Big Picture: Top 12 candidates to replace fired Miami coach Golden

After overseeing the worst loss in Miami history, a 58-0 destruction at the hands of Clemson, ’Canes coach Al Golden was fired Sunday. In Golden’s last 26 games at Miami, his team was 12-14 with 11 of those losses by double digits. He had plenty of talent that had gone on to the NFL. He had a gifted sophomore QB, some speed at the skill positions, but things just fizzled in Coral Gables. 

As I’ve said numerous times, Golden at Miami was just a really bad fit. A few weeks ago, I was told by sources close to the program that the ’Canes brass respects Golden a great deal and didn’t want to can him in-season, but knew deep down a change would have to be made going forward into 2016. After the way the ’Canes looked on Saturday, I suppose that changed some folks’ minds. AD Blake James said after the game he wasn’t about to make any sudden moves, but Golden was removed as the ‘Canes coach just over 24 hours after his team was dismantled by the Tigers, falling to 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the ACC.

Now, Miami is looking for its next head coach. Where might the ’Canes turn and exactly who could they land? Let’s take a closer look at who I think their most viable options might be, but first keep this in mind: There are already quite a few Power 5-conference jobs open. 

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, especially when it comes to college head coaching jobs. Different things appeal to different folks. USC is open and it is a better job than Miami. South Carolina is open, too, and I suspect several guys on my list would view it as a better job than Miami. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of how these two programs stack up: Miami has the much better recruiting base (it’s the best in the country) and it has the better history. UM has won five national titles and played for a few more in the past 32 years. South Carolina has won one conference title in its history. Back in 1969 when it was 7-4 and won the ACC. Miami’s brand — the U — still has a big NFL presence and lots of credibility with kids. 

On Sunday I’d asked Luther Campbell, the godfather of youth football, if the ’Canes pull is still strong with kids there. He said it was. "Everyone of them come up and want to play for Miami,” he said, adding that Amari Cooper and Devonta Freeman, two of the best players to come out of South Florida really wanted to play for the ’Canes, but the program dragged its feet in showing interest. “All these kids down here, their parents are ’Canes. Everyone around them are ’Canes."

South Carolina can pay a lot more than UM, perhaps as much as $2 million a year more. South Carolina, according to industry sources, also has much more realistic (or manageable) expectations. The facilities — most notably the stadium — is a much, much better situation than what Miami is dealing with. Of all of Miami’s issues, its stadium issue is the worst.

The Gamecocks also have stronger fan support. South Carolina plays in the SEC, which is the best conference in college football, and yet Carolina is in the easier side of it as a member of the East division. Then again, the Gamecocks are still only the fourth-best football job in that side behind Georgia, Florida and Tennessee; and if you include the West (behind ’Bama, LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn and maybe Arkansas), it’s probably only the ninth-best job in the league. 

People can point to shots of empty seats and knock the facilities, but the truth is Miami had those issues when it won national titles.

So without further ado, here are my top 12 candidates for Miami’s next head football coach:

BOWL WINNERS & LOSERS

1. Mario Cristobal, Alabama offensive line coach, 45: He’s spent the past three seasons working under Nick Saban and was named the National Recruiter of the Year this winter after helping the Tide reel in, among others, Calvin Ridley, Daron Payne and Minkah Fitzpatrick, three of the nation’s top freshmen. No one is any more plugged into South Florida in college coaching than Cristobal, a Miami native and former standout O-lineman at UM. Cristobal has head coaching experience, having spent six seasons transforming FIU from by far the worst program in Division I into one that went to two bowl games. He also has a good eye for coaching talent, having hired Scott Satterfield, Geoff Collins and Todd Orlando — three of the more respected up-and-comers in the college game — and played a key role in helping Greg Schiano flip Rutgers from laughing stock status.

Cristobal’s teams were fast and physical. They beat eventual co-Big East champion Louisville and then C-USA power UCF, two programs with much greater resources than FIU. At FIU, things went bad in a hurry in his final season, but a lot of that stemmed from the dysfunctional administration. Some may knock that Cristobal doesn’t have coordinator experience on his resume. Of course, neither did Jim Harbaugh, Urban Meyer or Art Briles, and things have worked out fine with those guys. 

My two cents: UM desperately needs someone with deep South Florida ties and who understands UM. Cristobal does. Maybe he could even bring a Mel Tucker along with him as his DC. His time working under Saban, and learning that organizational structure is a plus. 

2. Rob Chudzinski, Indianapolis Colts associate head coach, 47: A former star tight end at Miami and longtime ’Canes assistant and OC, Chud has been in the NFL the past decade, including one dismal season as the Browns coach. He did help put together some of the most explosive offenses in UM history and helped groom some all-time greats. He is very, very well-regarded by many inside UM, and his name comes up more than any other when you talk to ’Canes NFL types.

“I think he’s the safest option the ’Canes have at this point,” a Miami source said over the weekend. “He’s very smart. Everyone likes him and respects him."

3. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia head coach, 44: One of the sharpest offensive minds in all of football, Holgorsen comes from the Air Raid coaching tree but has shown he’s more than willing to branch out and draw up what he thinks will work, even if it means running the Power I with two fullbacks as he’s done this season. The former Iowa Wesleyan receiver has shown quite a knack for finding and developing receivers and it’d be interesting to see what he could conjure up with the talent he could get at Miami. 

"He really knows how to use talent,” said one Miami source. "It’d be like turning the light switch on." 

Holgorsen showed folks in South Florida what he can do when his Mountaineers hung 70 on Clemson in the Orange Bowl four years ago. His record since then isn’t great — he’s 31-26 overall and 3-3 this season. He has a good job at WVU, but it’s a job that has become much more of an uphill battle since WVU got into the Big 12. Aside from Iowa State and the Kansas schools, his is the toughest job in the Big 12 to get talent. At Miami, he would be able to take a much bigger stick into his conference fights. He also has a couple of guys on his staff with strong South Florida connections.

4. Greg Schiano, TV analyst, 49: He spent two seasons as the ’Canes DC under Butch Davis before going home to New Jersey where he took an awful Rutgers program and made it a perennial bowl team. Schiano does have a rep as a micromanager but he also consistently produced some of the highest academic-achieving programs in college football. He proved to be a shrewd evaluator and developer of talent at Rutgers, where many of his players have turned into excellent NFL players. He always worked hard to maintain and build a strong presence in the state of Florida. In 2006, Schiano won National Coach of the Year honors. His career record in bowls is 5-1. 

Schiano, who once passed on the Michigan head coach job before Rich Rodriguez took it, later left New Jersey for the NFL, where he struggled in two season leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to an 11-21 record.

FOX FOUR AFTER WEEK 13

5. Doc Holliday, Marshall head coach, 58: For three decades, the ex WVU, NC State and Florida assistant, proved to be one of the best recruiters in college football. A lot of that was due to his relationships around South Florida. Holliday has relied on those ties and his coaching savvy to turn the Thundering Herd back into one of the best programs outside of Power 5 football. Marshall is 30-6 since 2013 and 18-2 in league play. 

Will Holliday’s age deter some inside UM? Not sure. He also has never been part of the Miami program, which may be a negative, too.

6. Winston Moss, Green Bay Packers assistant head coach/linebackers coach, 49: Another former ’Canes standout, Moss’ name comes up a lot with old UM players as a guy Miami needs to consider. After a decade playing in the NFL, Moss — a Miami native — has been a coach in the league since 1998. He’s never been a college coach but he is very well regarded by the Packers organization. 

7. Butch Davis, TV analyst, 63: The most polarizing of any name on this list. I think he’d even be the most polarizing among UM people even if I’d included Lane Kiffin on here. Davis is an old Jimmy Johnson protégé. He took Miami and led it back from devastating sanctions and built the most talented team in college football history. Of course, he wasn’t around to coach that group in 2001 because he’d left to coach the Cleveland Browns. That didn’t go very well. Then he got the UNC job. He stockpiled the place with more first-round talent, but the school had all sorts of issues and his program imploded. His assistant John Blake was in the middle of a lot of it. Davis was cleared by the NCAA, but would a program that has been in NCAA hot water a few times hire him?

I’m hearing that’s a big stretch. “I just don’t think people trust Butch down here,” said one UM source Sunday morning. He’ll also turn 64 next month, which doesn’t help.

8. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona head coach, 52: He’s won two Big East Coach of the Year honors and won the Pac-12’s Coach of the Year last season. Rich Rod had a rough three-year stint as Michigan’s head coach before revitalizing ’Zona and leading the ‘Cats to the Pac-12 South title last year. He’s also done well with Florida kids. Arizona has limited resources, but the school has tried to do its best to ramp up support. Rodriguez, who did very well once as Clemson’s OC, could be an intriguing option for South Carolina this winter. He also figures to be in play if Frank Beamer decides this is his last season at Va. Tech, which could happen. 

9. Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky head coach, 44: The former Louisville QB spent most of the 90s bouncing around the NFL as a quarterback and spent the 2009 season as an assistant at FAU under ’Canes godfather Howard Schnellenberger. He’s 14-7 in two seasons at WKU and has impressed a lot of people in the football world along the way. His team is 6-2 in 2015 and has the nation’s No. 7 offense in yards per play and No. 9 in scoring. 

10. (tie) Tom Herman, Houston head coach, 40: He’d be higher on this list but I’m not sure Miami’s the kind of situation he’d make his jump from Houston for. The hottest name in college football coaching now, Herman has led UH to a 7-0 start after helping Ohio State win a national title despite being forced to play its third-string QB. Herman grew up in California and has spent the bulk of his coaching career in the state of Texas. He’s going to have some very good options. He’s at a program on the upswing led by a talented junior QB, Greg Ward. Recruiting’s going very well. But Herman hasn’t been thrilled that, despite the Top 25 ranking, the fan base still hasn’t really been turning out.

Miami is a better job than Houston, but the ’Canes probably can’t pay Herman that much more than he’s making right now. South Carolina certainly can. And South Carolina won’t have the attendance issues that have chaffed Herman some of late (Miami, no matter how much the ’Canes win, almost definitely will.) Who knows, if Herman keeps rolling — and UH can crack the top 10 — he might become a factor in the USC search.

10. (tie) Justin Fuente, Memphis head coach, 39: Much like Herman, I am not sold Fuente would see Miami as the kind of situation he should jump for. Fuente’s certainly done enough to earn a long look from anyone in college football though. The Tigers were a complete mess before he took over and now they’re rolling. They have a good win over Ole Miss and are undefeated this season. He was 4-8 in his first year and he’s 17-3 in his last 20 games. My hunch here is that South Carolina would seem a more intriguing option, and with more than 30 coaching jobs likely to turn over this winter, I’m skeptical that he would see Miami as the one he’d want.

TOP 25 COLLEGE FOOTBALL UNIFORMS

12. Jedd Fisch, Michigan passing game coordinator, 39: A New Jersey native, Fisch might be able to get into the mix. He was the Canes’ OC in 2011 and 2012 and UM’s offense had a spark and actually won a share of the ACC Coastal title with him. The offense went from 5.87 yards per play (No. 35) the year before he arrived to 6.46 (No. 16) in 2012. Fisch’s pedigree is very strong. He’s worked under Jim Harbaugh, Pete Carroll, Mike Shanahan and Steve Spurrier.

RANDOM STUFF

● Auburn dropped to 4-3 with its 54-46 loss in four overtimes at Arkansas. The Tigers, the SEC media’s preseason pick to win the conference, have been one of the biggest disappointments this year. New DC Will Muschamp was expected to fix what had been a very shaky defense. After all, Muschamp had good defense every place he’s run things. But so far, that’s not holding true for the Tigers. Auburn is allowing 32 yards more per game than it did last season and now ranks last in the SEC in total defense. It’s also allowing more yards per play (5.73) to rank 13th in the SEC. The Tigers are also No. 13 in sacks with just 11 in seven games. Worst of all, they’re dead last in third-down D, allowing teams to convert over 47 percent of the time. Last season, Auburn was fourth at just under 36 percent.

● I realize College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock has said that USC AD Pat Haden’s situation with searching for a new coach is “unrelated to matters affecting the committee,” but I wonder if that’s an ideal position for the CFP to take. Haden is recused from talking about USC matters in regards to the playoff, but what if the subject the committee is discussing are programs led by coaches Haden and USC are considering to be the Trojans’ next coach? Utah’s Kyle Whittingham, Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly, perhaps even Houston’s Tom Herman could all be in play. 

On one hand, Haden could help boost the stock of one of these guys by trying to make the case that he’s led his school into the playoff. On the other hand, he could also ramp up the timetable of the hiring process if those coaches’ teams aren’t in the playoff. It’s probably not fair to make the assumption Haden would do this, but it’s also not great that it’s something the CFP may have to sift through when it comes to all the perceived biases that are already out there.

● ’Bama finished 60th in the nation in sacks per game with 2.21 last year. This year, the Tide are up to No. 5 in the nation at 3.38 per game. Jonathan Allen has been a monster up front (six sacks) but so has edge rusher Tim Williams (3.5), and Ryan Anderson (2.0) has also come on. The latter two have blossomed under new OLB coach Tosh Lupoi, the old Cal and Washington D-line coach. Anderson had the game-sealing sack Saturday in the win over Tennessee. 

● Christian Hackenberg’s last five games: 10 TDs, 0 INTs. His completion rate — 53 percent — still isn’t what you’d like to see from a top quarterback talent, but this is still a good step for the junior QB who has been running for his life much of the past two seasons.

● Most overlooked coaching job in the country so far: Scott Satterfield at Appalachian State. He’s got this program rolling after a slow start in 2013. The Mountaineers are 6-1 with a shot to go 11-1 with their lone loss coming against unbeaten Clemson. Satterfield’s won 12 of his last 13 and their D held Clemson under 400 yards of offense, with ND being the only other team to do that this season. 

On Thursday, they thumped a Georgia Southern team that came in 5-1. Satterfield’s team leads the nation in red-zone defense, allowing just five scores (four of them TDs) in 17 trips for just 29 percent. To show you just how impressive what DC Nate Woody’s defense is doing this year, no team in the past seven seasons has been close to Boise State’s 50 percent mark in 2010.

● With George O’Leary retiring Sunday after UCF dropped to 0-8, there is another good coaching vacancy. For years I’ve heard from coaches who have gotten or were in the mix for Power 5 conference jobs who were intrigued by UCF and its potential. The Orlando recruiting base is terrific. The facilities are pretty good and the locale is good to lure assistants and coaching families. There will be some strong candidates lining up for this one. 

RIVALRIES RUINED BY REALIGNMENT

● Arizona, which won the Pac-12 South last season, averaged 464 yards a game in 2014. This season, the ‘Cats leads the conference in total offense at 535 and yet, ’Zona is going to struggle just to get bowl eligible. Another reason why linebacker Scooby Wright — out for almost this entire season due to injury — is so valuable.

● Hats off to Marcus Sayles, who blocked his fifth kick of the season over the weekend. Sayles isn’t some 6-foot-8 defender looming in the middle of the line to snuff out field goals and PATs. He’s a 5-10 guy with some great burst. He also plays for one of the best-kept secrets in coaching, 35-year-old Will Hall at West Georgia. Hall, the 2003 Harlon Hill Award winner as the best D2 player in the country, took over a program that only had one winning season in the previous 13 years. Hall led West Georgia to a 12-3 mark in his debut season and is 8-0 now and on the brink of being No. 1 in D2. No opponent has gotten closer than 21 points to West Georgia this season. By the way, Hall coached Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler when he was at West Alabama, where he was 25-11 in three seasons.

● Stat of the Day: There have been eight 300-yard all-purposes games this season. Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey has produced five of them — with three of them coming in his past four games. Only one of the other three non-McCaffrey 300s came against a Power 5 opponent. That was from Rutgers’ Janarion Grant against Washington State, Stanford’s next opponent.

● Stat of the Day, Take II: Penn State’s Carl Nassib, who arrived as a walk-on, has 12.5 sacks this season. That’s more than 37 teams.

● Stat of the Day, Take III: Washington State, after going to Arizona to beat the Wildcats, now owns road wins over both teams that played in last season’s Pac-12 title game. More importantly, WSU has now won three Pac-12 games in a row for the first time in 12 years. Sophomore QB Luke Falk, who came to WSU as a walk-on, has 1,426 yards, 16 TDs and two INTs over this three-game stretch.

Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for FOXSports.com and FS1. He is also a New York Times best-selling author. His new book, “The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks,” came out in October 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB and Facebook.