Hickey: 7 coaches to keep an eye on to replace Scott Frost at Nebraska
Scott Frost left Trev Alberts no choice. Saturday was the night Georgia Southern made the lights go out in Lincoln.
Even though it will cost him an extra $7.5 million to do it, Alberts couldn’t wait for Frost’s $15 million buyout to drop on Oct. 1. Not with Oklahoma looming.
The Sooners are Nebraska’s most ancient rival. And the optics of facing your biggest rival surrounded by the discussion “So when is Nebraska going to fire Scott Frost?” is humiliating. Oklahoma is your historic measuring stick, and Frost standing on the sidelines after losing to Georgia Southern would be a 3-hour infomercial advertising how far the Huskers are behind the Sooners.
Now the viewing audience can instead be sold a fresh start.
Mickey Joseph changes the conversation in a positive way. He’s a trailblazer as Nebraska’s first Black head coach in any sport. People will wonder how the team will respond to his voice. And as a fellow former Tom Osborne quarterback, his interim tenure represents what might be the last gasp at connecting Nebraska’s present directly with its glorious past. Because there will be a coaching search.
The following 7 coaches, including Joseph, should be on Alberts’ short list for 2023 and beyond. And remember the phrase “short list.” By no means should this be considered comprehensive; merely a starting point.
Also, if you’re looking for the name Urban Meyer: no. Nebraska can win with someone who isn’t a complete jerk. But it wouldn’t surprise me if he got chummy with folks in Lincoln this week in his role with Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff show. And his name will undoubtedly float around until a decision is made.
Mickey Joseph, interim
If there’s anyone capable of moving from interim to permanent status, it’s Joseph. He may prove capable of actually being what Nebraska thought it was getting in Frost — the prodigal son who can coach.
In 2017, Joseph joined the staff of Ed Orgeron at LSU. Orgeron had just secured that position after taking over for the fired Les Miles 5 games into the 2016 season. And 3 seasons later, the Tigers won a national title with the receiving corps Joseph recruited to play alongside Joe Burrow in LSU’s high-flying offense.
Despite being 1-2 overall and 0-1 in the Big Ten, the West division remains eminently winnable for the Huskers. As bad as Nebraska’s defense looks, it may still hold up against most of its peers in the West. And if Joseph leads the Huskers to the Big Ten championship game, it would be folly to push him aside.
It’s a long shot, but Orgeron and Dabo Swinney represent examples of guys in Joseph’s position who kept the job and got a whole lot of wins thereafter.
Matt Campbell, Iowa State
Remember the Cyclones?
Nebraska’s old Big 8/12 rival is 18-86 all-time against the Cornhuskers. But under Campbell, Iowa State has turned into a far superior program. Hired at Iowa State in 2016, he has a 44-34 overall record despite going 3-9 in his Year 1 rebuild. In 2020, Iowa State finished 9th in the country.
The lone thing missing from Campbell’s resume is a conference title, but the same could be said of every Iowa State coach since 1912. (Really, 1912.)
The New York Jets and Detroit Lions have expressed interest in Campbell, but to this point, he’s stayed put in Ames.
Nebraska has something to offer the Jets and Lions do not — a history of success. It may be getting musty, but it’s in Nebraska’s DNA. Campbell is capable of digging it out.
Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers
Rhule doesn’t appear long for the NFL. He’s 10-23 in 2 seasons at Carolina, and the Panthers have 1 of the worst rosters in the NFL this season. So that winning percentage might get even worse.
But like Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier before him, Rhule could be an NFL flameout who finds better things ahead of him when he returns to the college game. After all, this is a guy who had 2 10-win seasons at Temple.
Rhule turned scandal-plagued Baylor — a former Big 12 foe — from 1-11 in his first season to 11-3 in his third and final season. Nebraska’s culture is in a far better spot than Baylor’s was, though that could be said of virtually every college program. Which shows what an extraordinary job Rhule did in Waco.
Surely he’s capable of doing the same at Nebraska.
Chris Klieman, Kansas State
Question: If Klieman wins a Big 12 title with Adrian Martinez as quarterback, does he automatically get the Nebraska job?
He might. And the answer could very well be yes.
Klieman won 4 FCS national titles at North Dakota State, and now he might have K-State humming again. This season is big, though. He’s 13-14 in conference play in 3 Big 12 seasons, so the Wildcats need to break through for Klieman to feel like a viable candidate. But they appear more than capable through 2 weeks.
Lance Leipold, Kansas
Keeping it in the Sunflower State, Leipold would be a roll of the dice. The guy has a 4-10 record at Kansas. But that’s also what’s impressive about Leipold. The guy has a 4-10 record at Kansas!
In seriousness, Leipold cut his teeth at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater, going 109-6 in 8 seasons before taking the leap to FBS Buffalo. He did well enough turning the Bulls around to get hired at Kansas, and it’s plausible he’ll have the Jayhawks bowling in just his second season. Kansas is the only Power 5 program other than Nebraska that hasn’t made a bowl game since 2016, for what it’s worth.
Dave Aranda, Baylor
Dave Aranda is the truth, leading Baylor to its 3rd Big 12 title in his second season taking over for Rhule.
Given the state of Nebraska’s defense, hiring 1 of the country’s top defensive minds wouldn’t be a bad way to go. Aranda has Big Ten experience, spending 3 years as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator before being hired at LSU in 2016. He spent 4 seasons in Baton Rouge before getting his first head coaching gig with the Bears.
The 45-year-old Aranda will be a tough get, though. He extended his contract at Baylor through 2029, and has spoken of a preference not to uproot his family. Given the tumult of Nebraska’s coaching carousel the past 20 years, it would take a leap of faith on his part to come to Lincoln.
Dave Doeren, NC State
Doeren spent much of his career coaching within Nebraska’s natural footprint, cutting his teeth as a defensive coordinator at Kansas and Wisconsin before getting his first head coaching shot at Northern Illinois.
In just 2 seasons, Doeren had the Huskies in the Orange Bowl before getting hired at NC State, where he’s in his 10th season. With 66 wins (and counting), Doeren is No. 2 on the Wolfpack’s career wins list — and only 11 behind leader Earle Edwards.
The Wolfpack are considered a sleeper pick to win the ACC this season — something they haven’t done since 1979. If they do, landing Doeren would be quite the coup. The Doeren brand doesn’t have the same sizzle as some other candidates. NC State is always solid but rarely spectacular. But Doeren’s only had 2 losing seasons in his 11+ as a head coach. And that’s certainly an upgrade over the current situation for Nebraska.