "big" in a very long time either. The Gophers haven't finished a season in the AP Top 25 since 2003, and have only done it twice since 1963. You can make bowl games there, but it's unclear if anybody can do a lot more than that.
There's also the matter of Minnesota not having a permanent athletic director at the moment, after Norwood Teague had to resign in scandal. At today's press conference, the school said they will look for an AD before they find a new football coach, which would make sense. A candidate would want to know who their boss is going to be.
So this may not be an outstanding job, but it's certainly not a bad one. It might not be shiny enough to grab the hottest coaching names of this cycle, but that doesn't mean there won't be interest, from both established former coaches (like an Al Golden, Brady Hoke, etc), successful mid-major and FCS coaches, or big time coordinators.
Given how successful former Ohio State assistants Tom Herman (Houston) and Everett Withers (James Madison) have been this season, and given how well Urban Meyer has hired for his staff, Minnesota may be well served to look towards Columbus to fill Jerry Kill's shoes.
There are two Ohio State assistants who jump off the page as possible head coaching candidates. The most likely might be Ohio State's co-DC, Chris Ash. Ash has lots of experience in the Western side of the Big Ten, having coached at Wisconsin, (as well as Iowa State and Drake, his alma mater), and has canvassed most of the midwest for Ohio State. His turnaround of a moribund secondary in a short amount of time was a major reason the Buckeyes won the national title last season, and are in a position to compete for another one.
He also wants to be a head coach, as he interviewed for the Colorado State opening last season. Ash doesn't have the reputation for being an exceptionally flashy recruiter, but he's done an excellent job of teaching and developing talent, which might be more important at Minnesota. When you combine that his background and his coaching pedigree, he could be an excellent fit for the Gophers. He's also almost assuredly within their budget.
Another potential candidate could be Ohio State co-OC Ed Warinner. His promotion from offensive line coach, and his juggling duties with Ohio State co-OC and QB coach Tim Beck has not gone without hiccups this season, but nobody can deny the exceptional coaching job he did with Ohio State's linemen last season, creating an absolutely devastating rushing attack. Like Ash, Warinner has ties to the western side of the midwest (he's coached at Illinois and Kansas), and could also bring Ohio ties to the Gophers. Warinner knows a thing or two about having to get by with less, having coached for several years at Army, and has also interviewed for head coaching positions elsewhere (Army, Kansas). Given what Minnesota wants to do offensively, Warinner could also be somebody Minnesota takes a look at.
That isn't to say that those would be the only coaches on staff who might want to jump at a head coaching opportunity. Luke Fickell has interviewed elsewhere before, and now that the image of Ohio State's defense has been rehabilitated a bit, perhaps he might want to look at a MAC position should one open. Tim Beck is new to Ohio State's staff, but maybe he might be interested in North Texas, or a similar caliber position. When you've been as successful as Ohio State, other schools, or the NFL, will constantly come calling, and it would be a shock if Urban Meyer is able to keep this entire group together for another season.
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Minnesota should have a solid group of candidates to pick from, and after a disastrous immediate post-Glen Mason era, Minnesota can now claim an identity, and a sense of momentum. They just need the right leader to sustain that. Who knows? Maybe that answer is waiting in Columbus.