The dust has settled in Tucson and the search for the next head coach of Arizona Football is officially underway.
OK -- so maybe the dust never technically settles in Tucson, but you get the point. For the second time in less then three years, the University of Arizona is without a leader for one of their two primary athletic programs. While just about every name in the country will be mentioned for the vacancy sometime in the coming months, here is a look at some of the more likely candidates that could take over the job next season.
Coaches Currently Employed:
Chris Petersen, Boise State -- Hey, we can dream can't we? Petersen has turned the Boise State Broncos and their smurf turf into a perennial powerhouse and his name has been linked to every job opening in the last three years. He is friends with Greg Byrne as well. Unfortunately, Petersen knows he has a great thing going in Idaho and it's tough to imagine him making his way down to Tucson.
Rod Caragher, San Diego -- Caragher may not be a big name to UA fans, but he appears to be a legitimate candidate for the job. He knows the area well, he knows Greg Byrne personally from their time spent together at Kentucky, and he has done a terrific job succeeding Jim Harbaugh once he left San Diego in 2007. He would not require a big salary initially and seemingly fits all the criteria the athletic department is looking for. Is he a big enough name to satisfy the fan base? I'm not so sure.
Kevin Sumlin, Houston -- Sumlin is another name fans may not be too familiar with, but he runs an offense similar to what Arizona has employed the last three seasons, has had success with a limited budget, and knows the Texas recruiting scene very well. If UA misses on a few of their expected 'top-targets', Sumlin could get a phone call in the next few months.
Coaches Out Of Work:
Mike Leach -- Leach is a big name coach with a proven track record both on the field and in terms of recruiting. He knows the Tucson area well. Scandals and controversy have been linked to Leach in the past, but they appear to be overblown incredibly by everyone's favorite TV "expert", Craig James.
There are two concerns with Leach: a salary and his sideline antics. The former Texas Tech head coach would not come cheaply and he is Stoopsian (yeah, we'll go with that.) in terms of his sideline demeanor towards referees and even his players. Greg Byrne has said he was not a fan of how Stoops portrayed the program and these negative attributes may turn UA away from Leach.
Rich Rodriguez -- Rich Rodriguez resurrected football at West Virginia and then tried to kill it at Michigan. It was a bad fit from the beginning in Ann Arbor and just about everyone knew it. The head coach lasted just a few seasons before being chased out by the Wolverines (get it?) and is currently looking for employment.
He did a terrific job at WVU and his coaching abilities were never questioned when working in a conference that embraced the spread offense. He could definitely be a fit for UA and is a coach motivated to restore his name after a forgettable tenure with Michigan.
Mike Bellotti -- Bellotti is probably the name mentioned the most on message boards in the last 48 hours and the former head coach of Oregon could be a great fit. He was known for being an incredible teacher of the game to his players and was a popular figure in Eugene before leaving the program in 2003 to become the athletic director.
The concerns would be his age -- Bellotti is currently 60 -- and his ability to get back on the recruiting trail. Are those big enough unknowns to shy UA away? They might be.
Coordinators & Alumi Looking To Move Up:
There have been so many names tossed around that it seems silly to list them all. The biggest of names such as Auburn's offensive mastermind Gus Malzahn or former-Wildcat Ricky Hunley appear to be candidates that would satisfy the UA fan base, but does Arizona really want a coordinator or former player taking over the program? I'm not so sure.
My Choice(s) For The Job:
My No. 1 choice would be Mike Leach. The transition would be seamless. He is the biggest (realistic) name on anyone's list of potential candidates and he knows Texas and California recruiting like the back of his hand. It may require quite a bit of money to bring him to Tucson, but hey, if we can spend $7 million dollars on a television screen, we can find the money to pay Leach.
If Leach is not a candidate or turns the job down, Mike Bellotti is definitely the man to consider. He has a proven track record, knows the conference well, still has ten good years left in him, and would be the perfect change of pace from the Mike Stoops era.