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Potential Replacements: Who will be next in line at Notre Dame?

Michael Bryan | Tuesday, December 1, 2009

At Monday’s press conference, director of athletics Jack Swarbrick announced the search for Charlie Weis’ replacement had officially begun.

“This is a job in which there is great interest,” Swarbrick said. “It is a job in which people understand the potential that is here to return Notre Dame to a position of prominence in college football, and I’m excited to embark full bore on the process of finding the right next successor to the legacy of Rockne and Leahy and Parseghian and Holtz.”

Swarbrick denied reports that he had contacted potential replacements, but he said the search “has effectively begun.”

At this point, the discussion of who will succeed Weis is entirely conjecture. But it sure is fun, so with that, here is our list of the top candidates Swarbrick might examine in the hopes of taking the Irish back to glory.


BOB STOOPS, Oklahoma coach

Recently finishing his 11th regular season at Oklahoma, Bob Stoops has brought tremendous success back to the Sooner program since leaving his defensive coordinator position at Florida.

Stoops has won six Big 12 championships and one national title in Norman, and has a 110-25 record as Oklahoma’s head coach. He has a wealth of experience coaching a top FBS program and had led the Sooners to eight BCS bowls in 11 years.

Despite his success, Stoops has faced recent criticism for his team’s failure to show up in big games, losing their last five BCS bowl games. With his proven track record winning at a top program, Stoops figures to be one of if not the top name on Jack Swarbrick’s list.

BRIAN KELLY, Cincinnati coach

Brian Kelly has become one of the hottest coaches in college football this year, leading Cincinnati to an 11-0 record heading into Saturday’s showdown against Pittsburgh.
Recently named one of the finalists for the George Munger Award for the best coach in college football, Kelly has led the Bearcats to a 33-6 record as a head coach. Kelly’s spread offense has put up impressive numbers and led Cincinnati to a Big East title and Orange Bowl appearance last year.

Kelly also has experience turning programs around, taking Central Michigan from a three-win team to the MAC Championship and a 9-4 record in just three seasons. If interested in the Notre Dame job, Kelly will not interview or have serious talks with the Irish until after this weekend’s game against the Panthers.


GARY PATTERSON, Texas Christian coach

Another coach that has led its team to an undefeated season in 2009, Patterson led TCU to a 12-0 record and a probable BCS berth this season.

The Horned Frogs have finished with 10 or more wins in six of nine seasons under Patterson. Despite battling for local talent against local powerhouses like Texas, Texas Tech and Texas A&M, Patterson has been able to develop elite talent in Fort Worth.
Patterson’s defenses have consistently ranked near the top national teams.

BUTCH DAVIS, North Carolina coach

After leaving his post as a coordinator for the Cowboys, Davis compiled a 51-20 record at Miami from 1995-2000, helping to return the program to prominence. The Hurricanes compiled an 11-1 record in his final year, and Davis laid the foundation for their 2001 national championship.

A top recruiter, Davis has helped improve a struggling UNC program after struggling in the NFL with the Browns. He has the head coaching experience the Irish are looking for and a history of bringing in top talent.

CHRIS PETERSEN, Boise State coach

Since taking over the Boise State program in 2006, Petersen has led the Broncos to a 47-4 record and a BCS win in his four seasons as head coach.

While Peterson has the least head coaching experience of any major candidate, he has a proven track record of success and player development at Boise.

He made his first impact on the national college football scene by leading the Broncos to an undefeated record in his first season, leading the team to a Fiesta Bowl upset of Oklahoma that featured several trick plays.


KIRK FERENTZ, Iowa coach

Iowa’s coach of the last 11 seasons, Ferentz had one of the best years of his career this year, leading the Hawkeyes to a 10-2 record.

Iowa has shared two Big Ten titles under Ferentz, and made a BCS appearance in the Orange Bowl in 2002. Many major college programs and NFL teams have been rumored to have interest in Ferentz at different points in his career, but the coach has elected to stay in Iowa and currently has a contract to remain there until 2015.

PAUL JOHNSON, Georgia Tech coach

A coach the Irish are familiar with facing, Johnson has had rapid success since taking over at Georgia Tech in 2008.

While many doubted that Johnson’s triple-option offense would work in a major conference, the Yellow Jackets have compiled a 19-5 record over the past two years and will play for the ACC Championship against Clemson Saturday.

Johnson led Navy to five straight bowl berths and a 45-29 record in six seasons in Annapolis.

JIM HARBAUGH, Stanford coach

The last opponent Charlie Weis faced, Harbaugh led Stanford to one of its best seasons in years in 2009, finishing 8-4 and 6-3 in the Pac-10.

In 2007 Harbaugh led Stanford to a huge win over No. 1 USC, upsetting the Trojans 24-23 despite being a 41-point underdog. The Cardinal again beat Pete Carroll and USC this season, defeating the Trojans 55-21 and scoring the most points against USC in program history.


URBAN MEYER, Florida coach

The top candidate for the Notre Dame job in 2004, Meyer turned down the Irish for Florida and has turned the Gators into the top program in college football after a successful run at Utah.

A former Notre Dame assistant under Lou Holtz, Meyer led Florida to national championships in 2006 and 2008, and the Gators are currently No. 1 in the BCS Standings and undefeated heading into Saturday’s SEC Championship game against No. 2 Alabama.

While Meyer has in the past called Notre Dame a “dream job,” he has denied having any interest in leaving Florida and has no good reason to abandon a perennial title contender in Gainesville.


Another name suspected as a candidate after Willingham’s firing, Gruden has family connections to the Notre Dame program, as his father was an assistant under Dan Devine.
Gruden has coached as an assistant at the college level, but gained notoriety at the NFL level as the coach of the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He led Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl win in 2002 over his former team.

Most recently, Gruden has been an analyst on Monday Night Football and recently signed an extension to remain with the program. It also seems unlikely that Swarbrick and the Irish would want to sign another professional coach who has no head coaching experience at the college level.