Commentary

Candidates Notre Dame might consider

Updated: November 30, 2009, 7:17 PM ET
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

Charlie Weis is out as Notre Dame's coach.

Fighting Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick will start the search for Weis' successor very soon. After failing to find consistency under each of its last three coaches, Notre Dame faces one of the most important coaching searches in its storied history.

Here are some candidates Notre Dame might consider:

Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Why he's the right guy: Ferentz is a Bill Belichick disciple who has long been regarded as one of the best coaches in the country. He has an 80-55 record at Iowa and always seems to get the most out of his teams.

Ferentz's preferred style of play -- a strong running game and stingy defense -- seems to fit Notre Dame's needs. His Iowa teams were at their best from 2002 to '04, when the Hawkeyes won 10 games or more in three straight seasons. This year's Iowa team overcame myriad injuries to finish 10-2 and position itself for a BCS at-large spot.

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallKirk Ferentz has led Iowa to a 10-2 record this season and a possible BCS bowl spot.

Why it won't work: Ferentz is a former offensive line coach and there isn't much about his teams that is flashy. After his solid three-year run in the early 2000s, the Hawkeyes lost five games or more in three consecutive seasons from 2005 to '07.

Ferentz also has pretty embedded roots at Iowa. His son James was a redshirt freshman offensive lineman on Iowa's football team this season, and two other children attend the university.

Jim Harbaugh, Stanford

Why he's the right guy: Harbaugh is young, good-looking and has Midwestern roots after playing quarterback at both Michigan and for the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts in the NFL. He also comes from a strong coaching pedigree; his father, Jack, was a longtime coach at Western Kentucky and his brother, John, is head coach of the Baltimore Ravens.

Harbaugh was a winner in his first coaching stop at FCS program San Diego, with a three-year record of 29-6. He took over one of the worst programs in the country at Stanford, but led the Cardinal to an 8-4 record this season. Harbaugh has twice upset Southern California, one of Notre Dame's biggest rivals, and would probably like to stick it to Michigan, his alma mater, as well.

Why it won't work: Harbaugh, 45, might be a little too brash and confident for Notre Dame's tastes. He took USC head-on and wasn't afraid to run up the score against the Trojans this season. He also questioned Michigan's academic programs for its student-athletes.

Notre Dame fans probably still remember what happened the last time the Irish hired a Stanford coach; Tyrone Willingham was fired after only three seasons.

Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech

Why he's the right guy: Johnson has won at every stop in his coaching career, from Georgia Southern to Navy to Georgia Tech. In his final season at Navy, Johnson helped the Midshipmen end a 43-game losing streak to the Fighting Irish. He also turned around the Yellow Jackets' fortunes this season, leading them to a 10-2 record and an ACC Coastal Division title.

Why it won't work: Johnson's triple-option spread offense isn't for everyone and it might not be sexy enough for the Fighting Irish. Weis recruited players suited for his pass-happy offense, so there might be a big adjustment going to the triple option (although Johnson has won consistently with all kinds of players).

Brian Kelly, Cincinnati

Why he's the right guy: What Kelly has accomplished in three seasons at Cincinnati is nothing short of miraculous. The Bearcats are No. 5 in the BCS standings and will finish the regular season with a 12-0 record and will win a second straight Big East title if they beat Pittsburgh on the road on Saturday.

Kelly
AP Photo/David KohlBrian Kelly has Cincinnati positioned to win its second straight Big East title.

Kelly is the reigning two-time Big East Coach of the Year, after guiding the Bearcats to a 10-3 record in 2007 and 11-3 in '08. Last season, Cincinnati won 11 games for the first time in school history, captured a Big East title and played in a BCS bowl game for the first time.

Kelly also led Central Michigan to the 2006 Mid-American Conference championship and guided Grand Valley State in Michigan to two NCAA Division II national titles.

Kelly is Catholic and has spent nearly his entire coaching career in the Midwest. He has an affable personality and gets along well with alumni and media, which is important under the spotlight of Notre Dame football.

Why it won't work: In June, Kelly signed a new five-year contract at Cincinnati that pays him about $1.4 million annually, plus incentives, though he has no buyout.

Cincinnati officials are doing everything possible to keep him, with the athletic department pledging to upgrade the Bearcats' practice facilities. Cincinnati is also exploring ways to expand Nippert Stadium, the third-smallest stadium in FBS football.

Kelly also might have an easier road reaching BCS bowl games at Cincinnati than he would at Notre Dame.

Urban Meyer, Florida

Why he's the right guy: What's not to like about him? Meyer has guided Florida to two of the past three BCS national championships, and currently has the No. 1 Gators positioned to win back-to-back BCS titles this season.

Florida has won 22 games in a row and has gone 32-8 in the rugged SEC the past five seasons. Meyer is considered one of the game's best offensive minds and also built winning programs at Bowling Green and Utah.

Just as important, Meyer understands the Notre Dame job after working there as wide receivers coach under former coaches Lou Holtz and Bob Davie from 1996 to 2000. Plus, Meyer is Catholic, was named after a pope and grew up in the Midwest.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Don McPeak/US PresswireUrban Meyer chose Florida over Notre Dame in 2004, when he left Utah.

Why it won't work: Meyer is already one of college football's highest-paid coaches after signing a new six-year, $24 million contract in August. Notre Dame can't woo him with much more in terms of money, although his buyout at Florida is only $500,000.

Meyer already has one of the best (if not the best) jobs in college football, with a fertile recruiting base in his home state and improved facilities.

Meyer turned down Notre Dame in 2004, when he left Utah to become Florida's coach. But he might be more willing to leave Florida now, with quarterback Tim Tebow and the winningest senior class in SEC history departing after this season.

Meyer told reporters in Gainesville, Fla., last week that he's not interested in coaching at Notre Dame.

"I'm ready to dispel it," Meyer said. "I'm going to be the coach at Florida as long as they'll have me. So I want to make that clear."

Gary Patterson, TCU

Why he's the right guy: If Notre Dame wants to go back to trying to win games with defense, it would be difficult to find a better choice than Patterson, a former TCU defensive coordinator. His teams have led the country in total defense three times in the past nine seasons.

TCU's defense again ranks among the country's best this season, and it's a big reason why the Horned Frogs finished the regular season with a 12-0 record. TCU is No. 4 in the BCS standings and will play in its first BCS bowl game.

Why it won't work: Patterson seems content to finish his career at TCU and isn't in a hurry to jump to another job. He coached at nine schools before becoming the Horned Frogs' defensive coordinator in 1998 and told ESPN.com that he's "seen enough moving vans to last a lifetime." Patterson said he would leave TCU only for a "really, really special place."

Chris Petersen, Boise State

Why he's the right guy: Few coaches have won more than Petersen since he replaced Dan Hawkins as Boise State's coach before the 2006 season. Petersen has guided the Broncos to at least 10 victories in each of the past four seasons. If Boise State beats New Mexico State on Saturday, it will finish the regular season with an unblemished record for the third time in four seasons.

Petersen's offenses are innovative and fun to watch, and he has guided the Broncos to a couple of upsets of bigger programs from BCS conferences. In his first season, Boise State rallied to upset Oklahoma 43-42 in overtime in the Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos upset Oregon 19-6 in this season's opener.

Why it won't work: Petersen might be reluctant to leave Boise State after watching Hawkins' struggles at Colorado and former Broncos coach Dirk Koetter's struggles at Arizona State. Notre Dame might also be hesitant to hire a coach who has produced much of his success playing against WAC schools and lesser teams.

Petersen is a California native who spent all but one season of his coaching career working at schools west of the Mississippi River (he worked the 1992 season as quarterbacks coach at Pittsburgh).

Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

Why he's the right guy: Stoops was considered one of the sport's best defensive coordinators before he was named Oklahoma's coach prior to the 1999 season. He was groomed by many of the game's best coaches, including Iowa's Hayden Fry, Kansas State's Bill Snyder, and ex-Florida and current South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.

Stoops was raised in the Midwest and comes from one of the sport's most famous coaching families. He has recruited mid-America well. Stoops turned around a struggling Oklahoma program in only two seasons, beating FSU 13-2 in the 2001 Orange Bowl to win a national championship.

Why it won't work: Stoops seems happy at Oklahoma, which is paying him $3.675 million annually. And although Stoops has compiled a 116-29 record in 11 seasons at Oklahoma, he has recently lost his moniker of "Big Game Bob." The Sooners have lost their last five appearances in BCS bowl games, including a 24-14 loss to Florida in the 2009 BCS National Championship Game.

After myriad injuries, the Sooners finished 7-5 this season, matching Stoops' worst record in Norman.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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