In one of the big surprises of the still relatively young 2016 college football offseason, Illinois fired former interim-then-"permanent" head coach Bill Cubit and his son, offensive coordinator Ryan Cubit, Saturday morning.
Though no one felt Cubit was long for the Illini -- his contract, along with Minnesota head coach Tracy Claeys's, were both so short and relatively modest in compensation that many criticized the deals as effective coaching search punts -- no one foresaw the Illini's successor to Tim Beckman fired a month after National Signing Day.
While it's still pretty early to know what's next for the Illini, new Illinois AD Josh Whitman is already under the microscope for not letting the players know before announcing the decision to the media as well as terminating Cubit while football recruits were on campus.
With the Illini's new athletic director clearly not afraid to put his own fingerprints on the program he once played tight end for, the next logical question is who might replace Cubit. According to Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel, a couple of coaches with Ohio State ties could be in the mix:
Names for Illinois: Leslie Frazier, P.J. Fleck, Jim Tressel, Ed Warinner, Todd Monken, Brock Spack, Al Golden and Troy Calhoun.— Pete Thamel (@SIPeteThamel) March 5, 2016
Tressel is particularly speculative given a variety of reasons that have been covered as nauseam:
-- He's still under a show cause until after this season. Though it's possible the NCAA will be forgiving, given the current climate in college athletics and punishments handed out in like cases since, it'd be a pretty interesting PR gamble to bring in a guy who could bring immediate negative NCAA attention immediately after firing Tim Beckman for alleged abusive practices
-- He's gone on the record so many times that he's happy facing the challenges he has as president of Youngstown State and given how he came into that job in the first place -- his predecessor left after barely any time on the job at all -- even though Tressel's now been firmly entrenched there for a hot second, the writing on the wall would suggest he is highly unlikely to leave YSU in lurch.
-- He might not even be that effective. Though he's a great established coach, master talent evaluator, and effective recruiter, the way he left Ohio State would usher in a ton of extra scrutiny and negative recruiting alike. He'd probably be capable of overcoming that adversity, but why introduce new disadvantages to a circumstance that already has more than its fair share?
Warinner, on the other hand, does make some sense. The former Kansas assistant head coach and Notre Dame o-line coach doesn't have head coaching experience, but he's been in the mix for ones like KU and Army in recent years and could well follow Tom Herman and Chris Ash's footsteps as a Buckeye coordinator who gets his own program in the not too distant future.
While Ash certainly has an uphill battle in his own right at Piscataway, Warinner would be stepping into a difficult but arguably less daunting one and have some pieces at his disposal to play for a bowl berth out the gates. It's by no means a perfect first head coaching gig and would certainly carry along with it expectations and a decent amount of professional risk, but it's one Warinner would have the potential to do a good job at.
So will either of these guys ultimately get the gig? We wouldn't bet on it. For Whitman to make a move so ostensibly brash, one has to think he already has a name or two in mind and it probably isn't either of these two. Someone like P.J. Fleck, not initially named by Thamel but someone who'd be a high upside hire should they decide to go that direction, would make more sense than either and even many of the names already checked early on in this process.
Illinois (as well as their next head coach) certainly has their work cut out for them, but you probably shouldn't expect a current or recent former Buckeye coach to be part of the solution to their issues.