RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State director of athletics Debbie Yow began her search for a new football coach before even meeting with the media Sunday to discuss why she dismissed Tom O’Brien and answer questions about the impending pursuit for his replacement.
Yow even voluntarily went out of her way to inform the masses that Vanderbilt’s James Franklin is not a candidate for the position. Yow has known Franklin for 12 years and named him the coach-in-waiting at Maryland several years ago when she held the same post there.
Franklin has done exceptionally well at Vanderbilt, going 14-11 in two seasons at the only private university in the Southeastern Conference. Vanderbilt will play in its third bowl in 30 years this season, and second straight in Franklin’s two years at the helm. Speculation has run rampant in recent days he is Yow’s top choice. Maybe he was, but Yow said Sunday that Franklin is content remaining as the Commodores’ coach.
“I promise you that James is not interested,” said Yow, who admitted texting with Franklin on Saturday, the day his team ripped Wake Forest to improve to 8-4. “If you read what James says about Vanderbilt, he’s in the midst of doing something special.”
When pressed, Yow wouldn’t say if she’s directly asked if he was interested in the job. And when pressed further, Yow replied, “I’m really not going to talk anymore about my communications with my long-term friend of 12 years. I think I’ve made it clear he’s not in the mix.”
So let’s operate as if Franklin isn’t a candidate, what kind of coach is Yow looking for?
Age isn’t an issue, as Yow noted some older coaches have great energy, and she isn’t dismissing the idea of hiring a coordinator with no head coaching experience. Yow hired Ralph Friedgen, a man with no head coaching experience at the time, at Maryland in 2000 and he delivered an Orange Bowl in his initial season.
She wants someone who is more hands-on than O’Brien was, maybe a personality that publicly rallies the troops better than the dry and often-stoic O’Brien. Most important, however, Yow wants the following:
“Unrelenting belief and passion and energy that N.C. State can do something special and become a player, legally without cheating, in the Top 25,” she said. “Not every now and then, not every five years, not every six years, but more years than not, that this individual and his staff can put us in position to be a Top-25 program.”
Most schools not named Alabama, Ohio State, LSU and the like want the same things, but delivering it is difficult when 60 other programs have the same stated missions. But Yow believes one of the great differences in the programs that reach those goals and those that don’t is recruiting.
Once a college basketball coach herself, Yow lays it out there when it comes to getting players that can push a program over the top. She also recognizes the recruiting game has changed, and success today requires adapting with the times.
“I have a great deal of respect for people who are aggressive, assertive recruiters, because I believe that in this day and age it’s required,” she said. “There is a model that used to work when head coaches became involved later in the process to, as we called it, ‘close the deal,’ and that’s no longer the case.”
The third-year athletic director didn’t dismiss the idea of considering coaches that have had publicly-known flaws, such as extramarital affairs (like former Arkansas and Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, though his name wasn’t noted).
“None of us is perfect,” she said, later adding, “It depends on all of the circumstances and the individual, I don’t think you just draw a conclusion.”
Yow, who made some inquires about a few coaches and spoke to at least one agent Sunday afternoon, says she will be candid regarding what they are facing at N.C. State. She is already calling the job a “rebuilding process,” noting it’s losing a great deal of important seniors.
But she’s committed to finding the best coach for the program. The fans deserve it, Yow says.
“Over the years we’ve asked our fans to stretch themselves in all kinds of support,” she said. “That’s why we now have what I consider to be a spectacular Murphy Center and an improved Carter-Finley Stadium we can offer no less to them in return, we have to stretch ourselves by becoming overachievers on the field and in the classroom.”
An indoor practice facility has been approved, which will help. But first Yow must sell the next head coach on herself, the N.C. State community and the program’s potential. And that process is well under way.
The following are five names that likely are on Yow’s short list. Some may have already been contacted:
Butch Jones, Cincinnati: At 44, Jones is in his third year at Cincinnati where he has an overall record of 22-14, but he’s 18-6 the last two seasons. He went 27-13 in three seasons at Central Michigan. Jones replaced Brian Kelly at Central Michigan and then again at Cincy.
Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech: Dykes, 43, played baseball, not football, at Texas Tech, but his father, Spike Dykes, is a legend in Lubbock for his days running the Red Raiders’ football program. Dykes is 22-14 in his third season at Tech, including a 9-2 mark this season.
Dave Doeren, Northern Illinois: Doeren, 40, has a 22-4 mark in two seasons at Northern Illinois, but no other head coaching experience. But he has coached at Kansas, Wisconsin and USC. He took over a mediocre program and made it competitive immediately.
Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky: Just 35, Taggart, who coached at Stanford before taking over his alma mater WKU three years ago, has done an amazing job building the Hilltoppers, who are in their sixth year as an FBS program. They were 2-10 in his first season and 7-5 the last two campaigns.
Chad Morris, Clemson: Unlike the other four coaches on this list, Morris, 43, is still an assistant. As Clemson’s offensive coordinator, he has guided the Tigers to their two most prolific offensive seasons in school history. But he’s only been a college assistant for three years. Before a year at Tulsa in 2010, Morris won multiple state championships in Texas, taking two different high schools to titles. He’s also the highest paid assistant in the nation making $1.3 million annually.