Friday, January 21, 2022

LSU coaching search: Brian Kelly, Jimbo Fisher, Dave Aranda, NFL coaches top candidates list, version 2.0

Raise your hand if you thought LSU would be the last major job opening to be filled. That is assured now that USC was able to land Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma and Florida locked up Louisiana’s Billy Napier.

Whether it matters will depend on who LSU gets. Whether the Tigers had contacted the former Sooners coach — or how far the two parties had gotten in negotiations (if at all) — may never be known. But there is a sense that the program must start over in some sense.

It’s been 43 days since Ed Orgeron was fired. There’s 16 days remaining until the early signing period begins. As such, it’s fair to assume athletic director Scott Woodward is in some kind of scramble mode. Riley is off the board. Have Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell or Iowa State’s Matt Campbell ever been interested? 

The situation now sort of suggests LSU is waiting for a coach in College Football Playoff contention or potentially one from the NFL. That means LSU would probably have to wait into January to make that type of move. Would Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly consider making a move to the SEC? Can recruiting be sustained until then? Is there a “whale” out there who satisfies Woodward’s intent to “go big”?

Let’s take a look at our version 2.0 of LSU’s coaching candidates list.

Brian Kelly, Notre Dame coach: It’s never a bad time to leverage for a contract extension, staff salary increases or facilities upgrades. CBS Sports reported Monday that Kelly has been targeted by LSU. If the aforementioned is Kelly’s motivation, good or him. He’s certainly underpaid (comparatively) after becoming the winningest coach in Notre Dame history and once again getting the FIghting Irish in the College Football Playoff chase. As long as Woodward if shooting for the moon, Kelly’s name has to be here. 

Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M coach: Fisher still has to be considered until this search is concluded. He has twice declared emphatically that he is staying at Texas A&M, but it ain’t over until it’s over. An extension signed before the season with the Aggies is fully guaranteed at an average of $9.5 million, but Woodward is close to Fisher, who wouldn’t owe Texas A&M a dime if he left on his own. Aggies won’t want to hear this, but LSU is a better job, and Fisher has ties there having won a national championship under Nick Saban in 2003.

Bill O’Brien, Alabama offensive coordinator: This job might fall right in Obie’s lap. The accomplished college (Penn State) and NFL (Houston Texans) coach has enhanced his reputation in half a season at Alabama. Quarterback Bryce Young is almost certain to head to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. The offense he leads is No. 1 in SEC scoring (42.7 points per game) and touchdowns (66). O’Brien is having a magnificent bounce-back year after being fired by the Texans. If the bigger college names fall through, O’Brien would be a value hire. 

Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss coach: Hey, he’s done it once; why not again? It’s one thing, though, leaving Tennessee for USC. What about dropping one SEC West program for another? Kiffin survived a trip back to Tennessee — barely — where he was one and done. A move to LSU might be more outrageous considering it would be within the division. Here’s how the talks move along quickly: Kiffin promises Spencer Rattler will arrive via the transfer portal. It just got a lot more complicated with Kiffin’s name emerging at Oklahoma. 

Urban Meyer, Jacksonville Jaguars coach: Perhaps this does nothing more than elicit a denial from Urb at his next press conference. And let’s not forget that athletic director poll conducted earlier in the season when almost three-quarters of ADs said they would not hire Meyer. “Not in a million years,” said one referring to the coach’s well-known baggage. But the list of college coaches who have succeeded in the NFL is small, and the Jags are 2-9 in Meyer’s first season. The man knows the SEC. Because of that, he knows LSU. He also has nearly his entire coaching staff from his two national championship wins at Florida either already under his employ or available should he want to make a move back to the college game. Meyer would qualify as that NFL “whale” hire.

Matt Campbell, Iowa State coach: Campbell has been just elusive enough to suggest he isn’t absolutely totally committed to returning to Iowa State. He started referring to himself in the third person in an interview with the Des Moines Register over the weekend. “So far, Matt Campbell hasn’t talked to anybody.” Asked what he’s saying to recruits, Campbell told the Register, “It’s not even remotely a conversation [about leaving].” After what we just witnessed with Riley, never say never.

Luke Fickell, Cincinnati coach: If moving to Los Angeles for a native Ohioan with six kids was an issue, think about Fickell going to LSU. If “it just means more” in the SEC, it really means more at LSU. Look, Fickell is a longshot, but a frustrated fan base can dream can’t it? You’d better believe the guy can coach. But Fickell’s future seemingly is down to two scenarios: continue to win and build and wait for the Big 12 at Cincinnati or fill the only other major opening. Any suitor might have to wait until the second week of January if Cincinnati goes to the CFP.

Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers coach: If Rhule (10-18 in the NFL) is disillusioned with professional game less than two years into it, LSU would be a logical landing spot. Remember, also less than two years ago, Baylor was an overtime loss away to Oklahoma away from going to the College Football Playoff. Rhule is a master rebuilder. All the pieces are already in place at LSU. 

Joe Brady, Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator: The risk here is that Brady has never been a head coach. Not even close, really. In that magical 2019 season, Brady shared play calling duties with Steve Ensminger. He got the job after spending two seasons as an offensive assistant with the New Orleans Saints, and now he’s in his second season with the Panthers. Is he too young at age 32? It might not matter if Brady gains traction among Tiger Nation. Think of David Lee Roth coming back to Van Halen. Sammy Hagar just didn’t get it done.

Dave Aranda, Baylor coach: CBS Sports reported last week that LSU’s former defensive coordinator is expected to sign an extension as soon as next week. If not, Aranda has to at least be in the conversation. While quarterback Joe Burrow and crew were setting offensive records, Aranda coached freshman All-American cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., All-American safety Grant Delpit and linebacker Jacob Phillips (SEC leader in tackles). Aranda is one of the brightest defensive minds in the game, but is his personality magnetic for this job?

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